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In the spring of 2013 and 2014 a group of college professors got together to play and discuss games. Overall the group contained two psychologists, an economist, a classicist, a media studies professor, an anthropologist and a biologist. Our main focus involved whether we could pull games or game mechanisms into our classrooms. We were purposefully open-minded about how this might happen (e.g., as content, simulations, mechanics, etc.). Being academics, the discussions often went off into other directions. Time permitting, I will occasionally try and share the gist of some of the conversation surrounding a particular game. Up today:


Image by bmayer


Consensus:
1 Engaging co-op with a tense, puzzle-like play.
2 Very difficult to win.
4 The game, as a game is very good, but not great – easy to pick up, engaging, but just a tad repetitive in game play. However, the game as a sort of metaphorical monument is a masterpiece.



Some Thoughts on “Replay Value”

We academics are often accused of researching the obvious. “Hey look, a study has determined that pornography is arousing,” or “Wow, waddaya know? Research has discovered that drinking water with sewage in it can make you sick.” So let me begin this review with a statement of suitable profundity: One of the great things about games is that we get to play them again. I’m only partly joking there. Much of life does not fall into the category of “replayable.” Games do, and what I’m going to try to do in this review is convince you that “replay” is valuable in ways that you might not have considered. Warning. What follows is long, although I hope the journey is worth your time. Besides which would you rather have, Tolkien or this?

Michael Bay does LotR


Before turning to the review proper, though, just to be clear, I’m not talking about “replay value” as it is typically used in BGG discussions. On the Geek, “replay value” is usually used to refer to the repeated “freshness” of a game – the variability it offers in the type, sequence, and significance of its within game decisions. Using “replay value” in this manner, we’d say that craps has a lower replay value than, say, chess. Once you know the probability distribution for 2d6, then craps is no longer a game so much as it is a recipe. The rules of chess, on the other hand, enable more opportunities to encounter novel situations from one game to the next and to discover the consequences of different moves within those situations. These consequences can then be built up into “styles” of play: conservative, aggressive, reckless, etc. Without a doubt, chess has a higher “replay value” than craps.

…Unless, of course, you happened to live in 16th and 17th century Italy. Those of you that know a little bit about the history of probability theory will recognize the importance of that time period. Let’s just say that if probability theory hasn’t been invented, then there are many reasons to play craps over-and-over-and-over-and-over-and-over. For that matter, even in the 21st century there are reasons to play craps over-and-over-and-over-and-over-and-over. Maybe you suspect that your dice are biased. Maybe you want to study decision biases such as the gambler’s fallacy or the hot hand fallacy. What I’m getting at here, is that if we consider a game like craps as a tool for exploring something beyond the within-game contingencies (fancy psychology word that means the causal structure of a particular environment), then the notion of “replay value” acquires a slightly different meaning that is typically assumed. The value of replay emerges in its ability to tell us something outside of the game.

Let me put it like this, and I promise that this is the last aside before we get to Freedom, itself. How many of you had a book when you were younger that you read and re-read and re-read and re-read? Me, when I was a tween, I read John Christopher’s The Tripods trilogy about 20 times straight. Well, mostly the first two books, The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead. Read. Finish. Start over. The same went for Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy and Jean Craighead’s My Side of the Mountain. For me, at that period in my life, these books had a high “replay value.” But how is that possible? It’s not as if the books changed between readings, and it’s not like the plots were complicated. To use our gaming lingo, after the first play through, the within game mechanics were utterly predictable and the likelihood of encountering novel within-game problems or strategic decisions was nil. Where, then, does the replay value reside for these sorts of books?

Where’s the "replay value"?


Some of you might have read Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, and you’ll know where I’m going with this. Essentially, Bettelheim argued that children become fixated on particular stories as they work through / come to terms with emerging psychological anxieties. The narrative, in a sense, becomes a matrix or a “dream catcher” that the child uses to hold on to, control and explore urges, concerns, anxieties, confusions, and other psychological issues that would otherwise be too diffuse and overwhelming. Stated differently, certain stories help each of us gain agency within the unique context of our individual lives. They provide a structured and safe social space in which to explore uncomfortable issues. Now, what I’m going to suggest is that games just might provide similar opportunities. Games, too, can serve as “dream catchers” that allow us to experiment with meanings in both obvious and non-obvious ways. Do all games serve or need to serve such a purpose? Of course not. However, our hobby is made richer if designers realize the full potential of games. Games need not only be diversions. They need not only provide a social anchor. They need not only teach strategic thinking and patience. Games, like certain stories, can serve as a matrix of associations within which we hold emotions and thoughts that are difficult to get our heads around, and the best of games will do so without us even necessarily knowing it.

