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1989: Dawn of Freedom» Forums » Reviews

Subject: 1989: A Year for the History Books -- and a Game to Match rss

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Francis K. Lalumiere
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Back in 2005, GMT gave us Twilight Struggle, the card-driven strategy game that covered the Cold War in all its dreadful glory. More a battle of influence and psychological fencing than an actual wargame, Twilight Struggle quickly became GMT’s best seller, and it retains that title to this day. So is it any surprise that a sequel using the same engine saw the light of day years later?
Actually, yes.

Developed independently by Ted Torgerson as a retread of TS, 1989 aimed to depict the final throes of the communist rule in Eastern Europe—the very end, incidentally, of the aforementioned twilight struggle. Published online as a free Print-and-Play kit, the game quickly attracted the attention of many people, including some of the GMT honchos. Twilight Struggle designer Jason Matthews jumped in to shake up a few things in Torgerson’s design, and presto! The Cold War was once again almost over: only one year left to plow through. But what a year!

In 1989, one player puts on the mask of the communist, while the other plays the democrat. The communist fights to keep the Eastern Bloc under his heel, while the democrat strives to free the people from their oppressors and bring about a democratic process.
On the large mounted board lay six key countries: East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Each one sports several interconnected “spaces” (representing cities or organizations) where both players will try to place—and maintain!—support points. Enough support points over those of your opponent wins you that space. But for how long?

The game’s engine is its deck of strategy cards, divided into three thirds that are gradually incorporated into the mix as the year progresses. Each card depicts an event that took place in 1989, and can be played either to implement that event or to make use of the card’s operation points. In turn, those points can be used to increase one’s support (in one or multiple locations) or to try and hack away at the opponent’s own support base.

Some of the cards are scoring cards: when played, each of them triggers a scoring round in the associated country. This process begins with a power struggle—a suit-matching battle between the two players, using cards dealt from a second deck. The more spaces a player controls in the scored country, the more power struggle cards he receives, which gives him more weapons to counter whatever his opponent will play in the upcoming confrontation. (Yes, that’s the Hannibal combat resolution system, used to wonderful effect in this context.)
Eventually, one player will not be able to match the suit played by his opponent, and the power struggle will end. Whoever lost must remove a number of support points from the target country, while the winner gains some victory points. The communist also gains some bonus points if he won the power struggle; but if the democrat emerged victorious by a large enough margin, the communist regime is toppled and the country becomes a democracy, taking the relevant scoring card out of the game.
After the power struggle, the country is scored according to a simple formula that takes into account the number of spaces controlled by each player. If a country remains under communist rule, it may end up being scored several times over the course of a game.

The game ends as soon as one player reaches a total of 20 victory points. If this doesn’t happen, the clash comes to an end after 10 game turns, at which point all six countries are scored one last time, and the communist earns a hefty VP bonus for countries that he managed to keep under his heel for the entire game. There is only one communal VP track with a zero in the middle, so victory goes to the player with the VP marker on his side.


The comparison to Twilight Struggle is inevitable. And why should it be? 1989 is essentially a reboot of the game, but with new twists thrown in. For the TS fans, then, here are the major changes in 1989.
- No headline phase. Cards are played one at a time in alternating turns—and the eight-card hand size never increases, for that matter.
- No realignments. The coup still exists, though, and is now called Support Check. And fighting over battlegrounds has no ill effect.
- Power Struggles. Scoring a country is not as straightforward as it once was. Now you need to fight a little more for it.
- The communist player earns points for hanging onto countries. (In TS, countries didn’t start out in anyone’s backyard.)
- The game cannot come to a premature end because of a bunch of reckless coups in coveted battlegrounds. (I’m not saying it’s a bad thing in TS; it’s just not a possibility here.)
- 1989 features no equivalent to the China Card in TS; but the Space Race is reborn in the form of the Tiananmen Square track, which functions in a manner similar to its predecessor.


WAR PRODUCTION

1989 unfolds over a large and beautiful mounted board. There’s plenty of room for everything, and the information is clear and easy to read.
The cards are printed on good stock, and although they have a slight tendency to curve inward, those cards will last. Unless you’re a true maniac, there’s no need for sleeves here.
The chits are printed on thick cardboard and are easy to punch out. They are, in fact, identical to the “double thick” chits that shipped with the latest edition of Twilight Struggle.

