Jason Carr
United States
Colorado Springs
Colorado
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
This is #6 in a series of reviews I am writing while downsizing my collection and attempting to learn what I love about boardgaming. I would love it if you would take a look at The Great (Game) Purge for more info.

I. Overview

Twilight Struggle. The big daddy of political card driven games. This one was a tough game to get to the table, but now that I managed I've played 6 games in about a month. Enough for me to decide to purge it or keep it.

This seemed an easy purge target, as I picked it up at a thrift store for $3, and figured 'eh, a war game?' I didn't think my wife would be interested. She's proven me wrong on that one.

Is it a war game? I don't know. I do know that Twilight Struggle is one of the most fun games I have ever played, and fully deserves the #1 spot on BGG. So much so, that I'm purging this one. What?! Read on.

II. Gameplay

I don't want to summarize the rulebook here, so I will just give the essence of play (which is very deep, so this will be a long 'short summary'):

Each player plays as either the USSR or US during the Cold War era (1945-1989). The players have a hand of cards, which are the engine that powers this game. The cards represent historical events from the early, middle, and late war, like Fidel Castro's rise to power, or Nixon's political maneuverings in China.

Players have influence in countries all over the map, divided into regions like the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and South America, as well as sub regions like Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe.

During the game, cards will be dealt that score these regions; players score points by controlling more countries (or controlling more strategically important countries) than their opponent. A neat rule is that scoring cards must be played by the end of a game round, so scoring becomes something that players can anticipate and plan. Players win by getting to 20 on the victory point track (which is like a timeline; points you score move the marker towards your side and away from your opponent), or by having the most points after 10 game turns.

On their turn, players play a card out of their hand, either for the event printed on the card, or the operations value on the top left of the card (ranging from 1-4). The catch (isn't there always one?) is that if you play a card for operations that has your opponent's event on it, then the event happens as well. For example, if the Soviet player played 'Marshall Plan', a US event, then they would also resolve the effect of the card (which is beneficial to the US player). This means that the order in which you play the cards is very important, in order to minimize the damage caused by your opponent's events in your hand.

There are lots of ways to deal with bad events. The simplest is a neat and thematic addition to the game - the space race. Each turn, each player can use one card's operations points on the space race and roll a die to see if they advance on the track. When a player uses a card like this, the event doesn't happen at all. The track represents the steps in the space race (Satellite, man in space, landing on the moon, etc). Each space confers either a benefit which lasts until your opponent gets to that same space (like 'now you can play two cards on the space race') or victory points.

Another way that players can deal with bad events is just to play them. Yes, that sounds odd, but it's true - most of the really nasty cards are removed from the game once they are resolved as an event, so getting them out of the way can be a huge benefit. Also, those cards often have high operations values which help your opponent if they stick around until the mid or late war.

There's a lot more to the game than simply card play - while new players seem to get hung up on the events on the cards, using a card for its operations is often a better choice. Players can use operations points to stage a coup in a country, realign a country through political maneuvers, or simply place more influence in a country. Some rules surround how these things happen and when and where they can happen, but nothing too complex. The strategy of when to do these actions is very deep. The basics can be learned quickly, but a master will see subtle possibilities lost to the novice player.

One last gameplay feature is the DEFCON track. I think most people rave about this feature, and rightfully so. As the game progresses, various events and military operations (like coups) can degrade DEFCON (5 means peace, 1 means nuclear war, not the other way around!). If DEFCON ever drops to 1, the game is immediately over and the player that degraded DEFCON loses. This is sometimes counter intuitive, so a quick example:

Say a US player plays 'Olympic Games' and DEFCON is at 2. Olympic Games allows the other player to choose to boycott or participate in the Olympics. If the Soviet player boycotts, the card stipulates that DEFCON degrades by 1. That would trigger a nuclear war. Common sense says that the Soviet player caused the nuclear war, and should lose, but that's wrong! The player that played the card (thus forcing the situation) loses, so it would be a very easy choice for the Soviet to degrade DEFCON and win.