Freedom: The Underground Railroad as metaphorical dream catcher
Freedom is one of those games, like Twilight Struggle or Hammer of the Scots, that punches above its weight in terms of complexity vs. experience. It is not a complicated game. Essentially, each player takes a role that provides unique turn-by-turn ability. On a turn players can purchase two actions, fundraise and/or move slaves among safe houses. In addition, players can purchase an “event” which, usually, immediately triggers. Actions are taken, events are reset, and more slaves move into the plantations. At the start of the next turn, a dice are rolled to determine the random movement of slave catchers, and the game continues. Players win if they are able to free a certain number of slaves and purchase necessary influence. Players lose if a certain number of slaves are “lost” or if they are unable to win in 8 turns. I’m glossing over details, but in essence that’s the game. In terms of game play, Freedom is easier to learn than Pandemic with the caveat that “event” cards require a bit of on-going familiarization.

So how does the game punch above its weight? Mainly, the game vibrates with historical resonances. I used the metaphor of a “dream catcher” earlier, and Freedom is a dream catcher in spades. First off, let’s consider the game’s pacing.



Historical Narrative: Pacing
Among the professors that played Freedom, we have played the game solo, with two, and with three players. Each time the paced experience of the game was similar. The games began with an almost “idyllic” phase. There is an early sense of optimism for a few turns in which slaves are being moved out of bondage and into the system that will hopefully ferry them into Canada. During this phase of the game, fund raising is relatively easy, especially if the Stockbroker is being played, and the abolitionists (i.e., the players) can easily manage the influx of new slaves into the southern markets. After a few turns, though, the game becomes increasingly tense. The movement of the slave catchers becomes more difficult to manage because the underground network is close to capacity. Also, by this point, several “red cards” will have emerged. These card usually cause negative effects that trigger when they are removed from the event track. The cat and mouse of the slave catchers, the filled network of safe houses, and the Sword of Damocles of the negative events produce an increasing sense of constraint. Finally, at some point the game tends to flip to an experience of, if not futility, then a realization that the abolitionists are probably going to lose. “Probably” typically becomes a certainty a good turn or two before all is actually lost. But the players can see it. The cause is lost.

Now, by all accounts Freedom it is a difficult game to beat. Not impossible, but difficult. Supposedly, the fewer players, the harder it is to win. I can’t speak to that, because we haven’t succeeded in beating the game. However, personally, we’ve found the game to be engaging regardless of outcome. For instance, the pacing of the game is appropriate to a rough history of the subject matter. Our understanding is that in the early history of the U.S., there was a general sense (among well-off elites, re, the policy makers of the day) that slavery was a problem, but one that would gradually take care of itself. Pennsylvania passed the first “gradual emancipation” act in 1780 which caused all sorts of problems when Philadelphia became the temporary capital (George Washington regularly rotated his slaves out of the state in order to by-pass the law), and by 1804 all of the states north of New Jersey had passed some form of gradualist emancipation law or abolished slavery outright (i.e., Vermont and Massachusetts). Even Thomas Jefferson, for a time, advocated this approach, along with the rather naïve idea that after emancipation, freed slaves would be shipped out of the US. In 1807 Congress even voted to ban the importation of slaves.


The failure of gradualism: Free vs. Slave states in 1860


These events might be said to correspond to the “resigned optimism” that permeates the start of the game play in Freedom. As we know from history, though, this optimism ran up against economic and political forces that increasingly polarized the U.S. Slavery provided southern states – more specifically, southern plantation holders – with more political power than they otherwise would have held. The plantation economy was also profoundly top-down, providing plantation holders with enormous economic power, as well. With the Louisiana Purchase and the cotton gin permitting cotton to be planted outside of the Deep South, “gradualism” gave way to a cold war mentality in which every potential new state became a zero-sum political and economic battleground. Finally, with the loss of state count (19 free vs. 15 slave in 1861) and the loss of the presidency (dominated by southern presidents until the 1840s), the southern political establishment chose to secede.

So, the pacing of Freedom does a very nice job of resonating with the historical narrative. Optimism gives way to increasingly careful and constrained planning, which finally gives way to defeat. As I mentioned, the main driver of this pacing is the number of slaves that come into the plantations at the start of every turn, combined with the accumulation of negative event cards that the players must attempt to mitigate. However, another nice touch is the fact that at the start of the game players can “fundraise” based on the number of slaves moving through the underground railroad in the South. Later in the game, though, fundraising is only possible for slaves moving through the Northern states (which is much more difficult). Such a simple change nicely captures a sense of polarization. It’s as if attitudes towards slavery are hardening.

