Thanks to Button Shy Games for providing a review prototype for this game.
“Better to die fighting for freedom than to be a prisoner all the days of your life.” – Bob Marley
Liberation is an upcoming game from designer Jon Simantov and publisher Button Shy Games. It will be on Kickstarter tomorrow. The game is for two players only, and is essentially a cat-and-mouse game between the Dynasty, the tyrannical force that rules the galaxy, and the Liberation, the scrappy group of rebels trying to bring the Dynasty down.
This game will be part of Button Shy’s wallet line, which means it has 18 cards only. Four of these cards are double-sided map cards, and the others represent the 14 Cities you’ll find on those map cards. At the start of the game, the map cards will be randomly arranged into a 2×2 grid, which will show the layout of the major Cities around the galaxy. The Cities are connected by paths, and are considered adjacent to any other connected City.
Each player will be dealt three City cards, and will choose one to play. The Dynasty player will play their card face up, representing the first occupied City they have. The Liberation player will play their card face down, representing the location of their secret base.
The Dynasty player begins the game, and turns will alternate until the game ends.
IF YOU ARE THE DYNASTY PLAYER:
The first thing you’ll do on your turn is to either draw a card or unexploit a City. This simply means that you’ll rotate an exploited City back to a vertical position. After this, you’ll take one action. Here are your choices:
- Unexploit a City. That’s right, you could potentially unexploit two cities on a turn.
- Play a card from your hand to use its mission. Each card has a Dynasty and a Liberation mission. Since you’re Dynasty, use that one. Some missions have a cost – you may have to discard cards and/or exploit Cities before you use it.
- Exploit a City. Rotate your chosen City until it is horizontal, then do one of the following:
- Occupy a City card from your hand by placing it on the table. The chosen City must be adjacent on the map to the City you exploited.
- Attack. Name a City adjacent to the City you exploited. If the Liberation has that card in hand, they give it to you, and you may occupy it or discard it. If it’s their secret base, you win the game.
- Perform the Dynasty mission on the City you exploited, paying the cost first if needed.
After taking your action, discard down to three cards. Discards are always kept face down.
IF YOU’RE THE LIBERATION PLAYER:
At the start of the your turn, draw a card. Then take one action:
- Evade. Pick up your secret base and replace it with a card in your hand. It can be replaced by the same card you picked up, or another card whose City is adjacent to the one you picked up. Remember that it is kept face down, so you’re on honor code for this.
- Sabotage. Name a City that is adjacent to your secret base or to a card in your hand. If the Dynasty has that card in hand, they discard it.
- Mission. Perform the Liberation mission on a card from your hand, paying the cost if needed.
After taking your action, discard down to three cards.
If someone needs to draw a card and there are none in the deck, reshuffle the discards and place them in a pile, oriented so the II is up. The second time the deck is reshuffled, orient the draw pile so the III is up. If the deck makes it through a third time, the Liberation has survived and wins the game. So if you’re the Dynasty player, find that secret base before that happens.
COMPONENTS: As always with these preproduction games, I can’t comment on how they will look in the final production. But Button Shy usually has everything ready before the Kickstarter so they can go right to print, and this is no exception. The cards have some nice sci-fi art on them, and everything is laid out well. The map cards are double-sided with a different layout of cities on each so games will play out slightly different from play to play. The City cards all are pretty clear in describing the missions for each. The game will also come in Button Shy’s signature vinyl wallet.
THEME: You have to think that, if Button Shy had the Star Wars license, this game would be the Empire versus the Rebellion. As it is, it’s set in Button Shy’s Pocket Universe along with other games like Pod-X, Twin Stars, and Universal Rule. The sci-fi theme is a more of a flavor than anything. The whole Dynasty/Liberation thing sets up the cat and mouse game pretty well, but the theme could have been anything.
MECHANICS: This is an asymmetric game, meaning that two two sides play differently. The Dynasty needs to find and destroy the Liberation, while the Liberation needs to survive. The Liberation is doing all of its moves in secret while the Dynasty is doing everything in the open. The Dynasty can occupy lots of cities while the Liberation only has its secret base. And so on.
At the core of the game is a real hand and deck management system. The deck is the timer for the game – if the Liberation can cycle through it quickly, the game will be over. If the Dynasty can prevent this, it gives them the time they need to methodically hunt down the Liberation. So the Dynasty doesn’t necessarily want to draw lots of cards, but getting cards is the best way to figure out where the Liberation is not. It’s an interesting balance. It doesn’t feel like one side is more powerful than the other, but sometimes luck can play a role in determining the winner.
There aren’t a lot of actions for each player to take. The Dynasty has five things they can do on a turn – unexploit, perform a mission, exploit to occupy, exploit to attack, exploit to perform a City mission. The Liberation only has three – evade, sabotage, or perform a mission. Timing when to use these actions is an important part of the game.
STRATEGY LEVEL: This game is not terribly heavy, but there are a lot of really tough decisions to be made. There’s a significant deduction element as the Dynasty tries to close the net on the Liberation, but there’s also a lot of guesswork, especially during the endgame as you try to zero in on them before time runs out. For the Liberation, it’s important to stay a step or two ahead of the Dynasty so they don’t catch you by surprise.
ACCESSIBILITY: As I mentioned, this game isn’t terribly heavy, but it is complex enough that I don’t think I would suggest it to people who are newer to hobby style games. It can be figured out, but there are a lot of things going on for such a small game.
SCALABILITY: This is only a two-player game.
REPLAYABILITY: The map setup is one of the things that gives this game replayability, as is the game’s asymmetric nature. You can easily play two games in a row, switching sides between sessions. I did find that I wanted to be able to do more while playing – one of the ways the game combats the frequent take-that problem of someone getting a super powerful card by chance is that there are really only five card abilities, and three copies of each. These powers are paired, so you that every time the card has a Public Support mission for the Liberation, it will also have a Propaganda Campaign mission for the Dynasty. I did feel like I wanted different powers, and I could see getting a little tired of the ones there are in the game. But I think the replay value will really be found in the interaction between the factions.
INTERACTION: Because this is a cat-and-mouse game, it’s all interaction. Both factions have to react to what the other player is doing in order to succeed. This is not a game for people who just want to do their own thing.
TIME: The game is very quick. It takes about 20 minutes, but can be over much sooner if one faction gets lucky.
FOOTPRINT: You really only need space for the map and for a few Cities in front of the Dynasty player. This can be played on a fairly small table – I’d say you might even be able to play this on an airplane tray.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I don’t play a lot of cat-and-mouse hidden movement type games, but I do tend to enjoy them when I do play them. This one is pretty good, especially for only having 18 cards. I would definitely recommend this for people looking for that hide-and-seek experience in a very portable package. Be sure to check the game out when it hits Kickstarter on Wednesday, August 15.
Thanks again to Button Shy for providing today’s review copy, and thanks to you for reading!