"L'état, c'est moi."
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Caution: May contain wargame like substance
Based on a quick glance, at the time of this writing, there are already 40 reviews of Twilight Struggle posted.
So I asked myself, rhetorically, "Self, does the world really really need another review of this game?"
My Self responded, "Well, if you want to eventually earn your silver reviewer microbadge...", but that's beside the point.
I decided to write this review because Twilight Struggle has not only become my favorite game, but also is one of very few games I'm passionate about.
So, without further ado, I present... Twilight Struggle
Twilight Struggle is a card driven wargame set in the cold war and spans the period from 1945, just after the end of WWII, to 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down.
The rules are available at GMT's website. The rules are generally clear and well written. Like any game, there are some nuances that you need to be careful of (simple example - required military ops only accrue if you stage coups or through the play of specific war cards in the deck.
The components are of very good quality.
The map is thick cardboard and has lived up well to repeated playings. Getting it to lie flat has not been an issue. Some users have suggested using plexiglass over the board.
There are 110 cards in the game representing different events during the span of the Cold War. The cards span three eras: early war, mid war, and late war. The mid war deck being the largest of the three. Although the cards are of excellent quality, the early and mid war cards will see the most use, so I have used card sleeves with my decks to minimize wear on them.
The game also comes with influence markers for the USA and USSR player in various denominations, as well as a number of information markers, and two d6.
The game lasts up to 10 turns, but can end sooner if one of the following conditions is met:
1. One player gets to 20 victory points.
2. One player has control of Europe when the "Europe Scoring" card is played.
3. The DEFCON degrades to "1", which causes thermonuclear war. In this event, the loser is the phasing player (more below).
If the game goes the full 10 turns without an automatic win, then a final round of scoring is done for each region on the map (Asia, Central America, South America, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe). Whoever has the most victory points after all regions are scored is the winner.
The heart of the game is in the cards. Each card represents a specific event during the cold war. Some cards have white stars on them (events favoring the US), some have red starts (events favoring the USSR), and some have split red/white stars which can be played by either side.
Each turn players receive enough cards to make a full hand, which is 8 in the early war (turns 1-3), and 9 in the mid war (turns 4-7) and late war (turns 8-10).
At the start of each turn, both players select and simultaneously reveal an event. The effects of the event are resolved in ops value order. The higher ops value event always goes first, scoring cards always go last, and the US event goes first in case of ties.
Then 6 rounds (7 in the mid and late war) are played. The USSR player always goes first.
Some events, such as "NATO", are unique and removed from the game once played. Other events, such as "Arab-Israeli War" are merely discarded and can (and very likely will) occur again once they're shuffled back into the deck.
Each card also has a value between 1 and 4 on the card which represents its operational value. Instead of using the event, you can use these points to place influence, attempt a realignment, or stage a coup.
The catch is that playing a card with an event favorable to your opponent causes the event to occur! This is simply a stroke of genius. It adds an incredible tension to the game that gives it a powerful verisimilitude. Fortunately, you get to choose if the event happens before or after you use the points.
There are two ways to avoid an opponent's event being triggered. One is to play the card onto the Space Race. The other is to use the "UN Intervention Card" (played simultaneously with the event you want to avoid).
There are special cards in the deck called scoring cards. They trigger a scoring round for the region specified and cannot be held - you must play them, whether for good or ill. There is also a special scoring card for Southeast Asia which is removed from play after it's used.
Hand management is a key to success.
The Space Race
No game about the Cold War has represented the importance of the space race as successfully as this one.
The Space Race track primarily offers a safety valve where you can send events you really don't want to occur right now (although they may come back to haunt you later in a reshuffle).
But it also offers benefits. If you get far enough ahead in the space race, you can make two attempts per turn, force your opponent to reveal their headline event before you choose yours, discard a held card at the end of your turn, or play an 8th card during your turn. Each benefit accrues unless and until your opponent catches up to you.
Both players start with influence on the map. This represents a macro level view of how much control each superpower exerts over a specific country. This control is highly abstracted, and represents not only political influence, but military as well.
Influence in important as each player will want to control countries all around the globe, especially battleground countries. Each country has a stability value between 1 and 4 (except the UK which has 5). Some countries are deemed battleground countries, meaning they are more important, strategically speaking.
Having influence in a region is important because each region will be scored via scoring cards at some point in the game - some regions can and will reappear, so it's important to not give up.
The map has countries connected by lines that represent not geographical connections, but political ones. You can only influence countries you either currently have influence in or which are directly adjacent.
Realignments and Coups
Realignments are attempts to reduce your opponents influence in a country and is an opposed die roll. This can be attempted anywhere on the board your opponent has influence, subject to DEFCON restrictions.