Moral Choices: Liberalism vs. Utilitarianism
The game offers up other nice touches. For example, consider how the game plays with notions of liberalism and utilitarianism. Slavery cuts to the very heart of the philosophy of liberalism on which the U.S. was founded. Liberalism in the classic sense (i.e., born of the Enlightenment) is in opposition to authoritarianism. Where the latter privileges certain individuals over others, often in the name of “utility” or “divine right,” liberalism places the unique individual at the center of politics (e.g., democratic government) and even religious experience (e.g., the Reformation’s notion of a personal relationship with God). I’m necessarily simplifying there, but of note is just how few games place the “individual experience” at the center of game play. What I mean by that is the following. Consider a typical war game. The focus is on such things as economic output (e.g., Rise and Decline of the Third Reich’s BRPs), relative attack strengths, supply lines, and so forth. Wargames are an extreme example, but the point is that many games – especially so-called “euro games” – establish and exercise a utilitarian ethos. The emotion, if it is felt, is one of struggle in opposition to other players. Game pieces are merely tools that obtain their meaning from the inter-player struggle.

Board as Dream Catcher. Consider how the web of paths resembles a dream catcher. Consider how the function of the slave catchers serves to snare the dreams of freedom. Image by kilroy_locke


Imagine, though, a game in which somehow the players were made to care about their blocks or chits. These were not simply units, but collections of individuals with real hopes and fears that existed, in some sense, independent from the player’s choices. As I mentioned above, given slavery’s fundamental opposition to foundational American values, it is important for a purported “historical” game to try and capture that moral tension between utilitarianism and liberalism. Freedom does this in a wonderful manner. The very simplicity of the unpainted, wooden cubes resonates at a symbolic level with the notion of impoverished individuals or families. Further, by having the cubes pass from a “slave market” into the overflowing plantations, and then later by having the cubes “threatened” by slave catchers, Freedom manages to evoke feelings of care-taking. Finally, any of you that know anything about psychology might recall that when we experience emotions, many times we engage in a post-hoc rationalization in order to explain these feelings. A student feels “arousal” while in the presence of a woman, and later interprets the feeling as “love” (forgetting that they met on a suspension bridge and therefore the feeling was probably “terror”). Similarly, since Freedom evokes feelings of care-taking, these feelings tend to get lodged onto the game’s unpainted, wooden cubes. In other words, the cubes become, in a sense, individuals.
Note how the blocks are being “inspected” by the slave purchasers. These and other touches serve to imbue the blocks with a strange sense of anonymous personhood. Image by kilroy_locke


However, the player is still playing a game, and the goal of the game is to “win.” This is how the game introduces the conflict between liberalism and utilitarianism. The problem is that winning, or rather attempting to win, often leads the players to purposefully sacrifice cubes for strategic reasons. Is this no better than slavery itself? Isn’t this dismissal of the individual for the sake of a “higher good” at the very heart of what makes slavery reprehensible? The game makes no judgment, and in any event, these questions are very, very subtle. They might not be heard explicitly by the players, but the resonance is still there.

I could go on in ways in which the game subtly speaks to historical issues. For example, the game’s internal economy with dollar amounts placed above purchasable actions, references the slave market cards that contain the unlabeled, unpriced wooden cubes. Once again, there is an unstated comparison being made. Also, the roles surprisingly speak to tensions that show up in many movements for social change. In one game the player who was the “stockbroker” was castigated by the other players for taking all of the public credit for their hard work! The point of this section of the review, though, is to simply draw your attention to Freedom’s use of implicit associations. They are extremely efficient in execution, but maximally evocative at a non-verbal level.

History is linear, except in a game. Image by The Innocent

Replay Value & Pedagogy
Freedom is undoubtedly an educational game. Its lessons are there, but like the historical resonances mentioned above, the lessons are often understated – offered up instead of insisted upon. Buying influence tokens costs $10. Well, how much was $10 worth back in the 1800’s? It turns out that this is a non-trivial question. According to the site http://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/ $10 in 1830 had an approximate worth ranging from $192 to $101,000 in year 2000 dollars. I’ll let the reader explore the reasons behind this variance, and the game is replete with examples like this. For example, each of the event cards prominently displays a title, a photo, and the in-game mechanic affected. Only in the tiniest of print at the bottom does the card provide a few lines pointing toward the event’s historical impact. “Liberty Hill” shows a photo of a house, and allows the player to “move two slaves one space each and purchase a token at full cost.” Squinting we read that “John Rankin’s house atop a 540 foot hill stood as a beacon for slaves crossing the river, letting them know when it was safe.” Aha, so the game’s cards are like flash cards that teach facts. Well, yes, but in certain circumstances they offer a more interesting lesson. For example, “John Brown” enables a player to purchase a token at a discount. However, the historical recklessness of John Brown is beautifully captured by the player having to also, immediately draw and resolve the next Abolitionist Card. Given that the Abolitionist deck is seeded with negative events, playing the “John Brown” card might just have some painful negative consequences! In this case, the mechanics of the card manage to replicate something about the recorded personality of the individual represented in the card.

