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Subject: An Honest Review from a Non-Hardcore Strategy Gamer's Perspective rss

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Jin TS
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What? Another TS Review?

Well, i know there are already many reviews posted for Twilight Struggle (TS) and you probably already saying this: “come on, not another review”! Basically I am not a strategy gamer, you can easily tell by judging from the kind of board games that i collect and play. This review is specifically to share just why on earth a board gamer who loves fantasy RPG theme and lighter games such as Talisman, Carcassonne, Small World, AD&D RPG related games, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Cosmic Encounters and light LCGs such as Thunderstone, would have the crazy idea of jumping into a heavy strategy game like TS? What actually appeals to gamers like me who prefer games that are fast phase, simple decision making process, not overly complex game rules, quick turns of play and 1-2 hour game time? The story behind this switch may be relevant to some other gamers and i hope that this sharing would provide some additional information to gamers just like me, before jumping into the boat of getting TS.

I must first apologize if any comments or facts that I will be pointing out here have already been mentioned or highlighted by other TS gamers in other reviews as I have no intention to reproduce what others have said about TS. This review is purely my personal view after playing 5 sessions of TS, with the first 2 being test plays and more on learning about game rules. Even then, the 5 sessions have already taken up approximately 21 hours of my play time. That is a massive amount of time spent for a new game to me.


So How It Started?

To be honest, i'm a hardcore RPG fantasy fan, having been playing table top AD&D RPG for more than 7 years and finally stopped in 2007 and made a switch to board games. I love complex game rules during AD&D period as they made the gaming experience so enjoyable. However, after i switched to board games, complex rules work differently in board game terms as they slow down the game, occasionally create ambiguity due to too much details to be covered, as well as takes too much effort for newbies to learn and play the game, and makes the game play exceptionally long (well, i consider board games that consistently requires 2 hours or more for every single game session to be long games). Therefore, since then, i have always preferred lighter games as i don't have too much time for long games due to work and family commitment.

In 2010, i bought a “gaming life-changing” board game called Sid Meier's Civilization. Before i have TS, it was by far the most heavy strategy board game i've ever purchased and played, and likes it. I had lots of fun playing it and from then, my interest in strategy game grew. Then in December 2011, i finally bought TS Deluxe edition, after getting some opinions from fellow TS gamers in BGG.

Following are some pointers strictly personal to me as a non-hardcore gamer on board games and how I look at strategy games and specifically TS. I am fully aware that every individual’s preference on the type of board game he or she enjoys playing is truly a personal choice. Since I am sharing about TS which is a heavy strategy game, I thought perhaps it is also good to share how I look at heavy strategy games.


What I Dislike About Heavy Strategy Game?

d10-1 Takes up relatively longer time to learn how to play it, which is not a good news for newbies. In fact, introducing heavy games to newbies is a bane to board gaming as it drives them away.

d10-2 Takes up a considerably long time to strategize and plan out game play, which translates to longer waiting time between turns and potentially leading to AP.

d10-3 Takes time to see the outcome, unlike shorter or lighter games that results of decisions or actions are usually apparent and almost immediate.

d10-4 The cost of losing can be heavy and painful sometimes, due to investment of excruciating amount of time and effort from players in playing.

d10-5 Takes lots of effort and sometimes luck to convince other hardcore gamers to spend the considerable amount of time with you to play long board games where they could easily use their time for other stuff.

d10-6 Lack of variety in game play experience where a good 3 hour game session of one heavy board game may not be the same or as good as a 3 hours game session with 3 different fast games of 1 hour each, though the excitement or enjoyment may be the same or even more. Some people simply like varieties, and that applies to my gaming group.


What I Like About Heavy Strategy Game?

d10-1 A strong sense of satisfaction after investing a good amount of time and effort into planning and playing a game, especially when the player wins.

d10-2 Stretches a player’s abilityin thinking, analytical skills and planning to the maximum and this is a real fun and challenging element of heavy games.

d10-3 Stronger and deeper feeling of responsibility, commitment and effort in playing the game which translates to potentially higher level of gaming quality, such as interaction and bonds among players, better thinking ability and etc..

d10-4 Heavy strategy games are usually strong in theme and always leave a memorable and lasting after-game effects. This usually results in players spending one and sometimes two hours of post-game discussion, that's really fun.

Well, enough about my view on heavy strategy games. Following is my personal take on TS.


What I Dislike About TS?

