Let me start off by saying Twilight Struggle is the heaviest game I have played so far.
Everything is about as expected. The chits are standard and the board is beautiful. The only thing I noticed is that one of the chits started peeling after only 2 plays.
The manual seems to be printed on normal paper instead of a higher quality paper. But I'm not one to really care about that.
For how deep the game is learning it was pretty much a breeze with only a few bumps in the way. The rulebook is laid out extremely well and with the help of a video or two[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lk7ZJpBKivg&t=1s] you should be good.
Learning the actual strategy comes from learning the cards. This is what gives the game it's depth.
Again for a game that is so deep, the gameplay is actually really simple in comparison. A turn basically boils down to you and your opponent alternatively playing cards from your hand. With some other mechanics thrown in of course but really that's mostly it.
Here is where the genius of this game really shines. There are three types of cards: US cards, USSR cards, and neutral cards. You and your opponent both draw from the same deck. This means you will be drawing your opponents cards too. Getting a handful or your opponents cards seems like a terrible hand your first game but eventually, you will love it. When you play your opponents cards you get to choose if the event occurs before or after you use the point value. Also, many events are thrown out after being used once. If you play your cards right you can completely negate the effects of some of your opponents strongest cards and throw them out to make sure they can never be used again.
This is absolutely genius, the entire game revolves around you and your opponent trying to negate the effect of the other's cards.
The game does an amazing job of making you feel tense. It always feels like you're 2 turns away from winning. It actually feels like you are taking part in the Cold War. Every move is deliberate because it has to be. You are constantly deducing what cards your opponent has and how to best cushion their blow.
Oh God everything is happening at once
I wanted to add a section for all the mechanisms you need to keep track of at once
Defcon: This meter measures how close you are the thermonuclear war. If you let this go down to one when it is your turn you instantly lose. This also governs where coups and realignment rolls are allowed.
Space Race: This meter tracks both Country's progress at getting a man on the moon. This is basically your safety valve. If you have one of your opponents cards that you really don't want to play you can safely discard it for space race progress.
Military operations: Every turn there is a required amount of military operations that need to be played by either country if you don't you lose Victory Points.
Victory Point meter: The USSR and US both have the same victory track. If the either player gains any number of points the chit simply moves that number towards them. And the same for the USSR.
All of this sounds incredibly complicated and hard to keep track of, but it’s not. The game is a dynamic work of art. Everything just flows together. Somehow Gupta created this marvel of game design as his first board game. This is what I show people when they ask what modern board games have to offer. This game is amazing, you owe it to yourself to experience this at least once.
Make sure to check out the spiritual successor to this game "Imperial Struggle" which is being actively being worked on.