Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Land of the Free - Review

Choices. Choices abound in Land of the Free by Joe Krone.

The first choice a gamer must make with Land of the Free (LotF) is in which period to fight. LotF covers horse and musket warfare from 1754 – 1815 in North America. With a span of 60 years, French & Indian War, American War of Independence, Northwest Indian War, and the War of 1812 are all possibilities. With more than two dozen scenarios included, the gamer will have plenty of battlefield variety and scenarios from which choose.

Second choice is what scale to select. With a game that allows for actions from 2-3 men per maneuver unit for skirmishes up to 10,000-30,000 men per maneuver unit at the Division or Army level, all size of collections can be gainfully employed. Really, no collection is too small nor too large to enjoy these rules. The rules will also work for figures of 6mm up to 40mm (or larger!).

A choice not required of the player in LotF is how to base or rebase figures. Having no set basing restrictions or figures per base requirement, rebasing an existing collection to try the rules is not necessary. Players may use what they have in their current collections. Basing and figures/base suggestions are provided for those not already committed to a basing scheme.

Title: Land of the Free, Wargames Rules for North America 1754-1815
Author: Joe Krone
Publisher: Osprey Publishing, 2014. *

The Book:
The book, itself, is a very well constructed hardback with 192 heavy stock, glossy pages. The layout is functional and loaded with color plates from various Osprey books, color photos of miniatures in action, and diagrams explaining assorted rules' mechanisms. While there is no index, the Table of Contents provides enough detail to pinpoint the required section quickly. Very thorough effort.

Production Quality: Excellent.

* Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book directly from Osprey Publishing for review purposes.

Book Organization:
The book is laid out in a logical order with chapters detailing,
  • Organizing Your Forces
  • Elements
  • Orders
  • Commanders
  • The Game Turn
  • Shooting Combat
  • Melee Combat
  • Discipline and Morale
  • Scenery
  • Advanced Rules
  • Scenarios - Generic
  • Scenarios - Historical
  • The French & Indian War
  • The American Revolutionary War
  • Northwest Indian War
  • The War of 1812

Basic Game Attributes:
LotF uses six-sided die (D6) for resolution but many outcomes are determined by the usage of a D3. D3? That is a D6 where a roll of 1 or 2 becomes a “1”; 3 or 4 is mapped to a “2”' and 5 or 6 as a “3.” LotF can become a Buckets-of-Dice game in firing and melee so having six to eight on hand per player would be prudent. All measurements are in inches with the most common increments of 1, 3, 6, 9, 12 inches. To speed play, I made an assortment of Range Sticks with these given demarcations.

Game Markers: LotF requires a LOT of markers. The player will need markers or Rosters to track,
Command Points
Hits
Disorder
Element Discipline Levels (Fit, Shaken, Exhausted, Shattered)
Stored Maneuver Orders
Stored Combat Orders
Unloaded status

I may have even forgotten one or two.

The basic maneuver unit in the game is termed an Element and may consist of a variable number of stands. Since the number of figures per base and number of bases per element are completely at the whim of the players, any basing ought to work as long as both sides are based similarly. LotF has no figure removal and no incremental stand removal so element size is strictly used only to assist in identifying the relative size of an element.

Relative element size is important for identification because LotF allows for force scaling. That is, the game can be played from a skirmish level game all the way up to a division or army level game. No ground, time, or figure scales are given. Ranges are the same despite the level of game chosen. Elements can consist of four distinct sizes of Tiny, Small, Medium, and Large. Each size carries its own distinct set of attributes.

Elements can have three basic types: Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery. Each element type may have more than one weapon choice with different ratings based on element size. The element attributes are:
Weapon
Number of Maneuver Orders
Number of Combat Orders
Discipline Rating
Morale Rating
Number of Action Dice
and Points (used in building or balancing opposing forces)

Sample Element Roster
In the example, the element, “Prescott's Massachusetts battalion” is of Medium Size and carrying the smooth-bore musket. A Maneuver Order rating of three allows the element to perform up to three Maneuver Orders with each activation. Similarly, a Combat Order rating of three allows the element to perform three Combat Orders per activation. A Discipline rating of “3” signifies that the element must make a Discipline Morale Test every time the element suffers three or more hits and measures the ability of an element to stand up to combat stresses in battle.  An element can have one of four Discipline Levels. From best to worst, these are: Fit, Shaken, Exhausted, and Shattered. When an element reaches Shattered status, it is removed from the table. The Morale rating shows that Prescott must roll a modified “7+” on 2D6 to pass a Morale Test. With an Action Dice Number of “4”, Prescott will add 4D6 to his Dice Pool for both shooting and melee.

