|Age range||13 and up|
|Setup time||5–15 minutes|
|Playing time||3 hours|
|Random chance||Medium (Dice, Cards)|
Twilight Struggle is a card-driven strategy game for two players, with its theme taken from the Cold War. One player plays the United States (US), and the other plays the Soviet Union (USSR). The game takes its title from John F. Kennedy's inaugural address:
"Now the trumpet summons us again, not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are – but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle..."
The victory point system in Twilight Struggle uses only one victory point track and one victory point marker for both the US and the USSR. The track extends from -20 (complete USSR victory) to 20 (complete US victory), and the victory point marker starts in the middle at 0. The goal for each player is to have the victory point marker reach their extreme on the track or by having the victory point marker on their side of the track (negative for USSR, positive for US) at the end of the ten turns. A player can also win the game by having control of Europe when the Europe scoring card is played. Additionally, either player can also lose the game by having a nuclear war start during their phase.
The 103 cards (the Deluxe Third edition expanded the deck to 110 cards) in the game have two main features, events and an operation points value. Each card can generally only be played for one or the other effect, not both; a player is required to play at least one event (the "Headline Event") each turn. The operation points value allows the player to either place influence in one or more countries, attempt a coup in a country, attempt to realign the status of a country, or advance the Superpower's position in the Space Race. The events represent a specific historical event such as the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Berlin Blockade, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, or might stand for a more general situation such as a nuclear test ban, anti-war protests, or a dominant performance at the Olympic Games.
Events will help either the USA or the USSR, or in some cases both. Unlike many other card-driven games, if a player plays a card (for operations) with an event associated with the opponent for anything other than the space race (the latter is a deliberate "safety valve" to allow a player to dispose of a card whose event he does not want to trigger), the event occurs for the other superpower, so a player may be forced to help his opponent in order to help himself. By contrast, only if a card shows an event favouring the phasing player (or favouring either player) does he have a free choice as to whether to trigger the event or play for the operations points.
The cards in the game are separated into three categories: Early, Middle, and Late War. Only Early War cards are dealt out in the first few turns, later on the Middle and then the Late cards are shuffled into the draw pile. This organizes the historical events into a general timeline, so that the US-Japan Mutual Defense Pact is likely to happen several turns before the Cuban Missile Crisis, which usually happens before Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech, but the specific order will vary from game to game. Sometimes even these general timelines will change, because players may use an Early War card as operations instead of as an event, only to have the card resurface (most cards recycle through the deck after play) late in the game.
Influence is used to align countries to favor one Superpower or the other. Each country has a number that represents the country's stability, and a player must have this many more influence points in the country to control it. For example, India has a stability of 3, so if the USA player has 2 influence points and the USSR has 5, the USSR controls India, but if the numbers were 2 and 4, the difference would be less than 3 and neither player would control India. Influence may only be placed in or adjacent to countries in which a player had influence at the start of the action round (the "domino theory" in action), and costs double to place in a country already controlled by the enemy player. A country with a high stability number is also less vulnerable to coups (see below).
Coups and realignments serve to reduce the opponent's influence in an area. A realignment roll allows a player to roll to reduce enemy influence in states, and is more likely to succeed if the friendly player has influence in the state in question, or controls adjacent states, or if the state is adjacent to a superpower. Coups (for which a player must add the value of the card he has just played to a die roll and deduct double the stability number of the target country: the resulting total is the number of enemy influence points which he removes, and any excess is used to place influence points of his own) are usually more effective, and may enable a player to regain a foothold in a continent where his opponent is threatening to gain complete domination, as they need not take place in or adjacent to a country where the player has influence already, and a very successful coup may enable the player to place influence of his own. However, supporting a coup in certain key "battleground" states will increase nuclear tensions and lower the DEFCON level by 1.
Both players must also keep a watch on the DEFCON level, which will be lowered by coups and certain events (e.g., wars). Should a play be made that drops DEFCON to 1, it ends the game with a nuclear release, with the player whose phase it is (not necessarily the player who causes DEFCON to drop, even if that player has an element of choice as to whether to do so) losing the game - under very rare circumstances a player may therefore "win" the game by starting a nuclear war during his opponent's phase. As DEFCON drops, coups and realignments are forbidden in certain parts of the map - they will become unlikely in Europe (and indeed are also restricted in Europe after the setting-up of NATO) and Asia, for example, while still remaining possible in less stable regions such as Africa and Latin America. DEFCON automatically improves by 1 at the end of each turn, so will naturally rise back to 5 if neither player does anything to reduce it.
