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This is a review of the official The Chinese Civil War variant for Twilight Struggle included in GMT's C3i #21.

Twilight Struggle is my favorite game (one of only three I've rated a "10") and I was eager to check this variant out.

Digression:

It's easy to say "Don't change anything!" This is especially true for a game one is really passionate about.

I'm of the opinion that exploring changes in a game is generally a good thing. There are very few (if any!) games that are perfect, and furthermore, there's nothing forcing anyone to play a game in any particular fashion. Variants and expansions are just that - different ways of plumbing the depths of a game.


Digression Ends, Review Begins:

If you read some of the comments about Twilight Struggle here on the geek, a common complaint, especially for new players, is that the USSR wins too easily or often. That the game is biased towards the USSR.

Based informally on my plays of 2009 with my friend Jonathan (14 plays so far this year, alternating sides), the USSR leads the US 8-6.

In my experience, it can sometimes seem that the role of the USA player, especially in the early and even into the first turn or two of the mid war, is sometimes merely to survive until you can get to those juicy late war cards.

In a recent game on ACTS, I was nailed with the Red Scare headline in the opening turn, one where I had mostly USSR events in my hand, and then again in the turn 3 headline when I had mostly 1-2 OPS cards. Needless to say, that was a short lived game for the US.

Ron Jacobsen, who runs a TS ladder moderated via ACTS, had this comment when I joined the current round of games:

In all Ladder games, the US receives a 3 IP bid in addition to the usual 7 starting influence. These 3 IP are placed after the 7, and can be placed in any country where the US already has influence, but not to over control the country.

Fairly lengthy statistics (~250 games) indicates that 3 IP is the bid that best balances the game. The US winning percentage appears to be about 48% at this bid, and is probably closer to 50% among experienced players. "


So obviously there's some room to explore a way of trying to fix the USSR's early war advantage, and bidding IP for the US is one way.

Jason Matthews has offered up another way - The Chinese Civil War


Image courtesy of user angeral

Rules: I'm not going to post the full rules here (buy C3i #21 from GMT!), but as you can see from the photo, the variant requires that the USSR player invest 3 IP to obtain the China Card. Until and unless this happens, the card lies dormant.

Ok, so what? What's the big deal about that? If you're lucky in turn 1, one Brezhnev Doctrine and three rounds later, you have the China Card and life continues on merrily for the Soviet steamroller. Even if the 3 IP were forced in the first turn, say, it probably would not affect the USSR win/loss ratio that much.

The cleverness of this variant is that the USSR cannot play certain cards as events (use for ops only) as long as they do not have the China Card. One of them is the aforementioned Red Scare/Purge card. Suddenly, my defeat in that game would not have been so certain!

Also, the US is not punished for the China Card not being in play. US events involving the China Card behave as though the US player has possession of the card. This therefore gives the USSR player an incentive to spend those 3 IP to get the China Card into play, and sooner rather than later.

Should the China Card not come into play at all during the game, it does not count for VP in final game scoring.

Conclusion?

Overall, I feel this variant adds rather than detracts from an already great game in a way that does not fundamentally change the game.

Jason has presented a very clever way to address balance issues for new players without obviating the tried and true strategies for veterans. A huge thumbsup from me.
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eryn roston
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well that seals the deal. I need this variant.
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Josh
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While the proof will be with repeated plays, I think this variant is extremely clever. Moreover, it demonstrates that the designer understands the imperfections in this otherwise classic game, and has responded to them. I've been one of the more vocal people about the pro-USSR bias in the game, and this is based on a LOT of statistics, and is not simply an opinion. The facts of the matter are that if the USA is hit with Red Scare once in the Early War the game is now very difficult for them, but two Red Scares early in the game are almost unsurvivable. The variant handicaps the USSR just a little bit, and most of the variant's effects are on the Early War, which is where the game is at its most biased.

I played with this for the first time last week. Although the game was atypical in a number of ways, the USSR never made the play for the China Card, and this modified the use of two cards. The game went to Final Scoring with the USSR winning by 4.
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Nate Merchant
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Only played once, but can't wait to try with this variant. Better still, want to teach some nearest and dearest.






Edit: gah!
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Troy Davis
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I'm confused (it doesn't take much). It was stated:

Quote:
The cleverness of this variant is that the USSR cannot play certain cards as events (use for ops only) as long as they do not have the China Card. One of them is the aforementioned Red Scare/Purge card. Suddenly, my defeat in that game would not have been so certain!

How does this variant prevent the Red Scare/Purge card from being played exactly?
 
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decumanusmaximus wrote:
I'm confused (it doesn't take much). It was stated:

Quote:
The cleverness of this variant is that the USSR cannot play certain cards as events (use for ops only) as long as they do not have the China Card. One of them is the aforementioned Red Scare/Purge card. Suddenly, my defeat in that game would not have been so certain!