Notice in the example roster above that American militia and British regulars have the same values for the core efficiency measures. Discounting the Special attribute of Self-Preservation for the moment, in LotF, American militia can maneuver and deliver musket volleys equaling British regulars. Puzzling. Of course, militia drop some effectiveness once Self-Preservation is added but maneuver is the same. Combat Orders are reduced from three to two. With commander guidance, militia could deliver volleys three times per turn and still stand toe-to-toe with the British.

Each element has a central leader stand or point from which all measurements and movements are based. Elements are assembled into combat forces termed “Groups.” Each Group must be under the command of a Group Commander who, in turn, under the command of a Force Commander. Each commander has a Sphere of Influence (SPI) within which an element may operate efficiently. Outside of a commander's SPI and an element will stand idly by watching the action. Suggested minimum number of Groups is two with each Group commanding between 2 and 6 elements.

Force Commanders and Group Commanders are essential in LotF. Most elements outside of a commander's SPI are unable to activate to execute orders. Commanders issue Command Points to elements within their SPI to provide extra assistance via special Orders. This extra help can take the form of Rally, Forced Order (allowing an extra order), re-roll missed die rolls, or promoting a new commander. In most cases, a commander must attach to issue these Special Orders. When attached to an element, only that element may receive Special Orders.

Turn Sequence:
LotF uses an Alternating Activation mechanism for Turn Sequencing. What that means is that each player alternates between activating one group at a time rather than one player activating all of his units before handing play over to his opponent. With that, the Turn Sequence is,
  1. Both players roll for Force Commander CPs
  2. Both players roll for initiative. Winner gets choice of being either first or second player.
  3. First player activates one Group Commander and rolls for CPs.
  4. First player activates each element within his Group
  5. First player moves Group Commander
  6. Second player activates one Group Commander and rolls for CPs.
  7. Second player activates each element within his Group
  8. Second player moves Group Commander
    Steps 3-8 are repeated until all Groups have been activated
  9. Both players move Force Commanders
    One turn complete
Movement:
Elements may move multiple times per activation. For each element's move, the active player spends one Maneuver Order. If an active element has three Maneuver Orders, it could make three moves in three 3” (6” if in march column) pulses for a total of 9”. Besides forward movement, an element could expend one Maneuver Order to move backwards, oblique, change facing or formation, charge, remove disorder, or reload.

Shooting:
Like multiple moves, an element may fire multiple times within a turn. The number of volleys allowed is governed by the number of Combat Orders the element has remaining. An element may fire during its own activation or during its opponent's activation. If firing during the opponents activation, it may fire as a response to enemy activities within its Threat Zone. A Threat Zone is an area to the front of an element (limbered artillery and elements in march column have no Threat Zone) extending 12” out, frontally, from the outside edge. To fire during the enemy's activation the firing element must either have a Stored Combat Order or be the target of a charge. In an oddity, weapons' ranges are the same regardless of game scale. That is, a patrol element (8-13 men) in a skirmish game has the same musket range (12”) as a Division of 10,000 men!

To fire on an enemy element, the target must be within the Threat Zone of the firing element's leader stand. If not, pivot the firing unit such that the target is now within the Threat Zone. This pivot is free but tends to break up a linear battle line if not targeting elements directly to the front.

Now that the target is properly aligned within the Threat Zone, the firing element creates a firing Dice Pool. This dice pool will be the total number of dice thrown in the volley. To 2D6 add the firing element's Action Dice number and then add or subtract die (dice) for situational modifiers. After dice adjustments, roll the dice. Hits occur on 5 or 6. Roll two or more '1's then the fire results in a Ragged Volley. Subtract one hit from the total. Roll two or more '6's and the target receives a Punishing Volley, disordering the target as well.

If hits applied to the target meet or exceed its Morale Rating, it takes a Discipline Morale Test. Hits in excess of the Discipline Rating become negative DRMs. Pass the Discipline Morale Test and the target drops a Morale State. Fail the test and the target drops a Morale State and retreats 1D3 movements. For example, an element with a Discipline Rating = 3 sustains three hits. Since the number of hits taken equals the Discipline Rating, the element must make a Discipline Morale Test. If it fails the test, it withdraws 1D3 moves back. Otherwise, no effect.

Sound complicated? Took longer to write the explanation than to execute. The number of modifiers is about a half-dozen and easily remembered after a few shots have been fired. Resolution is quick and morale tests are equally easy to remember. The shooting process is fast and straightforward. Not only may an active element fire more than once during activation but it could target more than one enemy too. Also, the same target may be repeatedly hit with fire. In our first game, players were resolving fire quickly midway through the first game turn.

Melee:
For melee, an active element must declare a charge and expend one Maneuver Order. A charge move is twice the regular move broken up into two 3” charge pulses. After the first 3” move, the inactive player may interrupt. If not the target of a charge, a passive player may either Snap Fire (similar to Opportunity Fire) or Counter-Charge. Each of these actions requires either a Stored Combat Order (Snap Fire) or a Stored Maneuver Order (Counter-Charge). On the other hand, a target of a charge may fire or counter-charge without expending a Stored Order.

