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Freedom: The Underground Railroad

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Early in the history of the United States, slavery was an institution that seemed unmovable but with efforts of men and women across the country, it was toppled. In Freedom: The Underground Railroad, players are working to build up the strength of the Abolitionist movement through the use of notable figures and pivotal events. By raising support for the cause and moving slaves to freedom in Canada, the minds of Americans can be changed and the institution of slavery can be brought down.

Freedom is a card-driven, cooperative game for one to four players in which the group is working for the abolitionist movement to help bring an end to slavery in the United States. The players use a combination of cards, which feature figures and events spanning from Early Independence until the Civil War, along with action tokens and the benefits of their role to impact the game.

Players need to strike the right balance between freeing slaves from plantations in the south and raising funds which are desperately needed to allow the group to continue their abolitionist activities as well as strengthen the cause.

The goal is not easy and in addition to people and events that can have a negative impact on the group's progress, there are also slave catchers roaming the board, reacting to the movements of the slaves on the board and hoping to catch the runaway slaves and send them back to the plantations.

Through careful planning and working together, the group might see an end to slavery in their time.

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Rated 50 Games
22 of 25 gamers found this helpful
“One of the Best Games I Have Ever Played”

Staring at the map covering the large table, we started planning the routes to get our friends to the north to freedom. “If we can avoid the slave catchers, we can move them up the east coast or maybe by ship into Canada out of Charleston.” We just kept staring at the map, thinking, strategizing and trying to plan the safest routes. Waiting for the answers to just jump out at us. ” Going by sea is probably the safest route I’d say… What about heading up more on the west side through Arkansas and Missouri? There is a lot less congestion up through that route.” One thing was for sure for us, time was running out and the slave catchers were constantly on the look out to capture the slaves and re-sell them at auction. We needed our underground rail road to be kept completely quite while still incredibly networked. Nothing less than that would do to get our friends to freedom and out of the hands of the plantation owners and slavers.

Publisher: Academy Games

Game Designer: Brian Mayer

Artwork: Jarek Nocon, Steve Paschal

Players: 1 – 4

Ages: 10 to adult

Playing Time: 90 minutes

Game Mechanics: Co-operative play, pick up and deliver, point-to-point movement, variable player powers

Contents: 1 lead player lantern, 17 support tokens, 13 fundraising tokens, 27 conductor tokens, slave catcher & movement dice, money tokens, 96 slave cubes, 5 slave catcher markers, 52 abolitionist cards, 6 role cards, 18 slave market cards, game board, 4 victory condition cards and 6 player mats.

Suggested Retail Price: $70.00

Parental Advisory: Safe for kids and educational

Awards: 2013 Club Fantasci Best Historical Game, 2013 Club Fantasci Most Innovative Game, 2013 Club Fantasci Best New Designer, 2013 Drive Thru Review Game of the Year, 2013 De Tafel Plakt! Theme of the Year and 2013 Board Game of the Year – The Wargamer

Freedom: The Underground Railroad could easily be taken the wrong way if you just look at the box. You might ask or say, Why? Who needs a game with that kind of theme? That is offensive! I can understand that at first, but once you open the box, oh my, what a surprise! This game is so much more than it appears at first glance. Is it a game about slavery? Why yes it is, but it’s also a game that teaches, educates and provides not only a fun gaming experience but a very deep gaming experience. Freedom: The Underground Railroad was the biggest surprise hit of the year for me.

The goal of Freedom: The Underground Railroad is to purchase all the support tokens (not an easy task) and get all the slaves (determined by the Victory Conditions Card) to Canada from the plantation before the end of turn eight. This game goes quicker than you might think, takes a great amount of co-operative strategizing and will not ever be an easy game to win. It is simply wonderful!

The game plays in 5 different phases. The Slave Catcher Phase, Planning Phase, Action Phase, Slave Market Phase and the Lantern Phase.