A final twist is that each player is required to conduct a certain number of "military operations" each turn, equal to the DEFCON level, or else forfeit VPs (but provided each player conducts the same number of military operations - even if that number is zero - each turn the VP effect by definition cancels itself out). This can be satisfied by playing war events (some of which, e.g. the Korean War, are one offs, and some of which may occur several times throughout the game, e.g., the Indo-Pakistan Wars or Arab-Israeli Wars until the Camp David Accord occurs) if he has any in his hand, but the extra must be made up by coups. The Vietnam War is portrayed slightly differently, as a game event requiring the US player to discard a card each turn, effectively paralysing him, until he successfully rolls a die for it to end - a similar card portrays the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.
The game is strictly for two players, with all other countries being shown firmly as satellites of one or other superpower, or else uncontrolled. The game's Designer Notes explain that this represents the internal logic of the Cold War mentality, even when that logic is now known to be flawed, in order to put the players in the mindset of the historical participants. This applies even to lesser world powers such as Britain and France, for example the idiosyncratic foreign policy of General Charles de Gaulle is shown simply as a card event increasing Soviet influence in France. The only exception is China, which is not shown as a country to be controlled on the map, but rather as a card, with a high Ops value (and an added bonus if used solely in Asia). The China card is not drawn normally, but starts in Soviet hands, and after use by either player is passed to the other player for use in subsequent turns, representing China tilting from one bloc to the other. A player also receives a VP for holding the China card at the end of the game. (The 2011 Deluxe Third edition introduced rules whereby China must first be influenced and controlled by the Soviets like other countries on the board before the China card is awarded to them ready to use.)
Having enough influence to control a country does not instantly score VP, but contributes toward points scored for "presence", "domination" (control of a majority of states and a majority of battleground states), or "control" (control of a majority of states and all battleground states) of an entire region (Middle East, Central America, Europe, etc.), which will score VP when that region's scoring card is played - a region's scoring card may be drawn and played several times throughout the game. During scoring, additional points are also scored for the number of battleground states controlled in the relevant region, and further points for states adjacent to the enemy superpower (making Afghanistan, North Korea, Japan, Poland, Finland, Romania, Canada, Cuba and Mexico of key importance). Control of Europe during a scoring causes the relevant player to win the game outright. There is also a single (one-off) scoring card for South-East Asia, which will most likely be drawn some time in the mid-game, corresponding to the time of the real Vietnam War. Advancing along the Space Race towards a Moon Landing will also periodically score VP. Some events will also score VP.
The opening turns will generally see a great deal of jockeying for position in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, spreading to other regions such as Africa and South and Central America in later decades - the scoring cards for the latter regions do not appear until the Mid War Deck is added. The game generally shows a slight tilt to the USSR in the early turns, as events in Asia will generally lead to an expansion of Soviet influence in that region. Late War events, such as Chernobyl (preventing the Soviets deploying extra influence to a given region, usually Europe, that turn), the Iron Lady (reducing Soviet influence in western Europe), "Tear Down This Wall", and Solidarity, help the USA to expand her influence in Europe, especially the key battleground state of Poland, and the unrest in Soviet-aligned Eastern Europe becomes more severe as well. This is counterbalanced by a few powerful events, most notably the espionage of Aldrich Ames, for the USSR.
Twilight Struggle won the 2005 Charles S. Roberts award for Best Modern Era boardgame, and the 2006 International Gamers Award for Best Wargame and Best 2 Player Game. It was the first game ever to win two International Gamers Awards. Twilight Struggle also received a 2006 nomination for the Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming. In 2007, the game received a nomination from Games Magazine for Best Historical Simulation.
GMT also published 1989, covering the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, in 2012. The game system is very similar, with a "Tiananmen Square" track corresponding to Twilight Struggle's Space Race.
- Tabletop game
- Tactical wargame
- Government simulation game
- Cold War
- Timeline of events in the Cold War
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