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Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom
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Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


Introduction

What happens when you take the basic system from Twilight Struggle and apply it to the revolutionary upheaval in the Communist Bloc in 1989?

You get Ted Torgerson's ingenious game, 1989: Dawn of Freedom. Ted has also designed other games, including another CDG, Free At Last.

1989: Dawn of Freedom (1989 from now on) was self-published in 2007. It is a 2 player game and typically takes 2-3 hours to play.

I've been wanting to try this game for some time and I was able to obtain one of the copies Ted made himself.

Theme

1989 follows the dramatic upheaval in Communist Bloc countries of Poland, East Germany, Romania, Czechoslovkia, Hungary and Bulgaria as the people rose up demanding democratic change. The cards represent people and events that shaped the eventual overthrow of the existing communist regimes in one of the final paroxysms at the end of the Cold War.

Components

The game is Print & Play, so the components will be of whatever quality you decide. My copy has a nicely printed and laminated map and three decks of cards done at Artscow.

You will also need the core rules and a set of influence markers from Twilight Struggle. You can download the former from GMT's web site, and you can make influence markers to suit or borrow them from your TS game (like I did).

Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


The game map features the countries of eastern Europe and the Balkans, with the Soviet Union and western European democracies adjacent.

Also worth noting is the Tiananmen Square track, which is analogous to the Space Race in TS, and the USSR stability track which is akin to the DEFCON track in TS, but has a different function.

Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


The game also comes with two kinds of cards. There are 104 strategy cards and 52 power struggle cards.

Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom
Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom
Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


The rules assume familiarity with Twilight Struggle and are written as "exceptions" to the TS rules. If anything is not listed in the exceptions/explanations/new rules, assume the TS rules apply. For instance, you deal 8 cards per hand.

What specific rules exist are clear and well written and any TS player should be able to adapt with no problem. If you're not a TS player I strongly recommend you read the rules for both carefully.

Even if you're an experienced TS player it's well worth reading the 1989 rules in detail as there are some subtle and not so subtle differences.

Rules and Game Play

1989 is a card driven game played over a maximum of 9 turns. The game may end sooner.

1989 is fundamentally a game about area control. There are six countries represented on the map: East Germany (simply referred to as Germany in the rules and cards), Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Within each country are cities that have a stability number representing how many support points are needed to control them.

Cities in 1989 are also color coded in one of two ways. First, any city with a purple bar is a "battleground" city, which can help earn you victory points after a power struggle (see below).

Each city also has their stability number in a different colored box. For instance, orange represents the power elite, purple the bureaucrats, yellow the intellectuals, and so on. Controlling cities with specific colors is important because certain events require the control of a certain type of city. Furthermore, during a power struggle leader cards can only be played if you control the right kind of city.

Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


Having control of cities helps determine whether you have presence, domination, or control of a country, which in turn helps you earn victory points.

Victory Points and Winning

1989 uses a push-pull scoring victory track, with the scoring marker starting on 0. Every time you score points, you move the scoring marker in your direction. Victory in 1989 can occur in one of the following ways:

1. if a player gets to 20+ VP at any time, they win
2. if the USSR stability track goes to 1 and a coup ousting Gorbachev succeeds, the game ends immediately after final scoring (see below)
3. if none of the above happens, the winner is determined after final scoring at the end of turn 9. Whoever has the higher VP total wins.

A player earns victory points in the following ways:

1. from successful power struggles and the ensuing scoring
2. from various cards in the deck
3. final scoring (if applicable)

Ok, now that I know the victory conditions, how do I play?

1989 is a card driven game. There is a deck of strategy cards, split into three periods: early year, mid year, late year.

Each game turn represents approximately six weeks of time. Turns 1-3 are the early year, 4-6 the mid year, and 7-9 the late year. In turns 1-3 only the early year cards are used, the mid year cards are added for the deal in turn 4, and the late year cards added for the deal in turn 7.

Each player places starting influence as noted in the set up sheet.

Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


In addition to the influence from the set up, each player adds 7 more influence anywhere on the map. The players alternate with the Communists placing 2, then the Democrats placing 3, the Communists 3, the Democrats 4, and then the Communists with their final 2.

Then each player is dealt 8 cards and play begins. Each turn consists of 7 round of card play, with the Communist Player always going first.

Each turn goes follows this sequence:

Deal 8 cards
Play 7 action rounds
Advance Turn Marker
(Final Scoring - after turn 9 only)


Each card in the game has an event on it and a number representing the operations value of the card. There are also power struggle cards for every region, which are described separately in more detail.