Once in contact, following the second charge pulse, the resolution process takes a twist. The hit process is similar to shooting resolution but in melee hits from the Dice Pool become DRMs in the final resolution. In melee, each combatant begins with 2D6 and adds his Action dice. That total is then modified by a number of situational dice modifiers to arrive at the total dice pool for each. Each player rolls the handful of dice. Hit on 5 or 6.

Each player adds the number of hits to a list of Melee Resolution Modifiers. The player with the largest total wins the melee. The loser applies hits sustained, makes a rout move, and is disordered. The distance of the rout move is based on the Melee Results differential. That is, for each incremental difference between the two totals, the loser routs that many 3” moves. For example, Attacker has Melee Results total of 6 and Defender has Melee Results total of 8. Attacker loses the melee, becomes disordered and routs 6” (2x 3”). If the Melee Results differential is greater than the loser's Discipline Rating then the loser drops one Discipline Level. Winner applies hits taken and is disordered as well.

Discipline:
As noted earlier, Discipline has four levels of Fit, Shaken, Exhausted, and Shattered. Over the course of the game, an element's Discipline Level will likely fluctuate. Commander's may rally an element from Exhausted to Shaken but never to Fit. A Shattered element is removed from the table as combat ineffective.

Morale:
Certain actions require an element to take a Morale Test. Which Morale Test taken depends upon the triggering event. There are three types of Morale Tests. (Simple) Morale Test has no negative consequences other than to deny the action attempted. Rally, Inspirational Change, and Concentrated Volley fall into this category. Disorder Morale Test results in disorder if failed. Examples of these are Forced Order, Charging when not Fit, formation change during charge reaction, etc.. Finally, a Discipline Morale Test is triggered each time an element's Discipline Rating is equaled or exceeded or a Group is broken. If failed, the element withdraws 1D3 moves to the rear.

Disorder:
An element may find itself accruing Disorder Markers too. These disorders are gained for a variety of reasons and are removed by either expending Maneuver Orders or by a Commander Rally. Elements are disordered by interpenetration, punishing volley, hits from artillery, melee, failing a Disorder Morale Test, and crossing a linear obstacle. If an element has any Disorder Markers then Maneuver Orders must be expended first to remove as many as possible before any other action.

That ends the summary of the basic rules mechanisms. Now, there remains a section on scenery and linear obstacles but those can be distilled down into Terrain Effects. Advanced Rules are present too and provide Special Element Rules to give each element type more historical flavor. For example, American foot militia are given the special skill of Self-Preservation which has militia beginning the game already at Shaken Discipline Level and unable to use Battle line modifiers in melee.

Scenarios:
Does LofT offer scenarios? That is an understatement! By my count there are eight generic scenarios and 20 historical engagements. The historical battles cover the periods French & Indian War, American War of Independence, Northwest Indian War, and the War of 1812. Many of the battles included for the AWI are huge affairs with many having more than ten Groups each!  Having that many groups would push the limits of multi-player playability in my mind.  With such large forces, why not scale up to the next level to reduce the number of independent commands? 

Conclusion:
With sequential element activation and multiple movement and firing, holes in an enemy line can be opened and exploited. Competent play with these rules will likely require deployments in depth, elements having Stored Orders ready to interrupt the enemy's decision cycle, judicious use of commanders, and a reserve to plug holes and exploit opponent's weaknesses. Plenty of choices for the battlefield commander.

While I mentioned a few of my observations in the review, I enjoy the overall dynamic nature of horse and musket conflict that Krone has created.  After two test games using 28mm AWI collections, I am looking forward to pulling my 15mm AWI collection from the shelf.  LotF presents a perfect opportunity to field these armies on the gaming table once again.

26 comments:

  1. Wow - very nice and detailed review, Jonathan. Although the mechanics are obviously different, it does sound like something for larger (lots of units) games vs. a skirmish set. That said, I think I'll stay with Black Powder (or modified variants) for this size/type of game. I may pick it up for eye-candy and background though :) Best, Dean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dean! My thought is that these rules would work well for small (as in number of elements) as well as large games. In fact, a small game with two Groups, each of 2-4 elements ought to produce a satisfactory and quick game.

      The smallest game scale listed has an element representing 2-3 men. With that, you could group three singly based figures into one element and play on a 1 man = 1 figure basis.

      Appreciate you making it through the long review!

      Delete
    2. Ah, thanks for the clarification, Jonathan. Will keep that in mind.

      Delete
  2. The book, to me, was not well laid out. Now I must caveat this by saying that I did not read it through but did use it to look up stuff we did not fully understand. Little bits and pieces were explained in several sections. A little bit here. A little bit there. It took some time. If there was an index, it would have made life a bit easier.

