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Subject: PBEM Session Report: the American Perspective rss

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John R
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Cross-posted at our board game blog, Margin of Victory

A few months after Rick and I concluded our Washington’s War play-by-email showdown, I got the itch to match wits once more. But flintlocks weren’t enough; ICBMs were needed. So we started a game of Twilight Struggle using ACTS and VASSAL in early January. And while I won’t give every last gory detail, I will be providing some commentary about our play styles and what we learned.

Setup
A coin toss determined sides; I settled into the virtual Oval Office as President Ron Jojers, while Chairman Rickatov moved his family to the Kremlin. We elected to play with the optional cards included in the third edition, but not with the “Chinese Civil War” variant. The initial card draw yielded the following hand:

U.S. Hand: 4/US & Japan Mutual Defense Pact*, 3/Warsaw Pact Formed*, 3/Duck and Cover, 1/Captured Nazi Scientist*, 2/Korean War*, 1/CIA Created*, 2/Defectors, 2/Olympic Games

Not bad! I like getting one-time Soviet cards out of the way early if possible.

Rick’s initial placement is standard: 3 influence points (ip) into both Finland and Poland. I counter with my standard placement: 4 ip into West Germany and 3 in Italy.

Turn 1
Man, I love Defectors as a headline. I immediately cancel Socialist Governments, which I think takes the wind out of the Soviet sails right away. We see the usual successful coup in Iran, but Rick uses Marshal Plan to do that, so I get early influence in Europe. I gamble and make my coup attempt in Iran, and actually manage to eliminate Rick’s influence there. He keeps placing influence around the Middle East, so I engage in more regime change and take Iran back for good. I am also lucky enough to get into Libya (this can be shut down by the play of Nasser, and it will get me in the back door in Africa later). Rick does have Middle East Scoring, and I use some Captured Nazi Scientist[s] to get ahead in the space race. Turn 1 ends with the US up by 5 victory points (VP).


The board at the end of turn 1.

Turn 2
U.S. Hand: 2/ Formosan Resolution*, 2/Decolonization, 4/Red Scare/Purge, 2/Cambridge Five, 3/NORAD, 0/Asia Scoring, 1/Nasser, 2/Korean War, 4/China Card

Again, I’m feeling pretty good. The China Card got passed to me in turn 1, and I have Asia scoring. I held onto Korean War last turn, and I’m hoping to play it once I mitigate its effects by taking some of the nearby countries. The turn starts with Rick driving hard for Western Europe; he headlines DeGaulle Leads France, follows it up with influence to gain control, and seals the deal with Europe Scoring. We’re now at US +4 VP. Meanwhile, I try to mask my intentions by playing ip into Europe and Asia, splitting each card. I pick up India and Thailand before playing Asia Scoring. This nets me 6 more VP, for a total of US +10. Rick starts a weak coup in Thailand after I score the region, and I start a successful coup in Iraq, thinking ahead to the next turn’s reshuffle. Unfortunately, Fidel shows up and the Russians are now in Central America.


The board at the end of turn 2.

Turn 3
U.S. Hand: 4/NATO*, 2/Olympic Games, 4/US & Japan Mutual Defense Pact*, 3/Eastern European Unrest, 2/Decolonization, 1/Nasser*, 2/Special Relationship, 3/De-Stalinization*

This is the turn where you shuffle the discards back in, and unfortunately, I received no scoring cards so I have little idea of what’s coming. Rick sees his chance and headlines Indo-Pakistani War, which fails, while I incite some Eastern European Unrest. I gamble again with a phase one coup, trying to drive Fidel out of Cuba, but it fails miserably! (Maybe I would have been better to re-align.) We each spread influence around the world; I get into Africa via Libya, while Rick starts uses De-Stalinzation to get influence into Mexico and Venezuela. We see no more scoring cards, but…gosh, I’m embarassed to admit this, but…Rick plays Blockade and I don’t have anything to counter. Whoops. Guess the Berliners starve, the President backs down, and the Soviets are all up in West Germany. Hmm…that’s a problem. However, the only VP change goes my way (“We have a Special Relationship with the Brits, don’tcha know”), and I get out of the Early War with a comfortable 12 point lead.


The board at the end of turn 3.

We’re in the thick of the mid-war turns now, so expect an update in a few weeks!

John,
Margin of Victory blog
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Christopher Foster
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Nice report - you seem to be cleaning up so far.

(psst - your turn 2 screenshot is the same as turn 1)
 
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Edward
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I think you made a little mistake. You can't get to Saharan States from Libya, only Tunisia?
 
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John R
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You might remember that a few months ago Rick and I started a game of Twilight Struggle using ACTS and VASSAL (the first post is here). Today I continue my commentary on the mid war. When we last left off, I had amassed a 12 point lead, but the Soviets were thick as thieves in Western Germany and the Americas.

Turn 4
U.S. Hand:
2/Decolonization, 2/Defectors, 4/Red Scare or Purge, 2/Formosan Resolution, South America Scoring, 3/U2 Incident, 2/Latin American Death Squads, Europe Scoring, 1/Kitchen Debates

Not a great hand. I'm still holding onto Decolonization because there's been no breathing room with which to send it to the space race, and now there are two scoring cards to deal with. Crap.

