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Rodger B. MacGowan
|Age range||13 and up|
|Setup time||5–15 minutes|
|Playing time||3 hours|
|Random chance||Medium (Dice, Cards)|
Twilight Struggle: The Cold War, 1945–1989 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 board is a map of the world, separated into six regions: Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Central America and South America. One player plays as the US and the other, as the USSR. Many countries are marked on the map and are connected by lines indicating their adjacency. The most important countries are marked as ‘battleground countries’. There is the ‘turn track’, denoting the current turn, a ‘victory point track’, denoting the current victory point status, the ‘DEFCON track’ denoting the current level of global stability from five (total peace) to one (thermonuclear war), the ‘space race track’, denoting how advanced each player is in the space race, the ‘action round track’, denoting how many cards are left to be played in the turn, and the ‘military operations track’, denoting how militaristic each player has been in the turn. The game is separated into ten turns which roughly cover the Cold War from 1945 to 1989. Turn One to Turn Three are the ‘Early War’, Turn Four to Turn Seven are the ‘Mid War’, and Turn Eight to Turn Ten are the ‘Late War’.
The victory point track ranges from +20 (US) to -20 (USSR), and starts on 0. As such, when the US receives one victory point, it can also be interpreted as the USSR losing one victory point, and vice versa. Throughout the game, a player can win by any of the following:
- Reaching 20 victory points
- “Controlling” Europe when Europe comes to be scored
- Causing the other player to degrade the DEFCON to one (i.e. cause thermonuclear war).
If neither player has won by the end of Turn Ten, each region is scored and this, coupled with the victory point track, determines the winner.
The main thrust of the game is in politically influencing the countries of the world to align with either the US or the USSR. The US places numbered blue tokens to indicate its influence, and the USSR places red tokens. Each country’s political stability is ranked from one to five. If one player has placed at least this many influence in the country more than the other player, then they are said to control it. For example, the stability of Iraq is two. If the USSR player has placed four influence in Iraq and the US, only two, then the USSR will control it.
The game is driven by cards, each of which depicts an event of the Cold War. Cards are split into three decks for the Early, Mid and Late Wars. At the start of Turn One, the Early War deck is used. At the start of Turn Four, the Mid War deck is shuffled in with the remaining Early War cards. At the start of Turn Eight, the late war deck is shuffled in. Players each have a hand of eight cards (nine from Turn Four onwards). At the start of each turn, they each pick a card to play as the "headline event". Then, they take it in turns in playing cards, with the USSR going first. This happens seven (or eight) times. Usually, each player will have one card left at the end of the turn. The next turn then starts and each player is dealt additional cards from the deck to bring their total up to eight (or nine). Each card has a star in the upper left corner. A white star indicates that it is a US-favourable event, a red star indicates that it is a USSR-favourable event, and a mixed star indicates that it could be either. There is a number from one to four in the star which indicates its strength. A card can either be played for the event or for its operations points. For example, the event “Fidel” allows USSR to place sufficient influence in Cuba to control it. Alternatively, to play it for the operations, the player takes the number in the upper left corner and conducts operations. The operations which can be played are:
- Place influence – the player places influence in any country in which she already has influence or which is adjacent to a country in which she does. She may place as many influence as are denoted by the number on the card. If the other player controls the country in question, each influence costs two instead of one
- Attempt a coup – the player declares the target of the coup and rolls a D6. She adds the result to the number on the card, doubles the target country’s stability, and subtracts one from the other. She may remove the opponent’s influence, and thereafter add her own to reflect the result.
- Attempt realignments – the player declares the target of realignment. Each player rolls a D6 and adds one for having more influence than the other player, one for controlling adjacent countries, and one if it is adjacent to their superpower. The difference between the die rolls are removed from the losing player’s influence. She may make as many realignment rolls as is indicated by the number on the card.
- Attempt to advance in the Space Race – the player rolls a D6 and, if she succeeds in the conditions as specified on the Space Race track, she advances in the Space Race.
If the player chooses the play the card for the operations, he or she must spend all of the points on one type of operation, and may not carry any over. If the event is favourable to the player (or to both players), then she must choose whether to play it for the event or the operations. If it is favourable to the other player only, then she must use it for the operations, but the event will take place nevertheless. The player may choose which happens first. If a card is used for the operations, it is placed in the ‘discard pile’. Some cards are removed from play if used as an event, in which case they are placed in the ‘burn pile’. Otherwise, they go in the discard pile. When the deck runs out, the discard pile is shuffled and becomes the new deck. Each region has a scoring card in the deck. When a player plays a scoring card, the region in question is scored. Based on the number of countries which each player controls and their combination, victory points are awarded (this is based on whether either player can be said to be ‘present in’, ‘dominating’ or ‘controlling’ the region). Scoring cards must be played in the turn in which they are dealt and cannot be used for operations.
Players cannot pass their turn.
If a player uses a card to attempt to advance in the Space Race, the event does not happen. As such, it is a useful way of disposing of an opponent-favourable event. Players may only use one card on the Space Race per turn. There are various rewards for reaching certain points on the Space Race (e.g. victory points).
Whenever a coup attempt is made on a battleground country, the DEFCON degrades one level. If the DEFCON reaches one, the player whose turn it is loses. Some events cause the DEFCON to change also. The DEFCON level sets restrictions on where players can attempt coups and realignments (e.g. players may only coup and realign in Europe when the DEFCON is at five). At the end of each turn, the DEFCON improves one level.
Whenever a player attempts a coup, the operations number of the card that they used will be added to their military operations track (to a maximum of five). At the end of each turn, if a player’s military operations does not equal or exceed the DEFCON level, then she loses the difference in victory points. For example, if the US player is at one on the military operations track, and the DEFCON is at three at the end of the turn, then she loses two victory points.
The China Card
The USSR starts the game with the China Card. It can be used as a normal card for four operations, or five if it is used solely in Asia. When it is played, it passes to the other player face down and unavailable for use. At the start of the next turn, that player turns it face up and can use it. At the end of Turn Ten, the player who holds the China Card receives a victory point.
General game dynamics
The major elements of Twilight Struggle include:
- Managing crises – in any given turn, each player can expect to be dealt roughly three or four opponent-favourable events. They must plan their actions in order to minimise the damage that they will cause.
- Managing resources – each player will invariably have many priorities and only limited options available
- Timing – decisions throughout the game may depend on doing something first, such as performing a coup so that the other player cannot
- Cutting one’s losses – often, players will be faced with a choice between committing resources to a particular objective, or realising that the other player has the advantage and so focussing elsewhere
- Deck management – it is useful to keep cards that might help you later in the deck and not removed from play. Similarly, some cards are less damaging now than later, so one might want to trigger them early on
- Board position – both players will want to spread their reach as far as possible so as to ensure access to key regions later in the game
Zev Shlasinger comments that "Twilight Struggle gives you a compact history lesson about the Cold War, nicely encapsulating the struggle between the two superpowers and those caught (accidentally or not) between them. Coupled with that is the game's accessibility and the design's cleverness, all of which make Twilight Struggle stand out among the crowd of recent political wargame releases."
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.
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