How does this variant prevent the Red Scare/Purge card from being played exactly?

The confusion stems in no small part from my not posting the full set of variant rules.

The variant includes a full page of rules. They outline the effects of the China Card not being in play, including that a number of cards may not be played as events.

It's more than just "invest 3 IP to get the China Card".
 
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Jamie Pollock
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It goes something like this:

The USSR player cannot play Red Scare as an event until they've 'activated' China and receive the China card. I don't have the magazine so I can't confirm if there are any other points, but I'm not sure why people who have it, aren't talking about the variant rules in more detail...

My one concern over this variant is that it will result in the China card never being used. Investing 3 IPs to activate the China card is a big deal and in not doing so, you're also effectively preventing the USA player from having access to it.
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Josh
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Jambo wrote:
I don't have the magazine so I can't confirm if there are any other points, but I'm not sure why people who have it, aren't talking about the variant rules in more detail...
I wouldn't feel comfortable giving every last detail, as it's an intellectual property issue. If folks are that interested they should buy or read the latest issue of C3i.
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JoshBot wrote:
Jambo wrote:
I don't have the magazine so I can't confirm if there are any other points, but I'm not sure why people who have it, aren't talking about the variant rules in more detail...
I wouldn't feel comfortable giving every last detail, as it's an intellectual property issue. If folks are that interested they should buy or read the latest issue of C3i.

Couldn't have said it better myself.
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Jamie Pollock
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JoshBot wrote:
Jambo wrote:
I don't have the magazine so I can't confirm if there are any other points, but I'm not sure why people who have it, aren't talking about the variant rules in more detail...
I wouldn't feel comfortable giving every last detail, as it's an intellectual property issue. If folks are that interested they should buy or read the latest issue of C3i.

So if you met a friend and he asked you about it, you wouldn't tell them because it's intellectual property. lol.

I remember when the new Stone Age huts were announced as being part of the Spielbox Almanac, people posted and talked about the new content, rules and all... go figure.
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Troy Davis
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Fair enough. I actually thought that there might be some rules related to the Red Scare/Purge and other cards in relation to The China Card in the base game of Twilight Struggle! Thanks for the heads up!
 
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Baron von Doom
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Jambo wrote:
JoshBot wrote:
Jambo wrote:
I don't have the magazine so I can't confirm if there are any other points, but I'm not sure why people who have it, aren't talking about the variant rules in more detail...
I wouldn't feel comfortable giving every last detail, as it's an intellectual property issue. If folks are that interested they should buy or read the latest issue of C3i.

So if you met a friend and he asked you about it, you wouldn't tell them because it's intellectual property. lol.

I remember when the new Stone Age huts were announced as being part of the Spielbox Almanac, people posted and talked about the new content, rules and all... go figure.


Agreed.

Anyways, you buy the magazine for the component(s). (per the picture)


-BvD
 
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Jason Matthews
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Jambo wrote:
It goes something like this:

The USSR player cannot play Red Scare as an event until they've 'activated' China and receive the China card. I don't have the magazine so I can't confirm if there are any other points, but I'm not sure why people who have it, aren't talking about the variant rules in more detail...

My one concern over this variant is that it will result in the China card never being used. Investing 3 IPs to activate the China card is a big deal and in not doing so, you're also effectively preventing the USA player from having access to it.

A reasonable concern, but a lot of players are holding on to the China card these days anyway. So, I am not sure, even if your concern materializes, it would impact things that much . . . other than punnishing the Soviets a bit for doing so.

Jason
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michael dorazio
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I've only played once (as the Soviets) using this variant, so I don't have much experience with it ... but I held the china card the whole game. Didn't seem worth it at any particular time. More experience will tell though.
 
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Joel Hedlund
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The variant sounds like a good idea. Might I suggest not allowing play of Korean War and Vietnam Revolts in addition to Red Scare/Red Purge until the China Card is activated. Chinese cooperation was important to both wars and would encourage the Soviet player to pay the three IPs early.
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Tony Lam
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Right, actually, it does affect the Korea Card.
 
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Charles F.
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I sponsored the implementation of this optional rule in the wargameroom module. I consider it not only the ideal balancing measure, but also welcome the added strategic depth the rule brings to the table.

As the Soviet, I seek to get the China Card prior to Mid-War since Ussuri is such a nasty card I wish to mitigate. Should I lack the ops to pull it off in Early War, I aim to get it done in Mid-War. Only if the Ussuri threat recedes (i.e. I got to space it), do I relax a bit.

As for the frequency of China Card play, among experienced players, it doesn't get played much either. So not such a big difference there.
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