One of my all time favorite games is Twilight Struggle. Because of this, the fine people of GMT Games suggested that I try out 1989: Dawn of Freedom, since it's by the same designers and is somewhat of a "part 2" to Twilight Struggle.
In 1989, each player is struggling to take (or maintain) power in Eastern Europe. To do this, players alternate playing cards that can either be used for "Ops", for the event showing on the card, or to advance on Tiananmen Square. If using a card for "Ops", the player may add influence to any countries where they currently have influence or are adjacent to countries that have influence. Alternatively, when using a card for Ops, a player may choose to make "support checks" by adding the value of the card, a few modifiers, and a die roll, to see if their opponent's influence is removed (and possibly their own influence is added). Whenever a card is played for Ops, if an opponent's event is on the card, then that event will still occur. If you want to avoid this, you can play a card in Tiananmen Square (once per round), to try to get one of a variety of bonuses - and to prevent your opponent's event from occurring. One special type of event card is a scoring event. When a scoring event is played, a Power Struggle immediately ensues, where both players get cards based on their position in the scoring country, and they play a small mini-game with them. Whoever wins gets bonuses, which can include taking or keeping power in the country. Finally, the players score points based on each player's position in the country; and if the Communist player still has power, then they get a bonus based on the number of times the country has scored. Play continues like this until one player has 20 points (in a tug-of-war scoring, where only one player can have points at a time), or until 10 rounds have been played - signifying the end of the year. If all of the rounds have been played, one final scoring takes place, and the highest score wins.
If you're familiar with Twilight Struggle, and you just want to know what is different, here's a quick list before I get into the pros and cons:
- There is no Defcon track
- There is no Headline phase
- Realignment rolls and coups have been combined into "support checks"
- Power Struggles occur during scoring rounds (I'll write more about these later)
- The Space Race has been replaced by Tiananmen Square
- No single scoring card has an automatic win condition (though one triggers an early game end)
- Each city has a "type" (worker, farmer, elite, etc)
|All of the events are based on history|
The next pro is fairly standard with all of the games that these designers make - I really appreciate the historical richness of the game. I like that each of the events are based on things that actually happened, and that, if I was willing to learn it, I could easily learn some history simply by playing a game that I enjoy!
Another couple of pros that I will mention briefly are that I love the tug of war nature of the game, and I like that you have to make hard decisions (and sacrifices) during the game. Each game will be different based on who you play with, and what you draw. If I play with someone that is very interested in taking over Hungary, the entire first half of our game might be focusing on Hungary - because it's important to counter what your opponent is doing. One example of this is that I drew an event (as the Communist player) that gave the Democratic player an influence in every city in Czechoslovakia where I did not have control. I spent the entire round building control in Czechoslovakia to mitigate this effect. My opponent naturally thought that I had a Czechoslovakia scoring card, and so he was countering my moves there. That's the great tug of war. Then, at some point, I knew that I had to give up and play the card - or throw it in Tiananmen Square. I chose to play this one and throw a different card away, so that I would get the 4 Ops points, even though it made me sacrifice a bit by giving my opponent some influence in Czechoslovakia.
|Some cards are very powerful|
I haven't decided my feelings about Power Struggles. Conceptually, I really like them. I think that they are a neat additional element of the game. I don't think that they are especially strategic - or, more specifically, I think that the strategy is fairly basic in them. But I enjoy them. Theoretically. However, when you draw 10 cards, and 5 of them are leaders that you can't play, you really feel like the game just punched you in the face. Or, if you draw 12 cards and don't have any of a certain suit - and then your opponent leads with that suit - you become disenfranchised with this mechanic. So, as I said, I still haven't really decided my feelings on this element of the game - but it is the single biggest change from Twilight Struggle.
|Here's a hint: Ruse is in Bulgaria|
My bigger con is that the game seems to be a bit more luck influenced than it initially seems. More specifically, bad luck can be more detrimental than I would like. One example of this is in the Power Struggles that I mentioned earlier. Bad luck in a Power Struggle can be a major swing in points. For example, let's assume that I am the Democrat player and we are having a Power Struggle in Poland. It's the second time that Poland is scoring, I didn't do well the first time, but I have since gained a small advantage (2 more countries than my opponent). I have the advantage, so I "should" win the Power Struggle. We score Poland, and I get a horrible draw in the Power Struggle and lose. I will possibly lose influence (making it harder to win the next struggle), my opponent may get some victory points (if he rolls well), but then I will also lose 6 points for letting the Communist player have power in Poland after it has scored a second time. Six points is a huge point swing based on bad luck. And, that's just one example - there is also a decent amount of luck about when the scoring cards are drawn, as well as who draws them. There is also luck in die rolling for Power Struggle results, support checks, and Tiananmen Square results. I'm not suggesting that the game is luck based, but what I am saying is that when you have bad luck at a critical juncture of the game, it will be incredibly frustrating.
Overall, I give 1989 an 8.5/10. I really, really enjoy this game, but I have also been so frustrated by bad luck (I didn't win a single Power Struggle in my first two games, regardless of how many cards I or my opponent received, and often rolled a 6 afterwards, forcing me to remove quite a bit of influence) that I just can't give it a 9.0 or higher. With that said, it is one of the only games in recent memory that I think about between gaming sessions, and that I really have the urge to want to play (instead of wanting to play games in general).
If 1989: Dawn of Freedom intrigues you, you should also check out (of course) 1960: The Making of the President, and Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861.
I would like to thank GMT Games for providing me with a review copy of 1989: Dawn of Freedom.