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Subject: 1989 Impressions rss

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Mike Willner
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Time to party like it's 1989....

"1989: Dawn of Freedom" is GMT's follow up to their much-loved and (more importantly) oft-played "Twilight Struggle". Like its predecessor, 1989 has a few very strong positives:

- The game is well designed and is based on a set of very simple mechanics that all come together well. No subsystem is so complex that you dread invoking it (I'm thinking cavalry rules in any 18th or 19th century tactical board game!).

- GMT quality is all over the thing: mounted map, thick counters, stout and colorful cards, play aids, the works. If you play COIN or any of a dozen other GMT offerings you know what I mean.

- Most of us lived through this history, some as adults. Thus, the events in the cards and the places on the map have a place in our hearts and minds. Playing the game is, to some extent, browsing through our own experiences, emotions, and memories.

OK, So ... the game is well-designed, well-constructed, and contextually relevant. And? What makes it not just "Twilight Struggle in 1989?". A lot...

TS players will find a lot they know already in this game, which is good because it cuts down dramatically on the time it takes to start playing. Areas with Stability levels, influence points determining control, cards that give Ops or events, Early / Mid / Late Year (rather than War) cards ... all that stuff is pretty much the same.

1989 pits the Democratic front against the Communist block. The map covers only the Soviet sphere of influence, E. Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. As in TS, there is a graph of boxes connected by lines superimposed over the map.

1989 is a refinement and evolution of the TS design, in my opinion. Some mechanics were removed: there are no more 'Headline Events' at the start of the turn. Some were streamlined: TS coups and Re-alignments are combined into one mechanic called Support Checks.

So, when you get to play a card you can use the card's event (some re-enter the game from discard, some unique events are removed from play altogether. Or, use the Op value (as in TS, there are cards coded for one side or the other, and some shared) to place Influence. Or, you can use the card to do two Support Checks where you try to remove opponent Influence and maybe insert some of yours.

1989 adds the wrinkle of cultural types for the areas. The areas on the board have a symbol indicating the pre-dominant culture: Students, Intellectual, Workers, Farmers, Elite, Church, maybe others. These cultural indicators come into play through cards (i.e. a card may say "Remove all opponent's Influence from one Worker area in Poland"). And, it is important in the scoring mechanic.

There are scoring cards for countries (like regional scoring in TS). The twist is that there is now a new card-play subsystem that determines significant winner benefits and loser penalties, over and above the familiar scoring for Presence, Dominance, and Control.

Importantly, you can only play Leaders (sort of wild cards who can save the day when you run out of the right political cards) for areas you control with their culture ... if you control Gdansk (a Worker area in Poland) you get to play the Worker leader, but if you don't control a Worker area, you can't play that leader card even if it is in your hand. Having a spread of culture types under your control will improve your chances in this card play and help you score more points and control countries.

Oh, and no more 'Def Con' track, and the 'Space Race' is not a factor. Rather, there is the Tienan Man Square track where you can send one card a turn that you don't want to play.

Game play is engaging and fun. As always, cards show up at the wrong time, you end up holding the hand your opponent would love to play. So if you like you can blame luck for you bad fortune. And, though we didn't get all the way through to the bitter end, it's clear that the card mix shifts strongly to the Democrats' side as time goes on, so the Communist player has to be a bit stoic.

This game is a keeper. Frankly, I found myself more engaged and interested than in games of Twilight Struggle (which I also love), so I suspect this will crowd out future games of TS, at least for me. Strongly recommend you give this a try.
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Max DuBoff
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Nice review!
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Stefan Kaiser
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BrooklynMike wrote:
This game is a keeper. Frankly, I found myself more engaged and interested than in games of Twilight Struggle (which I also love), so I suspect this will crowd out future games of TS, at least for me. Strongly recommend you give this a try.

Just wondering, since i am a big fan of TS and have yet to play a game of 1989 which i also have sitting on the shelf: can you elaborate a bit on the main differences that you experienced while playing and what distinguished this game from TS ? Thanks in advance !

Nice review, btw.
 
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Ioan Mitiu
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Probably the biggest difference ...
No DEFCON track and subsequent limitations/additional rules.
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Pedro Estêvão
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Ioan76_TM wrote:
No DEFCON track and subsequent limitations/additional rules.


