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Subject: An Academic Gaming Journey, Episode 1: Twilight Struggle rss

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Simon AOEC
United States
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How to justify yet another Twilight Struggle review?

Well, it's the first entry in a series of reviews I'm planning. Over an indefinite period of time, I'm going to consider all of the games I love (and some I don't love) and evaluate them based on a new rating system I have devised. Since I normally play at a university games club, I thought an academic grading scale would be fitting. I don't yet know how the games will fare under my evaluations; I look forward to finding out.

I'm not going to be terribly thorough; most of my games are well-established enough that you can gain a basic knowledge of them elsewhere. My purpose is merely to share my thoughts in hopes that you might gain a new appreciation or understanding of how a particular game feels and whether it's right for you.

Now that the explanation is out of the way, let the journey begin!

Background:
I own the deluxe edition and have played about fifty times if you count solitaire.

Components: B (15% of grade)
The board is sturdy and coated. The board's arrangement is quite functional but looks somewhat cluttered thanks to an explosion of different colors and decorations. Perhaps these decorations enhance the flavor of the game, but I would prefer a bit more order. Not a big deal though. My bigger complaint is that the cards are rather thin and unprotected. My early war cards started to develop creases, and I had to buy sleeves. At least the card pictures provide plenty of historical flavor. The counters are thick and satisfying, except that my action round marker has been flipped and shifted so many times that the outer layers are wearing off. Also, a few more 6, 7, and 8 influence markers would have been nice; stacking is inconvenient.

Theme: A+ (10% of grade)
How can you beat a compact representation of the most memorable events of recent decades? I prefer bold, significant themes, and the Cold War definitely fits that category. The most important aspects of the war are all represented, and most event effects in the game are seamlessly integrated with history, although a few like Missile Envy are more abstract. My one minor complaint is that DEFCON usually stays at 2, which is fine for gameplay but historically inaccurate.

Accessibility: B- (10% of grade)
Here is Twilight Struggle's greatest flaw: finding a partner can be difficult. Most people don't have three hours to devote to a game, especially a game where you have to memorize the cards before you can reach full potential. I've often resorted to solitaire, which is fun-- training one's mind to "forget" information and play only one side at a time is an interesting challenge-- but not as fun as playing with someone else. The two-player restriction also limits social gaming possibilities. Don't let me scare you away though. TS is much less complicated than many of its GMT siblings, and so people like me who are not hardcore war gamers can still access and enjoy it. Maybe the Digital Edition will make finding players easier.

Balance: A (15% of grade)
I take the position that the game is balanced if you use the optional cards but not the Chinese Civil War. Surely it would also be balanced if you use only the Chinese Civil War, but when I tried that the China Card remained unused too often. But as long as the Americans receive just a small boost in the Early War, everything should be fine. At least, I've experienced a roughly 50/50 win ratio.
At times I've been bothered by randomness. Individual die rolls-- war cards especially-- and which player receives critical cards like De-Stalinization sometimes seem to have too much impact on the outcome of the game. In most games, however, this randomness balances out over time. For example, if you get a hand full of your opponent's events, he's likely to get a hand full of yours later. Now that I've learned how to manage risks better (coup when winning would be great rather than when losing would be disastrous, for example), I believe that the randomness makes TS exciting rather than frustrating.

Decisions: A+ (15% of grade)
In my opinion, a good game must present players with many rich and tempting options. A game in which players mechanically follow a single best course of action is boring. In Twilight Struggle, the entire world is begging for your attention every turn, but you can only be in a few places at once. You should plan how to manage your hand each turn, but then your opponent may make a surprising move forcing you to reevaluate everything. You will be forced to sacrifice some regions in order to focus on those you find more important, and importance constantly changes based on where the scoring cards are. Everything is fluid, and nothing is simple. The overall effect is absolutely beautiful.

Tension and Excitement: A+ (20% of grade)
To summarize: I feel like I'm actually a national leader during the Cold War. Uncertainty about my opponent's hand and plans, an ever-present race for prestige, and unthinkable yet possible nuclear annihilation recreate the paranoia and tension of the actual war. The outcome is often quite uncertain since various hand combinations can cause multiple rapid VP swings per game.
--Why does this category have the most weight? Because whether a game is fun is the most important factor in determining whether I want to play it.

Replayability: A+ (15% of grade)
It's a different game every time you play, depending on who gets what cards when. No expansion needed. Making custom cards and putting them into sleeves can be quite fun, though.

Final Grade: A
Twilight Struggle is my favorite game. It deserves its #1 spot on BGG. The designers have created unlimited depth of strategy in a relatively compact and streamlined form. TS may not be for beginners to gaming, but it is certainly a holy grail which every gamer can and should reach.

Episode 2: Dominion

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mateo jurasic
United States
Florida
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play online and you will find endless playing partners for TS. wargameroom.com.
also, online, it is routine to give USA a starting bonus of influence to place to balance the game (i forget how much, maybe 2-4?). thats with china and optional cards.


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Karl
United States
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Wisconsin
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"if you get a hand full of your opponent's events"

played for the first time last night. awesome game. but getting a hand full of USSR cards as the US was a HUGE turning point in the game. from there on out that i couldn't recover. probably possible to mitigate somewhat but for a first time play - nope.

great game and agree on a lot of your points
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Michael Kiefte
Canada
Dartmouth
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CorpseFX wrote:
"if you get a hand full of your opponent's events"

played for the first time last night. awesome game. but getting a hand full of USSR cards as the US was a HUGE turning point in the game. from there on out that i couldn't recover. probably possible to mitigate somewhat but for a first time play - nope.

great game and agree on a lot of your points

At some point while playing TS, you will learn what to do with a hand full of your opponent's cards. It's not as bad as it seems. The main advantage is that most of them will be purged from the deck for future turns. The secondary advantage is that you get to dictate the timing of your opponent's events which can render many of them useless (especially if you're the US as you get the last round).

The first thing I do when I look at my hand is to see how I can mitigate the negative effects of my opponent's cards. Then I look at which card I should be throwing at the Space Race. I've never seen or heard of a hand that is complete doom for either side (unless you've made some serious mistakes beforehand).
 
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Jack Smith
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CorpseFX wrote:
"if you get a hand full of your opponent's events"

played for the first time last night. awesome game. but getting a hand full of USSR cards as the US was a HUGE turning point in the game. from there on out that i couldn't recover. probably possible to mitigate somewhat but for a first time play - nope.

great game and agree on a lot of your points

In support of what Michael has said having a handful of your opponents cards can be beneficial. You get to time when they are played which can negate their benefit. You can also try and use the Ops the card generates to repair any damage. I often play my opponents cards rather than space race. It's an element of the game which can seem non intuitive but great fun once you get the hang of it.
 
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linh1987
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CorpseFX wrote:
"if you get a hand full of your opponent's events"

played for the first time last night. awesome game. but getting a hand full of USSR cards as the US was a HUGE turning point in the game. from there on out that i couldn't recover. probably possible to mitigate somewhat but for a first time play - nope.

great game and agree on a lot of your points
That's something you need to learn with time how to deal with. Just remember that if you get a hand full of opponent's events one of these two following will happen:
1. Your opponent will get a hand full of your events
2. You will get a hand full of your events.
They will happen, because there're only 1 deck of card , zero sum rule applies here.
 
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