Dyland Longs, creator of the new Freedom Walk board game, readily admits he didn’t know much about his heritage and history prior to this project.
“I thought the Underground Railroad was an actual train going underground,” he says.
That changed when Longs visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, which he says left him both dumbfounded and emotional. “Something hit my spirit and said, ‘You need to learn about your heritage, your culture, about your ancestors. What can I do to pay tribute to these people who went through what they went through?’”
The result, years later, is a combination jigsaw puzzle, roll-and-move game, and trivia contest that positions players as freedom-seeking slaves trekking to Canada.
The goal of Freedom Walk isn’t just to get across the border, but also to accumulate cash to buy freedom for as many family members as possible.
Why did it take so long for the game to be produced?
“I didn’t have the money, the capacity, or the connections,” he says. “It was just a dream.”
The dream began approaching reality when the Ohio resident met the Indiana woman he would later marry.
“I was trying to impress her as a career guy, so I came over to her house with the game board under my arm,” Longs recalls. “She probably looked at me weird but she never questioned me. In 2021, she working in corporate America and she was burned out. She said she was going to quit and invest in my dream. That’s what got the snowball rolling.”
Longs spent hours in libraries and online collecting information for the trivia questions, giving himself an education along the way. Playtesting the game was also an important step. “I had my family and friends play a generic version of it. I saw their enthusiasm when they rescued others and their frustration when they got caught and had to go back to the plantation. I thought, I think I’ve got something here, so I got with my graphic designers to give it the professional look I wanted.”
Longs credits a “favorite auntie” with one major later-in-the-process change.
“She took too long to answer the questions. I said, ‘What can I do to stop that?’”
His solution was a 30-second timer to speed up the game.
Now a maintenance buyer for Pinnacle Oil (“They pay me to spend their money,” he says), Longs is also a notary for the state of Indiana, operates the Foot Longs Fun Foods hot dog cart, and dabbles in ventriloquism—something he hopes will help in marketing Freedom Walk. “I’m making a YouTube video with my spokespuppet, a former slave who made it to freedom. I’m doing stuff nobody is doing.”
He’s invested $25,000 on the project, including negotiating manufacturing in China. He explored the possibility of using a U.S. company but with a cost of $20 per game instead of $9.60, he just couldn’t make it work.
Even at a low price point, in a crowded market, standing out is a challenge. Industry sources note about 4,500 new tabletop games annually. And Longs isn’t the first to try turning that American nightmare into a tabletop game. Among them, Freedom: The Underground Railroad, has been on the market since 2012 from Academy Games, a big player in the historical games niche.
But Longs sees his effort as very different.
“There’s is, like, 60 bucks. And it has all of these pieces. My game is simple. It’s affordable. And it’s different. It’s a game board, it’s a puzzle, and it’s trivia. There’s nothing out there like it on the market.”
Longs is selling his self-published game through his website with hopes that it will find its way onto the shelves of museum gift shops and other outlets. Retailing for $24.99, it’s also aimed at the family market rather than hobby gamers.
“If you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know where you are going to,” he says. “And once you know your heritage, you treat people better and differently. That’s what’s missing in this culture.”