Roel van Tiel
Target audience of review
So you’re thinking of this game and want to read whether it is interesting enough to buy. This review is meant for you. Bear in mind, every review is an opinion, and this is mine. I’ll try to be objective but it’s bound to be skewed to what I like. You might like different things in a game!
This review is built in a certain structure which I hope to maintain for every review I write.
First, this is my main conclusion: Rightfully deserves its top 1 spot on BGG, IF you are fan of its theme and mechanics. Not meant for casual/family gaming.
Second, I’ll be going into 5 sections:
- Target Audience of the game who will be attracted to this game? Who is it for?
- Components quality, playability of components and art.
- The Game Itself the basic idea, as short as possible. No rules.
- Other Traits playing time, setup time, price/quality, etc.
- Conclusion what’s to like? What’s to not like? Overall verdict.
Target Audience of the game
This is a game for the following people
- you like to go head-to-head vs one opponent
- you like tough tactical decisions
- you like a bit of trashtalk
- you get energy from competition
- you are not afraid of a learning curve
- you like scheming
- you are interested in recent geopolitic history
- you just like to place coups all the time
The components are decent. Functional above all else. The gameboard looks nice (but for the coffee-stain in the upper left corner) and it plays very well. Which is important to this game. Even the stuff to keep track of the various scoring/statuses within the game is functional and has been incorporated on the board. This keeps the game nice and tidy when playing. Quality is sturdy and meant to last.
Cards stand out above the general quality of the other components. This because of the pictures of historic events, which really make the atmosphere. As playing those cards is a big driver of the game, this touch is what brings the game to life.
All this comes within a box with some very nice artwork on top (REALLY hits the sweet spot of cold war tension), which is not too big and therefore efficient to stack.
Conclusion: functional components and extra attention where it should be given for atmosphere. Well done.
The Game Itself
Basic idea can be summed up by alternately playing cards to gain the upper hand in a constant shifting geopolitic environment. You do this by maximizing the utility from your plays and forcing your opponent to make plays that benefit you. IF you do not overplay your hand and you are able to make the right decisions, victory will be yours as your superpower will establish dominance over his adversary.
Sounds bland? It is not. This game perfectly blends mechanics with atmosphere: move/counter-move, action/reaction. All this while slowly building pressure on the opponent. Throw in some bluffing by trying to maximize scoring in the unexpected scoring rounds and you will notice every turn is another thrilling period of 'cold war tension'.
Playing as the USA, you really feel your allies in Europe work for you by holding back this 'Red horde'. You smell the 50's fear by cards as 'Purge' and 'Duck and Cover' and the tension about the Cuban Missile crisis. You rush to the aid of Japan while making Korea your battleground, all the while fighting hard in Asia and the Middle-east for dominance over strategic countries like Pakistan and Egypt. Later on, you go arranging your backyard by steamrolling the Middle-Americas (but for Cuba, that pain in the ***) and installing some puppet-goverments in South America. In the final game, the 'economic' power of Europe is resulting in a rapid gaining of influence there, and you bring the USSR to its knees. All this while making comments as 'Now you die, you communist pig', 'This country will not yield to communism, but will be freed from evil', etc. As the USSR is very powerful (especially in the early stages), you have to play smart. Constantly be on the watch, counteracting whatever it is those communists have in store for you - and the rest of the free world. And strike those decisive blows as your opponent finally runs out of steam. Victory is yours.
Playing as the USSR, you'll notice you can have lots of influence everywhere, but it is hard to really grab that victory as the USA holds certain strategic locations. You need to get through and go agressive. Fueled by the reality that you have to win by midgame, your frenzied attempts for establishing dominance, tightrope playing the possibility of 'nuclear war' (where you both lose but the one who starts first), and all-or-nothing wars depict your growing desperation and frustration about this 'up to no good image' you hold in many countries. Of course, you ARE up to no good, but so is your opponent. So why won't anyone see that? You should bring this 'capitalist bastard' to it's knees and free this world of the 'imperialistic danger' before it is all too late and he brings you down. Time is not your friend but at least, for now, you are calling the shots. It has to be enough or Mother Russia will weep at your failure.
