Twilight Struggle

Twilight Struggle, The Cold War, 1945 - 1989
Twilight Struggle, The Cold War, 1945 - 1989

This Review coincides with video review.The video covers a very brief overview of game play and touches on my experience withTwilight Struggle so far. This review continues on with my thoughts on this wonderful game.

Twilight struggle was a game that I was unsure about for a long time. Why? Well for many reasons:

* The theme: I knew very little about the Cold War and the time period represented in the game. I was born in 1984, live in Australia, and was never educated about the Cold War. Aside from knowing that the Cold War took place, I didn’t know the how, where, why or when.

* The Rules: TS seemed overwhelming, I wasn’t sure that I was experienced enough in gaming to (A) learn the game, and (B) teach the game to an opponent.

* The playtime of up to 3 hours: If a game exceeds 2hrs, I often lose interest. No other game I own has a playtime of up to 3 hrs, for this reason I am always hesitant to play such games, let alone purchase them. So I was not sure if Twilight Struggle was a game for me!

So what lead me to actually purchase TS?

I have found that good 2 player games are value for money because they get played repeatedly. I attend a monthly gaming club where I play many 3-6 player games, of course there is the odd group meet in between these club meets. Before I attend the monthly club meetings my best mate and I meet up for long periods of time to play 2 player games such asMemoir 44, Neuroshima Hex and Mr. Jack.

Twilight struggle is the only game currently in the top 10 here on BGG that is strictly a 2 player game. So while I was reluctant to purchase this game, its ranking definitely caught my attention! Nevertheless, I was still unsure if I would find it suitable so I decided to begin with something lighter first to gauge my reaction; 1960: The Making of the President. At the time, this game was cheaper. Additionally, the playtime was less intense and the game met my 2 player criteria. Though I was also clueless in respect to the theme, I felt confident that if I enjoyed this game I would enjoy Twighlight Struggle, as both share a designer. Long Story short…we loved 1960 so Twilight Struggle joined my collection.

Twilight Struggle board
Twilight Struggle board

Learning the Game

I learnt the rules leisurely; my girlfriend often kicks me out of the house to see clients so this rulebook was a great companion on many of these occasions and on work breaks. It is worth noting that the rulebook is written in point format, a format that I am unused to, however my reference to this is not a measure of its readability just an interesting aside. The rulebook is partly printed in colour, is written extremely well, and utilises examples. I especially appreciated the repetition of rules in the different parts of the rulebook as it helps the reader to understand how one element of game play may affect another element of game play. For example, element (a) may have an intricate rule that effects element (b). The intricate rule is repeated in both sections (a) & (b) to ensure that the players not only play the game correctly but are aware of the potentially significant repercussions related to the intricate rule.

Although the rulebook is comprehensive and clearly written, there’s a lot to absorb. Inconsequential rules mistakes were made during our first game i.e., we were removing * cardthat had events triggered. During our second game, rules-related questions were also raised, but they did not impact on the flow of the game. e.g., does the space race’s benefits come in to effect immediately or in you’re next turn?, the rulebook itself was a great aid as it took minimal time to locate answers. In any case, delays are to be expected in your first few games and the delays we encountered were too insignificant to impact on game enjoyment.

What I liked: (download the rulebook; basically I liked pages 1-32):whistle:

Twilight Struggle places you in a time of uncertainty. I felt like I was transported back to this period (1945 -1989) and had a real sense that the decisions I was making as a player were shaping the world that we live in today.

The theme, history of the events on the cards, and the mechanics all combine to create an incredible tone; you and others are stakeholders in the world! Conceivably, even before the first card is dealt there is a lot of tension, but this is that great kind of tension that enhances a game as it makes each decision seem more meaningful and momentous.

Sounding a bit lame here but hey, I feel I am amongst friends… this is one classy game! It is aesthetically very pleasing e.g., the map of the world, the pics on the cards. More so, there is something about the political genre and the use of history that makes this game so sophisticated and engaging.

I was also pleased with the headline phase. It sets the scene before the turn begins and can give you a bit of insight into your opponent’s intentions for subsequent phase.

Game cards are pivotal to the game mechanics
Game cards are pivotal to the game mechanics

I also liked that events were triggered when I played my opponents cards for the Op’s points. I often had to use my Op’s points wisely just to prevent the disaster on a particular card. I also had to manage my hand carefully and decide which card to “discard” to the space race, perhaps to avoid it’s devastation. I would say that this is part of reason that i take pleasure in this game despite its lengthy playtime, as I still feel involved in the game during downtime. I used downtime to run-through my cards, deliberate my next course of action and at times my opponent will have played a card from his hand of considerable benefit to myself, i was always as interested in my opponents decisions as much as my own.

Scoring cards: I’ve not seen anything quite like this before and I’m surprised more games haven’t attempted to replicate this. The scoring card is both an asset and a potential liability. It instils in the player the feeling of having an advantage or more simply “I know something you don’t know.” However, it’s clout and mastery requires manipulating the strategic information and uncovering asymmetric information (information is asymmetric when different players know or believe different things about a situation.). To illustrate, a player who loads up influence in the one region may betray that he has the scoring card, and a player who doesn’t prevent another player from loading up in the one region may have an entirely different agenda or perhaps a scoring card of his own. The magic behind the game is to try and obtain as much of your opponent’s strategic information or intentions as possible whilst also discreetly representing your own.

Twilight Struggle, The Cold War, 1945 - 1989Managing the Coups and defcon status can be likened to an art form; my opponent discovered that this was a nice toy to play with before I did. He basically beat me out of Europe early on, I wasn’t too concerned with this because I was confident my strategy would hold up and I would just manage Europe later. Before I knew it he controlled Europe, and then I realised my strategy was at least a few more turns off being executed and I couldn’t get more influence into Europe. He had locked me out of Europe by doing a coup attempt in a battleground country and therefore reducing the Defcon status down from peace. Just spreading influence wasn’t going to do anything to help me in Europe at that point in time. A mistake I learnt from.

The space race I think is interesting, I haven’t quite figured out a strategy that is built around this element of the game, however, I think all strategies can benefit from it.

The rulebook also gives detailed information into the history of both the Cold war and the events on the cards. This for me was great, I’ve now Googled a number of events and have spoken to my father (65y/o) numerous times regarding events and the period depicted in the game.

This is a game with plenty of choices to make in every turn and strategy plays the biggest part, luck and tactical play are present in the game but without a goal in mind to work towards your chances of success are quite slim.

The replay value will not be like other 2 player games I own though. This probably will get played 9-12 times a year mainly becuase it’s time-consuming to teach new players and its play time. I found it important to reserve time to play this game, and to play in a comfortable distraction-free location.

A game of Twilight Struggle leaves a lasting impression, I am still thinking about my last game, what went wrong tactically and other approaches I could have taken. Though I haven’t won a game yet, it won’t stop me from trying and doesn’t prevent my enjoyment of the game.

I consider learning and playing Twilight Struggle a big milestone as it was something I set out to do thinking it was unachievable for me, but I was able to do it!

This is obviously my early impressions of the game; I have only scratched the surface of a very deep game. But I hope to review the game again in a year.

Thank you all for reading and do take a look at my video review in my You Tube channel.

James McKane

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