Walls Come Tumbling Down – 1989: Dawn of Freedom review

I remember very little about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Being 14 years old way back in 1989, I was far more concerned with comics, DJing in pubs (I started young) and girls. One thing I do recall is watching the video footage of the people standing on top of the wall itself, dancing away with pickaxes in hand, and the seminal shot of that chunk of concrete being pulled down. Since then, the world has moved on – the Wall itself is now just another tourist attraction and the struggle for freedom has headed into Africa.

Looking into the events that occurred in Berlin back at the end of the eighties is something that should be checked out by everyone. It’s the idea of people triumphing against The State that appeals to everyone, especially one Ted Torgerson who thought it such an interesting and turbulent time that he took one of his favourite games – Twilight Struggle –

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and rebuilt it from the ground up to replicate the fight between the Communist East and Democratic West. For a more detailed chat about how he did it, check out episode 37 of The Little Metal Dog Show where I talked with Ted all about how the game came to be, but for now, here’s my thoughts on 1989: Dawn of Freedom.

The first thing you’ll notice when you crack open the box (assuming you have any experience of Twilight Struggle) is how familiar feeling it all is. Production throughout is of the usual high GMT quality that we see with all their releases these days with a huge mounted board, plenty of solid feeling cardboard chits and some very nicely put together cards. Then, of course, there’s the mildly terrifying rulebook. Never the friendliest element of a GMT release, flicking through it may make newbies want to put everything back in the box and leave it alone. Fight that temptation. 1989 is worth the work you’ll need to put in.

The field of play. You will need a BIG table.

The premise is simple. Two players face off in a battle to gain or retain control over the countries of Eastern Europe. The Communist player is desperately trying to cling on to power in the six countries in which the game is played, while the Democratic side wheedles their way in with tales of freedom and Big Macs. The whole game runs in essentially the same way as TS with both players using cards from their hands to do one of two things; first, each card represents an event that focuses on one of the players – no matter who puts it down, the event will trigger, meaning that if you’ve got a handful of cards aimed at your opposite number, you’re in for a bad time… Thankfully the cards are pretty well balanced, meaning that you’ll invariably end up playing an equal(ish) amount of events per side.

The second thing is that cards grant you the ability to place Support Points. This is signified by the number in the top left corner and shows represents the amount of influence you can spread around the board. As the game progresses, both sides will struggle for control of cities and areas in the different countries, hopefully being the leading power when the scoring card for that area comes out. With the main focus of the game being on gaining victory points, being dominant in a country at the right time is crucial but by no means a guarantee of winning – especially if you’re the Democratic player. At the very end of the game, the Communist player gets a hefty amount of bonus points dependent on how many countries are still under their rule, so it often comes down to the very end.

And these are what you’ll use to mark your influence and keep track of events that occur. Functional, yes, but ideal.

While both players are fighting for to promote their way of life on the map, there’s also another area that needs to be monitored; the Tiananmen Square track. Investment of your cards will prove most beneficial to you, bestowing bonuses to your cards and dice rolls – as long as you remain in the lead. As with everything in Dawn of Freedom, everything is delicately balanced… going for a push on the track to try and gain some advantage could leave you well open to being ruined on the board.

And that is exactly what makes 1989: Dawn of Freedom such an incredible game. Sure, some may see it as a reskin of the masterpiece that is Twilight Struggle, but that’s so far away from the reality. While it’s true that they both share the same heritage, they’re telling two entirely different stories, filled with two separate sets of events that come together to create a pair of wonderful games. It may look utterly terrifying, but once you choose to invest some time in the game you’ll realise that it’s actually rather straightforward. The true skill comes in the bluff and double bluff of pressing your influence at the right time, looking for that gap in the opponent’s armour that you can exploit when they’re not expecting it.

It’s a game that will reward multiple plays, especially if you manage to put together a series with a regular opponent. While everything in Dawn of Freedom is built around the events of over twenty years ago, you’ll be creating a story of your own as you both learn the intricacies of the game. Now, while I don’t believe that this will usurp Twilight Struggle’s position as one of BGG’s finest, I am sure that it will run it close as time goes on. Already regarded as an excellent release from GMT mere weeks after its release, 1989: Dawn of Freedom’s reputation can only mature as more and more people get to try it out.

1989: Dawn of Freedom is a co-creation between Ted Torgerson and Jason Matthews, released by GMT in 2012. It plays strictly with two players, with your average game taking around three hours. If you want a copy for yourself, you’ll be looking to pay £40.99 from Gameslore.