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Subject: Quite frankly, I find this game below average at best rss

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My gaming group bought this game based on the apparent claim of this game, and while it's not the worst game I have played I put it under the 50th percentile easily, this game has many flaws that kill any real fun and the game design choices were in many times horrendous. This review is about some of the game design choices, and not on the rules or any explanation on how the game is played.

I fully realize whenever someone criticizes something popular they will face tons of flack, but I am putting this out there simply for a counter to all the positives.

To get right to it, the game suffers from needless complication, decision paralysis, and being far too 'self referential'.

#1 Too complex: The general idea of two powers spreading influence and effecting each other is great, I like that. But this game goes far beyond that at the cost of playability.

The game has many different ways to add influence to take over a country, a fair amount are basically assigning the value on a card to the board, the problem is EVERY card has a DIFFERENT rule to it, meaning of the 100+ cards, every single one does something different, there is not simply look at cards and know what is going on.

It is kind of like playing poker if beyond just 8 of diamonds, this card as 'force every player to put 2 chips into pot' and 9 of diamonds 'the player to your right draws 1 more card', so not only do you have to figure out you hand, the pure number of effects is a vast negative. The game would be infinitely improved by say something like 5 common events, of which there were multiples, and perhaps 5 special events that there was only 1 each.


#2 Too many decisions: This plays into 1, but on a single turn there are far too many decisions that take far too long to meaningfully analyze that have ultimately little effect, but unless actually made will result in suboptimal play. Each turn the player has to look at all of there cards, decipher what exactly would happen by playing them, and then calculate a vast decision tree of 'if I play this, and he plays this...'

The easiest is to explain with a metaphor, say you have typical chess, but now each pawn has a special rule. Your leftmost pawn can move 2 spaces every turn, the next pawn can attack units in front of it, the 3rd pawn can hit 2 diagonals away... does all this add 'depth' or fun? No. It adds meaningless complicity. If these were the rules of chess each turn the player would be forced to decide 'if his front attack pawn moves here...or if his 2 spot pawn moves here...' there is simple too many things to account for that are meaningful or at all fun.

#3 Too much self reference: This is a huge time bog, there are multiple cards that require you to look across the board, seeing if the conditions apply. Whether a 'Nato' is in play, or whether USSR has influence here or there. There is not a simply 'glace at cards, know what is going on', instead it is look at card, figure out what it is referring to, figure out if it is in effect, ok well this card seems like it will work. But that was one card, there are 6-7 more to analyze in your hand.

This is exemplified for example for a card that as as the US player it helps USSR, for every of about 5 mideast countries they control they get 1 vp. Now this requires the player to look at card, read first country, find first country, determine if this is controlled, tally it up positive or negative, move to 2nd country, find 2nd country, determine if they have control, add to ongoing vp value if card is played, go to 3rd country...AND THIS IS ONE CARD! For one turn! It is utterly insane how much of a time sink this is. You figure out this one card, and like point 2 above, this is one mere choice. Say this round it doesn't look good, now something slightly changes in mideast, you have to roughly figure out all of this again...only for a short 2nd turn!

I have never played a game so needlessly complex for nothing amounting to a string of very small decisions. There are games that are 'complex' but the decisions are kept to a more managable frequency and have actual large impacts. This game is a collection of many hard decisions that take a long time to decide, and have to be made over and over, which each individual one only having small impacts.

Please spare me any arguments that are 'learn to play' or 'the game is #1 therefore you are wrong noob' or that because 'its sold a lot the game is therefore its a perfect game', because I could counter that 'sorry' or 'monopoly' or 'risk' are are vast sellers and unlikely serious gamers would rate those well.

I am interested in some actual discussion because I have played a lot of games 'more complicated' but worked, and I have played a lot more simple games that are more fun, coherent, and not this tangled mess.
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Jonathan Harrison
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It’s like any game with by-card powers (Innovation, for example, is—if anything—worse about this): The more you play, the more meaningful the game nexes become in your mind. It took me a while playing Twilight Struggle before I started seeing paths through the morass of cards.

As you correctly point out, Twilight Struggle is not a game you can expect to play well without playing the cards, and you can’t play the cards well until you learn the cards; but you can’t learn the cards without playing the game. So it’s unavoidable: You must play ignorantly at first to learn to play informedly. Twilight Struggle requires a time investment to come to fully enjoy.

Again as you point out, you can’t play well without knowing the rules, and if you include the cards among the rules (which is fair to do), then there are a lot of rules in Twilight Struggle. And there’s no alternative but to learn them.