Now can I be a nitpicking bastard for a minute?
Victory points for the communist are always referred to as “minus” points, whereas those for the democrat are “plus” points. Thus, is you see “-3 VPs” on a card, you know you need to slide the VP marker three steps in the communist’s direction. For that reason, the side of the VP track assigned to the communist is the left one: negative numbers go to the left of zero, right? And positive numbers (VPs for the democrat) are laid out on the right-hand side.
But everything else on the board is laid out in reverse: left is where the democrat places his support points on each space, and battlegrounds (which are spaces of special significance in the game) are identified with a colored strip that starts out blue on the left and gradually changes over to red on the right. This makes sense from a political point of view: the left-hand side of the map (west) was democratic, while the right-hand side (east) was communist.
So it makes sense for the democrat and communist to sit west and east of the map, respectively. But it really bugs me to have to push the VP marker towards my opponent when I’m the one scoring points.
One last comment on this: the only instance in which the minus/plus VP convention is not respected happens with the on-board reminder about the endgame communist VP bonus. The little table lists the bonus points as 4, 8, 12… and that also rubs the insufferable geek in me the wrong way.

Apart from that, there’s the occasional typo here and there, but overall, the production values of the game are fantastic.

The box art has left the community rather divided, but personally I like it. It’s very different from your run-of-the-mill wargame box cover, and I enjoy that.


RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

The rules are clearly laid out (and in one single rulebook—thank you!) with plenty of examples and a sprinkling of interesting historical quotes.
For the TS veteran, learning to play 1989 will be a matter of minutes. For the newbie? Just a few more minutes. The game runs on 13 pages of rules that you need to read once to get going. I don’t see this scaring away any serious gamer.

But the best part of the rulebook—just as it was with Twilight Struggle—is the section that contains all the card notes. The background of every single card is laid out within a generous paragraph: that’s 10 pages of historical goodness, for the buffs in all of us. And I guarantee there are at least a few one you didn’t know about in there.

I wish every wargame did something like this.


FUN FACTOR

If you’re already a fan of TS, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t enjoy 1989. And if you’re new to the whole shebang? Then hang on to your hats, because I believe the new game just did the old TS one better.
(And I know I’ll probably be burned at the stake by some players for saying this. But spare me for now: I’ll get back to my blasphemy in a minute.)

1989 is a thrilling historical roller-coaster ride on the tail end of the Cold War. Every card makes history inch forward a little more, often with devastating results. As the communist, you can feel a certain panic as some countries inevitably end up slipping through your clenched fingers, while the democrat keeps chipping away at the Iron Curtain for stretches that sometimes feel hopeless. But there’s always a chink in the armor…

Many power struggles are bona fides nail biters, undecided until the very last—and often desperate!—card play. And I love the fact that even though you might get trounced in the actual scoring of a country, the power struggle can still turn to your advantage.
As long as the communist manages to hold on to the country, it’ll earn him a growing number of VPs just for having said country under communist rule. And that’s not counting the bonus VPs at the very end of the game!
On the other side of the fence, if the democrat manages to turn a country into a democracy, he denies the communist a hefty amount of VPs and makes certain no further scoring will take place there for the foreseeable future.

One cool little board feature is the U.S.S.R. stability track. The track reflects what is essentially a chain of connected cards that give more and more points to the democrat (until the possible play of a Kremlin Coup at the very end of the chain!), but seeing it there on the board reinforces the feeling of a disintegrating stronghold in Eastern Europe.

Every game is a blast, from the can’t-believe-nothing-is-really-stopping-me runaway victories to the (much more common) slug-a-thons that take everything you’ve got, and then some.

So what about that burning at the stake, you say?
Oh, yes.
I think I prefer 1989 over Twilight Struggle. And I say that as someone who holds TS in the highest respect and would play it anytime, anywhere.

Now keep that smoke out of my eyes while I tell you why.

In TS, I have always felt that the realignment and the coup were basically the same game mechanic, but with different artificial flavorings. And I much prefer the coup. Since they got rid of the realignment in 1989, I strangely feel like I was granted my wish—a wish I wasn’t quite aware I had until I sat down to play 1989.

In TS, I find scorings a bit bland. There is a lot of excitement beforehand, as influence is piled a mile high (“Is he really going to score South America this turn, or is he just happy to see me?”), but the scoring itself feels flat. Whereas in 1989, the play of a scoring card is just the beginning, because you’ve got a whole power struggle to go through. And considering that one of those power struggle cards allows you to remove one of your opponent’s support points in the soon-to-be-scored country, it sometimes means that the exact points you’ll score for the country cannot be ascertained before the power struggle is dealt with.

