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Goodbye Lenin! The Wall Must Go! Read the designer of 1989: Dawn of Freedom's notes about the game and the creative process
Judit Szepessy
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Preorders for the long awaited grail game, 1989: Dawn of Freedom are coming in, and geeks are in the process of reading the rules, playing the game and figuring out card synergies and recreating history. When else would it be the best to post an interview with the designer, Ted Torgerson, than right now?
Read and find out what made Ted chose this period, and how this excellent game took shape!

I cannot hide my enthusiasm towards the design and the gameplay. I am amazed at how this game resonates with history. Behind each element there is a reason that explains why there was a certain mechanic put in the game. When playing the game, things come alive: the events, expectations, hopes and emotions of those times.
My hope is that this list will give the game more exposure, and more geeks will get to play it and will be part of this magic experience that 1989: Dawn of Freedom creates.

Please, post comments, questions, observations and experiences either about the game or about the period the game covers.
Have fun playing this awesome game!


Ted posted this song in this thread.



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1. Board Game: Controlling Interest [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Judit Szepessy
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What made you chose this topic and theme for the game? Is there any personal reason that explains the interest?

Well, I was always very interested the subject. As it happens in the fall of 1989 I was a student at the University of Wisconsin law school and was registered for an elective course called International Business Transactions. Each student took a topic to give a lecture, and I was assigned the subject the Single European Act of 1987. The Single European Act had created a single market for capital, labor, goods and services throughout the European Community (as it was then known). Well what did I know about that? My professor suggested a subscription to the Financial Times newspaper to research the topic. So about a week later I started to receive the FT by mail. This was the first week of September 1989, and no one in the world would have guessed than in 2 months the Berlin Wall would come down. Of course the FT has a European focus much more than American news outlets so I was able to read excerpts from speeches and accounts of the revolutions in great detail. I think a lot of us gamers suffer OCD to some extent, and I got quite wrapped up in the events in Eastern Europe.

(That is not a very interesting story except for the fact that if I had been assigned to do a lecture on the Export-Import Bank it would have been a much more boring game.)
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2. Board Game: Trivia Game Books and Movies [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Judit Szepessy
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The game is obviously well researched. What were your background readings that gave you a solid understanding of the given period?

I read these books:

Timothy Garton Ash The Magic Lantern: The Revolutions of 1989 as Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague . Timothy Garton Ash is probably the most famous writer on the events of 1989. This is a wonderfully written account of Garton Ash’s travels across Eastern Europe as an eyewitness, and sometime participant, in the revolutions. He gives a speech endorsing Adam Michnik at a Solidarity meeting in Silesia, and sits in on the free form strategy sessions of the Civic Forum at the height of the Velvet Revolution in Prague. It is mostly anecdotes, but with some insightful analysis as well, and an easy read.


the image is from the movie, Goodbye Lenin

Robin Okey The Demise of Communist Eastern Europe: 1989 in Context. Excellent but not widely discussed book putting the events in a broader historical context, including the dicey period of post-Communist Eastern Europe and Nomeklaturization of the transition to a market system.


Jacques Lesvesque The Enigma of 1989: The USSR and the Liberation of Eastern Europe. Available for download online. Written from the perspective of what the Soviets hoped to accomplish with their hands off policy toward Eastern Europe. Not too exciting to read but good source material interviews with some lesser know actors like Karoly Grosz ad Lubomir Strougal.

Victor Sebestyn Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. Wonderful survey of the events leading to the fall of Communism, culminating the revolutions of 1989. Revealing how the collapse was immanent of the system.

Mary Sorotte. 1989 and the Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe. A nice story of the reunification of Germany and the back room dealing among Thatcher, Kohl and Mitterand. Not too relevant for the game.

Steven Kotkin. Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment. A very controversial book expressing the view that the system was so decrepit it simply collapsed of its own weight and that the story of the people rising up against Communism was a narrative imposed from the outside.

Padraic Kenny. A Carnival of Revolution. Great book. Must read if you want to get below the everyday details into the events on the street. You meet some of the ordinary people that organized street demonstrations or distributed samizdat and made the revolutions possible.

Ed. Vladimir Tismaneanu The Revolutions of 1989 (rewriting histories) and Between Past and Future the Revolutions of 1989 Ten Years Later. Important collections of essays about the causes and meanings of the 1989 revolutions.

Krishan Kumar 1989 Revolutionary Ideas and Ideals. Professor Kumar taught at Central European University in Budapest and this is a collection of his writings from that time. Few facts, more focused on understanding 1989 in a sociological context.

I read a few other books I would not recommend.

1989 was the world’s first real televised revolution. I found a lot of videos of contemporaneous news reports posted on YouTube. New websites with original archival material go up every day. I’m not embarrassed to say Wikipedia is a convenient source to check dates and spellings and things.
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3. Board Game: Test Match [Average Rating:5.89 Overall Rank:7636]
Judit Szepessy
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How long did it take to come up with a version that could be play tested? Is there a particular incident that stands out from that period?

