Game Buzz – Freedom: The Underground Railroad

And now for a game with a theme straight out of history:

image by BGG user bmayer
image by BGG user bmayer

Freedom: The Underground Railroad is a 1-4 player cooperative game from designer Brian Mayer and published by Academy Games.  The 90-minute game (currently on Kickstarter) revolves around the Underground Railroad – you play abolitionists working to advance your cause, move slaves to Canada, and end slavery in the United States.  The game is set from 1800-1865, spanning the period of time from the beginning of the Underground Railroad to the end of the Civil War.

The game comes with a lead player lantern, 17 support tokens, 13 fundraising tokens, 27 conductor tokens, a slave catcher die, a movement die, money tokens, 96 slave cubes, 5 slave catcher markers, 52 abolitionist cards, 6 role cards, 18 slave market cards, a map/token board, 4 victory condition cards, and 6 player mats.  Each player begins with a role (random or chosen) and corresponding player mat.  Slaves are placed on plantations around the board, and three slave market cards are drawn to fill the market with slave markers on each one.  The abolitionist cards (specifically general and reserve) are divided into three period decks, with a certain number of opposition cards shuffled into each one.  Five cards from the first period deck are dealt into the abolitionist queue on the board (only one opposition card can be here).  Each player gets $8, a lead player is chosen, and you’re ready to go.

Freedom: The Underground Railroad lasts up to eight rounds.  Each round has five phases: slave catcher, planning, action, slave market, and lantern.

SLAVE CATCHER: The lead player rolls the two dice.  The slave catcher die will either show the symbol of one of the slave catchers, or will show a walking slave.  If it’s the walking slave, none of the slave catchers move.  If it’s a symbol, move the corresponding token a number of spaces and direction shown on the movement die.  It captures any slaves in the space at the end of its path.  These slaves go on the slave market cards.

PLANNING: Each player may take up to two tokens from the token board.  This can be done simultaneously.  Most of the tokens have a cost, and you have to be able to pay for them – no sharing money between players.  Support tokens cost $10 each and help determine when you reach the next period of time – if the last one in the current period is taken, you move on to the next period, discarding any cards from the previous period deck that aren’t out in the queue.  Conductor tokens have varying costs and allow you to move slaves around during the action phase.  Fundraising tokens are free and help you earn money if conditions are met (the position of slaves).

ACTION: Each player, in turn order, can take several actions in whatever order they wish.  The options are:

  • Gain your role’s benefit: Use your role’s ability.  This can be used once per round.
  • Use your role card’s one-time special ability: This can be used once per game.  Once used, you flip your role card over so the special ability is no longer visible.
  • Play a conductor or fundraising token: Play a conductor token to move a certain number of slaves a certain number of spaces.  Fundraising tokens give you money for slaves in green southern spaces during the first two periods of the game, and for slaves in blue norther spaces in the third period.
  • Play a second conductor or fundraising token: In other words, you can play up to two tokens in the round.
  • Buy and resolve one abolitionist card: The abolitionist queue consists of five cards.  You may buy one.  General cards are resolved immediately, then discarded.  Reserve cards are placed on you mat to use later – you can only have one in play at a time.  Opposition cards are bad, and get resolved when purchased, while in the queue, or when removed during the lantern phase.
  • Pass: Don’t take any actions, and take $3-$5 , depending on the time period.

SLAVE MARKET: Slaves from the slave market cards are placed in plantations, and the players can decide which ones.  If there is no space in the plantations, the slaves are lost.  Slaves come from the bottom market card, and when it is empty, the cards slide down and a new one is drawn.  There are eight cards, one per round.

LANTERN: The abolitionist queue is restocked, discarding the rightmost card in the queue and sliding the rest to the right.  The empty spaces are then filled.  Only one new opposition card may be added – if more are drawn, they are set aside until the queue is filled, then shuffled into the deck.

The game is won if you move the required number of slaves to freedom in Canada, purchase all of the support tokens in the game, and finish the round without losing.  You lose if the Slaves Lost track on your victory condition card is filled and another slave needs to go on, or if you have not won the game by the end of the eighth round.  You can choose to score the game to track how you did – +2 points per freed slave, -1 per slave lost, +10 for freeing all required slaves, +10 for purchasing all required support tokens, and +5 per slave market card left (if you won).

I don’t cover a lot of history games on the blog because I’m not really a history buff.  However, it is nice to see a game tackle historical events and do it well.  The theme of this one is kind of heavy – slavery is still a touchy subject in our country.  It’s one of those things we look back on and wonder how our ancestors could have participated in that act.  But I grew up in the South, and I know how proud they are of their heritage.  It leads to stubbornness, and that’s why I think you still see them resistant to change.

But I digress.  I really don’t want to make this into a political post.  The fact is, slavery happened, and the fact is there was an Underground Railroad that helped a bunch of people out of their situations.  It’s interesting to see a game based in this – you’d think it might be too heavy of a subject, but I think Mayer and Academy Games made the right move in making it a cooperative game.   That way, everyone can work together and you learn something about the difficulty of the task.  In that, I think this one has some good educational value.

Overall, I think this is definitely a game to check out.  It sailed past its initial funding goal and is working on stretch goals now, so it seems that a lot of people are excited about it.  The Kickstarter campaign ends on August 18, so go back it if you’re interested.  Thanks for reading!

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