Honestly, not much about TS that I can comment which are major flaws that kill the fun of the game but we all know there isn’t any perfect game, right? So there must be something not good about TS even though it ranks at No.1 in BGG.

d10-1 Lots of counters/markers/bits and sometimes they can be cumbersome, such as searching for the Influence marker number 6, 7 or 8. But still, it can be minimized by carefully sorting and organizing them.

d10-2 Rule book ambiguity is apparent. I believe I’m not the only person who find certain information are either unclear in the rule book or it was completely missed out. Example, I didn’t know Headlines is not part of the Action Rounds until I read through the example of play provided in the rule book, and what happens when a player hold a scoring card at the end of turn.

d10-3 There are many small details that has huge impact in game play which certainly requires some plays to get familiar with or understand its usefulness, such as realignment rolls where both parties get bonuses in rolls. One of them gives a +1 to the player who has more influence in any country, and after players compete in rolling dice, subtract the difference from the loser’s influence marker…things like this. It really needs player to practice and play many games before all the rules are finally played correctly. This point is similar with my experience with SM’s Civilization board game.

d10-4 Many gamers who love TS suffered the agony of unable to find one dedicated board game player who is willing to spend 3 to 4 hours putting chits and playing cards on a world map board. Moreover, not all gamers enjoy war games, so getting new players into playing this game is one of the best options to ensure constant availability of a gamer in playing TS with you instead of letting it sitting on the shelve. But the sheer amount of time, effort and theme of TS outright put off many gamers.

d10-5 Extra effort to remember certain cards already in play and its effects. This is sometimes troublesome when a player has so much to think about and to do which he or she must also remember the effects that kick in after certain cards are played. Example, remembering Flower Power is in play that award USSR VPs when US player plays a war card, and another card that disable this card…things like that. I’m sure with enough plays in hand, players will remember them, but then again, this takes efforts and high level of concentration.

d10-6 TS is definitely not a beer and pretzel board game. Players need quiet space and concentration to undertake analysis and planning actions. TS is not a game you can suggest to play when there are babies waiting to be fed or dogs and cats are chasing around the house without control, and not even when a player is lacking sleep.


What I Truly Love About TS?

d10-1 Strong theme is what drives me to it, simple as that. A Cold War background serves as a perfect setting for so many things to come from playing the game.

d10-2 History lesson learned while playing the game. It has strong educational value to it and it raises the awareness as well as the interest of players on Cold War. How I wish every board game can be played in such a manner and can be created with this factor included into board game design and it makes playing board game an invaluable experience for all. Learning will never be the same with board game that’s filled with fun and excitement.

d10-3 Simple and easy setup where it takes about two minutes to set things up and play, that's fast! It takes me a minimum of 15 minutes to setup SM’S: Civilization and start playing, and again, it takes at least another 20 minutes to pack them up. This is another great point that I simply love about TS.

d10-4 Great quality of bits and game board. This is a factor matters to me and affects my enjoyment when playing board games. I always prefer to play with interesting and high quality bits and game board and this game is absolutely screaming with class in this aspect. From the sturdy box, mounted game board, hard board markers, thick cards and quality paper of rule book, everything is simply outstanding. So far not too many board games I bought that I truly enjoyed the experience of unpacking and opening of the new box, and TS has got to be one of them. In short, a wonderful feeling indeed!

d10-5 Nice design of the game that matches the theme very well. From the game board map to influence markers, plus tokens for DEFCON, Space Track, etc are all very neat, simple and extremely appropriate for the theme and suited the mechanics of this game very appropriately. The color is basically blue and red with a mix of other colors, just nice to make it not too dull. Countries are not too difficult to locate but do require some getting use to. Even the rule book is designed in a very serious tone of grey color with numbering for every fact point, well organized and relatively easy for reference. All the design is matching with theme, which is the Cold War and strongly related to military warfare.

d10-6 No runaway leader situations. Of course, I’m talking about when both players are almost equally familiar with TS and have sufficient experience in playing it. TS is a strategy game, so the runaway leader phenomena will definitely occur when one player is far more experienced than the other. This is one of the most balanced game I have played, another one being SM’s Civilization, but only after the first expansion has been included.

d10-7 Reasonable price for a wonderful board game. I have bought quite a number of board games and especially those from FFG, nothing is cheap, though they generally produced good games. The funny part of TS is, there is so far no expansion added to it! That is really a plus point to those gamers who hate getting expansions that some inevitably complicates the game, some aimed to correct errors from the base game, and some even simply aim at making money out of gamers’ fandom (unfortunately, I’m being one of them). This game has also moved away from having expensive components such as plastic miniatures which may raise the cost and retail price and it sticks to the most basic form of practical chits, hard board markers…very clever indeed.