Now, as to the cards that require evaluation . . . I try to do that on my opponent’s turn. There’s enough downtime in Twilight Struggle to allow for some of that. And you’ll become quicker at such evaluation the more you play.

But regardless, it sounds as if Twilight Struggle just might not be your type of game? I like (among other things) games that incorporate by-card powers: original Netrunner, Twilight Struggle, Innovation. Indeed those three sit (with some others) at the top of my pantheon.

But by comparing Twilight Struggle to trick-taking games or chess, you’re comparing apples to oranges: Twilight Struggle isn’t trying to be those games. And if those games are what you primarily like, then Twilight Struggle won’t push your buttons (well; not the right ones).

So I think Twilight Struggle does well what it is trying to do, but perhaps what it is trying to do just isn’t something you enjoy doing? Fair enough.
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Not everyone loves the game, but the game weaves over 40 years worth of turbulent history into an interesting (IMO) game. To me, that was an immense undertaking that deserves accolades. Yeah, it might be a little complicated, but look at the subject matter.
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dragon0085 wrote:


Please spare me any arguments that are 'learn to play'

Thing is, this is the argument that applies here - I imagine everyone's first few plays of TS are "a tangled mess", and getting to grips with the cards initially does slow the game down too. Once you start to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it though, the game really opens up. This is also a game where it really pays to be taught by someone with some experience who can explain things.

If you're interested, there are several online implementations and players available who'll quite happily school you at TS to help you learn.

Again, if you're interested, there are a ton of decent videos, reviews and strategy guides available if you want to make the effort to get to grips with TS. You may still end up not liking it, but you'll understand why your criticisms are off the mark.
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Robert Barnhart
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Twilightstrategy.com if you want to learn to play.

If you don't, no worries. Plenty of good games out there

To the viewing public, please give this game a try. I have had great luck teaching it to new players. Two experienced players can knock a game out in 1-2 hours.
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Tod Andrew
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I rate TS in my top 10, but think your criticisms are valid. There are several things that I wish were different in the game to reduce, what I think is, needless complexity.

Nonetheless, it is one of those few games that I am prepared to research and think about when not playing, and that it what helps prepare players for the vast number of decisions during game time. I guess the Cold War is an interesting enough theme for me to warrant the time invested.

As for fun, TS is more of an experience in tension and decision-making than laugh out loud fun. I have not played TS for a while, particularly due to its length and aforementioned tension, still think about game strategies etc and will return it.

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chuck reaume
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I would argue that the game is not flawed. Quite the contrary. It's a beautifully designed game but it is most definitely complex and comes with a steep learning curve which can be a big turn-off. As suggested, give some of the online tutorials a try and/or find some experienced players to help guide you through the first few play-throughs.
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Michael Debije
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Wow. The complexity and number of decisions are exactly why my group plays this sort of thing. The harder, the better.
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dragon0085 wrote:

Please spare me any arguments that are 'learn to play' or 'the game is #1 therefore you are wrong noob' or that because 'its sold a lot the game is therefore its a perfect game', because I could counter that 'sorry' or 'monopoly' or 'risk' are are vast sellers and unlikely serious gamers would rate those well.

I am interested in some actual discussion because I have played a lot of games 'more complicated' but worked, and I have played a lot more simple games that are more fun, coherent, and not this tangled mess.

To facilitate some actual discussion, what are the more complicated games that you have played that were better? Because my first response to your critique would be to play some more because the decisions are quite manageable and the game not very complex.
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Martin Presley
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If "Too many decisions" is a downside for you, TS is probably just not for you. The large number of lines and viable moves is what so many people like about this game; which is fine, you're just looking for a different experience with board games than us TS fans are.
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dragon0085 wrote:
#1 Too complex
#2 Too many decisions
#3 Too much self reference

Twilight Struggle is a 2-3 hour wargame at heart. What did you expect? Personally I really like the game for all the same reasons.
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Ben Kyo
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Disclaimer: TS is currently a 7 for me after ~7 plays, but I'm thinking it might end up an 8 (which is very good compared to my other BGG ratings, but I'm not a diehard TS lover by any means)

It is funny that you describe it as a tangled mess, when I find it to be a very simple ruleset.

The fact that the game requires you to learn 100+ cards to play is valid angle of criticism. Far more complex games do not require perfect card knowledge to get off ground level and enjoy the game. That said, ~100 cards, only a (moderate?) fraction of which are region-specific, is not that tall an order and is fairly easy to grok after 2-3 plays through.
You seem to have taken that one angle of criticism and conflated it into "needless complexity" and "self-reference" and all the rest.

