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Subject: Yet Another Overwhelmingly Positive Twilight Struggle Review rss

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Mark L
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Twilight Struggle is a 2-player board game depicting the 45-year long Cold War, with one side playing the USA and one side playing the USSR. It is a reasonably light wargame, for its standards, but a light wargame to the rest of us still means a complex brain-burner. The game, after all that, still should take less than 3 hours to complete, although given the extreme amount of AP (analysis paralysis) one might be subject to, a first game between two new players could take about 5-6 hours.

The components of Twilight Struggle (Deluxe Edition) are decent and functional. I find the game board very nice to look at and very clear for the purposes of playing the game. Everything is nicely colour-coded according to region as well as clearly indicating the differences between Battleground and Non-Battleground countries (more on this later). The game board also finds the space to indicate scoring, sequence of play as well as appropriate areas to calculate VP, turns and other such tracks. It's just nice to look at in general. Here's a picture for you guys:



Besides the board, you'll find that everything else isn't anything to shout about. Just double-sided cardboard with numbers printed on them to show how much Influence each superpower has over the countries, cards, and dice. Oh well, I can live with it. If I really wanted bling-bling I'd buy another Fantasy Flight game. Special mention must be given to the rulebook though, which besides writing out the rules very clearly in a point-by-point format with cross-referencing (literally 1.1, 1.1.1, etcetc), also takes the trouble to give you a few turns of an example playthrough in a Twilight Struggle tournament final (these things exist) as well as histories for every single card. It's a rulebook for the history geek.

Despite the apparently complicated rules, the goal of the game is pretty simple. Both sides, through playing various cards, try to spread their influence all over the world, trying to control as many countries and hence as many regions as possible. If one side manages to control enough of the world to achieve 20 VPs at any point of the game, he or she is the winner. Otherwise there is a Final Scoring after 10 turns, at which point whoever has the more VPs wins the game. There are other rarer ways to win, including controlling Europe as well as forcing your opponent to start nuclear war.

Every turn consists of the player receiving enough cards to fill his hand to 7 or 8, depending on which stage of the Cold War it is. Players then take turns to play cards from their hands. Cards are split into US and USSR events, both of which players can draw into their hands regardless of which side you are playing. "Friendly" events can either be played for Operations or for the Event, which is basically following directions on the card. "Enemy" events, however, can only be played for Operations and it will trigger the Event anyway, although the player can choose whether to have the Event or the Operations occur first.

Operation Points may be used directly for influence or two special actions, realignments and coups. Realignments are more peaceful ways to get rid of opponent influence in a country or two, but there is a risk because you might end up reducing your own influence on a poor roll. Coups are risk-free and contribute to a player's Required Military Operations per turn, but reduce DEFCON when done in certain "battleground" countries, which leads to restrictions on where realignments and coups can take place and can also lead to nuclear war, which is not a good thing.

Ok, facts over.

The beauty of this game lies in how a player can use effective hand management to partially negate the bad effects of your opponent's Event cards. On first glance the game might seem to be about how many of your own Events you draw into your hand, however after a while one realises that being able to control when your opponent's cards take effect is extremely powerful. The ability to play one card in your hand per turn on the SPACE RACE also helps you to play around your opponent's Events, as playing cards onto the Space Race does not trigger the Event text.



Sample cards.

Furthermore, regions are not scored "automatically" (except at the end of Turn 10) but only when Scoring cards are played. So while you know that scoring is going to happen eventually, at least it gives the player taking a beating a period of time to recover and try and mitigate the damage done to his VPs. If you are (un)lucky enough to receive the Scoring card in question, at least you can try and spend your other cards to try and make a recovery before you are forced to play the Scoring card. All this leads to a really exciting game where both sides go back and forth trying to wrestle control of the board. Gripping stuff.



Theme overflow alert.

Twilight Struggle is the most thematic game I own. Anyone who knows a bit about the Cold War will immediately get the fantastic depiction of major events as they unfold. Sometimes you even feel like you are actually reliving the experience as you do a dance over Cuba, trap the USA in the Vietnam War and call on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Cards are split into Early War, Mid War and Late War so Events occur in roughly the same order as they did in real life, although one can of course play around this. Add the constant threat of nuclear war, forcing you to use brinkmanship but careful not to go overboard, and you have an extremely thematic game. If you like the Cold War, that is.

Twilight Struggle is of course not for the faint-hearted. It's even a bit like Chess in the sense that every decision you make can have long-term effects on the game, even several turns from the decision point. The combination of short-term tactics with long-term strategy is top-notch. There are so many things to keep track of that it can be a bit overwhelming to the new player, but you will learn. And you will find that the game makes sense. Again, like Chess, you don't expect a new player to win an experienced player at first, but the talented player will catch up fast, After both sides have played about 5 times the nuances of the game start to shine through and you'll start to ask questions like "Does he have Blockade?" "Should I concede Europe and go after Asia?" "Should I take a risk with this Headline when it might cause Nuclear War?".

Such an intense, intense game. A true brain-burner but one with huge, huge rewards. The card-driven mechanic makes for a very immersive, unique and variable experience. This variability also lends the game a very high replay value.

Play the game. Really.

10/10 (if you know the Cold War)
8/10 (if you don't know the Cold War but like strategy games)
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Stuart Poll
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Nice enthusiastic review. Your love of Twilight Struggle really shines through and this in itself should be a recomendation to those who do not already own this fantastic game.
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Curt Carpenter
United States
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markino wrote:
It's even a bit like Chess in the sense that every decision you make can have long-term effects on the game, even several turns from the decision point.

But it's not like chess in that since the opponent's cards are hidden, you have no idea what cards they may play on their turn, and thus can't plan several turns from the decision point.

Yes, I know I'm in the minority with my lack of love for this game. I bought it, but sold it. Thank goodness it was out of print for a while.
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Mark Riley
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Good review (and Spurs 3 QPR 1 is a good result)
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Alex Brown
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curtc wrote:
markino wrote:
It's even a bit like Chess in the sense that every decision you make can have long-term effects on the game, even several turns from the decision point.

But it's not like chess in that since the opponent's cards are hidden, you have no idea what cards they may play on their turn, and thus can't plan several turns from the decision point.

Yes, I know I'm in the minority with my lack of love for this game. I bought it, but sold it. Thank goodness it was out of print for a while.


You're being frivolous. Of course you can plan; you just need to know a bit about the decks. A mark of expert play is being able to manipulate the decks for redraws by removing dangerous events earlier.

I sold my copy too (I couldn't get it on the table and a friend has a copy), but I'm not sure what a reasonable objection to this game is. It is a wonder of design and thematic integration.
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