New South Wales
Originally published here:
Synopsis: You are the Underground Railroad trying to get African American slaves from the Deep South to freedom in Canada. You are also subtly funding the abolitionist movement, and working to achieve complete abolition of slavery before the game ends.
This is a cooperative game, and everyone will win if you can free a target number of slaves (scaled to the difficulty level and number of players), as well as fund the abolitionist movement by buying a predetermined number of support tokens. If you achieve both of these, and you don’t lose before the end of the round, then you win.
The game will play out for eight rounds of play. You will collectively start each round with an opportunity to acquire/buy various tokens: support (funding abolition), conductor (moving slaves), or fundraising (getting money). One of the limits to the game is the stacks of movement tokens will exhaust when used (save for the very last one). This can create strong limits on multiplayer games.
In the main action phase, players will take turns to perform a number of actions. They can use up to two tokens they have acquired and their associated action, their latent character ability, buy abolitionist cards (characters with useful abilities). Or you can even pass if you have nothing useful to add (and earn some money).
Primarily, most of the actions you take will concern moving individual slaves along hidden routes to various cities. Each small city on the board can accommodate only one slave at a time, though the larger cities can hold four. At the same time, most cities are located along one of five slave-catcher pathways. Whenever you move a slave onto a city on a given path, the slave-catcher moves one step towards the slave. These two factors create strong blocking effects, which you must circumvent in order to get the required number of slaves to freedom.
Worse, at the end of each round, slaves are sold from a slave market. These cubes will be transferred to any open space in southern plantations, but will be lost if there is no space for them. This creates a terrible pressure to keep moving slaves through this blockade and out into the map, where they are prone to be caught.
Commentary: Freedom won a number of awards and accolades when it was released on its treatment of this topic. There is history here; it is an authentic engagement with a dark part of recent history. I have complained before about the use of slaves in games, where they comprise commodities but here they are humanised, despite being mere cubes.
Freedom is a game where the presence of slavery is both meaningful and significant to the gameplay and its themes. It’s also used as a vehicle to explain the history and to immerse you in the conflict. Now, I don’t speak for the African American communities on this, but I like to think a game makes you sympathetic to the oppressed in an historical injustice such as this has value.
To contrast this with other games feature slavery, usually the slaves are just a thing: they have a mechanical purpose. To me, this reinforces the notion slaves are property, making them objects to be used, bought, and traded. If you absolutely must have them present in your game, consider context when you do and wonder if mechanism couldn’t be replicated through another theme, or whether you can treat their presence with a bit of humanity.
However, I’ve just dipped into the high concept here. Freedom is an excellent cooperative game in its own right. The tension starts slow, but ramps up. The stakes are highest towards the end because there is so much can go wrong. You are collaborating on every careful minutia. You are sunk into a mounting pit of dread as you agonise over every lost slave, over every sacrifice, and every coin spent.
Verdict: This is what I look for in a game when I want to see a treatment on historical subjects. On some level this game is daunting because it’s hard to reconcile with the notion you are only playing a game. No, you are reliving a dark history.
- Last edited Sun Feb 26, 2017 11:28 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Wed Nov 30, 2016 10:18 pm