As the battle of the titans heats up in the presidential election it's perfect timing to talk about a political board game. A game that simulates a time where losers weren't relegated to Fox News or the Harvard University Department of Political Science, but instead swiftly executed before a crowd of garlic eating rustics. The game is Liberte, the game of the French Revolution.
I've found over time that I greatly prefer games with some narrative quality. I think I would rather take part in a good story than win or lose. For that reason Liberte at first did not grab me. In the game you support political candidates in revolutionary France. You may support conservatives, radicals or moderates. Further, you may support one faction in one region and another elsewhere. At the end of each turn the votes are tallied in each region and one faction "wins." Then the player who most successfully supported that faction gets points. Say you support the radicals in four regions. Even if the radicals win the overall election you need to have them win in those four regions to have your support count. The end result is that players may support one faction in a given region just to beat an opponent and keep them from scoring.
I confess I didn't understand the system at all until a turn had been played. It's pretty simple once you see it.
So far the game is a politics game where you allocate resources and try and win points. Liberte begins to shine when you add in factors that bring the period to life. There are rules for grabbing public acclaim as a general. There are rules for sabotaging friend's plans with bread riots, political clubs, emigrating nobles, and finally the Terror and guillotine. In the game we played the conservatives took a strong lead at the beginning. Then radical political clubs began to spring up across the land. My team lagged in last place after a terrible first turn. The other players put their generals out into the field and started gathering fame. By some luck I then unleashed Madame Guillotine on them, heads rolled left and right, and I ended up in decent shape at the end because my minion was the only surviving general and won all the fame by default.
I was pretty happy with Liberte. It is a game that rewards some calculation but there is enough luck and narrative to make it fun rather than just an exercise in numbers. The system certainly fits the theme and the rules end up being pretty simple.