Freedom: The Underground Railroad is a cooperative game for 1 to 4 players where players take on special roles to help slaves escape from the land o' cotton (that's the Southern U.S.) into Canada during the 1800's. Based on the number of players, the play time will be 1 to 2 hours. Get your knapsack ready, clean out your cellar, and make sure you have plenty of supplies as you get ready help your fellow man out of the chains of slavery.
For such a controversial theme - very well done!
Very good components (cards & boards).
Rich historical content
Lots of replayability in the opposition cards and slave market cards.
Plays great solo
Can get long with four AP prone players
In Freedom, each player gets a separate role card that grants them special benefits each turn and a single one-shot special ability. Each round is broken up into five phases: Slave Catcher phase, Planning Phase, Action Phase, Slave Market Phase, and Lantern Phase. There are three decks in the game broken up across three time periods from 1800 to 1865. To advance to the next deck, players must purchase all the support tokens of a given time period (not cheap).
I won't go into complete detail of the rules, but basically each player will be taking their turns during the planning phase which entails buying up to two tokens for fundraising, moving slaves, and support tokens and the action phase where all the "action" is (see what I did there?). The action phase is where players will use their tokens, abilities (mostly), and use abolitionist cards from the abolitionist queue. The other phases are basically the "game" taking it's turn and the last phase is clean up the abolitionist queue (sometimes where opposition cards are resolved).
Players win by helping a predetermined number (based on victory card) of slaves into Canada and buying all the support tokens in the game. They lose if they have lost too many slaves during the game which they keep track of on their victory card or the players run out of slave market cards (8) before accomplishing your objectives.
This tough game is full of hard hard choices! Money is tight tight tight! Those opposition cards can be NASTY! Never have I cared so much for each little wooden token (slave), because you don't want to lose any slaves! Unfortunately, it can make for a bittersweet victory (if you can win that is!) when you look over and see that you have lost more slaves then you got into Canada. I feel myself almost sweating as I draw the next abolitionist card waiting for the dreaded reddish orange of an opposition card appearing or when I roll the slave catcher dice hoping for the knapsack carrying slave to appear(i.e. slave catchers don't move). However, nothing is more heart-wrenching then the first time you decide to lose slaves as a "calculated risk" in the game.
I love the replayability of this game, because it is random how many opposition cards are placed in the abolitionist decks as well how differently they are distributed across the three decks (time periods). So you never know which opposition cards will be in the game or what time period they'll pop up. Also, the slave market cards are shuffled before each game, so the distribution of new slaves arriving each round is different and keeps me on my toes. This affects how many plantation spaces I need to free up for the incoming slaves, so I don't lose any.
I love the historical flavor text of each card and how it connects the theme of the cards to the mechanics! This makes it even more immersive!
Now, slavery is definitely a black spot in our history and unfortunately it still goes on today in some parts of the world. So, this may sound like a bad theme for a board game, but I believe the designer and Academy Games did everything right in that the players are trying to help slaves gain their freedom. I appreciate the "honesty" of the game in at least showing not just the those opposed to slavery, but using the opposition cards to show those who supported slavery and how they affected the times. When the bad happens, the abolitionists had to rethink their plans for helping the slaves.
I can only think of a small handful of games that have really gotten me immersed into it's theme, and this is probably the first game that makes me me care about how well I win or lose. So far, I have only won one time out the four times I've played (3 solo and 1 three players), and that was on the "easy" level. This game is on the verge of replacing my favorite co-op with great theme: Pandemic. This is an absolutely brilliant cooperative game, and it's a must buy if you're into cooperative games and rich historical themed games.
I rate it:
NOTE: This review is also here so I don't have to write it twice