This seems like a preposterous situation because the US player would never willingly play Olympic Games in this situation. But it can happen due to various events, and more importantly, it can happen if the US player is careless.

That sense of 'consequences' to the actions taken in earlier rounds is what makes the gameplay of Twilight Struggle really shine.

III. Components:

Quick note: Almost all my complaints are resolved in the Deluxe Edition, so don't take anything here too seriously.

I thrifted a Second Edition of the game, and was extremely unimpressed by the components. I am not a wargamer, mostly because I don't like the innumerable cardboard chips that float around a game board. Speaking of the game board, this one was bad. It doesn't lay flat! It's not mounted! It's just a piece of thin cardboard printed with a map on it. But after a lot of waiting, putting books on it, and bending it back, I managed to get it to lie flat.

The art is thematic enough, but very functional on cards and board. The cardstock is excellent (I hear that most GMT cards are nice like this) but I would still sleeve them (they take standard MTG size sleeves). Why? The early war cards get used a LOT more than the middle and late war cards, and that tends to show, even on the excellent card stock.

The counters work well, although they are fairly thin and obnoxiously easy to knock loose when you bump the table, or... breathe on them.

IV. Theme:

The Cold War is a perfect theme for a 2 player game. Twilight Struggle covers 44 years of the Cold War with events and player actions falling into line very well. This is a game where the theme and game are one, and the nuances of the Cold War appear in gameplay regularly. How should the US handle Cuba? Is Iran a worthy base of operations in the Middle East? What about the continual battling in Afghanistan?

If war doesn't appeal to you, you shouldn't immediately write off Twilight Struggle. Most of the game is political struggle, and very little actual fighting happens in the game. What does happen is abstracted out to a single die roll or card play. That said, the game is about conflict, so be aware.

V. What Do I Think About It?

Gameplay -
Components -
Theme -
Overall -

I expected to hate this game; despite the laudatory remarks on BGG, I just couldn't see past crappy components and textbook-like rules. Once I finally played it, I saw how wrong I was. So wrong. Once I realized my error, I talked my wife into a game and she loves it too.

I have heard a lot of people complain that the game depends too much on die rolls. I did not find this to be the case, but I only used a card for realignment or coups (the two main die rolls) when I was pretty sure I'd get the result I wanted (e.g. needing a 1-5 or 2-6 to succeed). Anything else seemed a waste, so I didn't do it. YMMV.

Likewise, I heard a lot about deck knowledge. Well, I can't speak to this fully, but my wife beat me on her second try after I had spent quite a bit of time studying the deck, especially the early war deck (and she beat me on turn 4, just one turn into the mid war). So it seems that while deck knowledge is very helpful (I cannot overstate this. Learn the deck if you want to be good.), it doesn't rule everything.

Once again, let me point out - the Deluxe Edition fixes the component issues that mar an otherwise excellent game. Seems the Deluxe Edition is the widely available version, so that shouldn't hinder people from grabbing a copy.

VI. Am I Keeping It, And Why?

No. I am replacing it with the Deluxe Edition (I've already sold my base game). So in a sense, this 'purge' is a lie, but I figured I'd share the facts as they are.

Highly recommended.
39 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Troy Creamer
United States
Arlington Heights
Illinois
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I feel like I have been tricked

I had a similar experience with this game. I sold it away because I had nobody to play it with me. Then purchased it back after I got a play in with a new gaming buddy who had it and absolutely feel in love with it. Probably in the top 3 games in my collection. Thanks for an interesting review and I totally agree the deluxe edition is a must have version.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jonathan Harrison
United States
Fisher
Illinois
flag msg tools
So long ...
badge
... and thanks for all the fish.
Avatar
mb
maudineormsby wrote:
This seemed an easy purge target, as I picked it up at a thrift store for $3, and figured 'eh, a war game?' I didn't think my wife would be interested. She's proven me wrong on that one.
If there's one trend I've noticed with Twilight Struggle, and that is borne out in my own home, it's that it's a very good 'wife game'. My own wife loves it. And I see statements to the same effect again and again in the forums here.