Well, it's still obvious that it's time to headline Defectors (nothing like twice in one game!). Luckily, I stop Vietnam Revolts and southest Asia remains American for now. Amazingly, Rick doesn't coup anywhere on the first action round, opting instead to spread influence in the Middle East, so I take my shot and drop my only 4 op card on Venezuela. I achieve success and manage to match the Soviets in South America. Rick answers with Middle East Scoring, which nets him 3 VPs (US now at +9). Confident that there's not much I can do in that area, I spread more influence in Africa and score South America, netting no gain to either side. Meanwhile, Rick takes Pakistan and scores Asia, again resulting in no gain for either side. However, late scoring in Europe gets him 2 VPs (US now at 7).

With four scoring cards on the first turn of the mid-war, we both know that Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia will be the focus for the next few turns. This turn I've picked up four of five African battleground countries, but things look pretty grim in Central America and Europe teeters on the brink!



Turn 5
U.S. Hand:
2/Decolonization, Southeast Asia Scoring, 2/NORAD, 2/John Paul II Elected Pope, 3/Quagmire, 1/OAS, 2/Cambridge 5, 2/Liberation Theology, 3/Breznev Doctrine, China Card

Again, not a great hand, mainly because of all the low ops. Quagmire is going to be a bear to get rid of (no pun intended). I take a gamble, knowing that at least Vietnam Revolts is out of play, and headline Southeast Asia Scoring. Rick picks Lone Gunman and successfully coups Zaire. I get 3 VP in SE Asia (US now at +10).

During the action rounds, we spend a lot of influence for control of West Germany...and yes, I'm still kicking myself for letting Blockade happen. I realize far too late that the Soviets just have more ops, and eventually focus my attention elsewhere. (By the end of the turn, West Germany will have 11 Soviet influence points and 7 US points. Rookie mistake on my part.) Thankfully, Rick plays Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, and I get rid of Quagmire in favor of Brush War. While the war I ignite in Mexico fails, I later place influence in there to get to Guatemala. This sets me up for some sweet (and rare!) realignment rolls at the end of the turn, which leads to an early Soviet exit from Mexico. Booyah! The Americans also catch a lucky break as the Soviets have to Bear Trap themselves. As the turn comes to a close, I've made Central America a fair fight, and South America and Africa are under US domination.



Next up...the stunning conclusion!
 
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John R
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You might remember that a few months ago Rick and I started a game of Twilight Struggle using ACTS and VASSAL (the first posts are above). Today I wrap up my commentary. When we last left off, I dropped back a little to a ten point lead, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East were all hotly contested, and I had domination of South America and Africa.

Turn 6

U.S. Hand: 2/Grain Sales to Societs, 3/SALT Negotiations, 4/Muslim Revolution, 1/UN Invervention, 2/Voice of America, 2/Missile Envy, 2/Decolonization, 2/Nixon Plays the China Card, 2/Liberation Theology

This is a pretty mixed hand with a lot of 2 ops cards and some tough Soviet events to get rid of, but at least I'm in the lead at the start. Rick opens with Socialist Governments to pry me out of Italy, and I respond with Grain Sales to Soviets. Interestingly, I grab Central America Scoring, which I promptly hand back to him and use the 2 ops to shore up Italy instead. Now that we both know that Central America is going to be fought over in earnest, Rick plays Junta to take Italy. Thankfully, as I own Guatemala, it's an easy matter for me to realign Mexico and eliminate Soviet influence there.

I think Rick sees the writing on the wall, so he scores Central America, which drops me from 10 to 9 VP. Then he grabs Chile with Allende, and I promptly follow up by using The Voice of America to eliminate any gains he may have made there. In the meantime, I'm using spare ops here and there to realign and take Zaire and S. Africa. Willy Brandt gives the USSR one more VP, and then Rick follows up with a successful roll on the Space Race Track (U.S. now at 6 VP). I'm seeing my lead slowly draining away, but I keep spamming ops into Africa, realigning to eliminate USSR influence, and the like. By the end of the turn, I've got control of Africa, domination in South America and Central America, and beat the Soviets to a draw everywhere else. And I'm feeling lucky...


The conclusion of Turn 6.

Turn 7

I won't bother recounting my hand, because I pull two critical cards that will let me win the game if I play them right. The first is Duck and Cover! The second is Africa Scoring. I gamble and elect to play Duck and Cover! This is a huge risk. DEFCON is at 3, and this card will degrade it to 2. Also, the Soviet card We Will Bury You! is still in the deck, and if Rick plays it, that will occur first in the headline phase, which will drop DEFCON to 2. Then my card event will occur, and nuclear war will start, which means I'm responsible and lose the game. However, I haven't seen Rick play many high ops cards for the event yet, and I'm betting that if the card is in his hand, he doesn't want to play the event and lose the 4 ops. So I go for it.

Truth be told, I don't quite remember what Rick did on his headline or his first action round, but it didn't matter. My headline occurred, I picked up 3 VPs, (U.S. now at 9), and then played Africa Scoring. With control of the continent, I pocketed 11 victory points, which brought me to 20 exactly, and I won the game.


The end of the game.

In the end, I think this was a very interesting game. With so many scoring cards being played in turn 4, we both felt rather free to place ops wherever, knowing that there were few scoring cards to bite us. Per usual, however, the U.S. won by playing hard in the Third World.

Rick commented that while he felt the game was helpful, nothing beats face to face play, and I'd have to agree. At the same time, if there is a game I'd like to play again via PBEM, it's Twilight Struggle. With so many decisions to be and card interactions, it's nice to slow down, use ACTS' game journal function to keep track of what's been played, etc.

In the end, I guess the world decided designer jeans and cheap fast food were preferable to a worker's paradise...

John,
Margin of Victory blog

 
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