It is not a fun game until you learn to play it. The same can be said of all my favourite games (Go, Mage Knight, Through the Ages, etc.)

Edit: I do find it somewhat surprising that a game with such a relatively high entry barrier is so highly rated. I do not understand the opinion I have heard once or twice on BGG that TS can be enjoyed between two people who do not know the cards. Different strokes, I suppose.
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Chris Linneman
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I just finished a stunningly tense game of Twilight Struggle wherein I actually teetered on the brink of losing to Europe control. The VP track was bouncing all over the place, but I managed to pull of a win by Wargames in turn 10. Every game is so different, and this wouldn't be possible without the "complexity" you disdain.

I can understand finding the game too difficult to grok all at once, though. You could try playing a game (or maybe just a few turns) using only ops -- no events -- until you get familiar with all the basic rules (how coups, realignments and placing influence work, military ops, et cetera). You will also find you get a better appreciation for the layout of the board this way and it will take you less time to find the countries on the map until you know where they are intuitively.

Then you could add events but only trigger them when you play your opponent's event. That is, you always play cards for Ops but trigger opponent events when you play them. You introduce the Space Race mechanic here too. This way you would get familiar with what events there are without having such a large decision tree at the start of every turn.

I've never tried this myself, mind you, but I could see it being a good way of going about learning, especially if you don't have an experienced teacher.
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Jim McNaughton
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mi_de wrote:
Wow. The complexity and number of decisions are exactly why my group plays this sort of thing. The harder, the better.

Each of your criticisms are, for me, precisely the reasons it is such a good game. Fairly complex and interactive. For me, not a 10, but still very good. A war game closer to what the OP would like may be 1775: Rebellion, which I do rate more highly because it is much more accessible.
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There are many complex games that aren't for everyone to play. TS thrives due to it's beautifully designed complexity, you just have to learn the game first. Someone who wants to play wargames but doesn't like complexity should stick with Risk instead.
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dragon0085 wrote:
The game would be infinitely improved by say something like 5 common events, of which there were multiples, and perhaps 5 special events that there was only 1 each.

That. Is. Funny


Not all games cater to all tastes, and this isn't for you then. No big deal To me it does sound as if you went into it with the wrong expectations though. For two first time players, assuming the game goes till the end, it can easily take 4-6 hours. If I play a game of that length I would want complexity to avoid having to make variations of the same decision over and over again

But to each their own!

Regards
Asger Granerud
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Trolling or not, here's a thumb and a coin for pointing out what interfered with my frontal lobe the first hour getting into the game. Coming out on the other side was fantastic!

I like to compare complexity of games with music - there is room for variety. Some like simple, some like complex, and others like both.
Complex music (take Prokofiev's violin concerto #2 for instance) will often repulse you at the first listenings, but is ever more revarding in the long run. Simple music (take James Blunt) makes many enjoy right away, but it does not add much after that. And if you also add tastes, you get a plethora of variety. Cheers to that!
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AsgerSG wrote:
dragon0085 wrote:
The game would be infinitely improved by say something like 5 common events, of which there were multiples, and perhaps 5 special events that there was only 1 each.

That. Is. Funny

I won't say it's funny - it's just describing a totally different game. The games the OP picked as references really set up any comparisons in between apples and oranges.

What we have is a game of moderate base rules length and complexity and 100+ playing pieces (the cards) that indeed all behave a little differently but do so within boundaries. Now compare this to virtually any CCG or LCG and the number of cards to learn don't seem so unreasonable anymore. Try convincing any Magic player to be happy with 5 common events and 5 special events...

The Top10 on BGG is biased by a certain player type. The OP's initial reaction to, say, Agricola will be exactly the same.

I'd like to know the other fairly complex games the OP's referenced, too...
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dragon0085 wrote:
My gaming group bought this game based on the apparent claim of this game, and while it's not the worst game I have played I put it under the 50th percentile easily, this game has many flaws that kill any real fun and the game design choices were in many times horrendous. This review is about some of the game design choices, and not on the rules or any explanation on how the game is played.

I fully realize whenever someone criticizes something popular they will face tons of flack, but I am putting this out there simply for a counter to all the positives.

Twilight Struggle is a great game with just the right "design choices" in the right places. It is a game which borrows a lot of its mechanics from a series of great card driven designs initiated by "We the People" in 1994.

dragon0085 wrote:
To get right to it, the game suffers from needless complication, decision paralysis, and being far too 'self referential'.