What Ioan said is arguably the most important difference, as it makes for a much more fluid game. In some respects, it feels like those swinging battles for Africa and South America in TS.

Add also:

- No headline phase.

- Coups and realignment fused into a single operation type named "support check". Basically, it is now a coup where DRMs for adjacent controlled spaces are applied.

- Each card played for ops allows exactly two such support checks (instead of just one coup as in TS)

- Scoring is preceded by a mini-card game (called "Power Struggle") that can make one of the players lose some IP (named "Support Points" in 1989) in the scoring region and further VPs

- Scoring cars are sometimes removed from the game (when the Communist player loses power in the country, which is another possible outcome of the Power Struggle)

It may not seem much, but it does play very different from TS. I am big fan of TS. But 1989 does not fall far behind.
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Adam Deverell
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I've only played two games of 1989, but was surprised how different it felt. More like a simulation than rather abstract area influence of TS. The Power Struggle cards and potential fall of each country to the Democrats fitted the theme very well too.

Since nobody has mentioned the "cons" for 1989, I also felt:

* It's two turns too long. The Power Struggle cards increases the playing time substantially, and in both my games we felt it started to drag as we hit Late War.

* It lacks the poker-like tension and bluffing of TS.

* The map felt largely arbitrary, not as tactically important as TS.

* In my second game with a number of countries falling to the Democrats, the game turned into a continuous series of Support Check rolls in East Germany. Support checks definitely not as exciting as critical Coup rolls in TS. It was not a fun game.

I rate TS a 10, and at the moment 1989 borders on 7 or 8. Need to play more, hopefully it cuts the playing time down. I liked it has a follow up to TS, but don't believe it reaches the same greatness.
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Max DuBoff
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I totally respect your opinion, but I disagree entirely.

red_gamster wrote:
* It's two turns too long. The Power Struggle cards increases the playing time substantially, and in both my games we felt it started to drag as we hit Late War.


It'll get quicker. Reducing the length of the game wouldn't really work.


Quote:
* It lacks the poker-like tension and bluffing of TS.


I don't see where you're getting this....The scoring cards are still there and the Power Struggles have their own bluffing and tension.


Quote:
* The map felt largely arbitrary, not as tactically important as TS.


Actually, in 1989, since support checks take into account adjacent spaces (leading to what I feel is a more logical process), modifiers are everything. The board thus becomes even more important, and the board's structures are very intentional. Note, for example, the two so-called "worker triangles" in Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. Control of these is key to control of those regions. The layout of each country with the student and writer spaces is also very deliberate. Examples of how non-random the board is abound, and I won't go over all of them.


Quote:
* In my second game with a number of countries falling to the Democrats, the game turned into a continuous series of Support Check rolls in East Germany. Support checks definitely not as exciting as critical Coup rolls in TS. It was not a fun game.


Hey, I'd say they're more exciting since they take adjacent countries into account. In my opinion, if you get the mods on your side, you deserve to win the support check battle. I would by no means say this happens often, by the way.


Quote:
I rate TS a 10, and at the moment 1989 borders on 7 or 8. Need to play more, hopefully it cuts the playing time down. I liked it has a follow up to TS, but don't believe it reaches the same greatness.


Yeah, I'm not trying to bash your views, but I'd say give it a few more plays. (I'm also happy to play you on Wargameroom, and I'm sure others would too.) Although I'm personally a fan of TS, I find it's less interesting for me than it used to be, but 1989 is a bit more intriguing, partly because of the asymmetrical play.
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Bruce Wigdor
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It lacks the poker-like tension and bluffing of TS.


Can you give me an example of a bluff in TS that illustrates what you're saying here?
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Adam Deverell
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Quote:
It'll get quicker. Reducing the length of the game wouldn't really work.

I’m not against reducing the length, I just think it pushes the game too long for what is a fairly low complexity simulation. Wargameroom.com, I understand, cuts out a lot of time as it deals the Power Struggle cards for you and enforces rules, etc, but ftf it dragged just a little too much for my liking. I’m hoping subsequent plays speeds the game up.

Quote:

* It lacks the poker-like tension and bluffing of TS.