d10-8 Varieties in play. This is where the earlier point above relates to this. TS thrives as a board game that do not rely on further expansions! By itself, the game plays in so many ways and the outcome can be so different every single time we play it. I know I am not qualified to even say how different is the game after say, 30 games, because I have only played 5 sessions so far. But if you check out the TS forums and the number of ways to play the game, you would be thrilled as the amount of tactical decisions and strategies involved in playing TS which warrant it to offer countless highly enjoyable variability in gaming experience. Although there are only two factions in TS: USA and USSR, but the fun and tension all makes it a board game that will test time, such as Talisman or Cosmic Encounters (they were both created in the 70s), and I won’t be surprised 30 years in the future, board gamers are still enjoying and having fun playing the latest version of TS without much changes to its core game mechanic.

d10-9 High tension and fun. Playing TS creates a strong feeling of tension among players and this is possibly one of the most appealing factors. It is almost similar with SM’s Civilization board game but then it is different as there is no outright war. It is all about control and intelligent play of cards base on situations. The dice roll factor adds to some degree of unpredictability to the game and I think it is essential. IMHO, this game is never ended with anti-climax feeling when both equally experienced players compete in a session, unlike SM’s Civilization or Talisman where some situations simply making the end game a boring affair, such as runaway leader phenomena. In TS, the game is always tight, with players not knowing who will win until it finally happens. This fact makes waiting between turns not to be a problem as players are always busy engaging in thinking and planning all the time. This has to be one of the major strength of TS and I truly appreciate it.

d10-1d10-0 Cool game mechanics are abundance which are nicely embedded into TS and it's kind of difficult to mention all of them. One particular unique feature is the VP system where it goes like a tug-of-war pattern. Many board games have their VP or winning condition to be a race to see who goes faster ahead and whoever reaches the end point wins. Another worth mentioning smart mechanics in TS is players are forced to play opponent's card events during action rounds. This really forces players to do lots of damage control and damage recovery work in order to win, and that's also matches the theme of Cold War, excellent system! TS's system is quite different from other board games and that's a refreshing way of playing games to me.

d10-1d10-1 Simplicity is Gold. TS is a very heavy strategy game because it requires intensive analysis and thinking throughout game play and it takes easily more than 3 hours for a session. But I have to say this: TS is a very simple game! Perhaps I overstated it here. I don’t mean to say it’s easy to learn and master, or easy to understand (though not too difficult for me). But having played AD&D RPG, SM’s Civilization and most prominently, Tomb board game, this game is simple, that’s the point. If you have gone through the hair-pulling experience the way I had with Tomb’s rule book, you would regard this game as almost perfect! The chits are many but if you have played Betrayal at House on the Hill (first edition) or SM’s Civilization board game or even Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, you would say TS is almost perfect! If you have played Runebound: Mists of Zanaga or Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization (that comes without a game board), you would conclude TS’s board is almost perfect! If you have experienced the hassle of setting up board games to play such as SM’s Civilization, you would say TS is so simple and almost perfect!

Of course, before anyone knock on my door and jam my email with strong responds about the comments above, let me clarify that I’m not trying to implicate all the games mentioned above as being bad. I am merely quoting what I think I dislike about certain parts of those games. They are all generally good games with some being my favorite, offering some cool stuff for selective gamers. I’m not even saying TS is the best in respect to all the factors mentioned above, but the creators and designers really have done a fantastic job in developing TS.


Conclusion

This is not a fan boy review that serves to promote a game to increase its sales. This simple review is purely a sharing from a non-hardcore strategy gamer that happened to have learned about TS and loving it. TS has everything that is good enough to make the game works and nothing more, nothing too fancy (such as miniatures) and nothing too costly.

If you still wonder why TS is the No.1 board game in BGG (at least for now), you have got to play it yourself and experience it in order to see what this hype is all about. I never heard of TS before this, no one in my region recommended it to me, and I don’t even fancy war games in any case. But all I know is: it ranks at No.1 and I was simply curious. This curiosity cost me approximately US$50 but until this moment, I cherish my new discovery like I have found a hidden gem. For gamers like us, the feeling of discovering a highly enjoyable board game is always satisfying and that is a very much sought after sensational experience for me.

TS is a game I have just discovered and yet to know in-depth enough to say how good it is until perhaps another 20 plays. But what I can safely say is: it is a game that glows in time. It shines more with players playing it more frequently and from knowing it better, a feat not too many board games are able to emulate. Many board games died after certain amount of plays, especially when it is played repetitively without new expansions.

Coming from a non-hardcore strategy gamer, TS is an ingenious creation in all board game perspective. It does not appeal to many gamers, but to those who happen to like it and play it, the experience can be an absolutely memorable one. If you are a non-hardcore strategy gamer just like me, perhaps this review may help you to understand better what appeals to people like us.

My final note: SM's Civilization has opened the window for me and aroused my interest in heavy strategy games, but it is TS that boosted this unexpected curiosity and driving me into loving heavy strategy games!

Thanks for reading and have a nice day!