#1 Too complex: The general idea of two powers spreading influence and effecting each other is great, I like that. But this game goes far beyond that at the cost of playability.

The game has many different ways to add influence to take over a country, a fair amount are basically assigning the value on a card to the board, the problem is EVERY card has a DIFFERENT rule to it, meaning of the 100+ cards, every single one does something different, there is not simply look at cards and know what is going on.

It is kind of like playing poker if beyond just 8 of diamonds, this card as 'force every player to put 2 chips into pot' and 9 of diamonds 'the player to your right draws 1 more card', so not only do you have to figure out you hand, the pure number of effects is a vast negative. The game would be infinitely improved by say something like 5 common events, of which there were multiples, and perhaps 5 special events that there was only 1 each.

Twilight Struggle is fairly simple compared to the other games in the series. We the People is perhaps even simpler, but Hannibal, Successors, Paths of Glory, The Napoleonic Wars and Virgin Queen (to name a few) all have many more rules and exceptions to keep track of.

That the cards have varying effects is not very complex since most of them follow a few simple patterns. Other games which use cards also have the effects of bending the rules and allowing new decision paths. Agricola does this to an even greater extent than Twilight Struggle.

dragon0085 wrote:
#2 Too many decisions: This plays into 1, but on a single turn there are far too many decisions that take far too long to meaningfully analyze that have ultimately little effect, but unless actually made will result in suboptimal play. Each turn the player has to look at all of there cards, decipher what exactly would happen by playing them, and then calculate a vast decision tree of 'if I play this, and he plays this...'

The easiest is to explain with a metaphor, say you have typical chess, but now each pawn has a special rule. Your leftmost pawn can move 2 spaces every turn, the next pawn can attack units in front of it, the 3rd pawn can hit 2 diagonals away... does all this add 'depth' or fun? No. It adds meaningless complicity. If these were the rules of chess each turn the player would be forced to decide 'if his front attack pawn moves here...or if his 2 spot pawn moves here...' there is simple too many things to account for that are meaningful or at all fun.

How can a game have too many decisions? That is one of the great strengths of a good game - to allow many different paths towards victory. In my view card driven games try to keep the number of decisions down by just allowing you to choose between a set number of cards. Other games will allow you to choose from a much broader set of options (which usually means beginners are bewildered). Most war-games have this feature (problem?).

dragon0085 wrote:
#3 Too much self reference: This is a huge time bog, there are multiple cards that require you to look across the board, seeing if the conditions apply. Whether a 'Nato' is in play, or whether USSR has influence here or there. There is not a simply 'glace at cards, know what is going on', instead it is look at card, figure out what it is referring to, figure out if it is in effect, ok well this card seems like it will work. But that was one card, there are 6-7 more to analyze in your hand.

This is exemplified for example for a card that as as the US player it helps USSR, for every of about 5 mideast countries they control they get 1 vp. Now this requires the player to look at card, read first country, find first country, determine if this is controlled, tally it up positive or negative, move to 2nd country, find 2nd country, determine if they have control, add to ongoing vp value if card is played, go to 3rd country...AND THIS IS ONE CARD! For one turn! It is utterly insane how much of a time sink this is. You figure out this one card, and like point 2 above, this is one mere choice. Say this round it doesn't look good, now something slightly changes in mideast, you have to roughly figure out all of this again...only for a short 2nd turn!

I can agree to some of this, but in most cases the earlier plays are fairly simple to keep track of in your mind or by laying the played cards out to the side of the board. There are also a few play aids that you can find on the files page that will map out the relations between the cards for you. This is an area where experience with the game and knowledge of history will help out.

dragon0085 wrote:
I have never played a game so needlessly complex for nothing amounting to a string of very small decisions. There are games that are 'complex' but the decisions are kept to a more managable frequency and have actual large impacts. This game is a collection of many hard decisions that take a long time to decide, and have to be made over and over, which each individual one only having small impacts.

Please spare me any arguments that are 'learn to play' or 'the game is #1 therefore you are wrong noob' or that because 'its sold a lot the game is therefore its a perfect game', because I could counter that 'sorry' or 'monopoly' or 'risk' are are vast sellers and unlikely serious gamers would rate those well.

I am interested in some actual discussion because I have played a lot of games 'more complicated' but worked, and I have played a lot more simple games that are more fun, coherent, and not this tangled mess.

I think Twilight Struggle is a great game that is fairly simple to explain and play. I have used it on several occasions to introduce non boardgamers to this great hobby and it has always been well received. I can find very few flaws in this game and it is certainly one of the best card driven designs and a great simple two player game.
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Daniel T.
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Mmmhhh...thought some time, what to answer to your criticism and your statement, that TS is no fun and overrated.