Slave Catcher Phase – In this phase the slave catchers might catch wind of slave movement or their whereabouts and try to apprehend them by moving through the different cities. There is a Slave Catcher Die that is rolled to determine which catcher is moved and a Movement Die that determines in which direction that catcher is moved.
Planning Phase – During this phase, the players determine which tokens they will acquire. This phase has three eras which are opened to the players in succession after all the support tokens are purchased from the previous era. Here the players also get their conductor tokens which determine how many slaves the can move and also how far. This is also where players can get their fundraising tokens. This allows the players to obviously raise cash to help their cause. Money is so important in this game and must be handled appropriately.
Action Phase – The Action Phase allows players to take their actions in any order to include: Gain the Role Cards benefit, use the Role Cards special ability, play a Conductor or Fundraising Token, play a second Conductor or Fundraising Token and purchase an Abolitionist Card and resolve it.
Slave Market Phase – This phase has the slaves being sold to the plantation owners of the south. The bottom most Slave Card (there are always three out on the board populated to better plan for what is coming) is removed from the board and the slaves are placed on the open spaces in the plantations. If there are no open spaces available, then the slaves are placed on the Slaves Lost Track. This is one of the ways the players can lose the game. If the players lost track fills up before the winning conditions are met, or the end of turn eight, then the players lose the game.
Lantern Phase – This phase is basically the re-stocking phase. The Abolitionist Cards are re-stocked, a possible Opposition Card maybe resolved then and discarded from the game. The games Victory Conditions are then checked and if the game has not ended, then the Lantern Token passes to the left and a new round begins.

Freedom: The Underground Railroad forces the players to really think, work together and sweat bullets trying to out think the game and get their slaves to freedom. There are so many possible choices. Which slaves to move and in which direction to go. Do you move them and activate the abolitionist closest to them and either sacrifice them to open up a route for other slaves to possibly escape or try to play it safe.

The mechanic that has the abolitionist moving closer to the slaves moving across their path makes this game very strategic and delicious to play at the same time. There is no “easy” way to get passed the abolitionist usually. Making a move could very well lead to sacrificing one or more other slaves in an attempt to open up possible routes for other slaves. Trying to figure out which Conductor Tokens to play and when or how to get the slaves out of the plantations quick enough so that you don’t lose slaves later to the Slaves Lost Track is always a tough decision. Do we place slaves in that city to acquire more funding at the risk of them being captured?

There is so much here in this game it is amazing! The first time I played it, I sat down and played it solo three times in a row and was amazed at how difficult but yet enticingly fun this game is. It is quite possibly the best solo version of a game I have yet to play. The various roles lend a lot to the game as their abilities are better suited for some things than others. A couple of roles like the Conductor are definitely more advantageous in the solo version to play than others.

The other great thing about this game is the learning of the history behind the movement. The Abolitionist Cards give brief glimpses in to people, Acts and points in history that dramatically affected the slave movement. Additionally, Academy Games does a nice job of summarizing what was going on at that point in history at the back of the rule book to give greater depth and meaning to the game, especially for those who might not be well-studied in the history of the underground railroad.

Freedom: The Underground Railroad components are well done. The artwork is superb, the pieces are well done, heavy cardboard for the tokens and a nice linen finish for the Abolitionist Cards. The Slaves Lost Cards are very heavy as well and will last forever. If you place this game a lot, I would recommend sleeving the cards just to protect them as they will be handled a lot. The rule book is well laid out, easy to understand and I was playing within minutes of reading it. The game also comes with two large player aids, which help immensely in the game play.

If you like deep games or games that cause you to really think and work extremely well together, it really doesn’t get any better than this. Can this game cause AP? Of course, but it should. It’s a deep game. It is one of the finest examples of co-operative play I have ever come across. There is so much riding on your decisions and the possible outcomes based on your decisions that you most definitely felt like you played a real game by the end of it.

How does it compare to other co-operative games? Well I haven’t played them all, but it is deeper than almost that I have played, just as fun and now where near as long as say Shadows Over Camelot or Battlestar Galactica. It provided the sense of urgency and danger of a quick ending like Pandemic but has a much sweeter spot and victory feeling to me. It’s a more strategic game and a little less luck based. It rides high on the list of games like Police Precinct, Ghost Stories. Pandemic and Battlestar Galactica that provide that wonderful nail-biting tension and rush to beat the clock before it’s to late.

Freedom: The Underground Railroad is one fine game. It was such a tight race between it and Francis Drake for Game of the Year in the 2013 Club Fantasci Board Game Awards because it is such and amazing game. You will not be disappointed in this game if you purchase it. It is well worth the time and money, will provide a great amount of re-playability, great socialization and provide stories for years due to its theme, nature and game play. Definitely my #2 game of the year for 2013 and one of the best solo and co-operative games ever to come out. Well done Academy Games and Brian Mayer. You have outdone yourselves and made one **** of a game that will always be welcome on my game table. Thank you for this wonderful, wonderful game.

Club Fantasci Scoring (Based on scale of 10):

Artwork: 8

Rules Book: 9

Re-playability: 10

Component Quality: 9.5

Club Fantasci Overall Score: 9

I am giving Freedom: The Underground Railroad 9 out 10 stars because it is simply one of the best games I have ever played.

This game is Club Fantasci Certified!

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17 of 19 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“Never have I cared so much for little wooden tokens!”