[Updates/Edit: My bad for keep using "u" instead of "you", edited and thanks for the feedback. After another game session last night, i managed to observed more details in TS by now. I think i will post a second review with a more detailed observation, perhaps after 10-20 sessions later. laugh ]
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Roberto Vaccari
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Very nice review, congrats!
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Joe
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My curiosity led me to the same purchase! Hoping to get it to the table next week and I can hardly wait.
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Alex Brown
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Good review.

I come from a similar background in that I like faster games. Too many games are cumbersome for the reasons you mentioned.

However, Twilight Struggle is the game that makes me want to change my mind. I love it.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Ditto. Transitioned from RPG to light strategy (mostly due to kid induced time constraints) and now bought TS but not sure who to play with... Thanks for the pep talk!
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Tim Royal
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Those of us who have trouble finding opponents will be very pleased with the upcoming PC game, I'm guessing...
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Chris Heap Senhouse
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TS = my favorite game of all time.

Anyone who isn't sure about it should consider playing it 5 times within 6 months before passing judgement. This kind of game gets much smoother and faster once you have the rules and most of the cards down... and then it's amazing!

Chris
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Leo Zappa
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I liked this review better than I like the game! I love this approach to review writing! Good job, and I hope you keep trying more strategy games and writing more reviews!
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Jin TS
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Thanks for the encouraging responds and most importantly, thanks to all of u for taking time to read my review...
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Jack Smith
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Excellent review thanks. You managed to deal with people's various pro's and con's very eloquently which is very hard to do in a review.
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adebisi
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You have succeeded in writing down the feelings TS provokes instead of just describing how the game plays. This justifies the existence of your review. Hence, there's no need to apologize for posting.

And I also find your observations being spot on.

Have some
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Rusty Patterson
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Very nice review. I was in the same situation as yourself and just had to check the game out to find out what all of the hype was about. While my gaming group is quite small and I have still been unable to complete a full game, I look forward to my next opportunity to play. As you say, it has a strong strategic element but the mechanics have a simple and thematic elegance to them.

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Nice review. But your insistence on using "U" for you made me want to pull my hair out.
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piri kou
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Thanks for this great review which convinced me to give it a try after a lot of hesitation...
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Jin TS
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pirikou wrote:
Thanks for this great review which convinced me to give it a try after a lot of hesitation...


I'm really glad for you my friend, as you are about to discover the uniqueness of this very special board game and do remember that you may not instantly love it after say, one play....

Do let me know how you feel about it after one or two sessions...
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Larry Doherty
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Great review my friend. And how lucky is that, to be able to hit the 100 thumb. Well done!!!!
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Claudine Finlay
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Wonderful review. I purchased TS about three months ago because it was ranked number one and I wanted to find out why. It still hasn't been opened but I am more excited now after reading your review. Great job!!
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James River
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I was on the fence about this game, and read this review it helped me decide on buying it. For me, the theme of the game is unique in my collection, and that was the deciding factor. It turns out that this is a great, engaging game that both I ( I knew that I would like it based on the many reviews I read) and my wife (which was a surprise since she has no interest in the War Theme) like a lot. The mechanics are different, and gives this game a special place in our game collection. I have not tried playing it with my kids (ages 5 - 11) but I think my older kids would understand it because it is really not that complicated. I love this game, and am glad that I got it.
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Jin TS
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Dino25 wrote:
Wonderful review. I purchased TS about three months ago because it was ranked number one and I wanted to find out why. It still hasn't been opened but I am more excited now after reading your review. Great job!!


Thanks! You will enjoy it, no worry...laugh


JamesRiver wrote:
I was on the fence about this game, and read this review it helped me decide on buying it. For me, the theme of the game is unique in my collection, and that was the deciding factor. It turns out that this is a great, engaging game that both I ( I knew that I would like it based on the many reviews I read) and my wife (which was a surprise since she has no interest in the War Theme) like a lot. The mechanics are different, and gives this game a special place in our game collection. I have not tried playing it with my kids (ages 5 - 11) but I think my older kids would understand it because it is really not that complicated. I love this game, and am glad that I got it.


Thanks and hope you will enjoy playing this game for a long time...
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piri kou
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jininthenet wrote:
pirikou wrote:
Thanks for this great review which convinced me to give it a try after a lot of hesitation...


I'm really glad for you my friend, as you are about to discover the uniqueness of this very special board game and do remember that you may not instantly love it after say, one play....

Do let me know how you feel about it after one or two sessions...


Well, here I am, after two games

I enjoyed both and really wished I could play more since the only drawback I perceive is the game's length.

Despite this aspect I loved the mecanic, the theme, how all fits and whatever side you play, the feeling that all is always getting worst bith big pressure - which is really how I perceive the cold war, by the way.

Thank you for this review which really gave me the final bit of lust to buy and try this waonderfull fame.
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