Here are some sample cards:

Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom
Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom
Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


Cards with a blue star are pro-democrat events, cards with a red star are pro-communist events, and cards with a white star are helpful to either side.

There are also six power struggle cards, one for each country.

Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


What can I do with my cards?

Cards can be used in the following ways:

d10-1 As an event. You can play white events or events of your color. Once the effects of the event are applied, the card is discarded. Events with a * are removed from the game!

Several of the cards in 1989 have dependencies on prior events, or need to played for future events to be possible.

d10-2 For operations. If you play a card with your opponent's event on it (never your event or an event applicable to both), then you will be triggering the event on the card! However, you get to decide if the event happens before or after you use the operations value of the card.

A card's operations points are all used for ONE of the following things:

1 adding influence in cities on the board. You can only add influence either to cities where you already have influence or to cities adjacent to ones where you already have influence.

To control a city, you need to have more influence than your opponent and enough influence be greater than or equal to the stability number.

2 perform 2 support checks. Support checks can be attempted in any city your opponent has influence.

To resolve a support check, you add the operations value of the card, +1 for every adjacent city you control, -1 for every adjacent city your opponent controls, and add a die roll. The net result is compared to double the stability number of the city.

For example, in the map of Hungary below, Budapest has a stability of 3. If the communist player used a 3 ops card to do a support check, and get +1 for control of adjacent Miskolec. The democrat has no adjacent cities under control. Say the communist player then rolls a 4. 3+1+4=8. 8 is 2 more than double the stability number (3x2=6), so the democrat player would need to remove 2 support points.

The communist player could then do a second support check, either in Budapest again, or anywhere else on the map!


Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


d10-3 advance on the Tiananmen square track. The Tiananmen square track has a lot of benefits to offer each player, from giving you a +1 drm to future Tiananmen square attempts, to making a free 2 ops support check at the end of each turn to drawing the top card from the discard pile once per turn.

Unlike the space race in TS where you need a specific value of ops card and a successful die roll within a range, 1989 has a more proactive approach. You may use any ops value card to attempt to advance.

You take the value of your ops card, get a +1 drm if the event on it is yours, and add a roll of the die. If you get the number or higher on the track, you advance.

Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


The player earns the benefit for each box unless and until their opponent also reaches that box.

d10-4 Power Struggles. For each country in the game, there is a power struggle card. Power struggle cards must be played in the turn they are drawn.

Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


Playing a power struggle card triggers the use of the power struggle deck. Each player is dealt 4 cards from the power struggle deck, plus 2 more for each city they control in the country.

There are several kinds of power struggle cards: strikes, marches, proclamations, rallies, and leaders.

Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom
Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


The person who played the power struggle card plays the first card. The opponent then must play the same kind of card in response, or give up the power struggle. Players may voluntarily yield a power struggle by choosing not to play a card in response.

If the opponent does play a card in response, they then get to roll a die to see if they can seize the initiative. The chance to seize initiative is 4-6 on a d6, modified by the difference in value of the two cards played.

For example, say the Communist player played a power struggle in Romania. After both players get their power struggle cards, the communists lead with a value 3 worker's strike. The democrat responds with a value 2 strike broken card. The democrat player would then roll a d6, with a -1 drm (communist 3 vs democrat 2 card), and would take initiative on a 5-6.

Leaders are special cards. They match the card played by the opponent, or can be lead as a value 3 card in their respective
suit". However, to play a leader card, you must control a city in that country corresponding to their type.

For instance, a student leader can be led as a March(3), but you would need to control the student space in the country.

Once the power struggle is completed, the losing player must roll to see how many support points they must remove, and the winning player rolls to see how many victory points they earn for winning the power struggle.

Board Game: 1989: Dawn of Freedom


If the democratic player won the power struggle and rolls 4 or higher on the victory points column, they seize power from the communist regime. This causes the power struggle card to be removed from the game!

Note that winning a power struggle via proclamation gives a -2 drm to both rolls, and winning a power struggle via rally gives a +2 drm to both rolls.

After removal of support points and scoring victory points, players then score the country, based on presence, domination, and control.

Presence means you control at least one city in the region.

Domination means you control more cities and more battleground cities than your opponent.

Control means you control ALL battleground cities in the country.

You only score your highest level, so if you have domination, you don't also get presence points.