In TS, if you score miserably in a scoring round, you can always tell yourself that you’ll do better next time that scoring card comes around. (And unless you’re close to the end of the game, the card will come back.) That is not the case in 1989. If the first power struggle for, say, East Germany blows up in the communist’s face, then that card is taken out back and shot like a dog. East Germany will not be scored again… until the final scoring at the end of turn 10. And removing scoring cards from the game changes the way both players look at the board, resulting in an even more dynamic game.


I’m not saying I’ll never play Twilight Struggle again. I will, if only for the theme and the card variety. But I’m convinced I’ll find myself missing the many nuances that 1989 has added to the original recipe.


PARTING SHOTS

As one more “wargame without war” opus, 1989 not only earns a respectable place in that select club: it gives the reigning king a run for its money. I’ll be very curious to see how well it ranks compared to Twilight Struggle in the coming months.

Of course, the ultimate blast would be to play both games in sequence over an afternoon/evening, going over the entire Cold War first, before re-enacting the final, fateful year of that protracted conflict.
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Brandon M
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I thumbed your post without reading because of you Proteus Avatar.

Nice.

Edit: After reading this write up, I am left with a feeling of longing and hunger. Just a few more days, and then this will ship out.
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mateenyweeny
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Great review. Thanks for sharing. Really looking forward to giving this one a go. Just a quick question since it seems like you'd had the chance to play a few time, how does the play length compare to TS?
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dan williams
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Hey, who are you calling a maniac?

Really, thanks for the review.
 
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weishaupt wrote:

Of course, the ultimate blast would be to play both games in sequence over an afternoon/evening, going over the entire Cold War first, before re-enacting the final, fateful year of that protracted conflict.

Oh man, now I gotta buy TS. Well played, GMT, well played.

Thanks for the review. Can't wait to get my mitts on my copy.
 
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Francis K. Lalumiere
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slinkydink wrote:
Great review. Thanks for sharing. Really looking forward to giving this one a go. Just a quick question since it seems like you'd had the chance to play a few time, how does the play length compare to TS?

All of my games (except for one spectacular blow-out on turn 4) were full games and took about three hours. Since my games of TS routinely take 2.5 hours, so I'd say that 1989 is a tad longer. Chalk it up the power struggles (I would assume).
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1989: Dawn of Freedom » Forums » Reviews
Re: 1989: A Year for the History Books -- and a Game to Match
Ouch!

As TS is finally available in French I just bought it... And you almost made me sorry for not getting 1989 instead...

The good point is I guess that if I love one, I might get the second
 
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Simon Webster
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Very enjoyable review. Thanks for posting it.

I'd be interested to hear your opinion on the differences in card play between this and TS, if any.
I feel the unique cardplay of TS is part of its appeal and longevity.

How does 1989 compare in cardplay feel? For instance, is any tension lost due to the lack of the defcon track? Certain cards in TS were very potentially very dangerous (Lone Gunman, Olympic Games, We will bury you etc..)

Presumably the strategies of removing your opponents events strategically due to reshuffles of the deck are still present?
 
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Francis K. Lalumiere
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WrenHong wrote:
Very enjoyable review. Thanks for posting it.

I'd be interested to hear your opinion on the differences in card play between this and TS, if any.
I feel the unique cardplay of TS is part of its appeal and longevity.

How does 1989 compare in cardplay feel? For instance, is any tension lost due to the lack of the defcon track? Certain cards in TS were very potentially very dangerous (Lone Gunman, Olympic Games, We will bury you etc..)

Presumably the strategies of removing your opponents events strategically due to reshuffles of the deck are still present?

It's VERY close to TS. Obviously the cards are not the same--although some of them are indeed the same, just under a different title. There's the equivalent of Bear Trap, the equivalent of UN Intervention, and a few others. Still, most are different, but with a gameplay that feels very much like TS.

The absence of the DEFCON track does take away some of the tension, but the power struggles more than make up for this. In every game, there's at least one crucial power struggle (with both players having a huge hand of power struggle cards) you'll come out of with your hands shaking. I'm not kidding.
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Karl Fritz
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weishaupt wrote:

Apart from that, there’s the occasional typo here and there, but overall, the production values of the game are fantastic.


Are these typos on the components? Or just the rules. I ended up buying TS 2.5 times to get it to the deluxe level.. While this sounds like it may be a "finished" product (I'm looking at you TS and Dominant Species!) I may just wait for the corrected reprint..
 
