it's time for a new review of one of my top 10 game, this time it's my alltime favorite two player game - Twilight Struggle.
I will start by answering three questions about the game (feel free to consider them as a TL;DR) and then proceed to analyze the game on 7 rating criteria which I explain further in my user profile. Your feedback for this review or my criteria in general is always well appreciated.
Why do I love Twilight Struggle so much?
I got to know this game in 2013. A good friend of mine introduced me to modern board gaming by showing Agricola to me and introducing me to this wonderful website. Some days later I browsed the top 100 and decided to blind buy the everlasting leader of those times: Twilight Struggle. This one is special for me. It may sound weird, but this was some kind of gateway game for me. After collecting some dust on my shelf, my girlfriend and I played it on some rainy Sunday afternoons. Again. Then again. And again.
We never before played a game as deep and involving as this one. Almost every decision is a two-sided sword with a whole bunch of short-term and long-term consequences that need to get balanced for the whole time of the game. I will never forgive this game for setting such a high bench mark of good board gaming for me. I have only high praise for Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews. Thanks for bringing this game to life and shame on you for making me a board gaming addict
Other than me: Who should buy this game...
Serious gamers with a regular playing partners which are willing to invest 2,3 or even 5 hours into a single epic Cold War simulation full of meaningful decisions, strategic complexity, an ongoing level of tension and some really nice yet simple mechanics.
...and who should not?
Player dyads who can't stand the pressure, the "take that"-elements, dice rolling or the very well integrated Cold War theme. Obviously I can't recommend this to players who have a problem with two player games. Additionally, when it comes to modern board games, by comparison this will not win any beauty contests - if shiny components are very important to you...you should overthink your priorities and buy this anyways. It is so good.
Review considering 7 criteria
Strategy & Depth (20%): 9.5
There are multiple paths to victory: Classic VP-win, provoking a nuclear war, winning War Games and gaining control over Europe; each of them with paths towards them. Every decision has both short- and longterm-consequences. Even if there is randomness in this game (card draw; dice rolling, especially when it comes to coups and manifest wars), Twilight Struggle is highly strategic from the first turn on and, even if short-term tactics become more and more important, stays so until the very end.
An important note: In my first playthroughs, it felt heavily unbalanced towards the Soviets - trust me, this lessens and even turns as the American player gets used to some key strategic considerations.
Fun per Time (20%): 9.5
Yes, it is long. Yes, fun is not the right word for the satisfaction that can be pulled out of a rainy Sunday afternoon playing a Cold War simulation. But still, the investment is totally worth it for me. Get yourself some cookies and tea and prepare for a cognitive and emotional workout, because that's what Twilight Struggle is. This game won't accomodate to players who seek for light moments of laughter - it is made for players who want to fight for their rewards and who can stand the frustration of not winning this fight - sometimes due to bad luck. If you are that kind of player, I don't know any other two player game as satisfying as this one.
Replayability (20%): 9.5
While there is no variance in goals between plays, every game plays differently due to different legit openings and different possible strategic adaptations, especially in the midgame. The order of cards you play affects the strategic path of both you and the other player. So there are nearly limitless possibilities for this game to flow. Once you move from exploring the game to actually play the game, there will thus be a high level of intrinsic replayability. The game will, however, lose this when both players don't have an approximately equal skill level - the experienced player will almost always win.
Theme Integration (10%): 10.0
The level of thematic integration of the theme is outstanding, both mechanically and on the visible surface. Every card is unique and points to a real event of the Cold War (a short note on every event can be found in the rulebook) and mirrors the outcomes of those events on a mechanicle level. A choice of other thematic tweaks I really like: A nuclear leaves the trigger puller losing it; coups and wars have somewhat unpredictable outcomes due to dice; every military action needs a counter action to not lose any reputation.