Defeat and Historical Responsibility
Freedom offers far even more profound lessons, though, than those surrounding historical events and personages. To my thinking, the game is not about slavery so much as it is about the concept of historical responsibility. “Historical responsibility” I am going to define as what, if anything, the present owes the past. We have many expressions which suggest that the present owes the past nothing. “Water under the bridge.” “No sense crying over spilt milk.” “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” ☺ Further, our society long ago did away with the ancient idea that sin somehow passes from one generation to the next. Crimes committed by a father no longer require that the societal “debt” be paid by the father’s children. Nonetheless, we also are all fully aware that actions in the past can produce consequences for the present. So, the notion of what it means to “take responsibility” for the past is incredibly complex. As an example, for a period of time I lived in Germany with my family, and we briefly considered trying to settle there for good. Suppose that we had, and that my daughters had been raised in a fully German culture. What would it have meant for them to accept historical responsibility for the Holocaust? Similarly, and more relevant, given the U.S.’s history as an immigrant nation, what responsibility does an Irish immigrant of the 1920’s, say, have towards slavery? For that matter, what responsibility does a “millennial” woman living in Alabama have towards events that occurred over 150 years before her adulthood? Personally, I don’t think that questions like this have definitive answers, but I do think that it is important that they be asked

The question of historical responsibility runs deep within Freedom. It is in the game’s bones, given that the game is both cooperative and the players are put in the position of being responsible for the shepherding of slaves through the Underground Railroad. However, the game rather cleverly, and simultaneously, retains historical inevitability through the pacing that I discussed earlier. Freedom is a difficult game. Historically, though, this fits. Afterall, there was no “triumphal winning” when it came to slavery. It took a bloody, grinding Civil War and then another 100 years of lynchings, segregation and struggle to grant African Americans legal equality across all states in the US. In a sense, then, the game positions itself as something like a game about anti-war activists leading up to World War 1. To be anything other than sheer fantasy, the game needs to capture the historical reality of injustice and failure and humiliation that existed in the historical moment. In other words, Freedom is no Quentin Tarantino fantasy of cathartic revenge. It is braver than that. It puts the players into an historical moment that will more than likely overcome them, and then trusts the players to make sense of the situation – their obligations to the past from the perspective of the present.


Helplessness and Agency
So, given its undercurrent of likely defeat, is Freedom a depressing game? Not at all. It is a tense game. It is a puzzle-like game that is low on overt conflict. It is a game of discussions as to what the best move might be, but not in a “brain burner, 3-dimensional chess” sort of way. In fact, in spite of everything that I’ve written above, Freedom is very much just a game. It waits in its box to be played just as a book waits on the shelf to be read. That is the function of games, after all, to be played. If you lose, you can play again. If you’ve played with your spouse, you can later play with friends, or relatives or children.

And here is where this review comes full circle, because it is a given that games can be replayed. What though is the value of replaying a game? I hinted at an answer at the very start of my review. Certain games might just help each of us gain agency within the unique context of our individual lives. They might possibly provide a structured and safe social space in which to explore uncomfortable issues. In the case of Freedom, I would suggest that the uncomfortable issue is our obligation to the past. No, the past does not change, and sometimes students when encountering the intractable recoil. No one likes to feel helpless, after all, in the face of injustice or in the face of seemingly overwhelming problems. Best to ignore the issue and hope that it somehow resolves itself. I’d term this the “helpless hopeful” stance, and I’d be the last one to judge it as inadequate. Sometimes the “helpless hopeful” is all that is available. A game such as Freedom, though, offers the opportunity to at least explore the possibility of other stances and approaches. Agency, after all, can involve recognition as much as action, creation as much as a museum-ed reverence.