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Kristof Bodric
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kfritz wrote:
weishaupt wrote:

Apart from that, there’s the occasional typo here and there, but overall, the production values of the game are fantastic.


Are these typos on the components? Or just the rules. I ended up buying TS 2.5 times to get it to the deluxe level.. While this sounds like it may be a "finished" product (I'm looking at you TS and Dominant Species!) I may just wait for the corrected reprint..


I have DS 1st edition. What's wrong with it?
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Karl Fritz
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vidra wrote:
kfritz wrote:
weishaupt wrote:

Apart from that, there’s the occasional typo here and there, but overall, the production values of the game are fantastic.


Are these typos on the components? Or just the rules. I ended up buying TS 2.5 times to get it to the deluxe level.. While this sounds like it may be a "finished" product (I'm looking at you TS and Dominant Species!) I may just wait for the corrected reprint..


I have DS 1st edition. What's wrong with it?


DS second edition thickened the tiles. Then the upcoming 3rd edition upgraded the art on the board (I think the cards as well). Yeah, my game still plays fine (I purchased the thicker tiles), but the updated artwork would be nice to have. So, that is a game I have bought 1.5 times.. I'm passing on the new artwork. Just a bit bitter here..
 
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Kristof Bodric
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I know what the changes were. I ordered the 3rd printing of DS just to get the alternative artwork. The outcry about the thickness of the tiles was completely unjustified, though. The 1st edition tiles were more than good enough. As for the simplicity of the artwork, that's true, but it has its own aesthetics. Makes the game info clear and visible. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to getting the 3rd printing as my copy is getting well-worn and the new artwork is really beautiful.
 
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Erwin Lau
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A must-buy if only because of the Tiananmen Square track. Able to get it to play with my co-workers inside China is a bit of a problem though.
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Karl Fritz
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vidra wrote:
The outcry about the thickness of the tiles was completely unjustified, though. The 1st edition tiles were more than good enough.


Subjective statement. Sure, they did the trick, but if they were more than good enough, why did GMT create thicker tiles after the first edition sold out?
 
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Kristof Bodric
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kfritz wrote:
vidra wrote:
The outcry about the thickness of the tiles was completely unjustified, though. The 1st edition tiles were more than good enough.


Subjective statement. ;) Sure, they did the trick, but if they were more than good enough, why did GMT create thicker tiles after the first edition sold out?


They more than just did the trick. GMT created thicker tiles because that's the kind of company they are. They listen to their customers. If they want a mounted board, they get one. If they want thicker tiles, they get them. If they're bothered by Comic Sans, it's gone, baby. I don't know if you've ever seen the 1st edition tiles? They are hard. You can't bend them at all and if you knock them, you get a solid sound. The point is they look thin, but the material is very tough and sturdy.
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Karl Fritz
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vidra wrote:
kfritz wrote:
vidra wrote:
The outcry about the thickness of the tiles was completely unjustified, though. The 1st edition tiles were more than good enough.


Subjective statement. Sure, they did the trick, but if they were more than good enough, why did GMT create thicker tiles after the first edition sold out?


They more than just did the trick. GMT created thicker tiles because that's the kind of company they are. They listen to their customers. If they want a mounted board, they get one. If they want thicker tiles, they get them. If they're bothered by Comic Sans, it's gone, baby. I don't know if you've ever seen the 1st edition tiles? They are hard. You can't bend them at all and if you knock them, you get a solid sound. The point is they look thin, but the material is very tough and sturdy.


Yup, I P500'ed the first edition and purchased the thicker tiles because I wanted thicker tiles (I tossed the other ones in the trash). Nicer components are always better.. I'm merely being a disgruntled early adopter that is now becoming more patient waiting for de-bugged and/or improved components.

That's why I am curious about this first edition. I'm very interested in the game, but if it has blatant errors that will very likely be fixed in the next reprint, I am patient waiting for that. Chili anyone?
 
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Francis K. Lalumiere
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kfritz wrote:
weishaupt wrote:

Apart from that, there’s the occasional typo here and there, but overall, the production values of the game are fantastic.


Are these typos on the components? Or just the rules. I ended up buying TS 2.5 times to get it to the deluxe level.. While this sounds like it may be a "finished" product (I'm looking at you TS and Dominant Species!) I may just wait for the corrected reprint..

