This game represents the cold and contentious times when our world braced to collide. With statements of hubris spoken by our government we had deep concern that if any wrong misstep would force the opposition to retaliate with fiery conflict. Eastern European countries had experienced the long hard life of Communism, and its people dreamed of change; and sip form the cup of freedom that capitalism so often advertises.
In 1989 the game, Capitalism and Communism stand on either side of history making threats to demonstrate political and economic dominance. 1989: Dawn of Freedom takes us through what it would be like to live in Eastern Europe in this ideological battle through the fall of Communism in these countries.
The Board consists of the maps of the eastern bloc countries: East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Board is stunning to look at but that joy quickly fades as you struggle to get it to lie flat, but with determination and a little acceptance this problem is quickly rectified. Looking at the board the game swiftly draws parallels to another GMT game 2005 Twilight struggle. Since I haven’t played Twilight yet (Just a matter of time) I honestly can’t make fair comparisons of play, but aesthetically it seems to me 1989 is close in mechanics, but scaled to the struggle of Easter Europe in the 80’s.
The fight continues as players begin to place opposing influence on the board. When there is enough influence to win the hearts and minds of a particular group then that the player flips his chit to the solid color that represents his cause. The goal is to have the most influence in a country before the power struggle happens and determines the fate of each player. Play heightens with crucial times of conflict where a card event can dramatically tip the scale on the board, or when you can play a power struggle card catching your opponent unprepared.
The game play lies in the cards which represent historical events and point values. The playing cards are broken down into early/middle/late game with the latter two being set aside until the game progresses to the point you add them to the draw pile. Out of seven plays only once did we experience the game going long enough to reach the late game card stack and there affects. The cards very nature of strict instructions that affect the same part of the board produces a common problem introducing the game to new players. When players have knowledge of what the cards might do (Like knowing the Lutheran church will automatically become Democratic in Easter Germany in the middle game when the event hits, so it doesn’t pay for either player to invest much points there) will give a well-seasoned player an unfair advantage over a less compensated one.
The draw pile refills each player’s hands. Soon you find your sitting on a hand of events that will not play to you favorable. How well you maneuver your play with the events of the board will determine your prowess. All cards but one in each players hand are played each turn (usually, events and other cards can force this last card to be played). Since opponent’s cards can’t be seen your attacks at other players hands are more based on working assumptions of your opponents play style, and less to do with the type of cards in hand.
Game play greatly depends on how well you can bury important event cards that affect you worse and taking best advantage of your favorable events; this can be done by keeping a close eye on the board and careful planning so your events do maximum damage. Some event cards need linear catalyst to allow them to happen so this becomes an important strategy to block early events so that late ones never can happen.
The only other way to avoid playing unwanted cards is Tiananmen Square. Once around you make take a turn tossing an unwanted card on the Tiananmen chart without triggering the cards event. This is the only way to delay a cards event other than hanging on to in your hand from turn to turn hoping your opponent doesn’t force you to play your last card. Tiananmen is a race because as the front runner makes headway onto the track they are the sole person to benefit from some of the events that Tiananmen has to offer. If you fail on roll on the track it is almost fatal forcing you to be the runner up the rest of the game unless your political nemesis is makes equal critical miscues just like you on the progression track.
There is a final deck of cards that represent the power struggle. Each party has their own set of identical power struggle cards. When a power struggle of a particular country plays in the normal round the country goes into a power struggle. A player gets four cards for the first group owned and then two for each additional group. Theatrically a player could be shut out of a power struggle if they have no influence in a country. This can happen fairly easily if the player is not paying attention as the game changes from its early/middle/late stages. Other countries like Romania and Bulgaria may never see a power struggle since they hit so late in the game. Games can often be won quickly if the dice rolls don’t go as you add extra point totals after the struggle your way and the point values are pushed to the 20 mark in either direction (Communism is -20 some kind of weird democratic favoritism I say!)
It really captures that tenuous time period well and anyone interested of the end of the cold war and the events of Europe will most likely like this game. The game play matches the theme well, and the variety of cards is such and the lack of getting to a late game leave for room for many enjoyable replays captures the mood and tension of a contentious back and forth struggle. Having never played Twilight to compare to this game I was greatly excited by the board and influencing mechanics that unfolded to this newbie war gamer, but I am sure some of the excitement would be diminished from seeing this type of game in action in a different format.
The game can seem tilted towards Democracy. Communist players have to hang on as long as they can; knowing that ultimately things in history will not bode well for them. This Democratic affect happens so much that non-war gamers that I played with (who are not used to playing games where a side historically wins and the game has to compensate by showing the win in the games point system) might get a sense that the game is slanted to the democratic player.
Another problem is some of the countries simply have a higher point value and it becomes obvious to maintain control of them. For the communist player who benefits from reoccurring point multiplier it pays to stay in Poland and spend fewer resources in other countries. The focus on Poland greatly influences the game so much so that Hungary and Czechoslovakia can be devalued and sometimes worthless to a well-played Poland strategy.
Experienced players have a dramatic advantage over new players more so than most games I have played. Knowing what the cards in advance and their tendencies will make it hard for a new player to have any chance to a well-seasoned player unless they are adequately informed the subtleties of the game. During the power struggle if you own certain groups on the board their matching leaders in your deck become wild cards instead of being useless cars that are unplayable (except a mechanic which allows you to spend three cards to make a bonus to your rolls if you win). Knowing the breakdown of the number of special leaders in the power struggle is also a huge advantage if a player is not informed before a power struggle takes place. I had played several games before I realized that there are more elite leaders/Intellectuals leaders, and that not all the numbers of the other leaders breaks down the same: bureaucrats, workers, students, and church leaders (not to mention there are no Farm leaders).
Without the influence of not having played Twilight struggle I have to conclude that this game represented an exciting and new experience. I know it doesn’t knock it out of the ballpark for everyone (especially for people who don’t like war games) and some people find it a heavy endeavor to play; especially for new players inundated by unknown factors. The problem is it is still fun and exciting to play and captures the tension for the time period in the theme and mechanics of the game. People who can remember those points in history in the year 1989 will live in their memory as you play this game. If you’re up for a cold war focus in Eastern Europe this game is for you!