In conclusion, Freedom is essentially a fulcrum. On one side we might put, say, the worldview of Jack Burden in the great southern novel All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. Jack believes that ultimately there is no cause and effect in human actions. There is no attachment or responsibility toward the past. It is as much a radical form of freedom as it is a recipe for psychological learned helplessness. On the other side of the fulcrum we might put, say, the notion of the “long defeat” expressed by Tolkien. In the Lord of the Rings Galadriel tells Frodo that


“For the Lord of the Galadhrim…has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.” (Fellowship of the Ring, 1965 Houghton Mifflin paperback edition, pg. 421)

The meaning of this expression is multifarious, but for our purposes we can interpret it to mean that Galadriel has always known that her time will give way to history. And yet, even within that knowledge, she chose a stance of responsible agency. She chose to fight injustice and evil, and in doing so in the full knowledge of “defeat” her people’s actions gain even greater dignity. Freedom: the underground railroad is not a complex game, but the reverberations of which it is a part are profound. As a game, it is quite good. As a meditation on history, it is remarkable.
Advertisement for fugitive slave, Maryland, 19th c; Image Reference NW0305, as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library


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Sam Cook
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That was an excellent read. I'm really happy you mentioned The Tripods books. I read The City of Gold and Lead when I was young and I had forgotten what it was called until I read this review. I remember the book left an impression on me especially in regards to being a pet owner!
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Mark
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Donkler wrote:
That was an excellent read. I'm really happy you mentioned The Tripods books. I read The City of Gold and Lead when I was young and I had forgotten what it was called until I read this review. I remember the book left an impression on me especially in regards to being a pet owner!


Glad you enjoyed the read and also that you were reconnected with an old book. I love that feeling of rediscovering something that has existed as a memory-snippet for many years. Also, about pets, I can only hope that my dog isn't going to assault me with his scratching brush one of these days! laugh
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Pas L
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No good will come of this, mark my words!
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Provocative, entertaining and very well written. Thank you.
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Thomas Robb
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WOW!

Really explained the game and gave me even more to contemplate.

Can I be in your class? LOL

PLEASE keep reviewing games - I have really enjoyed all of your previous reviews as well.

P.S. Thank you for not using the word "basically" four hundred times as most reviewers like to do.
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Martin G
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
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Fantastic read, thank you.
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But the drumbeat strains of the night remain in the rhythm of the newborn day.
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Re: Professorsn playing games - Freedom: the underground railroad
Nice thesis, terrible review.

I found the game a bit tedious, and it suffered from the tight binding of uncomfortable subject matter with the requirements to win. While playing with strangers I had to explain that "losing slaves" was part and parcel of winning. You can argue that's interesting from an artistic perspective but not a gaming one. It didn't help that I had played 1775 just before it which is dynamic as hell and very empowering. Freedom forces you to play the way it wants you to, limiting its appeal in comparison.

This is a game you'll figure out and then never want to play again. As with most co-ops you find the groove to the game and then it's done.

Your review made impressive use of big words. Very academic of you, but you're not speaking in an academic venue. Not exactly sure why you had Galadriel make an appearance, though the inline footnote was fine MLA style.

S.

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Mark
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Thanks of the kind words, everyone.

@Sagrilarus, Personally, I think that BGG is big enough for all sorts of voices, whether they are "academic" or not. That said, thanks for taking the time to provide feedback.
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The black wind howls... One among you will shortly perish...
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Thanks for the good article. I would love to read more of this in the future.
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Louisa Thinks
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Sagrilarus wrote:
...you're not speaking in an academic venue.


BGG may not be an "academic venue" in the traditional sense, but if this isn't where we are suppose to talk about how games make us feel and affect out lives, then I am on the wrong website.

I really enjoyed the overview of the game and I appreciate getting the mini psychology/history lesson that came with it.

Thank you Mark for writing such a dynamic analysis of the game experience!
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Mark
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Glad you enjoyed it Louisa! I don't think all games justify a full on "academic deconstruction," but Freedom, whether by accident or design, evoked that sort of response in me. Most games don't.

Just to be fair to Sag, though, I feel that I can see where he's coming from. I wouldn't want BGG to ever become overrun by pontificating blowhards and Kickstarting hustlers! ...Hey, now there's a title for a party game!
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Marius van der Merwe
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Loved your review. Intelligent and thought-provoking without being dogmatic or pompous. I wish there were more reviews like this.
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Samo Oleami
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After Martin's recommendation, first thing I've noticed was Sag's comment and was intrigued by it. Before I even read the review, as I wanted to know what the fuss was about. And I love reading reviews, being more interested in them as such then what they are about. As I haven't played the game, and is unlikely I will, I can only comment on what I can deduce from the review as well.

After fighting through the text I must say I'm more on Sag's side.

Firstly the text is a bit bloated and draws long tangents from the main line of thought to explain an idea or a metaphor which could be simply conveyed in two sentences instead of a paragraph or two. Another effect of this wordy approach is that I as a reader feel patronized at times - I'm led by the hand along a narrow path as if I could figure things out on my own (from the text). Probably these attributes are what Sag reacted on.