    That said, I did enjoy the game. Once we figured it out, everything moved along at a brisk pace. We fought with just 1 command to conclusion in about 2 and a half hours with breaks to look up rules and for Matthew to feed his son.

    The rules are very much worth playing IMO. I think I would recommend learning them with someone who already knows the rules though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, John for your comments!

      Before the Bunker Hill game, I made up a QRS based on the sheets in the back of the book as well as pulling tidbits out from the text, itself. That effort paid dividends during the first two games. The book did not need to consulted often.

      I found the book easy to read and enjoyed the style. Perhaps in the heat of battle trying to find a ruling was somewhat bothersome.

      Delete
  3. That's an excellent detailed review! I'll probably pick it if just to look at it as I'm a sucker for nice pictures, but right now I get my quick games from Black Powder and the more period specific rule sets from British Grenadier, Maurice, and M&T. As to adding another rule set for the same periods I'm a bit reluctant as I do not enjoy reading rules especially if I'm already happy with what I have. That said I've learned a wargamer can always change his mind.:-)

    Christopher

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Christopher! It is a worthy addition to your library. I would have enjoyed having Design Notes included, though. Design Notes are usually one of the more interesting sections of a rule book.

      Nothing wrong with a mind change now and again!

      Delete
  4. Interesting review. I usually read the designer's notes first; failure to include them is a significant shortcoming for a commercial rules set, IMHO, as that's where the designer explains his "take" on the game and what he was trying to accomplish by his design.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Peter, I completely agree with you wrt Design Notes. Only through Design Notes do we have a glimpse into the designer's unified POV. All of the rules within the text are simply processes to materialize the designer's POV. Questions such "what is the author trying to model" and "what is important to the designer" are questions I always ponder. If I can buy in to the explanation through Design Notes then I can come to terms with how it is being modeled.

      Delete
  5. Excellent review! I've added these rules to my "wish list" on Amazon and I've added this blog to my "must read" list. Thank you!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks Jonathan for your review great script writing as always by you, cannot help thinking Land of the Free rules remind me of Jim Getz's "Empire II, III and IV" Napoleonic rules set back during the 80's... anyway I will get a copy to add to my rules set collection and try Land of the Free solo games... cheers

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed the review, Phil! Reminds you of Empire? LotF is simple compared to Empire. Mechanisms and resolution are fast and easy to remember.

      I plan to give it a solo try soon too with my AWI 15s.

      Delete
  7. Great and very detailed review. Some of the Morale mechanics sound like those of Black Powder actually. But then again, there is bound to be similarities right. Looking forward to your AAR for the 15 mm collection.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Soren. I still need to select a battle for the next AWI fight. Which battle would be a good solo try?

      Delete
  8. Superb review, Jonathan. I think you've really nailed it. You should submit this for the Wargame Bloggers Quarterly.

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    Replies
    1. Monty, really appreciate your supportive comments! I know nothing about submitting articles to Wargame Bloggers Journal. Think they would be interested in a review?

      Delete
  9. I just bought LotF from Amazon.uk as well (based entirely on your review). I`ve been undecided about these rules for a long time, but have finally dived in. I am painting my new 15mm FIW and AWI armies through out the cold winter ahead, and have a lot of time to read and study these... hoping they are exactly what I need for my solo gaming.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Welcome, Stephen!

      Hopefully, my review will match with your impressions too.
      Good luck with your 15mm project. I have 15s on the table for a game now.

      Delete
  10. Hi. Any chance I could have a copy of your QRS ?

    Send to guthroth @ colanhomm dot org

    Thanks, Pete

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pete, I only just saw your request. I was expecting it through the Comment form. When I return home, i will send the QRS.

      Delete
  11. I tried these out, got very confused with the Move 3, Combat 3 seemed kinda wonky, kept trying to find an explanation but you cleared it up, wow 3 move actions plus 3 combat action for a unit, holy cow! Man wish my WW2 units had these kinda actions in a turn.

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    Replies
    1. Hello! Glad the review helped. Remember that included in the Move Orders is Reload so if a unit is firing multiple times in an activation, they ill not be moving much(if at all).

      Delete
  12. Great review Jonathan !
    I do have the book since a few weeks and must admit that I really do like this set. It is lovely to see that others do chair the same enthusiasm.
    Thanks !

    I kindly ask you if you could sent the QRS to me ?
    p.diederiks AT gmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Welcome Patrick! Very pleased to hear that you enjoyed the LotF review. Your comment reminds me that it has been too long since I last gave these rules an outing on the table.

      Let me dig up the QRS and then I will send it on.

      Delete
  13. Jonathan,
    I would appreciate a copy of your QRS also. Please send it to coopman827atyahoo.com.
    Thanks,
    Clay

    ReplyDelete

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