Well, a very long time, in part because of extended periods of inactivity. I had posted the game in the BGG database shortly before I left BGG in 2007, but at that time it was just a concept. Then in 2008 I mentioned the idea to someone in the wargameroom lobby, Petr from the Czech Republic I think it was, whom I don’t see around anymore, and he said it sounded like a neat idea and said I should make the game. So I did.

I remember sitting in my basement playing around and hitting upon the idea of a coup with realignment modifiers, but it took a while before I got the idea to allow 2 attempts on 1 card. The math works really nicely, with a break even on the 3 Ops +1 mod. (3.5 + 3 Ops+1 mod)-6= 1.5 x 2 =3, but with a standard deviation that makes for a good risk/reward calculation for the players. The player with better position can grind by placing SPs, but the person behind can turn things around with good dice, or not. It brings into play a lot of options on events to add or remove SPs to alter modifiers. That was an ah-ha moment that made me think I would have a game. Not that it was inspired, but that it was like a Sherman. It would get the job done.

I joined CSW Social and posted some screen shots of an early mock up. The next important thing I remember was an e-mail from Ron Mayer-Opficius that Phalanx Games might be interested in looking at the game. At that time the game was still a long way from playable. I had written a lot of the events by then, and many are the same today as they were then. But the board was a London Tube poster. Ron made a couple simple yet brilliant suggestions. These were bureaucratic societies so the capitals should be the bureaucratic spaces. This really cleaned up the map and the positional element of the socio-economic aspect of the spaces started to take shape. Also, it was his idea to drop Yugoslavia and Albania, neither of which were in the Warsaw Pact. Obvious. Phalanx did not pick up the game but that was still very nice of them to look at it and to chat football with Ron.

The next big step was to ask Bruce Wigdor if he would write a wargameroom program for 1989. I had a ZunTzu module I had made, but that was not enough. When Bruce agreed to make the wargameroom module, that opened the game to playtesting by a very experienced group of Twilight Struggle players.

During this time I made about twenty copies of the game and sold some on BGG. I sold 10 copies to a game store in Japan, my first ever retail sale of a game. Once a person from China came into wargameroom and said he had seen hundreds of copies in a warehouse in China. This was of the print and play version.


cards from the P&P version

Then Jason was in wargameroom one night and I asked him if he would take a look at it. By this time I was hoping to get a publisher. I sent him a copy and he talked to Gene at GMT. They agreed to do the game if Jason would come into the project as a design consultant. He agreed for which I am very grateful. He and Bruce tweaked the battle card system. Just simple changes that added a lot of strategy.

We did two seasons of leagues in wargameroom. The level of play there is extremely competitive. There is no substitute for top players playing in a league competitive environment. Bruce’s program tracked lots of statistics, which Pat Martin (FuryMarx) tracked in a database. Most of the revisions we made were draining VPs from the scoring cards to reduce the number of auto wins to our target, which was about 60%. We know the game will face even tougher testing now, so we will see how it turns out.
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4. Board Game: Revolution! [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:737]
Judit Szepessy
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How did you decide about what rules/mechanics wanted to keep and change from TS?

Well there is nothing that needs to be taken out of Twilight Struggle, nothing to be improved upon. But what you find is that certain things suit the situation represented in the game better. Events like Junta -where you are placing influence and using that to leverage a better realignment chance against another space - that was the feeling we were looking for. It is a more fluid scenario than in the Cold War.

So in Twilight Struggle a coup represents a change in government confined to a particular country. You can attempt a coup anywhere, subject to defcon restrictions. Even if your opponent controls all the adjacent spaces it won’t affect the outcome of the coup. 1989 it is more positional. If you don’t have the positive modifiers from controlling adjacent spaces you are not going to have success. In mass movement social revolutions like those in 1989 people who have acquiesced to a system for decades suddenly join demonstrations, in great numbers, and a critical mass is reached that overthrows the regime. It was this crowd mentality - a simultaneous sense of liberation and a sense of social connection (in what had been rather atomized societies) - that we were trying to represent through the adjacency modifiers. Some big events allow the Democrat to place or remove Communist SPs before making support checks, breaking down the Communist control of spaces and allowing the Democrat an opening to break through. The Communist knows these events are coming in the game. In real life they took everyone by surprise.

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5. Board Game: Charades [Average Rating:4.85 Overall Rank:10811]
Judit Szepessy
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What kind of game did you want to design with 1989 Dawn of Freedom?


I wanted a game that had a sweeping story, that you could look back at so many points and say “If I got that roll” or “If I played that card” or “that was great when you blocked me from that space.” Dramatic swings within the influence of the players’ actions but still not in their complete control.

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6. Board Game: Family Favourites [Average Rating:5.33 Unranked]
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What are some of your favourite cards on both sides and why?

Gorbachev, just because he can turn things around for either side in a contested country, or he can fall flat on his face. I always root for Gorby. The Tank Man, especially when I draw him as the Democrat and he gets me a special ability. The Monday Demonstrations, when you have a bonus event (or two) in effect and Germany is all red, is just great. And The Crowd Turns Against Ceausescu, because it reminds me of playing Night Baseball poker games with my friends in high school, just hoping to flip those Rally cards. One event that never does much for me is Walesa. He just doesn’t get the rolls for me.