Secondly. The review simply lacks proper methodology, invests some of its own which doesn't really fit the material and as a result a lot of these ideas or metaphors feel like window dressings - looking nice, but not saying anything substantial. Mostly the lack of the boardgaming context is evident - how this game relates to other games in the way it's made and in gaming experience it provides. Of course one can analyse one work (or art or entertainment) on it's own without the context, but what was lacking for me here is that connection between gameplay and metaphor/idea used seemed arbitrary.

1. The whole dreamcatcher thing:
"Games, like certain stories, can serve as a matrix of associations within which we hold emotions and thoughts that are difficult to get our heads around". For me this is an attribute of any piece of art or entertainment, even more so for those that ask for an active role of the audience (contemporary art, literature to a certain extent (especially poetry), and boardgames). I'm from contemporary art/theatre and basically all works made in this manner depend on audience making associations from the material given and filling in the gaps. The same with literature. The same with the way theme works in games - you need to invest in the theme either by relating to it emotionally or through your knowledge, making connections between gameplay and what you know. I prefer this type of audience investment as opposed to being spoon fed by the mainstream mimetic art/identification model (drama theatre, mainstream films, video games), because when you connect the dots on your own, the result tends to be one of stronger feelings and realisation as if they would be just given over to you on a silver platter. Which is probably what this whole dreamcatcher metaphor is about. Instead of which I would simply say "Theme in games works though us connecting the dots and making connection between the state of the gameplay and the topic depicted and insight we gain through this might be storger than in other media as we invested our effort into it and the experience was shared by other human beings (co-players)".

2. “individual experience”
Poor choice of words at least. Here is why. Basically you are not talking about the role of individuals within a game's environment - them being players. And individualism is a very good issue with cooperative games - is there space for it or no, is it just a collective puzzle that can be solved by "alpha gamer". This is for me the only individualism that makes sense exploring in game - one of people playing the game.
What you are talking about is theme, or theme representation where a cube also has a thematic (and thus emotional) role within the topic of the game, representing slaves. So it's not about individual experience, rather it's about representation of individual slaves within the scope of the game. (Which of course can have an emotional effect on a player).
And here is another issue. You talk at length how the theme is represented in the game and that by playing the game you feel the historical topic and so on. There is a gaming genre which all about making the gameplay connected to historical topic and matter which are wargames where simulation of real historical event is put before other gaming considerations. And while I haven't played Freedom, I understand it's a co-op with wargame influences, especially regarding the way it handles theme. (And the game's publisher is known to publish Wargames, so this presumption makes sense). So instead of going on and on about the way theme is represented here, one could simply say "Freedom shows wargame influence in the way the theme is dealt in the game which is close to simulation found in wargames" (I don't know whether this sentence is actually true). And wargame influence would also explain "dreamcatcher" metaphor much more fitting manner - everything I wrote about connecting dots between gameplay and existing knowledge is even more true for wargames than any other boargaming genre.

3. "Defeat and Historical Responsibility"
Uhm.
Okay, goes like this: the essence of a review is analysis of the experience of the work (of art or entertainment). In this case about the way the game functions and the way it incorporates theme and possibly also the path a likely gamer will experience the theme by connecting the dots. And here review stops. The particular way you as a gamer connected these dots, while itneresting, has not place in a review as anybody else would connect the dots differently (it has a space in a session report, reportage, essay or opinion piece). So the whole thing about historical topic as such is compeltely tangential to a review. What would make sense, for a review, is ask question how the game feels to play VS what I know about the topic, are there any weak links? What is the level or scope of simulation (broad strokes? Certain details?). Review here would be about how exactly do the theme and mechanics meet in this game, but not really about a singular experience and association of one person regarding the theme. It's neat, nice, essayistic, just not what a review is about.

4. Replayability.
I'm trying and trying and I simply can't decipher this argument. There are parts of it missing. I have a good guess what the idea behind it is. It goes back to works where audience has a lot of freedom in the way it connects the dots - as a theatre reviewer and sometimes being part of the theatre group or production house I was able to see some performances multiple times. Now as theatre performances are mostly intended for singular watching, it's interesting to see what happens in multiple playing experiences, especially if a lot of time has passed between this and the previous performance. And yes, I've seen different nuances, different things standing out, my mind taking different path of associations. (With food works, bad one get boring with repeated watching). So my guess would be that for you replayability comes from being able to connect the dots that make the theme in a different way each time one plays? (I think so, but you surely made it difficult for me to deduce it out of the text - in the conclusion you basically skip it and talk again about the historical topic).