I don't see where you're getting this....The scoring cards are still there and the Power Struggles have their own bluffing and tension.

The Power Struggle is excellent, I guess it’s the event cards that lack a little of the tension – just as they do in 1960: The Making of the President, and even the brilliant Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?. Every card in TS has to be considered, especially with Defcon and scoring so important. I felt the decision making in 1989 (and all other CDGs I mentioned) was not so critical. It was usually fairly straightforward what you had to play and do.

Bluffing in TS usually means diverting attention from a region in which you hold a scoring card. You don’t want to pile in IP into just one country and make it obvious what you hold in your hand. Hand management is critical – not so in the others. I also thought the Headline card mechanism in TS was a fantastic innovation. I missed it in 1989. It allowed you to try to out think your opponent. I always sweat during this phase. Perhaps "bluffing" is the wrong word. "Risk" is perhaps better.

Quote:
* The map felt largely arbitrary, not as tactically important as TS.

Actually, in 1989, since support checks take into account adjacent spaces (leading to what I feel is a more logical process), modifiers are everything. The board thus becomes even more important, and the board's structures are very intentional. Note, for example, the two so-called "worker triangles" in Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. Control of these is key to control of those regions. The layout of each country with the student and writer spaces is also very deliberate. Examples of how non-random the board is abound, and I won't go over all of them.

I liked the board in 1989, that’s for sure, it works extremely well in abstracting the relationships between factions of the Communist world (for example, relationships between the Church, the Academics, the Students) but again TS raises the bar. Consider Iran, or Pakistan, or Panama or Italy. Such critical spaces where every event card or IP placement, and especially coup rolls (in which you may only get one or two a turn) matters. I didn’t quite get the feeling that IP or support rolls in 1989 was so monumental.

Quote:
* In my second game with a number of countries falling to the Democrats, the game turned into a continuous series of Support Check rolls in East Germany. Support checks definitely not as exciting as critical Coup rolls in TS. It was not a fun game.


Hey, I'd say they're more exciting since they take adjacent countries into account. In my opinion, if you get the mods on your side, you deserve to win the support check battle. I would by no means say this happens often, by the way.

They are important, but too many are rolled to make them exciting. Frustrating, perhaps? Tactically advantageous? They do seem to make more thematic sense than the TS realignment rolls, that’s for sure.

Quote:
* I rate TS a 10, and at the moment 1989 borders on 7 or 8. Need to play more, hopefully it cuts the playing time down. I liked it has a follow up to TS, but don't believe it reaches the same greatness.


Yeah, I'm not trying to bash your views, but I'd say give it a few more plays. (I'm also happy to play you on Wargameroom, and I'm sure others would too.) Although I'm personally a fan of TS, I find it's less interesting for me than it used to be, but 1989 is a bit more intriguing, partly because of the asymmetrical play.

Oh, I am more than happy to give it a few more plays – since I own the game! I own all the TS-inspired CDGs. Labyrinth gets the most love from me. I hope to warm to 1989 a lot more, as I do consider it a very good game (and a better simulation than TS), I just thought it dragged a bit and I missed the tension of TS. We'll see what subsequent plays brings.

I would compare 1989 more to Labyrinth than TS. The two former games strive for more simulation value than TS. They're better at telling the story. But perhaps at a slight cost to the elegant game mechanics?
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Adam Deverell
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Eventually got another game of 1989 in, this time via Vassal (live). Tried wargameroom first, but couldn't connect to my opponent so played on the very nice looking 1989 module map.

Played over two nights of around two and half - three hours each, which is reasonable. Had to review the rules so first two turns were slow, and we went all the way to end of turn 10 final scoring.

Enjoyed it more than my first two ftf games - I liked breaking it into two sessions and Vassal made the Power Struggles go quicker. It is still a LONG game.

With a third play, finding it significantly different to TS. The simulation value is higher (you can see how the East was won), and play is less abstract. The rolls for toppling the Communists from power is a bit too critical and really decides the game - the final Power Struggle in our game in Hungary actually DID decide it - so I can imagine a bit of whingeing about poor rolls happens more than TS. Liked how the Communist isn't totally out of it even if they lose power. Overall, despite the excessive length for this type of game, this was definitely an enjoyable experience.
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