Staring at the map covering the large table, we started planning the routes to get our friends to the north to freedom. “If we can avoid the slave catchers, we can move them up the east coast or maybe by ship into Canada out of Charleston.” We just kept staring at the map, thinking, strategizing and trying to plan the safest routes. Waiting for the answers to just jump out at us. ” Going by sea is probably the safest route I’d say… What about heading up more on the west side through Arkansas and Missouri? There is a lot less congestion up through that route.” One thing was for sure for us, time was running out and the slave catchers were constantly on the look out to capture the slaves and re-sell them at auction. We needed our underground rail road to be kept completely quite while still incredibly networked. Nothing less than that would do to get our friends to freedom and out of the hands of the plantation owners and slavers.
Publisher: Academy Games
Game Designer: Brian Mayer
Artwork: Jarek Nocon, Steve Paschal
Players: 1 – 4
Ages: 10 to adult
Playing Time: 90 minutes
Game Mechanics: Co-operative play, pick up and deliver, point-to-point movement, variable player powers
Contents: 1 lead player lantern, 17 support tokens, 13 fundraising tokens, 27 conductor tokens, slave catcher & movement dice, money tokens, 96 slave cubes, 5 slave catcher markers, 52 abolitionist cards, 6 role cards, 18 slave market cards, game board, 4 victory condition cards and 6 player mats.
Suggested Retail Price: $70.00
Parental Advisory: Safe for kids and educational
Awards: 2013 Club Fantasci Best Historical Game, 2013 Club Fantasci Most Innovative Game, 2013 Club Fantasci Best New Designer, 2013 Drive Thru Review Game of the Year, 2013 De Tafel Plakt! Theme of the Year and 2013 Board Game of the Year – The Wargamer
Freedom: The Underground Railroad could easily be taken the wrong way if you just look at the box. You might ask or say, Why? Who needs a game with that kind of theme? That is offensive! I can understand that at first, but once you open the box, oh my, what a surprise! This game is so much more than it appears at first glance. Is it a game about slavery? Why yes it is, but it’s also a game that teaches, educates and provides not only a fun gaming experience but a very deep gaming experience. Freedom: The Underground Railroad was the biggest surprise hit of the year for me.
The goal of Freedom: The Underground Railroad is to purchase all the support tokens (not an easy task) and get all the slaves (determined by the Victory Conditions Card) to Canada from the plantation before the end of turn eight. This game goes quicker than you might think, takes a great amount of co-operative strategizing and will not ever be an easy game to win. It is simply wonderful!
The game plays in 5 different phases. The Slave Catcher Phase, Planning Phase, Action Phase, Slave Market Phase and the Lantern Phase.
- Slave Catcher Phase – In this phase the slave catchers might catch wind of slave movement or their whereabouts and try to apprehend them by moving through the different cities. There is a Slave Catcher Die that is rolled to determine which catcher is moved and a Movement Die that determines in which direction that catcher is moved.
- Planning Phase – During this phase, the players determine which tokens they will acquire. This phase has three eras which are opened to the players in succession after all the support tokens are purchased from the previous era. Here the players also get their conductor tokens which determine how many slaves the can move and also how far. This is also where players can get their fundraising tokens. This allows the players to obviously raise cash to help their cause. Money is so important in this game and must be handled appropriately.
- Action Phase – The Action Phase allows players to take their actions in any order to include: Gain the Role Cards benefit, use the Role Cards special ability, play a Conductor or Fundraising Token, play a second Conductor or Fundraising Token and purchase an Abolitionist Card and resolve it.
- Slave Market Phase – This phase has the slaves being sold to the plantation owners of the south. The bottom most Slave Card (there are always three out on the board populated to better plan for what is coming) is removed from the board and the slaves are placed on the open spaces in the plantations. If there are no open spaces available, then the slaves are placed on the Slaves Lost Track. This is one of the ways the players can lose the game. If the players lost track fills up before the winning conditions are met, or the end of turn eight, then the players lose the game.