Freedom: The Underground Railroad is a cooperative game for 1 to 4 players where players take on special roles to help slaves escape from the land o’ cotton (that’s the Southern U.S.) into Canada during the 1800’s. Based on the number of players, the play time will be 1 to 2 hours. Get your knapsack ready, clean out your cellar, and make sure you have plenty of supplies as you get ready help your fellow man out of the chains of slavery.

For such a controversial theme – very well done!
Very good components (cards & boards).
Rich historical content
Challenging game
Lots of replayability in the opposition cards and slave market cards.
Plays great solo

Can get long with four AP prone players


In Freedom, each player gets a separate role card that grants them special benefits each turn and a single one-shot special ability. Each round is broken up into five phases: Slave Catcher phase, Planning Phase, Action Phase, Slave Market Phase, and Lantern Phase. There are three decks in the game broken up across three time periods from 1800 to 1865. To advance to the next deck, players must purchase all the support tokens of a given time period (not cheap).

I won’t go into complete detail of the rules, but basically each player will be taking their turns during the planning phase which entails buying up to two tokens for fundraising, moving slaves, and support tokens and the action phase where all the “action” is (see what I did there?). The action phase is where players will use their tokens, abilities (mostly), and use abolitionist cards from the abolitionist queue. The other phases are basically the “game” taking it’s turn and the last phase is clean up the abolitionist queue (sometimes where opposition cards are resolved).

Players win by helping a predetermined number (based on victory card) of slaves into Canada and buying all the support tokens in the game. They lose if they have lost too many slaves during the game which they keep track of on their victory card or the players run out of slave market cards (8) before accomplishing your objectives.


This tough game is full of hard hard choices! Money is tight tight tight! Those opposition cards can be NASTY! Never have I cared so much for each little wooden token (slave), because you don’t want to lose any freed slaves! Unfortunately, it can make for a bittersweet victory (if you can win that is!) when you look over and see that you have lost more slaves then you got into Canada. I feel myself almost sweating as I draw the next abolitionist card waiting for the dreaded reddish orange of an opposition card appearing or when I roll the slave catcher dice hoping for the knapsack carrying slave to appear(i.e. slave catchers don’t move). However, nothing is more heart-wrenching then the first time you decide to lose slaves as a “calculated risk” in the game.

I love the replayability of this game, because it is random how many opposition cards are placed in the abolitionist decks as well how differently they are distributed across the three decks (time periods). So you never know which opposition cards will be in the game or what time period they’ll pop up. Also, the slave market cards are shuffled before each game, so the distribution of new slaves arriving each round is different and keeps me on my toes. This affects how many plantation spaces I need to free up for the incoming slaves, so I don’t lose any.

I love the historical flavor text of each card and how it connects the theme of the cards to the mechanics! This makes it even more immersive!

Now, slavery is definitely a black spot in our history and unfortunately it still goes on today in some parts of the world. So, this may sound like a bad theme for a board game, but I believe the designer and Academy Games did everything right in that the players are trying to help slaves gain their freedom. I appreciate the “honesty” of the game in at least showing not just the those opposed to slavery, but using the opposition cards to show those who supported slavery and how they affected the times. When the bad happens, the abolitionists had to rethink their plans for helping the slaves.

I can only think of a small handful of games that have really gotten me immersed into it’s theme, and this is probably the first game that makes me me care about how well I win or lose. So far, I have only won one time out the four times I’ve played (3 solo and 1 three players), and that was on the “easy” level. This game is on the verge of replacing my favorite co-op with great theme: Pandemic. This is an absolutely brilliant cooperative game, and it’s a must buy if you’re into cooperative games and rich historical themed games.

Gamer Recommendations

Family GamerYES – Older kids who’ve studied 1800’s, great theme and great educational value – not younger kids with short attention span and no understanding of the history
Social GamerNO – To heavy a game for socializing
Casual GamerNO – Too heavy a co-op for casual players
Strategy GamerYES – Lots of strategic options
Avid Gamer YES – Full of replayability and tough choices
Power GamerYES – heavy co-op that power gamers may like

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7 of 21 gamers found this helpful
“A fun but tense game ”

I missed the Kickstarter for Freedom but was attracted by its unique theme, quality components and ability to play solo or up to 4 players. I normally play with my wife and you really do feel the moral dilemma associated with the balance between achieving your goals and risking (or deliberately accepting) the ‘deaths’ of the slaves that are in the slave market awaiting delivery to your (full) plantations. On average the game takes about 90 mins to play, and to date with about 10 games under our belt we’ve had a 40% win rate. I would highly recommend this game to anyone who like co-operative games.


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