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7. Board Game: Learning to Sequence [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Judit Szepessy
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What did you learn during this time that covers the very beginning to the end product?

How little I understood about how games work. Accelerating and decelerating event cycling, deck management, etc. It is all very technical. I let Bruce worry about that. I just tried to come up with balancing events as a remedy when one side seemed to be too weak at a certain part of the game. I was also the lead play tester of everyone’s ideas. For instance during the first WGR league Daniel Dunbring suggested it would be more fun to play as the Communist with a couple killer cards in the Late Year deck, and I came up with Kremlin Coup! and the Chinese Solution. Now I think the game would not be complete without them. I hope the game we made is close to balanced.

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8. Board Game: Hero [Average Rating:5.63 Overall Rank:8525]
Judit Szepessy
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Who is your favourite person from the time period that the game covers?

You’ll have to guess.

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9. Board Game: Iron Tyrants [Average Rating:8.33 Unranked]
Judit Szepessy
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Who is your least favourite person from this time period?

Hmm. Well there are so many to choose from. You know it’s hard to beat Nicolae Ceausescu for cruelty to his own people. But it’s not an easy choice. Ceausescu was a megalomaniac, but at least he wasn’t a hypocrite. He didn’t hide his debauchery behind barbed wire fencing while pretending to be a man of the people like Honecker. Oh, and Li Peng had more blood on his hands in 1989 than either of them. I’ll go with Nicolae and Elena as a tie. They are inseparable.

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10. Board Game: Web of Power [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:311]
Judit Szepessy
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What was your thinking for including the Power Struggles in the game?

Twilight Struggle covers more than 40 years, and a Scoring Card in TS represents a snapshot of the geopolitical situation in the region at the time the card is played. It is just a gauge of who is carrying more influence in the region at that moment in the Cold War.

That is not what the Scoring Cards are in 1989. The Scoring Cards in 1989 represent an attempt to launch a revolution that will reach a critical mass of strength, destabilizing and then toppling the regime from Power. That action in the streets is what the Power Struggle minigame represents.

The mechanics are abstract and are meant to cover a broad range of actions. A power struggle could be partially free elections as they had in Poland on June 4 when Solidarity won a sweeping victory. It could be the formation of a non-Communist government through negotiations with third parties, as happened in Poland in August. It could be tanks rolling in the streets as happened in Bucharest in December. It could be a wave of strikes. It could be the mass demonstrations in Leipzig and Prague. The point is the Power Struggle is the moment where the Democrat is trying to overthrow the Communist system. It's not a snapshot of who is doing better at that moment, but an active political battle for Power in the country.



Now, yes, there are some occasions where play of a Scoring Card in 1989 is analagous to playing a Scoring Card in TS because the Communist has such an advantage in spaces that the revolution never comes close to reaching critical mass. An example would be the elections in East Germany in May, 1989, where Erich Honecker received a Germanically precise 98.95% of the vote, running unopposed. In that circumstance the VPs would represent a snapshot of how securely the Communist held Power and what level of open opposition existed in the country, if any.


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11. Board Game: Innovation [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:202]
Judit Szepessy
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In terms of mechanics, what do you feel is innovative about the game?

Honestly, 1989 is not groundbreaking. Kind of like Marxism, it is a synthesis of prior innovations.

I am in awe of those who can invent something original, like Mark Herman’s battle cards in We the People or Jason and Ananda’s area influence for Ops in Twilight Struggle.



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12. Board Game: Beyond Words [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked]
Judit Szepessy
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Is there anything else you want to add as a designer note?

Should have had a dedication.

To the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, who have sustained their cultures through tremendous challenges and have inspired the rest of the world with their peaceful revolutions and successful transitions to free and democratic societies.

I also want to mention how happy I am with the artwork of the published game. Donal Hegarty was the artist and he did an excellent job.


In December 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, residents celebrate
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13. Board Game: The Next War [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:2710]
 
Judit Szepessy
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What comes next for Ted in the board game design adventure?

Ted is hoping to publish another game at the end of this year, Free At Last. This game is about the civil rights movement in the USA in the fifties and sixties. The same mechanics, a CD wargame. The game was previously available in P&P form.


Rosa Parks helps lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott

He has designed two other interesting games, Don't Touch That Dial, and Chicago.
Don't Touch That Dial is an auction/bidding/hand management game with strong area control element. In the game, you return to those thrilling days of yesteryear, as players compete from coast-to-coast to build the most successful radio network.

Chicago is an auction game. It takes place from 1871 until about 1910, an exciting time of change when America was transformed from an agrarian to an industrial economy. You and your fellow players have come to seek fortune and glory in rebuilding Chicago.
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14. Board Game: Thanks a Million! [Average Rating:4.50 Unranked]
Judit Szepessy
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Finally, on behalf of other gamers I want to say a big Thank You to Ted and all the others who were involved in the design for creating such a wonderful game. It was a tremendous adventure and a wonderful experience to follow the game from the P&P version to the final product.
I love how well the game blends the theme with the mechanics. When playing the game, you are part of history, and this is a truly amazing experience that only a few games can offer. Those games are very precious.

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