In 2005, Twilight Struggle came out. It was a Cold War based card-driven two-player game from GMT Games. It’s always been very well respected, but I think it came as a big surprise to a lot of people when, in 2011, it unseated both Puerto Rico and Agricola as the number one game at BGG. I’ve never played, but that all makes me very interested in…
1989: Dawn of Freedom is the newest game from GMT Games that was co-designed by Jason Matthews, who also co-designed Twilight Struggle. This time, his partner is Ted Torgerson, and I think it was primarily Torgerson’s design (as a redux of TS). Torgerson only has a few credits to his name, including Free at Last (a PnP game about the civil rights movement that should be published in the future by Jolly Roger Games). 1989 is a card driven game, much like Twilight Struggle, that pits two players (ages 12 and up) against one another in the final year of the Cold War. One player is the Communist, trying to hold onto his empire. The other is the Democrat, trying to break free. The game lasts about two hours, and the winner is the one that has advanced their agenda the farthest.
1989 contains a mounted map (which is a big deal, especially since the original edition of TS was on a paper map), 110 strategy cards, 52 power struggle cards, two six-sided dice, and two sheets of counters (I have no idea how many total counters there are). The map shows six countries that are in play – East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Each space in a country may have a socio-economic icon to let you know what kind of space it is. All spaces have a stability number and an indication of control. There are battleground spaces on the map, and each country contains a scoring box.
At the start of the game, each player will get 8 cards from the Early Year deck (strategy cards). Each player puts some support markers in various specified locations around the board, and then each player gets to place seven more in places they choose (as long as the new spots don’t have any opponent support markers). You’ll also place Tiananmen Square markers by the Tiananmen Square track, a turn marker on turn one, an action round marker (Communist side up), and a VP marker at zero.
1989 takes place over 10 turns. Each turn follows a specific sequence: deal strategy cards, play action rounds, make extra support check (if applicable), verify held cards, celebrate New Year’s Eve party (if applicable), and advance the turn marker.
DEAL STRATEGY CARDS: At the beginning of each turn, you’ll deal cards to each player to bring them back up to eight (the Communist always gets the first card). If there are no cards left in the deck, reshuffle the discards. At the beginning of turn 4, you’ll add the middle year cards, and the late year cards are added at the beginning of turn 8. One of the players may be entitle to discard and draw one card based on their position on the Tiananmen Square track.
ACTION ROUNDS: Each player takes turns playing cards. Each player will end up playing 7 cards, and the Communist always goes first. You can play cards as events or for OPs (operations points). Cards are associated with the Communist player (red star), the Democrat player (blue star), or both (silver star). You can only play a card for the event if it is associated with your side, or if it is associated with both sides. Otherwise, you must play it for the OPs, and all of the OPs must be spent in one of the following ways: add support points, make support checks, or make a Tiananmen Square attempt. One OP can be spent to place a support marker in a friendly-controlled or an adjacent uncontrolled space. It costs two OPs to place in an enemy controlled space. If you choose to do support checks, you’ll be attempting to reduce an opponent’s support in an area. You’ll multiply the stability of the area by two, then roll a die adding the OPs from the strategy card, +1 for each adjacent friendly space, and -1 for each adjacent opponent space. If you are successful (greater than the doubled stability), remove support according to the difference. A tie or failed support check has no effect.
The other thing you can do with your OPs is make a Tiananmen Square attempt. Each square on the track has a number. Roll a die and add your OPs, +1 if it’s your event, +1 if it’s not your first attempt at this particular space, +1 if the Li Peng event is in place and you’re Communist. If you equal or exceed the value, you can advance. There are certain advantages to each space along the track – +1 to Tiananmen Square rolls, extra OPs, extra cards, remove opponent support points, discard a card and draw a new one, get a free 2 OPs support check, a free opponent card per turn, and a dual OPs/event play of one card per turn. All effects only go to the first one to reach the space, and some stay in play until the other player reaches that spot.
So, you can play a card with your star or the silver star for OPs or as an event. However, if you play a card with your opponent’s star, they get to trigger the event before or after you take the OPs (your choice). In any case, when a card has been played for an event, it is removed from the game (unless it has lasting effects). If you play a card for OPs and no event is triggered, the card will simply be discarded. Each player will end up playing 7 cards, usually holding one at the end.
EXTRA SUPPORT CHECK: If you’ve reached the spot on the Tiananmen Square track that allows you to do an extra support check, now is the time.
VERIFY HELD CARDS: If you draw a scoring card, you must play it at some point during your turn (these result in power struggle that lead to points for the players). During this phase, verify that neither player is holding one. If they are, they lose.
NEW YEAR’S EVE PARTY: If the New Year’s Eve Party event is in effect, the game is over.
ADVANCE TURN MARKER: Advance to the next turn. The game is over after the tenth turn.
There are four ways that you can win 1989. If you reach 20 VPs, you win automatically. If your opponent has a scoring card at the end of the turn, you win. If you are in the lead after the power struggle that results from an activated New Year’s Eve Party event, you win. If you are in the lead after the final scoring following the tenth turn, you win.
As I said, I’ve never played Twilight Struggle. But I have read the rules, and this game does seem very similar. I don’t know enough to compare the two, but the method of card play is almost identical. The theme is a bit more specific (just one year, rather than covering the entire Cold War). It seems like a good game, and I’m sure there will be a lot of people enjoying it. There seems to be a tense tug-of-war mechanism in play around the support in each space. I also like the idea of the Tiananmen Square track. You can both ignore it, but if one player decides to go after it, the other player will be forced to keep pace since there are some really good benefits for the first player to reach each spot, and they don’t go away until the other player also gets there.
I really need to play Twilight Struggle sometime, and I want to play it before I play this. But I am interested in seeing how this one does. Thanks for reading!