Gameplay flows fast, smoothly and all the while you cannot afford to play your own game only. You have to play both sides. "What can I do?" is not enough. "What can my opponent do?" is an equally important question. And "what will I do about what he has done?" Where is my vulnerability? Should I cover this up or try to establish dominance somewhere else? Do I lead and decide where this turns' action is focusing or do I wait and counter-play my opponents actions? Do I build up influence in an area, or go for a sudden score or (risky) coup? Do I try to take a lead now by playing my own cards or do I get rid of his events by playing them while minimize the damage done by them, and so set him up for a tough time later in this game? And can I afford to do that?
Constantly you are weighing the amount of 'space' you still have to maneuver. Whether it is how much you are willing to move to Defcon 1 (nuclear war), the Space Race, the Victory Points track or just the general influence on the map (and by that, future Victory scores and/or strategic locations), constantly you are weighing your options, all of this in a everchanging geopolitic environment.
It is tense like the cold-war, it feels like the cold-war, it plays like the cold-war. Never let down your guard. This game is brilliant.
Playing time after a few plays is about 2,5 hours. This is playing time when not very familiar with the game yet, as you have to read those cards and decide what moves to make. With more games this goes down to about 2 hours. Perfect for an evening well spent.
Setup time is about 5-10 minutes, which is very good.
Price/quality is tough. When it was still available you paid pretty much for 'just' some cards, counters and game-board (no meeples, no figurines). Now
it's OOP is currently between print runs and had moved to the top 1 spot on BGG, it has spiked some times but seems to have come down recently to about $50,-/€50,- which is pretty much for the components. Factor in the game-play however, and anything < $80 is a good price.
This game is best with 2 players as it is the only number of players it is for
What’s to like
+ Tactics galore
+ Feeling like a superpower
+ Trashtalk each other
+ Nuking somebody if you want (heck, even if you lose)
+ Replay value
+ Play time (evening friendly)
+ Setup time
+ Clear and concise rule-book
What’s not to like
- NOT meant for people who do not like confrontation
- Theme might scare some female friends (ugh, cold war)
- Not an easy game to master (yes, I know I offend some grognards here who think ASL is your afternoon well-spent, but I'm talking about general boardgaming audience here)
- Inexperienced player/experienced player mismatch (try to have two inexperienced players play some games first while spectating and rules-lawyering until they get the feel for the game. Else it will feel like pitbull vs puppy. Not a pleasant experience for the latter.)
- Finding the right influence marker (especially the high ones) can be a pain sometimes
- Nuking the world will cause you to lose (yes, I know, but still).
- Smart & experienced player has a slight advantage with USA
- Sitting out a USA victory as USSR can be frustrating if you only
care about winning
Overall verdict: I give this game a 9/10. I enjoy it every time it hits the table. And given the right introduction, any competitive friend you have will devour this game. It is not a 10 because it is not meant for everyone, gives you a lot of choices and has a pretty steep learning curve. Therefore, take a special note to the 'Who is it meant for' section of this review! Luckily, I fall right into this game's sweetspot. Hurray!
Tense, a game of thought and action well combined into one splendid package. Heartily recommended to its targeted audience. In fact, grab a copy today.
- Last edited Thu May 3, 2012 11:12 pm (Total Number of Edits: 6)
- Posted Tue Sep 13, 2011 11:56 pm
Re: Review of Twilight Struggle
It's one of my wife's as well. Perhaps it's female friendliness is one reason it sits atop the rankings. It's a pretty playable game despite its depth.
Re: Review of Twilight Struggle
Nice review! I think you hit the proverbial nail on the head.
Re: Review of Twilight Struggle
Great Review! Keep them coming!