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For either side, the general objective is to eliminate all enemy troops throughout the Colonies by defeating them in battle. The strategies used to accomplish this change are based on which side you have chosen to play: the American side needs to hold out against the British and slowly gather its strength, while the British need to fortify their existing positions and quickly move against the Americans.
The gameplay focuses mainly on the military aspects of the conflict, but relationships with civilian, and particularly political, entities are of vital importance as their approval determines the budget for military spending, and in the worst-case scenario, they can vote for your ouster as C-in-C. Very historically accurate, the game faithfully reproduces the strategic situation of the war as well as many historical figures in great detail.
This game is known among players for its thoroughly researched historical detail, great complexity, level of difficulty, and the immense amount of time it takes to complete one game (similar to the experience of other Koei games). One could easily spend upwards of 250 hours on one game and might still be defeated in the end. The user interface showed many improvements over previous Koei games, including mouse support. The game can be played in one-player mode, two-player mode, or with two computer-generated players.
Beginning the game
The player begins by selecting which side to play, the British or the American, and then must select which Commander in Chief will represent their side. The choices are George Washington, Artemas Ward, or Charles Lee for the Americans, and Thomas Gage, Sir Henry Clinton, or William Howe for the British. (In the console versions, players cannot choose their Commander in Chief. George Washington and Thomas Gage are leaders of their respective sides.) Each turn lasts half of a month, for a total of 24 turns per year. The Continental Congress or British Parliament (depending on your side) meets quarterly to set the budget for military spending over the next three months, and the player chooses to allocate the funds between the navy, the districts he controls, to pay debt and salaries, and various other concerns. He can also set general strategy with his naval forces that are not in his direct control.
In each month, the player manages the military affairs for each district (as do any commanders they have authorized to do so on their own, as well as the enemy and his commanders). There is a number of actions that the player can take in each district he has, including purchasing materials, bribing enemy generals, holding parades to gain popular support, and training his troops, among many other options.
An interesting facet of Liberty or Death is that there are also Patriot and Loyalist militia regiments and German mercenary regiments, organized and paid for by the Americans and British, respectively, which will fight and collect resources on their own, unless they are recruited. These groups will continue to run the districts they are in and can attack and annex adjacent districts if they choose to. If a regular commander for their side moves into the district, these militia units will place themselves under his authority if he is of equal or higher rank, swelling his ranks.
The strategy phase really exists to set up the tactical battles, which take place on hex map battlefields, with each hex representing a terrain type, some of which also show seasonal changes. Allied troops in districts adjoining the one where a battle is taking place can be asked to join the fray as well. Commanders place their armies on the field depending on which district they have entered from (and the navy can be used to transport troops into battle as well if there is coastal access to the district). Then the troops can be maneuvered around the battlefield and finally into combat.
There is a variety of unit types with different abilities, both in battle and in moving across the various types of terrain. Infantry is a basic ground unit, while guerrilla units can move through terrain impassable to others, and use surprise attacks; cavalry requires open terrain, but their shock charges can be devastating to foot troops; engineers are cannon-using artillery that also can create and destroy bridges. In coastal districts naval barrages can also be brought to bear. Defenders have to protect their forts and towns from the enemy while attackers have to try to either take the cities and forts or eliminate the opposing troops before running out of men or materiel themselves.
Liberty or Death represents a great many historical figures associated with the Revolution, including political leaders like Lord North, William Pitt the Younger, Patrick Henry (whose famous speech gives the game its name) and John Adams.
The C-in-C choices noted above are historically accurate: each of the choices on the British side were actually Commanders-in-Chief of the British forces in America during the Revolutionary War, but while the choices on the American side were potential choices for C-in-C for the Continental Army, only Washington ever held the post during the war.
Beyond the C-in-Cs, nearly every British and Loyalist leader involved in the war appears, including John Burgoyne, Charles Cornwallis, Guy Carleton, Thomas Gage, Thomas Graves, Henry Hamilton, Banastre Tarleton, and William Tryon. The American side is equally well represented with Horatio Gates, Richard Montgomery, Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, Francis Marion, Daniel Morgan and Anthony Wayne appearing in the game.
The game also places the war into the broader context of world events, so in addition to the principals in the conflict, other nations appear in the game with appropriate political interests and concerns including France, the Netherlands, and Spain. In addition, mercenaries employed by the British such as the Hessians, and the many other European officers Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane convinced to join the fighting on the American side, such as Kościuszko, Lafayette, Pułaski and von Steuben are also portrayed.
The game does an impressive job of modeling the military/strategic value of each of the districts, in such a way that the key battles of the war recur as a natural part of the game rather than being scripted to do so.