Strategically Thematic: Freedom: The Underground Railroad

February 23, 2017

Strategically Thematic is a segment featured on The Dice Tower's bi-weekly Throat Punch Lunch videos about games where the theme and mechanics go together really well.

BGG  Amazon

Hi, this is Ambie from Board Game Blitz, and this is Strategically Thematic, a segment where I talk about theme in different strategic games. This time, I’m talking about Freedom: The Underground Railroad.

Freedom is a cooperative game that takes place during the Abolitionist movement in the United States. You work together to gather support and to help slaves escape to Canada through the Underground Railroad. The main way you help the slaves move is through these tokens you can buy. There are a limited number of tokens, and you can either choose to get conductor tokens, which move the slaves, fundraising tokens, which can raise money, or support tokens, which gather support for your cause and help you win.

Each turn you have to make really tough decisions. You want to free all the slaves, but in order to further the cause and win the game, you also have to spend your time raising funds to get support, so you can’t save everyone. When you’re freeing slaves, they can’t just run up to Canada with no resistance. Whenever fugitives move through the Underground Railroad, they’ll have to stop in cities, and there’s a chance they can get caught by the slave catchers. The slave catchers roam across the United States, sending any fugitives they find back to slavery in the plantations. Whenever you move a slave onto a slave catcher’s path, the slave catcher will move towards that slave. They can also move randomly at the end of each round, so you have to determine the best routes to go in order to minimize the risk of being caught. But throughout the game, more and more fugitives are using the Underground Railroad, so it’s more likely that some will be caught.

A lot of the game is also card driven - there are a bunch of cards based on actual historical people and events that add effects, good or bad, to the game. Each of the cards has some text going over the historical significance behind each card. For example, Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who made 13 trips to allow over 70 other slaves to escape, allows you to move an extra four slaves one space each without causing the slave catchers to go after them. Also, there are different eras in the game, and the cards are split out to match with when the events occurred.

Time passing also causes more slaves to be brought into the plantations from overseas, so you’re always overwhelmed with the number of slaves you want to rescue. Even when you win the game, when you’ve lost a lot of slaves it doesn’t feel like a complete victory, since many sacrifices were made. In this way, Freedom captures the overall feeling of the Abolitionist movement while still being a great game. Thanks for watching Strategically Thematic! What are your favorite thematic strategic games? Let me know in the comments!
© Board Game Blitz 2016.
PodcastsVideosBlogAboutSupport UsBlitz ConArchives