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Subject: Thoughts on Twilight Struggle rss

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Rob Koch
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Introductory Comments
When I heard that there was a game focused on the cold war I was immediately interested and eager to play. Unfortunately, when I found out it was during the gap between 1st and 2nd edition. I pre-ordered my copy of 2nd edition and waited patiently for its arrival. Once it came I spent some time with the rules and components to get a feel for it before I played. I finally got in a session last night and I find this game very enjoyable not only for the game itself, but also for the ways the game embodies the theme. Below are some thoughts on categories relevant to reviews and this game.

Components
I haven't seen first edition so I can't comment on improvements, but I definitely have mixed feelings about the components in this set. On the one hand, I am spoiled by thick boards and plastic pieces in euros and so might be a little biased but the board could definitely be put on thicker stock or perhaps some kind of rigid backing. The chits, while adequate could also be thicker/more robust.
On the other hand, I feel for what it is the quality is high. The board is well constructed for a fold out and I appreciate that it is not glossy paper. It also has great graphics and lots of useful features like a key in the lower right, tracks for keeping track of turns, the space race, rounds, military ops and so forth.
Really my main gripe (and again this is coming from someone new to the genre who is spoiled by euros) is that the use of numbered counters for influence/control seems too fiddly. As my friend commented it might be nice to have a digital read out or perhaps a numbered die you could turn as your influence changes, as opposed to having to remove and place chits which seems unnecessarily slow. Part of the slowness is due to my insistence that they stay in the provided bags (awesome!! if you've read my other reviews you know it bothers me when these aren't included) when not in play to avoid losing them. Otherwise, I love the cards and the dice, while small, are adequate for the job.

Rules
I'm not going to get deep into the rules here as others have covered it and I'm sure if you are interested you have read them (available from the publishers website). My recommendation for new players is to read them once and then just play. At first I had a hard time absorbing everything when I read them, but once I started playing everything clicked into place and it was very intuitive and straightforward. The rules are clearly written and save for one or two things my friend and I (both the kind of gamer who will argue about what a word means in the context of its use) had no disagreements on interpretation which is great. The included section on a playthrough, while unnecessary for me, might help someone who wants to get an idea without playing.

Theme/Gameplay
While some might break these into two categories for me these are inextricably linked. One of the things I loved the most about this game and didn't really think about until after the game is how well the gameplay reflects the theme. This is not a game of monumental shifts and overwhelming defeat. This is a game of incremental change that slowly turns the tide towards one player or the other. The cards do a great job of creating a feeling of stalemate and tension. Small events happen that might have a large impact in a region, but have little ostensible impact on the global status. If you aren't paying attention these little changes can add up to an overwhelming loss, but a careful player can keep these in check. In that sense, the feeling of stalemate comes through. As my friend and I played through most of the initial turns there were no large point swings. We were almost always within 4 points of zero until later in the game when we had established firm domination in high scoring regions. Even then large point gains were few as we both kept each other from achieving control or had enough countries under our sway to put a dent in any gains our opponent won.
The DEFCON status is another great item. Keeping in mind that too much fiddling could lead to Thermonuclear war also supports the feeling of stalemate and tension that permeates the game.
What was most striking for me (and perhaps most enjoyable) was how much these gameplay elements make your experience as a player totally immersed in the theme. Of all games I've played, I feel this one does the best of making the player feel the tension of this era.

Conclusion
All around, I love this game. When I was playing at times I felt like the game was walking the line between being challenging and too much to manage, but upon reflection after playing I realized that this is perhaps by design. Trying to manage politics across a global theater to protect an ideology is a huge job and while this is certainly an abstraction of that, it does a fantastic job of creating the feeling of tension and stalemate that officials during this era certainly must have felt. For people who like a challenge and like the theme, this game is a no brainer. I highly recommend you find a copy and play.
 
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James Davis
Australia
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great review makes me want to run out and get the game right now. if only i had the money cry
 
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Rick Holzgrafe
United States
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zennoshinjou wrote:
Part of the slowness is due to my insistence that they stay in the provided bags ... when not in play to avoid losing them.

We use small bowls. They keep the chits from getting scattered, yet make it easy to find the one you want.

I agree that the chits are a bit fiddly, but they do save space on the board.
 
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John McCoy
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zennoshinjou wrote:

As my friend commented it might be nice to have a digital read out or perhaps a numbered die you could turn as your influence changes, as opposed to having to remove and place chits which seems unnecessarily slow.

A digital read out? You must be kidding, right? The dice idea has merit but.... Considering that both players could conceivably have influence in every country you'd need oh, at least 100 some dice to make it work. That'd make for a much more expensive and physically heavier game.

So really, I think cardboard counters were the only practical solution here. GMT was wisely provided a lot of plastic bags. There are enough that I'm pretty sure you could put all of the low value, frequently-used chits into separate bags, with the high number chits in a bag by themselves. That way if you insist on everything staying in the bags when not in use it should at least be pretty easy to find things when needed.
 
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Rob Koch
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While I agree that from a practicality standpoint the chits are best, I could easily see someone whipping up a quick spreadsheet that could be used to track influence/control with formulas that read out in another area that instantly tell you who has influence/domination/control in regions as influence changes through the course of a game. I guess I feel like removing/adding chits adds significantly to the time of a game play, but the suggestion to use small bowls for each group is a good one. I'm just paranoid about losing them since they are so tiny and it would annoy me to have a little square of paper to replace it. I guess a digital read out would only be practical on a cumbersome board, also reducing the practicality of transport. The idea is just to have a more efficient way of managing influence and control to speed the game along.
 
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Jon M
United Kingdom
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Does it matter if you lose a chit or two? It wouldn't affect (effect? I can never remember) the game in the slightest. I would say loosen up on the chits. When I was taught the game my opponent dumped all the Soviet chits into the USSR and all the US into the USA. Easy to pick through and didn't seem to slow the game at all.
 
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