Year 1989 made history throughout Eastern Europe. The whole year. The road there was long and arduous. Human memory is imperfect device, that has not only a tendency to forget, but also modify events. And this is the main reason, why there are books, movies and board games and which should remind us of our history. Remember the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the chime of keys. Whole world was watching then. Each country has its moment and they remembered it today as a national holiday. Even our land. Welcome in communist Czechoslovakia.
Maybe you do not remember, you were only children and it is hard to imagine. Only chosen ones can drive abroad on holiday, freedom of speech does not exist and everything from the west is capitalist trash. But there are also pleasant memories about the television announcers, Spartakiad or roads without holes. Listen to the whispers of the past in the board game 1989.
1989 board game was produced by GMT Games Company and the original full title reads 1989: Dawn of Freedom. This game is a younger sister of older Twilight Struggle (review available only in Czech). Both games have in common not only American publisher GMT Games, specializing in history and war games mostly, but also one of the two authors.
But this time, we put war and shooting aside. That does not mean, that we should not expect danger. Lots of people have been lost in the folds of communism and many more lost their ideals. But back to the authors, who are also this time two: Jason Matthews and Ted Torgers. Graphics was created not only by Rodger B. MacGowan, but Donal Hegarty, Leland Myrick and Mark Simonitch.
The game is hidden in a box, which even the sharp eyes of communist officials would not scan through. So thick are the walls of this packaging, which can stand proudly in the flow of time and persist as a legacy for future generations. But we are here and now, and we want to play. And this is the main point of this board game, although be prepared for complex planning.
1989 has much more in common with Twilight Struggle, especially the basic of the game mechanics with cards, events and operation points. And yet it is very different, as we should soon convince you. But we have to throw off from knowledge of the previous game and start from the beginning, from unpacking of the box.
We already know, that the box is a solid made containter and is wearing a drawing of peeling wall, hammer and sickle. Inside, you will find a huge game board consisting of eight folded squares. When you stretch it out, it will occupy most of the table, which is customary in GMT games, just remember the Dominant Species (review available only in Czech). The only exception were probably lighter and family Leaping Lemmings (review).
Along with the game board, there is a lot of huge tokens hiding inside for both colors – Communists and Democrats, who together compete in a game of domination / liberation of Eastern Europe. In addition to the blue and red chips, you will find also a lot of other assorted squares, that are used to designate the situation on the board, whether it be turns or effects of certain cards.
The very most important part of the box are huge decks of cards, which will propel the entire game from start to finish. It is by their means, that players can influence the situation on the board and achieve victory or defeat. Each card belongs to one of the three periods of the Battle of Eastern Europe – early, middle and late periods, wearing illustration and text refering to an important event or personality. In the upper left corner, you will easily find a colored star with a number. Its shade indicates, who will benefit from this event – red communists or blue democrats. There are also some silver stars, that will influence both sides.
The number inside the star represents the number of operation points for its play. In addition to these cards, you can find also scoring cards for all the key countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, Poland and Hungary. But they are undistinguishable from the rest, when it comes to back side of the card.
In addition to those of event cards, box contains another deck of cards with blue background, called Power Struggle. These cards are unique and will only be used in situations, where scoring happens in each of the countries.
The game board contains large part of Europe with many sites for rectangular chips of both conflicting parties. Countries are divided by national boundaries, and the city and location rectangles are interconnected in various ways by bold lines. Just through them, you will be able to spread your powerful ideology further and further. In addition to conventional urban fields, also other fields can be found on the map. They are specific, and they may also bring some benefits, if you control them.
Around the map, you will find several tracks. The most important is in the bottom and is all about victory points. On this scale, there will only be one chip, which will spill as the balance in the game goes up and down. Either the communists or democrats have the upper hand, and for every success the token moves a certain number of steps towards their side. Victory points can be collected in different ways.