---

I'm sure bgg is big enough for some reviews of reviews. (I'm not inclined to do them often, but without deciding to do it I couldn't have read the review in the first place. Without Sag's comment I would have given up). I guess in the end, I managed to connect some things that could have been expressed in more evident manner. Some sort of art theory or art perception theory would have helped a lot (with tools, approach).
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Mark
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@Samo
The main thing that stood out for me in your critique of my review is the phrase: "And while I haven't played Freedom." ...Get some folks together and play it, my friend!

Naturally, your sense of what is appropriate for a review differs from my own. I wonder if part of the issue has to do with "product reviews" vs. other types of reviews. Don't get me wrong, I love unboxing videos as much as the next geek. Also, reviews that provide a sense of "if you like mechanic x, then you might like this game" are incredibly useful. However, my group and I have been approaching games more as pedagogical objects. What excites us is how a game might be used to explore topics in the classroom, how might we use the mechanics in course design, how might it broaden a player's perspective, etc. Yes, this too makes for a "product review," I suppose, but one that uses a different type of lens than is the norm. It won't float everyone's boat, that's for sure.

As for your critique, thanks for slogging through. I've appreciated your contributions across BGG for many years, and the same holds for your comments here. I won't address your points, mainly because I think what we really need is a pub, a table, and multiple beers. Know, though, that sober or not I will be mulling them over throughout the day!



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Marius van der Merwe
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Noogs wrote:
However, my group and I have been approaching games more as pedagogical objects. What excites us is how a game might be used to explore topics in the classroom, how might we use the mechanics in course design, how might it broaden a player's perspective, etc.


The topic of board games as pedagogical tools is a topic well worth pursuing, especially for those of us in education. I come from a biology background, and I still have fond memories of a cell genetics lab where the professor had us students divide into groups and play a co-op board game. In this game players represented a research team tasked with the goal of pinpointing the geographic evolutionary origin of a flowering plant (over 70% of modern flowering plant species originated via a special type of speciation process involving changes to chromosome numbers and morphology). As players, after being given some initial information about our plant, we travelled around on a world map deciding where the most promising geographical areas would be to sample related plants in order to deduce the origin of our focal plant. Needless to say, this was not a board game that would have had wide commercial appeal and it was designed and lovingly hand-made by our professor. However, to this day I still remember the excitement of using our hard-earned classroom knowledge about polyploidy (changes to chromosome set numbers), inversions and deletions (types of mutations affecting large chunks of chromosomes) in order to solve the evolutionary puzzle. This was education at its best.

It is now 20+ years later and I am a biology professor myself. My area of expertise has moved from genetics to behavioral ecology, which is a field full of theories about optimization and cost-benefit analysis. In other words, a rich source of material for an educational board game!

Mark, I hope you and your group keep on doing these reviews. You have an appreciative audience.
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Samo Oleami
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Noogs wrote:
@Samo
The main thing that stood out for me in your critique of my review is the phrase: "And while I haven't played Freedom." ...Get some folks together and play it, my friend!


I generally don't enjoy co-ops so I wouldn't seek it out on my own (if I had money I'd go after COIN series instead). And it would be hard to borrow it as Academy games aren't really present that much here it seems and I can't think of a person I know who'd be interested in such a game. But, sure, if opportunity presents itself, why not?

Noogs wrote:
Naturally, your sense of what is appropriate for a review differs from my own. I wonder if part of the issue has to do with "product reviews" vs. other types of reviews. Don't get me wrong, I love unboxing videos as much as the next geek. Also, reviews that provide a sense of "if you like mechanic x, then you might like this game" are incredibly useful.


As a kinda professional reviewer (theatre) I read reviews for ideas the writers have. I search for insights.

I would say your review is a good try, but you simply need more practice and more knowledge about boardgames. There are several blogs where we discuss more in depth boardgaming stuff and I would recommend you check them out. Maybe not so much for "get information", but to think about different aspects of gaming and come up with your own ideas. It's a food for thought.

These two I follow regularly:
QWERTYUIOP
Big Game Theory!

You have an interesting insight about this game, but I had to fight though unnecessary clutter to find it. Probably as you were still trying to articulate it while you were writing (which is actually a good thing when it happens). Probably one could let the text ferment a few days and then read it again and finish it then.

Noogs wrote:
However, my group and I have been approaching games more as pedagogical objects. What excites us is how a game might be used to explore topics in the classroom, how might we use the mechanics in course design, how might it broaden a player's perspective, etc.


