Freedom: The Underground Railroad Review

freedom the underground railroad review

Year: 2012 | Players: 1-4 | Minutes: 60+ | Ages: 13+

This Freedom: The Underground Railroad review was made after playing the game five times


What is Freedom: The Underground Railroad?

In Freedom: The Underground Railroad, your goal is to help end slavery in North America by moving slaves from plantations in the south to Canada. You must evade slave catchers, gain support, raise funds, and make sure things keep moving along as more slaves are brought into the plantations.

Freedom: The Underground Railroad was created by Brian Mayer and published by Academy Games.


Freedom: The Underground Railroad Gameplay

Freedom The Underground Railroad review - the board

To begin a game of Freedom: The Underground Railroad, everyone selects role cards, which will tell you the special abilities that you’ll have throughout the game. Your main goal in the game is to move slaves – represented by cubes – from plantations in the south across the United States and into Canadian territory. You’ll move through three Periods (1800-1839, 1840-1859, and 1860-1865), each having different cards and tokens that you’ll have a chance to obtain.

Each round starts with a Slave Catcher phase, during which one of the slave catchers will move based on the roll of two dice. The slave catchers move if their color is rolled and will catch slaves if they end up on the same space. Anytime slaves are caught, they’re moved to the Slave Market. If the Slave Market is full, then those slaves are “lost” and are moved to the Slaves Lost card.

Freedom The Underground Railroad review - player mat and role card

During the main Actions phase, you’ll be fundraising and using your money to gain support tokens and conductor tokens. Those tokens, along with your unique abilities, will allow you to move slaves along different tracks around the United States. You can also buy one Abolitionist card every round, which can help you accomplish your goals faster. There are some Opposition cards in the Abolitionist decks that can make the rounds tougher in different ways.

If you don’t gain a certain number of support tokens and move enough slaves across the border within eight rounds, you’ll lose the game. You’ll also lose instantly if too many slaves are lost.

That’s a very brief overview of the game. If you want to learn exactly how to play Freedom: The Underground Railroad, check out the official rulebook (PDF).

Freedom The Underground Railroad review - Abolitionist cards



Pros

  • This is a very thematic game. The way the historical information is integrated into the game is very impressive, and it’s tastefully done. It’s great that the cards come out during the right time periods and that the text on the cards gives you info on the people and events that impacted the movement. It’s educational, but it definitely isn’t boring.
  • This is a unique co-op puzzle and the theme helps to make everyone want to work together to save as many slaves as possible. It’s an interesting puzzle since the slave catchers usually move when you move a slave, so you have to come up with a way to efficiently move slaves in different directions, while sometimes sacrificing one slave so more can escape. It’s the Pandemic effect times a million since you know that these terrible things happened in real life and you really don’t want to let the bad guys beat you.
  • The game has a nice, distinctive look to it. It’s not flashy, which is good, but the images on the cards really do help to get people into the game. Plus, the tokens blend really well with the board to give it a uniform look.
  • Freedom: The Underground Railroad has plenty of replayability. The puzzle is going to be different every game, so even if you beat it, you aren’t guaranteed to beat it again since the randomness of the Abolitionist cards ensures that each game plays out differently.
  • It also scales really well for different player counts. You save different numbers of slaves and you make other minor changes during setup to ensure that the game is equally challenging at all player counts.
  • This is a very easy game to get into. The rules are straightforward and there are handy round reminders both on the board and on each role card. It can definitely work as a gateway game or as a family game.

Cons

  • The card randomness can have an impact on the outcome of the game. For example, the game is much easier if you happen to avoid the Opposition cards, which usually put up some tough roadblocks when they’re drawn. For the most part the games are challenging and satisfying, but sometimes that randomness can dull the experience a bit.
  • The theme in Freedom: The Underground Railroad might not work for some people. This game covers a very dark part of human history, which does take some time to adjust to. There were two people in my group who liked the game for the most part, but they hated the fact that they had to “sacrifice” some slaves to save the others (though it does make sense thematically).

Final Thoughts

Freedom: The Underground Railroad is a very solid historical co-op game that deals with a really dark time in American history. If you enjoy (or like the idea of playing) historical games and/or games that make you work hard for your victory, this will be right up your alley. It might not be a game that you’ll play a lot since it’s hard not to feel bad every time you lose a slave, but it’s a cooperative game that most people would be happy to have on their game shelves.

I’ll definitely be keeping this one.


Freedom: The Underground Railroad Links

BGG | Amazon | CoolStuffInc | eBay


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