In top of the map, there is a turn counter. The entire game consists of ten turns. In fourth, middle years cards enter the game and deck with late era in eighth round. Individual turn match specific timespans of history, which become shorter as you advance the game. Each turn consists of eight action rounds, in which players can use cards from their hands to perform some actions.
But before we get to the game itself, we still have to mention two more scales – USSR stability, which follows the gradual disintegration of the Russian empire, and especially Tiananmen Square in China. This scale represents a famous Chinese demonstration, which began there on April 15th 1989 and was militarily suppressed less than three weeks later. Progress on this scale provides benefits for both parties, as it works like the space program in Twilight Struggle.
Finally, we can start preparing the game. At the beginning, you separate decks of cards into three time periods according to their headers (rears are the same) and you lay Power Struggle cards next to the board for now. Each player is handed out nine cards, which will comprise his hand for the first round. He will use eight of them and one will remian, while players are gradually playing through their cards.
You usually sit at table by geography, so the communist player sits from the east side and Democrat from the west. It is also better for clarity for the players, because they play chips on their side of the location rectangle. Players deploy tokens on all scales – turn, victory points, Tiananmen Square (each player puts his token here).
Finally, most important phase is the preparation of map on the board. Rivals first deploy the initial influence tokens to designated cities. These have a small number printed in its lower right corner in blue or red square. This number represents the power, which has ideology in this particular place. Locations without influence are yet to be persuaded and are not decided yet. Note that each city has also another number in its header. If the difference between you and your opponent influence tokens there is at least that large, you are in control of that place and can turn your token over to its darker side. Otherwise it will be turned the contour side up only.
After deployment of the predetermined tokens, both players go through a second phase, in which they may alternately add a few more influence to any cities of their choice. And yes, this makes very interesting choices and each game is different from now on. Match is now ready, players can take their cards and start the first round, where the action moves gradually take place.
Each card can be played in two ways – as an event or for obtaining operation points. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. When you play the card as an event, you will somehow benefit from it usually. Or you just want to get rid of it, before your opponent receives more profit from it than now. The event happens regardless of the star color, whether its opponent or silver, and always affects a player of the corresponding color.
The second option is playing card for operation points. Their value is specified in upper left corner inside the star. But now the color of the event becomes even more important. If this is an event of your color, then it does not occur. But if you have used opponents event to get operation points, the event is not avoided and it happens anyways. This means, that if you are holding opponent’s cards in your hand, it is hard to stop events on them from happening. History cannot be altered that much. Only one card will be left in your hand until the end of the round – this is the only one, which you have avoided.
From the description, it is evident, that the players have a hard decision in front of them. It is not easy to select the appropriate timing for cards and their order. And yet just the timing can often significantly affect the course of the whole game. But the decision is far from being so simple, because you still do not know, how to use the operation points. There are three options. Basic is gaining influence in the cities – you either strengthen the influence in location, where your token is already located, or you can enter into any adjacent city. And yes, you can divide operation points into several locations on the map.
Players also can try to move on Tiananmen Square scale. But to do this, he has to throw a certain number, which is required for conquering the next position. If they succeed, he gains an advantage. Otherwise, he will miss the entire turn and he cannot do anything else, only wait for opponents turn.
The third option is an attempt to get support, called a support check. Players can, again after a successful dice roll and jumping over a given number, increase the difference – the opponent must remove as many points of influence, by how much doubled stability of the site (number in the header of location) was surpassed. This is, however, really simple description. The difficulty of roll is also influenced by other facts, such as the neighboring towns and influence there. It is therefore easier to obtain a city, which is the last bastion of communism in country controlled by you, than to try gaining support in some faraway distant lands.
And by all means, players work through the cards as one may remain in hands as the last ninth card. But there are also scoring cards beneath those regular events. And they must not remain in your hand until the end of the turn. It must therefore be played during the turn, but it is only up to you, in what order. This means, that you can prepare for the scoring in given location, when you have it in your hand. At the moment, when scoring card is played, Power Struggle cards finally enter the scene.
