The Ballbusch Review: Land of the Free

Let’s start off our first Ballbusch review with a look at Land of the Free, Osprey’s new wargame rules for the various conflicts in North America from the mid 18th century to the first years of the 19th.  In other words: the beginning of the French and Indian War to the end of the Anglo-American War of 1812-1815.
 I shouldn’t say this, but that flag is historically inaccurate

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Author:                Joe Krone
Pages:                  148 (Hardcover)
Publisher:            Osprey (2014)
Price (2015):       $25.34 (Amazon)
 Physically, Land of the Free is a handsome,
lavishly illustrated book. 
The production value shows the resources that publishers have been
pouring into historical rules over the last five years.  A decade ago a game book of this quality
would only have come from GW or WotC. 
However, these days it is par for the course with the larger
companies. 
 The rules have been written with
scalability in mind.  A base in Land of
the Free
(hereafter LotF) can represent anything from a few men to a
company.  One or more bases forms a unit
(termed an element in the rules; however, for ease I’m going to stick to the
generic phrase ‘unit’), which could again be anything from a file (18th
Century platoon) to a regiment.  The
rules rate units by their relative size. 
So, what is a huge unit in one game could be tiny in another.      
As a consequence there is no figure
or ground scale.  A single casting could
stand for one man or fifty.  Likewise
movement rates and shooting distances are fixed by the rules an assumed
represent greater or less, though still abstract, distances as the scale of the
game changes.    
Rather than moving or shooting in
defined phases, each unit can receive a set number of maneuver and combat
orders in a given turn.  The exact number
is set by the unit’s relative competence, and perhaps enthusiasm, but around
three each is average.  One point of note
is that units must expend a maneuver order to reload after shooting.  So, a certain amount of planning is necessary
to avoid leaving your men flat footed in the face of the enemy.
                

I recently discovered that Madam Ballbusch’s numerous greats grand-father and my own fought on opposite sides of several battles of the American War of Independence.  Relations between the families haven’t improved much since.  

           Leaders can issue a certain number
of additional orders each turn, again based on their singular charisma and
marital prowess.  These can be either
additional maneuver or combat orders, or special commands increasing the
effectiveness of shooting, melee, etc. 
However, pressing men to heroics carries risks, and there is a chance
that orders beyond the unit’s normal maximum will cause disorder.
               Inactive
units have only a limited ability to react to the actions of their
enemies.  A player an issue a single
combat or maneuver order to one of his units if an enemy receives orders nearby.  This does not trigger an enemy
reaction, and is effectively restricted to defensive volleys.
               There is
no mechanism to track causalities or for figure removal.  The total negative effects of combat are
recorded by down grading a unit’s moral until it simply disintegrates.  This means that enemy action will not reduce
a unit’s footprint over the course of the game. 
An import tactical point in a period when the surest rout to victory was
to turn an opponent’s flank.  However,
direct combat losses during this period were fairly low, particularly in North
America, so in the face of anything but the heaviest losses a unit would be able
to more or less maintain its frontage.
         
OPINIONATED COMMENTARY!!!!!!!!!!
               First
let me say that LotF makes for very easy reading.  Concepts are repeated frequently and there is
almost no abbreviations or other jargon to slow you down.  I got through the book in one sitting and
felt perfectly able to play the game, though reference to the book would still
be required.  
               As with all of Osprey offerings there are no pull out charts or quick
reference sheets so players’ will need to create their own (something to do with not wanting/being able to shrink wrap books).  Which actually makes for a good way to learn
the rules anyway.  Not something that
bothers me, but others might be annoyed.  

A unit getting six actions in one turn?  Chance for cheese: high

               The
order system is interesting.  At first
blush I thought it was needlessly cumbersome. 
Ordering a unit to move 3 inches three times is much slower than simply
moving it 9 inches and being done with it. 
However, upon reflection I see that the system grants flexibility
without letting the player do exactly as he pleases.  
               Since
you can give any order in any order, a unit can fire, move, reload, fire again,
and move away.  While unrealistic on an
open European battlefield this does allow frontiersmen and Indians to use
characteristic hit-and-run tactics. 
Although this would still expose them to potentially punishing defensive
fire, it is preferable to leaving vulnerable light troops in the open if
following the traditional turn structure of move, melee, shoot, turn over. 
               Also,
tactical units of the period were still fairly clumsy.  Maneuver and combat were based on complex
evolutions that required clockwork precision. 
The need to issue multiple orders captures both the complexity of
operations and general lack on initiative ingrained in junior officers and
NCOs.       

Sort of 18th Century…I guess.  See?  I can always find and excuse for anime babes.

               Of
course, by the end of the period a generation of global war would result in a
far less ritualized conduct of warfare. 
However, these rules make no attempt to cover the general European wars
of the period; and both the American Army and the British Army in North America
were generally old fashioned in their tactics.
               Hand-in-hand
with the order system LotF puts great store in the ability of officers to
directly affect the conduction of battle beyond merely directing the
action.  I’m left with the impression
that Mr. Krone see the relationship between the 18th Century army
and its commanders and analogous to that of an orchestra and its
conductor.  A mass of individuals that
have united to become another man’s tool and act as an extension of his will.   
               I don’t
disagree with this interpretation, particularly in the low level of warfare
depicted by LotF.  It does ignore that
role of junior officers; however, since encounters with more than a few
thousand men on each side were all but unheard of in the Americas at the time,
commanders were able to micromanage a way their counterparts in continental
Europe could not.

Won’t work, don’t try

               LotF
makes no pretense of being scalable to any of the great European wars of the
period, and I agree that the rules are unsuitable for much other than what they
are designed for.  This really isn’t a negative,
there are other generic rule sets out there, and for my money I prefer rules
spot on for the period over those that do everything halfway. 
               One last
thing to comment on is the basing system; or rather the lack thereof.  LotF lets you do whatever you want with your
figures.  To paraphrase one poster, a
base is a thing with some number of figures on it and an element is some number
of bases.  Some people may find the lack
of guidance distressing, but I found it simple to follow and very easy to apply
in practice.
               All in
all I like LotF, and it is certainly worth the price of admission.  The ardent simulationist will probably
grumble at the lack of detail, and a good deal of minutiae is simple hand waved
away.  However, anyone looking for an
accessible set of rules for the period that provide favor without being
burdened by charts and record keeping won’t go wrong with LotF.
               While
certainly not without its fair share of issues—and I’m sure the point system is
very, very breakable—I recommend the rules for anyone looking for an easy entry
point to gaming the American War of Independence or the larger battles of the
French and Indian War.           

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