The score is the sum of your scoring level (presence, domination, control), +1 per battleground city controlled.

In addition, if the communist player retained power in the country, they score bonus points. For example, for the Poland power struggle, the communist scores 3VP x the number of times the power struggle has occurred; as can be inferred, the more often the communist player can survive a power struggle in each country, the more points they'll score as a result!

You then move the VP marker as many spaces as required.

It is possible to tie on any scoring card, and it's always great if you can score a country where your opponent doesn't even have presence - or worse, loses even presence thanks to losing support points from a lost power struggle.

Unless someone has scored an automatic victory, players alternate playing action cards until seven actions have been played. If you have no cards to play (because of an event, or you were forced to discard cards), then you are out of luck! Your opponent may continue playing cards assuming they have cards available to play that action.

Did I win?

As mentioned above, there are several ways to win.

d10-1 if a player gets to 20+ VP at any time, they win. This can happen as a result of a power struggle or an event card.

d10-2 if the USSR stability drops to 1 and Gorbachev is overthrown. If the USSR stability is reduced to 1, the hardliners in the Politburo attempt a coup, and are successful on a 4-6. If this happens, then the game ends immediately and final scoring happens.

If the communist player was the phasing player when Gorbachev is ousted, they do not get the final scoring bonus (see below).

Power struggles where the democrats seize power and gain control of the capital (due to communist stability point loss) cause the USSR stability to go down by 1. There are also some event cards that shift the USSR stability rating.

d10-3 If none of the above happens, the winner is determined after final scoring at the end of turn 9.

For final scoring, every country on the map is scored.

The communist player also gets a bonus for every country they still control at the end.

Whoever is ahead after all countries are scored and the communist bonus is applied is the winner.

Exploring Further

The fall of Communism has inspired a few movies and books, too many to list here, but I have a few suggestions to get you in the mood.

Movies
The Lives of Others, a brilliant movie about life in East Germany under the watchful eyes of the Stasi.

Good Bye Lenin!, a tragicomedy about life after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Books

The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989 by Frederick Taylor.

Games
If you like 1989, you'll very likely enjoy Twilight Struggle.

Where to Play
In addition to finding a local opponent, you can also play through these fine online venues:

Wargameroom - http://wargameroom.com/

Conclusions

1989 has taken the core Twilight Struggle game system and made some nice innovations.

Of particular note is the Tiananmen square track, where proactive management of your advancement is encouraged. Allowing any ops value card to be used means you can choose which event you want to avoid - and given the events you have to contend with, something it's the "2 ops" one you want to avoid more than the "3 ops" one! The benefits of the Tiananmen square track can also really powerfully help your position, so it's really incumbent on your opponent to try to keep up, especially as you only have one chance per turn to advance. Unlike the Space Race in Twilight Struggle, I feel that playing on the Tiananmen square track is an important part of any player's strategy.

The support check action is also very nice in that it allows two attempts per card, and again, any ops value card can be used. Despite that most cities have a support value of 3, support checks can quickly deteriorate a player's delicate position.

The power struggle phase adds a certain verisimilitude to the proceedings. There was no certainty inherent in the democratic uprisings (the Tiananmen square massacre being but one example), and making the players have a card battle before scoring adds a pleasant tension to the game.

This isn't a game for everyone. If you don't like Twilight Struggle, you likely won't like this.

Of the 104 power struggle cards, 51 are democratic events, and 13 are neutral (including the 6 power struggle cards). This means the communist player will likely have a lot of events to overcome each and every turn. This can contribute to a certain level of despair, especially given you can only play 1 card into the Tiananmen square track.

The consequence is that 1989 isn't an easy game to master. The communist player is really playing a survival game, trying to retain power in as many countries as they can while enduring the onslaught of democratic events. This is of course what happened historically, but for the communist player in game terms, you're forever running from one fire to the next and watching your plans unravel as fast as you play cards. It is said of Twilight Struggle that playing the Americans well takes a lot of practice - this is even more true of playing the communists in 1989.

In Conclusion
The fall of communism is a topic that doesn't easily lend itself to a game design as it tends to fall between the cracks of gaming memes. Fortunately, Mr. Torgerson took up the challenge to create a very interesting game in an underrepresented niche.