Players will receive as many cards as they control cities in the given country. These cards are trumps and they play it until the tie is broken. Each card has a color (Rally in the Square, Strike, March, Petition) and the opponent has to follow this color played by initiative player. Opponents can try to also take the initiative in battle into their hands. Then they shall determine the color of next card and the other player has to answer. You can also respond to an attack by playing leader card. When player cannot follow color of the card, the battle is lost for him.
After fights, there occurs an aftermath of the conflict. It will drop impact of the loser in given location (see table Loss Support on board) and especially the winner receives a certain number of victory points. Both situations follow a pre-defined rules, that include modifiers according to played cards and throw of the dice. Also awarding of victory points is governed according to the mentioned table. If a Democrat won the battle, the scoring card is removed from the game. Otherwise it goes to discard pile, from where it can still reenter the game.
As turns go by, players will mix also the middle period into the early years deck remains and then later a late era cards. Gradually it opens new possibilities. Clash ends at the moment, when one of the players reached twenty victory point superiority over his opponent. Or the game ends at the end of the tenth round. In this situation a final scoring occurs and then the player, on whose side the balance of victory points currently is, prevails. A game can even end in a draw, if the chip remains on the zero place of the scoring track.
1989: Dawn of Freedom is a wonderful strategy game, that transforms into board game form events, which seemed undescribable. Power contest between two ideologies and displacement of Soviet domination of the whole Europe is now totally under your control.
The game offers an incredible amount of freedom and strategies. And every game will be completely different, because there are many cards and they are handed out randomly for each turn. And even if you happen to obtain the same nine ones, the game will evolve differently because the cards interact with the opponent ones and it depends primarily on how you play them.
Just choosing from two options, and three more possibilities in operation points is hugely difficult. A player must have a perfect view of the situation on the board to be able to choose the best strategy and especially the order for playing cards.Sometimes it is advantageous to play the opponent’s card for operations and gain at least these points out of it knowing, that the adversary will also benefit from the event. You must be able to measure the contribution made for both sides.
The biggest and the only drawback of 1989: Dawn of Freedom is, that it relies completely on your knowledge of the cards. This means, that first few matches will not go smoothly and according to your plans. Fortunately, there is also a list of cards in the box, describing their color and era. So it’s easy to find, when each scoring will approximately happen, or even what your opponent can have in his hands.
Neighborhood cities are very important in the game. Individual countries can also bring you points for their control, if you have the right cards. Directly on the game board, you will find a reward for each level of domination.
For most europe players, playing the game 1989 is really profound experience. Not only does the game present a lot of cards with famous events and personalities (Václav Havel, Václav Klaus or Jan Palach), but the game is mostly full of memories. Everything is processed accurately and completely true to history, all names are written including diacritics and Turkish cities have their names even in an original font.
We have of course only outlined the options waiting for you in 1989. The game offers much more. But we will leave it as a surprise for your own discovery. Now we shall happily go into the last paragraph, although its content is obvious from the former sentences.
1989: Dawn of Freedom is a precise, detailed and sophisticated tactical game, where everything revolves around playing cards. It is a difficult game, there’s no doubt about that. It requires really honest concentration and knowledge of the cards. There are no two matches same and each tactical decision has influence on the whole. I tis perfectly balanced for two players, with such a depth, that you could only find few other games like this on the market. Its older brother, Twilight Struggle, is located in the prestigious first place of BoardGameGeek server rankings. For us personally, we would gladly put 1989: Dawn of Freedom there instead. And that’s the most honest evaluation, that we can give to this game.
+ incredible strategic possibilities
+ neverending decision about what is best for you
+ even card order is important
+ your events occur even, when are played by your opponent
+ enormously complex game
+ historicaly precise
+ very interesting topic
+ nice processing
- good play requires knowing the cards