Review: Land of the Free

Rating: 3 stars

Land of the Free is a set of wargames rules from Osprey Publishing. Written by Joe Krone, the rules concentrate on four wars in the Horse and Musket period which helped shape the modern day United States: The French Indian War, the American Revolutionary War, the Northwest Indian War and the War of 1812.

There is much in these rules that players of games such as Black Powder or Hail Caesar will find familiar. A force is made up of a Force Commander and between two and six Group Commanders. Each Group Commander can control between two and six elements, give a force a total of somewhere between four and thirty-six elements. Each element is made up of a number troop stands, and there are four different sizes: tiny, small, medium or large.

Elements are infantry, cavalry or artillery. Basic units are defined, but special rules can be applied to give elements more of an historical feel by applying special skills, or perhaps limiting formations.

Elements have several stats, which include Manoeuvre, Combat, Discipline, Morale, Action and Points.

The rules are actually quite straight forward. During a game turn, you first decide initiative, based on a combination of a dice roll and factoring in the number of scout elements in your force and the Force Commander’s ability. This indicates who will be the first active player.

The players then take turns being the active player. When active, a player may choose one of his Group Commanders, and issue orders to all elements controlled by that Group Commander, as long as they are within his Sphere of Influence (Command Range). The number of orders able to be issued is equal to the values of the Manoeuvre and Combat stats of the element. So an element with a Manoeuvre stat of 3 can be issued 3 Manoeuvre Orders, whilst a Combat Stat of 2 will enable the element to perform 2 combat orders. Orders can be performed in any sequence. Manoeuvre orders include move, change formation, change facing, mount/dismount, cross a linear obstacle and reload. Combat orders include shoot and melee.

The element carries out its orders and then the active player may order the next element and so on, until all elements of a group have completed their orders (Commanders have the option to issue extra orders, but these are at risk of not being followed and end the element’s turn). Play then passes to the other player, and he gives orders to a group of his choice. Play continues in this way until all groups have been ordered, at which point the process starts again, with a new dice roll to determine who has initiative (assuming victory conditions have not been met in the meantime)

An element can store a manoeuvre or shoot order, which can then be used as a charge reaction, should the element be charged by an opponent later in the turn.

Shooting and melee combat follow similar mechanics, although shooting obviously also includes rules for checking line of sight and target priority, and melee combat must be preceded by a charge move if the unit is not already in contact. Shooting and Melee have a number of unique steps in the combat sequence, but ultimately both arrive at the point of creating a dice pool. The dice pool is 2d6, plus one for each action the element has, and is then adjusted by a modifier. The dice are then rolled, and a hit is achieved on a roll of 5+. In melee combat, further modifiers are applied to determine who won the melee.

Each time the number of hits an element receives equals its discipline stat, it loses a level of Discipline. All elements usually start with a Discipline level of Fit, as it takes losses, it progresses through Shaken and Exhausted (each of which cause negative effects) When an element reaches Shattered it is removed from play.

As Discipline degrades, elements become increasingly difficult to command, and as they break, they start to affect the Groups that they are members of. A Group breaks if over 50% of its elements have broken. Once over half of a Force’s Groups have broken, that Force retreats from the field of battle.

Those are the bare essentials of game play, although there is much extra detail in the rules covering rallying, disorder, artillery, charge reactions, special command orders, artillery, terrain effects and much more.

All these rules are covered in the first 112 pages of the book. The rest of the book is given over to scenarios (of which there are eight different types) and then a number of historical refights. There are four in from the French and Indian War, seven from the American Revolutionary War, two from the Northwest Indian War and seven from the War of 1812. The back of the book contains a number of quick reference charts.

Overall, as I said at near the start of this review, these rules contain much that is familiar and are actually pretty straight forward to play. There is a certain amount of book keeping involved, as you will need sheets of cards with details of each of your elements (special rules etc.) and a number of tokens will be required to denote hits and discipline levels of units.

The rules state that they are suitable to be played in figure scales from 6mm to 40mm, but contain no suggestions for changing distances based on figure scale, but common sense can be applied.

The book itself is very well put together. It’s logically laid out, and rules are relatively easy to find (the book has a contents page, but no index). The book contains a mix of illustrations from various Osprey books and photographs of miniatures, the vast majority of which have the look of an actual wargame, rather than a photoshopped diorama.

It’s also worth noting that the author has created a website to fully support these rules.

In conclusion, these rules seem pretty solid, and are straight forward and attractive enough to tempt me to dabble in something which is not really my period. Whether or not they would tempt me away from Muskets & Tomahawks in the long term…I’m not so sure.

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