I hope that this game gets picked up and published by one of the game companies out there so that it can get the exposure it really deserves.
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Patrick Martin
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I find it interesting that in your conclusions you describe the Communists as being more difficult to play akin to the Americans in TS. Was this based on play with any particular version of the game? I know that since the beginning of the 2009 i1989 league at wargameroom, several changes were made to the setup and rules which generally seemed to benefit the democrat player... If you are playing with the most recent version, perhaps you feel these changes have gone too far? Any expansion on your thoughts about balance would be appreciated.
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Great review thanks.

Its almost come full circle here.

Before Twilight Struggle was Hannibal.

TS borrowed the main card mechanic from Hannibal but left out some war aspects (like units moving on the board) and went to a more straight up area control focus, and also dropped the combat battle deck.

1989 once again takes the same main card deck from both games, ie events and OP options, and now puts the combat battle deck from Hannibal back into the mix via the Power Struggles (very very similiar)

All we need now is a game like these and to also put some of the war aspects back in the mix, which is something I'm already working on, hehe.

If you like these two games and want a more "war" feel, run to Hannibal not walk.
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Great review Roger, thanks.

I've had my eye on this since it popped up in a geeklist a few months ago. I like Twilight Struggle, and 1989 covers a fascinating period. Think I'll have to try my first Artscow order!
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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funnymarx wrote:
I find it interesting that in your conclusions you describe the Communists as being more difficult to play akin to the Americans in TS. Was this based on play with any particular version of the game? I know that since the beginning of the 2009 i1989 league at wargameroom, several changes were made to the setup and rules which generally seemed to benefit the democrat player... If you are playing with the most recent version, perhaps you feel these changes have gone too far? Any expansion on your thoughts about balance would be appreciated.
I'm playing with the "newest" version of the rules (whatever Ted released last December or so - that's when I got in touch with him as he had printed up a few of the latest edition).

It's clear that the communist player is trying to better the historical result (with one regime toppling after another), and also that the communist player is behind the 8-ball from the get go. It's really a case of making a long term plan from the beginning and managing the hand draws very carefully each turn to minimize the impact of democrat event cards.

Given the distribution of democrat vs. communist cards, it's also clear that it'll be rare to have a mostly pro-communist hand; it's also clear that if you do get a nice pro-communist hand on one turn, it increases the probability of a pro-democrat hand in future rounds. Of course, as with all CDG, it's about hand management.

I'd have to play the game a lot more to give a really detailed answer/commentary about the balance, but I will say this - the game is very asymmetrical in how each side should approach their strategy.
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jayjonbeach wrote:
If you like these two games and want a more "war" feel, run to Hannibal not walk.
Thanks for the recommendation - I got Hannibal from my wargame secret santa, so it's on the list of games I want to get to the table this year.
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Judit Szepessy
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What an excellent review! I hope , I will have the game soon and then your review will be a great help. The theme is very familiar and dear to me - I lived through all these events as a Hungarian citizen.
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Thanks for the most excellent review. I just did my order
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Let me guess. This game also ignores David Hasslehoff's contribution, right?
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revgiblet wrote:
Let me guess. This game also ignores David Hasslehoff's contribution, right?
We all know the 'Hoff's real contribution cannot come out until the archives of various government agencies are opened 25 years after the events. Look for the historians to begin writing this untold story around 2015.
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Thanks for the comprehensive review, Roger. This isn't the type of game I've ever played, but in 1980 my parents promised this naif that if he could save the money, he could go to Gdansk to join the revolution.
P500'd.
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Any event from Estonia in this game?
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Ted Torgerson
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The Baltic Way involves Estonia, and Breakaway Baltic Republics represents Estonia declaring independence.
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I am really looking forward to this game...my parents and me escaped from Poland in ´88 into West-Germany...it really wasn´t easy for Germans in the Socialistic Poland forced to leave everything behind us

But well...new and better live here in Germany cool
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wifwendell wrote:
revgiblet wrote:
Let me guess. This game also ignores David Hasslehoff's contribution, right?
We all know the 'Hoff's real contribution cannot come out until the archives of various government agencies are opened 25 years after the events. Look for the historians to begin writing this untold story around 2015.
Actually his biggest achievements have to do with a Hamburger, his daughter and obviously lots and lots of alcohol.
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Can I ask you a question?

You mentioned that this game is print and play, and i am happy because there is no chance to buy this game in my country. But, I cant find cards in pdf that i can print. No problem for the board and for the coutners. Did i miss something?
Thank you!
Boza
 
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The game was originally print and play, but there have been significant changes to it since those early development days.

As far as I know, the original print and play files are no longer available.
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