- Lantern Phase – This phase is basically the re-stocking phase. The Abolitionist Cards are re-stocked, a possible Opposition Card maybe resolved then and discarded from the game. The games Victory Conditions are then checked and if the game has not ended, then the Lantern Token passes to the left and a new round begins.
Freedom: The Underground Railroad forces the players to really think, work together and sweat bullets trying to out think the game and get their slaves to freedom. There are so many possible choices. Which slaves to move and in which direction to go. Do you move them and activate the abolitionist closest to them and either sacrifice them to open up a route for other slaves to possibly escape or try to play it safe.
The mechanic that has the abolitionist moving closer to the slaves moving across their path makes this game very strategic and delicious to play at the same time. There is no “easy” way to get passed the abolitionist usually. Making a move could very well lead to sacrificing one or more other slaves in an attempt to open up possible routes for other slaves. Trying to figure out which Conductor Tokens to play and when or how to get the slaves out of the plantations quick enough so that you don’t lose slaves later to the Slaves Lost Track is always a tough decision. Do we place slaves in that city to acquire more funding at the risk of them being captured?
There is so much here in this game it is amazing! The first time I played it, I sat down and played it solo three times in a row and was amazed at how difficult but yet enticingly fun this game is. It is quite possibly the best solo version of a game I have yet to play. The various roles lend a lot to the game as their abilities are better suited for some things than others. A couple of roles like the Conductor are definitely more advantageous in the solo version to play than others.
The other great thing about this game is the learning of the history behind the movement. The Abolitionist Cards give brief glimpses in to people, Acts and points in history that dramatically affected the slave movement. Additionally, Academy Games does a nice job of summarizing what was going on at that point in history at the back of the rule book to give greater depth and meaning to the game, especially for those who might not be well-studied in the history of the underground railroad.
Freedom: The Underground Railroad components are well done. The artwork is superb, the pieces are well done, heavy cardboard for the tokens and a nice linen finish for the Abolitionist Cards. The Slaves Lost Cards are very heavy as well and will last forever. If you place this game a lot, I would recommend sleeving the cards just to protect them as they will be handled a lot. The rule book is well laid out, easy to understand and I was playing within minutes of reading it. The game also comes with two large player aids, which help immensely in the game play.
If you like deep games or games that cause you to really think and work extremely well together, it really doesn’t get any better than this. Can this game cause AP? Of course, but it should. It’s a deep game. It is one of the finest examples of co-operative play I have ever come across. There is so much riding on your decisions and the possible outcomes based on your decisions that you most definitely felt like you played a real game by the end of it.
How does it compare to other co-operative games? Well I haven’t played them all, but it is deeper than almost that I have played, just as fun and now where near as long as say Shadows Over Camelot or Battlestar Galactica. It provided the sense of urgency and danger of a quick ending like Pandemic but has a much sweeter spot and victory feeling to me. It’s a more strategic game and a little less luck based. It rides high on the list of games like Police Precinct, Ghost Stories. Pandemic and Battlestar Galactica that provide that wonderful nail-biting tension and rush to beat the clock before it’s to late.
Freedom: The Underground Railroad is one fine game. It was such a tight race between it and Francis Drake for Game of the Year in the 2013 Club Fantasci Board Game Awards because it is such and amazing game. You will not be disappointed in this game if you purchase it. It is well worth the time and money, will provide a great amount of re-playability, great socialization and provide stories for years due to its theme, nature and game play. Definitely my #2 game of the year for 2013 and one of the best solo and co-operative games ever to come out. Well done Academy Games and Brian Mayer. You have outdone yourselves and made one hell of a game that will always be welcome on my game table. Thank you for this wonderful, wonderful game.
Club Fantasci Scoring (Based on scale of 10):
Rules Book: 9
Component Quality: 9.5
Club Fantasci Overall Score: 9
I am giving Freedom: The Underground Railroad 9 out 10 stars because it is simply one of the best games I have ever played.
This game is Club Fantasci Certified!
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Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.
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