For whatever reason, and despite preconceptions or appearances, Twilight Struggle seems to be a very good spouse game.

As for die rolls, we stopped playing for a while because the results from our two dice were so consistently different. It sounds wacko, but it was true. And I've had this happen with at least one other GMT game (Wilderness War).

Now, we either (1) both always roll using the die of whichever side is currently ahead, or (2) grab a random die from my constantly accumulating Big Dish O' Dice. No more problems, and our plays haven't been screwed by one side's die rolling upper half three-quarters of the time, and vice versa.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Sam Carroll
United States
Urbana
Illinois
flag msg tools
Soli Deo Gloria!
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
HuginnGreiling wrote:
If there's one trend I've noticed with Twilight Struggle, and that is borne out in my own home, it's that it's a very good 'wife game'. My own wife loves it. And I see statements to the same effect again and again in the forums here.

I wouldn't say my wife loves it, but she likes it . . . particularly when she can rampage as the USSR. But she has to be in a particularly gamey mood to want to play this one - it's near the upper limit of her game weight/time tolerance.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jason Carr
United States
Colorado Springs
Colorado
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
spartax wrote:
HuginnGreiling wrote:
If there's one trend I've noticed with Twilight Struggle, and that is borne out in my own home, it's that it's a very good 'wife game'. My own wife loves it. And I see statements to the same effect again and again in the forums here.

I wouldn't say my wife loves it, but she likes it . . . particularly when she can rampage as the USSR. But she has to be in a particularly gamey mood to want to play this one - it's near the upper limit of her game weight/time tolerance.

It's near the upper limit for my wife too, but when she wins she's so gleeful that it makes up for the weight. Usually I have to coax her to play but when we start it's all good.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Williams
United States
Vista
CA
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
HuginnGreiling wrote:
This As for die rolls, we stopped playing for a while because the results from our two dice were so consistently different. It sounds wacko, but it was true.
I hate to do this, but yes it does.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim F
United Kingdom
Birmingham
West Midlands
flag msg tools
You know with Hitler? the more I learn about that guy, the more I don't care for him
badge
contrarian
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb

I'd pay $3 for it.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dan Vore
United States
Lebanon
Oregon
flag msg tools
Send me a trade offer!
badge
I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
This makes me want to play this game even more. It seems to be a hit among wives.. I hope mine will like it.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jonathan Harrison
United States
Fisher
Illinois
flag msg tools
So long ...
badge
... and thanks for all the fish.
Avatar
mb
The Old Man wrote:
HuginnGreiling wrote:
This As for die rolls, we stopped playing for a while because the results from our two dice were so consistently different. It sounds wacko, but it was true.
I hate to do this, but yes it does.
It's actually quite well known, particularly among roleplayers, and I'm not talking about dice voodoo and superstition, that cheap board game and wargame dice (i.e., not casino dice) are quite variable in their throws, consistent among particular dice.

In other words: there are most certainly bad dice if you're not playing with dice designed not to be bad.

A quick test for bad dice: take a particular die and "roll" it into a bucket of water repeatedly. If a particular number comes up disproportionately, your die is inadvertently, by mere manufacturing happenstance, weighted more one direction than another. The water amplifies the weighting process and allow the die room to gravitate quickly toward its predisposed position—it compresses a process that plays out over, say, a whole game of Twilight Struggle.

Bad dice are a well documented phenomenon. As long ago as #78, Dragon Magazine included the full text of a BASIC program to run a chi-squared test on the output of polyhedral rolls. See my last link for a modern way of doing the same sort of verification using freely available statistics packages.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls