Matt Thrower (MattDP) had come up with a variant for Twilight Struggle: instead of the Soviets always going first, the player who played the higher value headline would go first. Ties to be won by the Soviets.
I challenged him to a game of the variant on ACTS with me as US and him as USSR.
I started with a dream hand: Marshall Plan, Nato, Nuclear Test Ban, De Gaulle, Arab-Israeli War, Independent Reds, Truman Doctrine and Five Year Plan. Matt placed 2 influence in each of Poland, Austria and Finland and I placed 4 influence in West Germany and 3 in Italy.
My Headline was Marshall Plan: his Warsaw Pact. I added 1 to Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, West Germany, Great Britain and Denmark. He added enough influence to control Austria and Poland and 1 to East Germany. Due to the variant, I could go first, and I lead with Nuclear Test Ban to control Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Its worth noting that the USSR has no '4' events in the Early War, which means this variant will tend to lead to USA playing first in the first three turns. In this case, where I had three '4s' (keeping one back for Blockade), it allowed me to expand from Iran before he could hit it with a coup.
Matt played Indo-Pak War to put 1 influence in West Germany. Seeing where he was going, I played De Gaulle, let the event resolve, and added 3 influence to France. He played the China Card in France, making the position (3,5). I then played Truman doctrine for control of France. He played Europe Scoring (+1 VP). Five Year Plan produced CIA Created and I used the Ops to control Turkey. Matt took Pakistan with a coup. I played Arab-Israeli War on the Space Race (+2 VPs), and Matt played East European rest on it (-1VP). I used Independent Reds for a coup in Syria, gaining control. Matt took control of India. I lost a VP for Military Ops (-1VP)
For turn 2 my headline was Mid-East Scoring (+3 Vps) and his Red Scare/Purge. Matt played Suez Crisis, taking France down 2 and the others down 1. I played Romanian Abdication, boosting France, but Matt followed up with Socialist Governments. I then launched a coup in Pakistan with the China Card, taking it easily. Matt played 3 influence to France with De-Stalinisation (as OPS). I played Asia Scoring (no change)
Matt played Nasser to control France. I played Korean War to control Spain, Matt wining the war.
Matt played Decolonisation in Nigeria, Angola, Indonesia and Thailand. I put 1 influence in Malaysia with Formosan Resolution. Matt played Defectors (+1 VP) and took control of Thailand and added 1 influence in Iraq. I failed to make a coup in Nigeria. I had done more Mil Ops this time (+1 VP)
Turn 3 I played NATO and he played Asia Scoring (-5 VPs). I wouldn't have chosen NATO without the variant., but going first meant I could coup Thailand with Nuclear Testban, gaining control of it. Matt played US-Japan Defence Pact for a coup in Iran. I played Blockade, discarding Socialist Governments. Matt played De-Stalinisation, getting control of Iran, Iraq, and Zaire. I used Duck and Cover to take Lebanon, Malaysia and Greece. Matt used East European Unrest to put an Armadillo into space. I used Independent Reds to take Jordan. Matt played Captured Nazi Scientist (-2 VPs). I used UN Intervention to take Laos/Cambodia. Mattt used Indo-Pak War to take Burma. I used Vietnam Revolts to take Algeria. Matt played Fidel.
Turn 4 Headlines were Cuban Missile Crisis and Quagmire. It being a tie, Matt went first, using Olympic Games to take South Korea. I discared South African Unrest to end Quagmire. Matt added 3 influence to South Africa with Comecon. I played Voice of America, removing 2 influence from Burma and Cuba. Matt played Panam Canal Returned, taking South Africa. I played Central America Scoring (+2 VPs). Matt used Arms Race to retake Cuba and put one influence in Saudi Arabia. I took Burma and Venuezuela with Bear Trap. John Paul went into Space. I took Peru with Junta and realigned Cuba down to 2 influence. Matt played Puppet governements, retaking Cuba and further boosting Saudi Arabia. I placed 1 influence in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. I used Sadat to take Argentina. The Five Year plan went (unsucesfully) into Space. I ended the turn with How I Learned to Stop Worrying (5 VPs), a classic American play that the Soviets could also use in this variant.
Turn 5 Headlines were One Small Step (which Matt saw because he was ahead on the Space Race) and Allende. I went first therefore and played Summit to realign Chile but only managed to get rid of my own influence there. Matt played Arab-Israeli War to take Chile and Saudi Arabia. I played Missile Envy, drawing U2 Incident and taking Mexico and Brazil. Matt took Botswana. I played Alliance for Progress (+5 VPs). Matt launched a coup, taking Brazil. I took it back with Brush War. Matt played South America Scoring (+5 VPs). I played We Will Bury You (-3 VPs) and strengthened West Germany, taking Saharan States and Tunisia. Matt played Nasser, taking Egypt, and I played Willy Brandt (-1 VP) taking Libya. Matt played Mid-East Scoring (-3 Vps). I Decolonised the Space Race, drawing level with Matt. Matt played Nuclear Subs, adding influence to Philippines. Had we been playing the regular version I would have had the benefit of Nuclear Subs for at least one action round...
Matt's Turn 6 headline was OPEC, mine Defectors. We decided Matt would go first, still treating OPEC as a 3 Ops card despite its effect being cancelled. Matt opened with the China Card for a coup in Thailand, rolling a 6 and taking Thailand to 5 USSR Influence. I played SE Asia Scoring (-1 VP). Matt took Argentina with a coup and I played Colonial Rearguards which Matt cancelled out using Flower Power.
I played Africa Scoring (-6 VPs), he played Europe Scoring (-1 VP). I played Muslim Revolution on the Space Race. Matt played OAS Founded, both of us adding influence in Argentina. I played Shuttle Diplomacy, taking Argentina. Matt played Lone Gunman as OPs to realign Argentina, losing one influence there. I played Portuguese Empire Crumbles to take Denmark. Matt played Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, taking Gulf States. I discarded Liberation Theology and Kitchen Debates and played Formosan Resolution for a sucessful coup in SE African States.
Turn 7, my headline was Red Scare/Purge and Matt's Brezhnev Doctrine. Normally they'd completely cancel, but the variant meant I could go first. I played the China Card in South Korea. Matt played Arms Race in South Korea, and I used Nixon to regain the China Card. Matt played Defectors (+1 VP), taking South Korea and Philippines. I played Shuttle Diplomacy, taking Taiwan. Matt tried a coup in Argentina but rolled low so that I was able to retake it with Latin American Death Squads on the next action. Matt played Bear Trap, taking Uruguay and beginning to build up Sweden. I played Arab-Israeli War (auto failure) and realigned Uruguay and Chile, wiping out the USSR influence in the latter. Matt discarded Camp David and extricated himself from the Bear Trap. I took Chile with a Un Intervention defanged De-Stalinisation . Ussuri River Skirmish and Socialist Governments went on the Space Race. Matt played Lone Gunman, revealing ABM Treaty and taking Uruguay.
Turn 8 Headlines were ABM Treaty and Pershing II Destroyed (-1 VP). I used ABM Treaty to put 3 Influence in South Korea, and then my first action took South Korea with the China Card, a combination made possible by the variant. Matt had hit Italy, West Germany and Turkey, but I reclaimed West Germany in addition to taking South Korea. Matt took Turkey and boosted Sweden with Nuclear Test Ban. I played Asia Scoring (+1 VP). Matt played Indpendent Reds, adding 3 US and 2 USSR influence to Romania. I played North Sea Oil. Matt played Comecon, taking Sweden and Romania. I played OPEC, taking Benelux. Matt took Yugoslabia with U2 Incident. I played Five Year Plan, Matt discarding Flower Power. Matt sucessfully played Soviets Shoot Down KAL 007 on the Space Race. I played Aldritch Ames to take Israel, allowing Matt to order my hand- he put Ortega Elected first, then Mid-East Scoring, then Olympics. He then took Libya with Brush War. I used Ortega for a coup in Egypt, which failed. He used it for a sucessful coup in Costa Rica. He then played Grain Sales and as he had no cards I used the Ops for a sucessful coup in Nigeria. He took Costa Rica and I played Mid East Scoring (-6 VPs).
For turn 8 I drew all the remaining Scoring Cards. Great. Anyway I led off with John Paul II, to be met by The Reformer. The score had just turned negative with Mid East Scoring, so matt could add influence in Italy, West Germany and Poland. Then he played Duck and Cover (+3 Vps) taking Poland and Italy.
I played Olympics to regain West Germany. He played Star Wars for a coup in SE African states, taking them. I played Europe Scoring (-7). He took Zimbabwe with Kitchen Debates. I played Africa Scoring (-6)
He played Iron Lady (+1 VP), taking Argentina.
I played Central America Scoring (0).
He played An Evil Empire on the Space Race.
I played South America Scoring (+5). He took Paraguay with South African Unrest. I played Liberation Theology, him adding 2 to Mexico and 1 to Panama, and I retaking Mexico. He added 2 to Panama with Formosan Resolution, a solid play as the Asia Scoring Card would not be seen again. I added 1 to Panama with Summit. I was behind on Mil Ops (-2 VPS)
My turn 10 headline was Sadat, his Terrorism, which caused me to discard Iranian Hostage Crisis, a nice irony! He played Muslim Revolution adding 2 to Egypt and taking Panama.
I played Wargames for a Coup in Egypt but only wiped out his influence. He put 2 influence in Egypt with Reagan Bombs Libya (+1 VP) I failed to launch Glasnost on the Space Race. He played Indo-Pak War, taking Egypt and adding 1 influence to Libya. I played Junta, putting 2 influence in Argentina and realigning Cuba down to 1 USSR influence. He played the China Card to regain Cuba and Argentina. I played Solidarity and he replied with Lebanon Barracks Bombing, shoring up Poland. I failed Iran-Iraq War.
He took Poland and Uruguay with Decolonisation. I used Misssile Envy for realignments but failed my rolls. He played Tear Down This Wall on the Space Race unsucessfully. I played Latin American Debt Crisis to rob him of control of North Korea, and the game ended.
-8 before final scores.
+2 VPs for Military Operations
+1 VP for the China Card.
-4 VPs for Central America.
+2 VPs for South America.
-7 VPs for Europe
-4 VPs for Africa
-6 VPs for Middle East
+6 VPs for Asia.
Total -18 VPs.
What difference did the variant make? In 5 of the 10 turns the Americans went first, and twice I had specifically chosen the headline for that purpose (Turn 3 NATO and turn 8 ABM Treaty, though I suppose ABM treaty might have been my headline anyway). I also deliberately picked a low headline for turn 10 so I could go last. The overall game effect was not very great however, with the cards proving much more important factors than the turn order.
Thanks to Philip for writing this up as an excellent session report. It was a close game until he drew that hand full of scoring cards, so it's a shame it had to end the way it did. I think that's the only time Twilight Struggle really fails as a compelling game, when someone draws a bunch of scoring cards.
The original variant I devised is discussed here:
I came up with it as a way of balancing what I perceived to be an unsatisfactorily strong bias in favour of the USSR, so it's ironic the test game ended the way it did. There's been plenty of arguments about the bias before, so we'll leave that out.
Generally I would echo Philips comments that the variant rules didn't make a whole lot of difference to the game, largely due to the fact that in most cases selection of a useful headline took a back seat to turn order. One thing I did note is that none of the usual 1-ops headline events (CIA, Lone Gunman, Captured Nazi Scientist) got played as headlines, which severely limits the usefulness of CIA and LG. Because the event still trumps the ops value it felt to me like there was more randomness in the game since the turn order partly came down as to whether you'd been dealt a useful headline that was also high ops.
Interestingly I also thought that there were actually fewer coups in this game than is commonly the case. This may have simply been an artefact of the situation that unfolded, but it occurred to me that there's no longer quite such a strong incentive for either player to keep the DEFCON down at 2. Indeed at one point in the game I actively sought to keep it high so I could slap down a fat headline and then coup Italy.
We're going to give the variant rules another spin, swapping sides, to see if our initial impressions are confirmed. If anyone else wants to give it a spin then let us know your thoughts.
So Philip -- quite simply, which way do you prefer the game, or will it take more testing?
I prefer the game as written over the variant, for now: seems to be less chaotic. I'm still testing the variant though, in case that changes.