Coups are more overt attempts to wrest control of a country away from your opponent. You roll a die, adding the ops points from the card you've played. If this total is greater than double the country's stability number, you win. You remove the difference from your opponents current influence in the country, and there's any unused points left, you then get to add yours. If you attempt a coup in a battleground country, you degrade the DEFCON by 1.
The DEFCON Track
The DEFCON begins the game at 5, and can be degraded either by coups attempted in battleground countries or by by specific events, such as "Duck and Cover".
If the DEFCON is below 5, then no coups or realignments can occur in different regions:
4 = no coups or realignments in Europe
3 = no coups or realignments in Europe or Asia
2 = no coups or realignments in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East
1 = thermonuclear war, phasing player loses
The Scoring Track
The scoring track is a tug of war. The intitial victory points are at 0 and go 20 in each direction (red for the USSR, blue for the USA). Any time you score points, you move the VP marker that many in your direction.
Victory points are earned four ways.
The first is scoring card played for a specific region.
Scoring is tiered depending on your level of influence in the region. If you control at least one country, you have "presence". If you control more countries than your opponent, including having more battleground countries and at least one non-battleground country, then you have "domination". If you control all the battleground countries in the region, then you have "control".
You only score points for the tier you're at (presence, domination, or control) and get a bonus point for each battleground country you control, and another for each country you control that is adjacent to your opponent's superpower.
The second way of scoring is as a result of event cards. These are typically in the 1-3 point range.
The third way is advancing on the Space Race track. The first player to reach a victory point space on the Space Race earns the higher number of VP's, the second gets the lower value.
The fourth way is if your opponent fails to achieve their quota of required military operations at the end of a turn, which is the current DEFCON level.
Strategy and Tactics
A great number of articles have been written about this game here at the geek - one of the best ones is Opening Placement Strategy. There is also an article for each specific card in the deck.
There is a school of thought that you should play your opponents unique events early and often to get them out of the deck to both increase the odds of your cards coming out in the reshuffles, and to prevent them from coming back to haunt you in later turns. I've tried it with both great success and great failure.
A game that uses the same game engine, but has a completely different feel is 1960: The Making of the President. This great review highlights some of the very strong differences in thinking required.
A much more complex card driven wargame that has a clearer distinction between political and war elements is Triumph of Chaos.
Why am I passionate about this game?
It's not an easy question to answer. Partly it's because I lived through some of the events of the cold war while residing in West Germany, and so the game triggers nostalgic memories for me.
Mostly though, it's because the game is intense. Even if I'm up 15 points, I don't feel secure that I'm going to win. That will drive some people crazy, but for me it's a huge draw.
This game has drama.
And even when I lose, all I want to do is set it up and go at it again, because this time it will be different.
Edit: damned typo!
- Last edited Thu Nov 27, 2008 7:55 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Thu Nov 27, 2008 12:43 am
Jose Augusto Moreira
receive my copy today and already play my first game in wargamerrom.com, the game is incredible and dont can wait for play again...
My first game was a complete disaster..in third turn i has Asia and middle east scoring cards with US in great advantage in region....it was a +24 VP for US and the game end.
But i learn a lot about battlegrounds and coups
My favorite game.
My favorite game.
Mine as well. My only 10. Nothing even touches its range and depth of play.
- Last edited Fri Nov 28, 2008 6:47 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Nov 27, 2008 5:21 am
Agreed. It is in my top 5 (I do like 1960 a tad bit more - mainly because I'm a political junkie).
The only hard part for me is that the Defcon feels a bit "unreal" to me. There are no consequences for forcing a nuclear war. Twice now (once in my first game and second just recently), a relatively simple event has end in nuclear destruction (and me, as the phasing player, has taken the loss).
As far as I'm concerned if mushroom clouds are popping up all over the world, both people have lost. I can understand if a "war event" drops the defcon to 1 and triggers war, that's fine - especially if you or your opponent has no other options. But to allow someone to choose a drop to defcon 1 is not realistic. Examples...you shouldn't be allowed to drop the bombs because you don't want to come to my Olympics OR you shouldn't be allowed to use ops points to have a coup and drop the defcon. It defies logic.
It would have been like Kennedy saying "yes, I know we have Russian ships heading to Cuba with missles, but let's fund a coup in Eqypt anyway." I don't buy it.
I think it would make more sense for there to be something like a 5 VP penalty where in "non-war" situations a player can avoid having Defcon dropped to 1. Just a thought.
- Last edited Thu Nov 27, 2008 8:08 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Nov 27, 2008 8:07 pm
My favorite game.
There ARE other games?
The only hard part for me is that the Defcon feels a bit "unreal" to me. There are no consequences for forcing a nuclear war.
Except starting a nuclear war, that is. And losing in the process. If anything, this mechanic adds to the feeling of utterly insane brinksmanship that defined the 1980s.
That said, I also like the idea of the -5VP to avoid DEFCON1, a sort of calling-out and subsequent loss of face.