Mechanics (10%): 9.5
The single most outstanding mechanic of this game, and probably my favorite mechanism across all board games I know so far, is the reciprocity every card provides. The fact that many cards have a lot of advantage for both you and your opponent makes timing and playing around some problematic events critical. Most of the mechanics are accessible and not overly complex. I don't love the space race and the military ops mechanic, even if they are thematically founded. I find the first not intuitive enough, the second one is too luck dependend for there is no possibility of influencing the outcome. I really like the dice manipulation through position before realingment attemps and I love the possibility of deck manipulation by deciding against playing your own events until your opponents has to play them some wars later.
Aesthetics (10%): 7.0
Well, it looks functional. Event cards show monochrome pictures of the Cold War era which capture the theme quite nicely. It fits, but some additional fluff wouldn't have done any harm to the game. I really would have appreciated custom dice, some details on the world map and some kind of suitable insert for the beautiful game box.
Originality (10%): 9.5
I don't know any other two player game like this, but I have to admit that my experiences with card driven wargames are limited to Twilight Struggle and Memoir '44. The high rating stems from the blend of great things this game unites: Ongoing tension despite the long game duration, an insanely well integrated theme, asymmetric two-player game play and the many strategic layers it comes with.
Final Verdict: 9.30 / 10.00
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- Jeremy Mease
My issue has always been I know little to nothing about the Cold War, and a huge amount about the Civil and Revolutionary War, so it never hit me as a must have (but only due to theme). I know people love it, and I would definitely sit down and play if invited.
Also, I watched a play through years ago and didn't understand a lick!
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Thank you very much!
I probably knew less then you before I first played this game, but TS taught me a lot. For a start, every card is shortly explained in the rulebook.
Whether the theme catches you or not, I hope you will have the chance to play this one day - prepare to loose against a seasoned player, but once you dive into it, it will be an awesome experience.
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- David TompkinsUnited States
NebraskaScripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, To God Alone be Glory!
Quote:I know little to nothing about the Cold War,
Your problems are over! www.historyofthecoldwarpodcast.com
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- David GouletteUnited States
Solid review overall. I agree with most of what you said.
Regarding this:Teeguru87 wrote:I don't love the space race and the military ops mechanic, even if they are thematically founded. I find the first not intuitive enough, the second one is too luck dependend for there is no possibility of influencing the outcome.
Did you switch the order in your explanation here? It is true that the space race is luck dependent as to whether you advance on it. And you have control over your military ops via coups and war cards.
If you didn't switch them, I think you are playing some rules incorrectly.
If you did switch them then your comment makes more sense. In this case I would point out that the primary purpose of the space race (in terms of game mechanics) is to get your opponents bad events into the discard pile without having to trigger them or hold them. If you happen to roll well on the space race then you can get a bit of a bonus in terms of points etc. But that is secondary. As for the military ops, it is a really awesome mechanic that you need to get your mil ops by couping, but you are limited by the defcon track. There is a tension between the two tracks that is a huge part of the game imho.
Being forced to coup and play war cards for military ops adds to the dynamics of the game. As you play more you might start to see ways that you can squeeze out a couple points from your opponent by forcing them to play influence somewhere instead of doing a coup for mil ops. Or move the defcon in a late action round with an event thereby causing them to lose points. One point here or there can make all the difference.
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- Ben Bosmans(Ben_Bos)Belgium
TS was once in my top 10 gaming list.
It was fantastic when I could play it once a year against a good friend...
Then the App came out and I realised this is a deadly competitive game where each minor mistake is punished.
It is deadlier than Chess really.
Perhaps it is the ultimate best game ever designed for a cutting edge competition.
Unfortunately I see it now in a corner what is not really my cup of tea
: competitive games.
It is also very long to play, somewhere around 5 hours.
My scoring went from 9.5+ to 7.2 simply because it is tooo competitive.
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- Marcus StraßmannGermany
nice review, thank you.Teeguru87 wrote:
I don't know any other two player game like this, but I have to admit that my experiences with card driven wargames are limited to Twilight Struggle and Memoir '44
I think it's time for you to have a glance at "1989: Dawn of Freedom":
Based on the TS game engine, but still a different game in its own right, and, of course, with different traps
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