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Freedom: The Underground Railroad Review by Jacquelin Caffey

Teaching The Underground Railroad Through Play
Designed by Brian Mayer
Academy Games
2201 Commerce Drive
Fremont, Ohio, 43420

During the ten years prior to America’s deadliest war, the Civil War, approximately 100,000 people silently slipped through the night from southern states in search of freedom in the North and Canada. Freedom from bondage of their slave masters and the pursuit of a better life for themselves and their families.

We have just finished up a study on the Underground Railroad with the help of a new game from Academy Games called Freedom: The Underground Railroad. This is an extremely detailed game that takes you on a journey as a brave abolitionist, in the role of either a station master, agent, stockholder, conductor, preacher, or a shepherd in an attempt to end the institution of slavery by raising money for the cause.

The Underground Railroad was not a physical railroad as you may think, but rather a secret network from the south of transportation routes, meeting points, and safe houses. This train had Conductors or Operatives who provided guidance along the route at the risk of their own lives. Travelers on the Railroad traveled under the veil of night and stayed hidden in safe houses known as Depots or Stations during the daytime hours.

This game retails for $70.00 and is intended for 1-4 players, 13 years and older, and takes roughly one to two hours of game play. Setting up the game is easy with the detailed instructions card. The sequence of play is detailed out on the same double sided card and gives instructions on how to play during each segment. The five sequences of play include:

  1. Slave Catcher Phase
  2. Planning Phase
  3. Action Phase
  4. Slave Market Phase
  5. Lantern Phase

Winning the game takes three stipulations to be met including moving the required number of slaves to freedom in Canada, purchasing all Support Tokens, and finishing the eighth round without losing any slaves.

Also included in the game set is the book, Teaching Through Games – Teaching the Underground Railroad Through Play. This is a softcover paperback book with 70+ pages giving you, the player, a more detailed instruction on how to play the game and how to tie it in to your history study. The guide tells you the history of slavery and abolitionism through five lessons. Because of the depth of information presented this game, it is most suitable for middle and high school aged players. Gameplay aligns to content usually taught in seventh and tenth grade, along with AP American history classes in many states. Lesson plans, vocabulary, reading resources and reading lessons, guided discussions, and writing activities are included for each of the five lessons.

Our family was able to use this as a group. My older daughters, aged 15 and 13, were able to understand the game play for the most part. My younger two daughters, aged 9 and 6, had a hard time understanding and playing the game. My 9-year-old was able to play as a team member with me, but I think it was still over her head. The initial game we played took more than 2 hours just because we were trying to get a feel for the game.

Overall, we have enjoyed both the game and the learning guide. The detail of this game is superb and I have seen no other game that rivals its depth for such a difficult topic in our country’s history. The guide book is such a valuable asset to digging into the topic that I highly recommend it even if the game is not purchased. Now that we have had several opportunities to play through the game, I look forward to going back through the game and guide again when my 15-year-old studies for the AP History test next May. I think this will fully prepare her in such a hands-on way to have the facts solidified in her mind. I wish this was available when I was studying for the same test years ago.

—Product review by Jacquelin Caffey, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August, 2016