There's an issue here I'd like to highlight (and it's probably why we see things differently). Coming from art theory there is a difference between an object/material representing things, and the topic being represented. With media like literature and film there seems to be little difference between the two, so it steers people to think about the topic, rather the way it's represented. In other media (like boargames) this stands more apart - here is a situation of dialogue between the work and the audience, and over there what is represented (the topic). In the case of Freedom I'd say - here is the gaming experience (which is about the dynamics of a group playing, about the inner experience of a gamer - the narrative, and other stuff (mechanics, trying to reach objectives), and out there is a topic on its own. These are two very separate things.

It's something to talk about the topic, and it's something else to talk about the gaming experience and how such a topic enters it.

Of course a game can bring something unique to the education process about a certain topic as well. I've been involved in some re-enactments of historical theatre/performance art pieces from the 1960/70s. And listened to some lectures about re-enactments of historical events. In both cases such a re-enactment may give the audience a better understanding of a situation (or a richer understanding) than just by reading the texts about it. Certainly it is different if you experience it first hand - or as in games - are even involved in certain decisions being made.

Quote:
Yes, this too makes for a "product review," I suppose, but one that uses a different type of lens than is the norm. It won't float everyone's boat, that's for sure.

I think you could have been more open and straightforward in using such an angle.

For instance if the focus is educational, I'd love to see a report of games in a learning environment. Scrivener does great reports on using Diplomacy game as a part of his rhetoric classes (and Machiavelli).

Quote:
Know, though, that sober or not I will be mulling them over throughout the day!

laugh
Nice compliment. Thank you. Mulling is good, it creates some thought of its own and takes one places they wouldn't find normally.
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@Samo
I found your comments a good try, as well. I have 40-odd years of board gaming under my belt, and have been publishing reviews in various places for over 20 years. Our group has about 200 years of combined board gaming experience. So, we're hardly novices at any of this. Always open to learning, however I do get somewhat put off with challenges based on presumed authority. I would rather this thread not get hijacked, and I think we've shared what needs sharing.

Best.
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Michael Dworkin
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First, let me join the group of those that praise and compliment both this review and the general idea of reviews like this -- focusing on the mental impressions the game creates, the doctrines it evokes, and the chances of learning through the process.

As one that has played the game a dozen times with family and friends, I'd can say that the summary of different moods (at start, at mid =game, and as tensions heighten) is well done and reflects a real understanding based on data. (For what is worth, that includes 3 or 4 "wins", out of more than dozen plays.)

And, as one that once (long ago) focused heavily on pre-Civil War America, I'll add that the comparison to the 'mood/expectation' of politically aware thinkers in those decades is an excellent highlighting (though, of course,it could be detailed at ten times its length).

Finally, here is a comment on one small part of the review: the comparison of utilitarianism to liberal-democracy.
In that context, you might want to take a look at the comparisons of utilitarianism (per Bentham) with individualism (per Kant and Mill) in "Global Energy Justice" by Ben Sovacool and Michael Dworkin (that's me).

Obviously, its hard for me to be objective about the merits of "Global Energy Justice; but, lets just say that it tries to take a serious look at what the great thinkers on justice-theory would say about meeting the wide-spread statutory mandate to seek 'just and reasonable' energy systems.

In doing so, we take seriously the tension between the currently dominant model (pragmatic utilitarianism) and the ideals of individualism (Kant, Mills,Rawls etc.) or moral virtue (as in Aristotle's "virtuous" city). The substance of your review suggests you might find our discussion interesting.

Perhaps your group would like to apply it in a review of Power-Grid!
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Jac Paris

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I have just discovered this review and spent a wonderful morning cup of tea reading it. The conversation which flared up after also provided a an afternote of interest.

I wonder if my maturity would have shown itself so capably as yours did in responding to the comments. I doubt it.

The review, and exchange that followed, reminded me of the old art of book reviews which is perhaps still alive, though I've not seen it done in recent times, reviews that engage with the mind of the book which engages with the meaning of a topic, reviews that springboard off a worthy (usually) subject matter in order to explore, examine, create, add value into the issue, the matter and present readers with a challenging and engaging reflection.

I'm sure no one on BGG wants all reviews to demand a slow read and thoughtful attitude but amongst all the product reviews, the comparisons, the mechanical analyses I'm sure that a thought provoking piece or two can be found room for.

I for one would certainly be delighted if there were just a few more treasures on the geek like this one.

So if these review aren't for you or if you'd like to give lessons in how to write reviews correctly, well maybe just pass them over next time. Let things be what they are, especially as they seem to have delighted more than a few geeks.

And thank you for writing such a wonderful review and thank the game makers for putting such care into a theme that still has much for us to learn from. My games budget is pretty small and this isn't broadly available in my neck of the world so I imagine I will never get to play this game but I'm richer for knowing it exists.

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