School of Hard NOCs: Freedom – The Underground Railroad

Freedom: The Underground RailroadVitals:  Freedom – The Underground Railroad is a cooperative board game for 1 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, with a playing time of about 1 to 2 hours. Designed by Brian Mayer, a Library Technology Specialist, and published by Academy Games, Freedom allows players to work together as a group of abolitionists in the 1800’s. The goal is to attempt to end slavery in the United States by raising support for the Abolitionist Movement and helping slaves move through the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada. The goal is difficult to accomplish and people and events can have negative impacts. There are also slave catchers roaming and reacting to movements of slaves on the board, hoping to catch runaway slaves to send back to the plantations.

Thoughts:  Before becoming a parent, I organized game nights with friends frequently. Now while still regularly getting together with a gaming group to socialize, eat food, and be merry, my children and I also play games quite often. Beyond the social interaction, games are a great way to teach children different skills such as spacial reasoning, reading, math, dexterity, and logic. Games can also be a great way to teach history.

I am always looking for fun ways to get my children engaged in learning. When I discovered that my 4th grader was studying the topic of Civil Rights in history, I started doing some research on games that are themed around the concepts of human rights, civil rights, racism, and discrimination in the U.S. from a historical perspective and honestly, there aren’t any other games that I could find that fit the bill except for Freedom – The Underground Railroad. I haven’t introduced the game to my son yet but plan to play very soon.

Gameplay Video:

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Pros: The game is a cooperative game in which all of the players have to work together as a team to meet the victory conditions. For children, cooperative games are great because they don’t need to worry about winning against the other players. The children can focus on the game itself and share strategies on how to accomplish the victory conditions of the game with the rest of the players. There are six roles available (Agent, Conductor, Preacher, Shepherd, Station Master, and Stock Holder) and two of the roles are characters of color. The game also requires tough decision-making actions in which you may have to make sacrifices for the overall good. Children will see this as a challenging, fun game and they won’t pick up on the fact that they are learning about an important period in history at the same time.

Cons: A game about the topic of slavery could be a sensitive subject to some people when posed in a game format. The game can be very difficult to win but abolishing slavery was not easy. As with most cooperative games, there is an ability for the alpha player types (the player who takes over the game decisions for the entire group) to make game play less than fun for the rest of the players. The retail price of $70 could be a financial barrier.

Age-Appropriateness: The game is rated for ages 10 and up. This seems an appropriate age since more in-depth U.S. history is a subject matter beginning in 4th grade. The game play, reasoning skills, and reading ability required for the game is certainly within the grasp of a 10-year-old. A younger child could probably play the game with some assistance but would probably not fully understand the historical concepts of the game.

To Buy: Freedom – The Underground Railroad is available directly from Academy Games. The rules are available to review in PDF format. The game is expected to be widely available starting in October 2013. Academy Games publishes games about history that are used by teachers in schools and historical gamers world-wide.

School of Hard NOCs is a regular weekly feature at The Nerds of Color that will review past and ongoing comic books, sci-fi/fantasy books, TV, and other forms of nerdy media specifically for parents raising the next generation of nerds of color.