I recently found an online version of my favorite historical video game of all time, “Liberty or Death, The American Revolution.” The game was first created for Sega Genesis by Japanese video game maker Koei in 1994 as a part of its Historical Simulation Series that also included “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (which looks at classical Chinese history) and “Genghis Khan” (which permits players to attempt to conquer Europe, Asia, and North Africa with polyglot armies ranging from French knights and Japanese Samurai to mounted Mongol bowmen and Indian armored elephants). It can take days to complete the game, which involves defeating all enemy army units to free (or recapture) the colonies.
Players begin by selecting the American or British sides (which I always choose since the British side offers the best chance to win the game in a few hours) represented by real historical figures such as Generals George Washington and Charles Cornwallis as well lesser officers and political leaders on both sides. Players next have the option to request additional army or navy support as well as to answer questions such as whether to divert funds from the officers pay (and risk possible mutiny) in order to hire mercenaries. Players return to this planning portion of the game every three months (six turns), each time receiving a new budget to allocate as they see fit, though also facing the potential to be quite unceremoniously fired if their performance over the course of the last quarter is deemed unsatisfactory.
Each two week turn consists of short term strategic decisions including a vast array of options that mimic the wide range of real life decisions that military commanders needed to make during the American Revolution such as opportunities to draft more troops, purchase additional gunpowder or food, construct cannons, transport troops by land or sea, improve public opinion through parades, or do battle with enemy troops. Each activity takes ‘energy’ from the local commander, limiting the choices that players can make in each region (such as Boston, Delaware, Long Island, or South Jersey) which they control at the beginning of each two week turn. Most decisions end by the players moving on to make the same set of strategic decisions in a different region, but battles involve their own special mini-game.
Battles begin by arranging military units around a board that is already littered with trees, hills, rivers, and towns. Regular military units include five hundred troops each (with their level of training and degree of armament among the factors that influence their performance on the battlefield) while three types of special forces (sharpshooters who can climb mountains, cavalry who can cross forests, and engineers who can both build bridges across rivers and fire cannon at forts). Attacking players move their troops into position for a final assault while defenders attempt to outlast them lest they be forced to retreat and risk being captured. Though each battle is short, taken together they help decide the war and in this way Liberty or Death, The American Revolution (in addition to offering an opportunity for students to think strategically and to learn the roles of key participants on both sides of the war) helps to teach players a larger lesson about the relationship of small events to major turning points in history.