Game Review: Freedom: The Underground Railroad

Freedom: The Underground Railroad
Academy Games, 2012

Freedom: The Underground Railroad is a fully cooperative, historical board game for one to four players. The players have two goals. First you must attempt to assist slaves in escaping southern plantations, and move them across the board into Canada. Second, you must attempt to sway public opinion to the abolitionist cause. You and your team mates will have 8 rounds to accomplish both of these goals.

These two goals are made more difficult by having to avoid slave catchers and by having limited supplies of resources. When a slave is moved into the path of one or two of the five slave catchers, the slave catcher moves one space closer to that slave. If this movement causes a slave catcher to move into a space occupied by a slave, that slave is captured and sent to the next slave market. At the end of each round, slaves from the market will be placed into the plantation spaces. If there aren’t enough spaces to place the slaves, then the remaining slaves are lost. Each round has a full slave market, plus any lost slaves to place. Losing too many slaves will cost you the game.

Players start with limited funds and have only a few ways to earn income. All of the support tokens for the abolitionist movement must be purchased by the end of the game to win. In order to gain more options and avoid negative events, you must also use these precious funds. It is a delicate balance, and one that, over several games, I have not yet figured out how to master. Most of the game’s goals and supplies are tiered to the number of players, which makes it a balanced game, no matter how many people play.

I have to say that this is one of the most intense and difficult cooperative games that I have played. It is incredibly thematic. Academy Games is known for their educational games, but because of this, I wonder if they may sometimes get overlooked when people are looking for an entertaining game.

Games like Pandemic or Forbidden Island/Desert, are very thematic as well, but sometimes the win or loss can be pinned on random card draws. While Freedom does have some of this, the cards seem to affect this game less. I feel that the players are more in control of the destiny of Freedom than other cooperative games.  I have played this game several times, and we have lost every game, usually due to not being able to purchase all the supply tokens before the end of the eighth round. We have managed to free all the required slaves (giving us sort of a moral victory?). We are usually very close to winning, within one or two tokes. The cards are very thematic and educational as well.

Overall, I very much enjoy this game and recommend it. It is always challenging, no matter how many players you have. It will keep you involved and “on-the-edge-of-your-seat”. The recommended age is 13+ and I highly recommend following that guideline, as there are a lot of possibilities each turn and analasis of those options to maximize potential can make this game tough for a younger crowd.