I can just say, TS is great, because of all the things you said about it. Its great because there are a bunch of cards with extra rules you need to know and remember. Its great that this opens for a million ways and a million strategies. I don't mind, that I had to invest some time into this game to learn the strategies. I'm no in a state, that I can judge a hand of cards quite fast and develop a play strategy out of it. No analysis paralysis at all. And in the end it often narrows down to 1 or 2 strategical options to go for (in contrast to the millions you might see without detailed knowledge about the game and all the cards). I had never two games of TS that were the same. I love how you have to rethink you strategy all the time. With players having an even amount of experience in the game it is the flow of initiative that is fascinating and sometimes nervewrecking (in a positive way).

But it (like always) boils down to personal taste. I had a look at your game list here on BGG and would say that TS doesn't fit in there. (no offend). My list is full of wargames, which some have more than 40 pages of rules and take weeks to play. So I like games that are really complex and take some commitment to learn, play and enjoy. That's, and with it TS, is not for everyone (meaning this without any arrogance).

One last tip: Don't buy any of the COIN games for your group. They are quite popular right now, but play in the same league as TS, regarding cards and amount of strategic decisions.
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Conor Hickey
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dragon0085 wrote:


Please spare me any arguments that are 'learn to play' or 'the game is #1 therefore you are wrong noob' or that because 'its sold a lot the game is therefore its a perfect game', because I could counter that 'sorry' or 'monopoly' or 'risk' are are vast sellers and unlikely serious gamers would rate those well.

There's no argument really, especially when you try to shut down discussion on a discussion forum.

A lot of people love TS for pretty much the reasons you don't like it, so it seems likely that the game is simply not to your taste, and that's the end of it. There are many other games you can play and enjoy.

The #5 game, Agricola, is obviously very popular, yet I didn't like it at all. So I don't play it.
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Chris District
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I've seen negative reviews raise some ok points about some aspects of the game. But in this case, your review just makes it sound like you're too lazy to play the game. There are some people who like complex games, and some that don't.

Like I told my brother when he complained after losing our first game: "you know, if you're not interested in learning it, you can always play checkers."

*edit*
p.s. On a second quick read, your review can entirely be summed up as follows: "I have to do too much thinking." All 3 of your points say the same thing. That's fine. There are plenty of Monopolies out there.
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I think that researching TS ahead of time would have avoided the issue. This is a BGG ratings fail. Just because it is the number one rated game does not mean it is the best game for you.

For the first 3-4 plays I had no real grasp as to how this all tied together but I was intrigued by the history and the story that it was presenting. It feels like an updated and more interesting version of chess. You really have to know the cards to understand how to play the game well.

Two of my younger kids played the game with me (11 and 14) and while they did not grasp the whole concept they understood the card actions. I had to help them find countries etc but they still saw it through. I am not saying it is their type of game but they played through it. These are the same kids who play Mage Knight with me without assistance.

Like many have said ratings do not equate to gaming enjoyment or the 'requirement' that you enjoy it or you are not a gamer.

The issues that you bring up are consistent with few if only one play. I was there and felt the same way. 50+ games later, it is a gem of a game due to the richness of its theme and the tactical battle that goes on between two engaged players.
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There are many games that involve many different kinds of cards that aren't as demanding with regards to memorizing them as Twilight Struggle. I can appreciate that viewpoint. If you're unwilling - or just don't find it fun - to memorize cards, it's not very likely you'll enjoy it. A great deal of the strategy in this game does hinge on predicting when certain cards come up, certainly to a much greater degree than other card driven games (e.g. 7 Wonders, though I'll make no claim to being a good 7 Wonders player).

As for it being complex, that's dependent on your point of view. It's a light game for a wargamer and a heavy game for a eurogamer. It's only the second wargame I played after Squad Leader (!), so it was very easy to learn for me - at least, compared to what I had experienced before. I can certainly understand if you don't to spend your precious gaming hours learning rules (I'm personally good with rules and find it fun to read, but that's obviously not for everyone).

And playing board games to relax is also very understandable, and Twilight Struggle is not the most relaxing game out there. I personally love how stressful it can be, but being stressed is (and should not be) what everyone wants out of a board game.
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Ben Parker
Australia
Elanora Heights
NSW
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you seem to have thought this through. Sad to hear you didn't like it. I haven't played it. Sounds like I might not like it either based on your review.
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