The typos are on components, but they are very minor ones.
A missing word (absolutely not vital) on one card, a box that says "Non Power Struggle card" instead of "Non-Scoring Card" on the Tiananmen Square track, a missing minus sign in front of the communist end-game bonus (which is obviously a negative bonus since it's communist)... those are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head.

I also hate to be a paying playtester for first editions of games, but this is not the case here. The typos are really minor, and rare.
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Karl Fritz
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weishaupt wrote:
kfritz wrote:
weishaupt wrote:

Apart from that, there’s the occasional typo here and there, but overall, the production values of the game are fantastic.


Are these typos on the components? Or just the rules. I ended up buying TS 2.5 times to get it to the deluxe level.. While this sounds like it may be a "finished" product (I'm looking at you TS and Dominant Species!) I may just wait for the corrected reprint..

The typos are on components, but they are very minor ones.
A missing word (absolutely not vital) on one card, a box that says "Non Power Struggle card" instead of "Non-Scoring Card" on the Tiananmen Square track, a missing minus sign in front of the communist end-game bonus (which is obviously a negative bonus since it's communist)... those are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head.

I also hate to be a paying playtester for first editions of games, but this is not the case here. The typos are really minor, and rare.


Thanks for the heads up Francis. I'm still a bit on the fence. Hopefully one of my gaming buddies will pull the trigger and get it
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vidra wrote:
kfritz wrote:
weishaupt wrote:

Apart from that, there’s the occasional typo here and there, but overall, the production values of the game are fantastic.


Are these typos on the components? Or just the rules. I ended up buying TS 2.5 times to get it to the deluxe level.. While this sounds like it may be a "finished" product (I'm looking at you TS and Dominant Species!) I may just wait for the corrected reprint..


I have DS 1st edition. What's wrong with it?


Absolutely nothing is wrong with DS 1st edition. The tiles were printed on a somewhat thinner but crazy sturdy stock - it was a printer error in that they were instructed to use the thicker stock but failed to do so. Naturally GMT had the next printing done with the stock originally specified. And there was nothing wrong with the artwork either - function over form is the way it should be done. Fortunately the 3rd edition artwork change is restrained to preserve functionality and not be the kind of Rococco nightmares we have been seeing in other areas. Also remember the only reason there is an artwork change is that the artwork was already done for DS the Card Game - they are simply porting over that artwork to the board game.

As to 1989, it appears that there are a total of three component typos of which only one has any functional meaning. Sadly this appears to be a fact of life with all of the board game publishers - problems with the printers not always applying the edits and also sometimes things are just not seen. But this does not make gamers "paying play testers" or any such thing.

I am looking forward to getting 1989 and playing it. My thinking is that the base TS system may actually be a better thematic fit into an uprising/insurgency scenario like this than into geopolitics. I'll be finding out.
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Bruce Wigdor
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>But it really bugs me to have to push the VP marker towards my opponent when I’m the one scoring points.

I see things the opposite way. Perhaps it's the sports fan in me, but I view advancing to be moving into the territory towards my opponent. In 1989, when you move the support marker, you are advancing it towards the goal.
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Francis K. Lalumiere
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Interesting perspective!
 
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Michael Novak
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Good Review. A couple of notes...

weishaupt wrote:

In TS, I have always felt that the realignment and the coup were basically the same game mechanic, but with different artificial flavorings. And I much prefer the coup.


They are not the same things to me, functionally or "narratively". I like the differences in the two mechanics and very much like that I have a choice between them; it also creates another tension point as you have to weigh which is the best tactic to employ at a given time. Re-alignments, I think, are a under-utilized mechanic and the only time I don't like them is when my opponent remembers it and wipes out my hard-won gains in an area.

weishaupt wrote:

And removing scoring cards from the game changes the way both players look at the board, resulting in an even more dynamic game.


Really? I would think that would create a less dynamic board, as you could safely ignore that area until final scoring. But I have not played 1989 yet, so I will wait and see on this one.

ldsdbomber wrote:

The theme / background to this game is nowhere near as intersting and evocative for many. That's not meant to be a slight on the people directly affected by this, but I think it's a stretch to say one can't imagine why a global confrontation involving the threat of global nuclear war between the cold war US and USSR might be significantly more interesting than the conflict depicted here.


I was thinking the same thing. Not nearly the same drama and scope. But maybe it may be pretty cool to dig into the history of that year a little.
 
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Francis K. Lalumiere
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Thanks for all the comments, guys.
Now make sure, once you've played the game, to come back here and give the review a run for its money.
I have it easy when no one's played the game yet!
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