Twilight Struggle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Twilight Struggle
Twilight Struggle
Designer(s)Ananda Gupta
Jason Matthews
Illustrator(s)Viktor Csete
Rodger B. MacGowan
Guillaume Ries
Mark Simonitch
Publisher(s)GMT Games
Publication date2005
Setup time5–15 minutes
Playing time3 hours
Random chanceMedium (Dice, Cards)
Skill(s) requiredStrategy
Card Management

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...

Twilight Struggle was the highest-ranked game on BoardGameGeek from December 2010 to January 2016. As of August 2018, the board game occupies a fifth spot.[1] Being released in 2005 it is the oldest board game in the overall top 10 ranking.[2]


Board features[edit]

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'.

Victory conditions[edit]

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
  • If DEFCON degrades to one (i.e., thermonuclear war breaks out) during the opposing player's turn, irrespective of which player's actions "caused" this to occur.
  • If "Wargames" is played, and the phasing player has at least seven victory points.
  • If a player under influence of "Cuban Missile Crisis" coups any country, regardless of which player's turn it is, without first removing "influence" from certain countries.

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 three. If the USSR player has placed five 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 with the historical events organised into a vague timeline. 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 be played either 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 they already have influence or which is adjacent to a country in which they had influence at the start of the action round. They may place as many influence as is 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. The country need not be adjacent to any friendly influence. They add the result to the number on the card, deducts double the target country's stability number, and if the result is positive removes that many of their opponent's influence markers, and may even add influence of their own with any excess.
  • Attempt realignments – the player rolls a D6 and adds one for having more influence in the target country than the other player, one for each adjacent country controlled, and one if it is adjacent to their superpower, and deducts a similar roll made by the defending player. The difference between the die rolls, if positive, is removed from the losing player's influence, but the winning side may not add influence. They 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 they succeed in the conditions as specified on the Space Race track, they advance in the Space Race.

If the player chooses to play a card for the operations, they 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 they may play it either for the event or the operations. If it is favourable to the other player only, then they must use it for the operations, and the event will take place nevertheless, although they may choose which happens first. A card is placed in the 'discard pile' once used, other than certain event cards which are removed from play and placed in the 'burn pile'. When the deck runs out, the discard pile is shuffled and becomes the new deck.

Players cannot pass their action round. Under certain circumstances, a player may have the opportunity to make an additional action at the end of a turn, which they may pass if they wish. If a player has no cards remaining, their remaining action rounds are automatically passed.

Scoring Cards[edit]

Each region has a scoring card in the deck, which cannot be used for operations. When a scoring card is played, each player receives one victory point for each battleground country that they control in the region. They receive an additional victory point for each country that they control that is adjacent to the enemy superpower. Players may also get additional victory point bonuses:

  • Presence: player controls at least one country
  • Domination: player controls more battleground countries than their opponent, at least one non-battleground country, and more countries overall
  • Control: player controls all battleground countries in the region, and more countries overall

Europe, Asia and the Middle East scoring cards are in play from the start of the game, whereas Africa and South and Central America are not added to the deck until Mid-Game. There is also a single (one-off) scoring card for South-East Asia, which is shuffled into the deck at the start of Turn 4, corresponding roughly to the time of the Vietnam War.

Space Race[edit]

If a player uses a card to attempt to advance in the Space Race, the event on the card does not happen, making it a useful way of disposing of an opponent-favourable event.

Players may normally 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 not coup and realign in Europe unless the DEFCON is at five, while they remain possible in less stable regions such as Africa and Latin America at lower DEFCON). At the end of each turn, the DEFCON improves one level.

Military operations[edit]

Whenever a player attempts a coup or plays a war event (some of which, e.g. the Korean War, are one offs, whilst others may occur several times throughout the game, e.g., the Indo-Pakistan Wars or Arab-Israeli Wars until the Camp David Accord occurs), the operations number of that card 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 they lose 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 they lose two victory points. Provided each player conducts the same number of military operations—even if that number is zero—each turn the VP effect cancels itself out.

The Vietnam War and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan are portrayed slightly differently, as game events requiring the relevant player to discard a card each turn and take no other action, effectively paralysing them, until they successfully roll a die for it to end.

The China Card[edit]

All countries, even lesser world powers such as Britain and France, are shown 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.

The exception is China, which is not shown as a country to be controlled on the map, but rather as a card which starts in Soviet hands. 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, representing China tilting from one bloc to the other; 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[edit]

A game of Twilight Struggle requires players to choose between competing objectives, spreading their reach as far as possible to ensure access to key regions later in the game but often cutting losses and focussing elsewhere if the other player has the advantage. Throughout the game they must make decisions about timing, playing cards at an optimal time to minimise the damage from the opponent-favourable events of which each player can expect to be dealt roughly three or four in any given turn, or performing a coup first so that the other player cannot (e.g. because the DEFCON level is now too low).

Computer versions[edit]

Twilight Struggle has been emulated for computer by Vassal and WarGameRoom.[3] In April 2016, a paid version was released on Steam, which allowed players to play against others via an internet connection as well as, for the first time, against the computer.[4] The computer release was the result of a successful crowdfunding campaign.[5]


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."[6]

Board Games Land have described it as "an absolute masterpiece". It also mentioned that the game "captures the feeling of the cold war in a spectacular and thematically deep manner."[7]

The Thoughtful Gamer has described it as "an absolute masterpiece and one of the pinnacles of game design in any medium"[8]

Shut Up & Sit Down have summarised the board game as "the ultimate embodiment" describing the richness of historical events crammed into a three-hour gameplay.[9]

Vice Motherboard's Michael Gaynor called Twilight Struggle "the best board game ever created", but noted that the game may be too difficult to convince your friends to play it, citing dozens of pages of rules and strategy and playtime of up to six hours.[4]


Twilight Struggle has received numerous awards and nominations, the most notable are:


In 2012 GMT also published 1989: Dawn of Freedom, covering the collapse of the socialist regimes in Eastern Europe. The game system is very similar, with a "Tiananmen Square" track corresponding to Twilight Struggle's Space Race.

Other Similar Games[edit]

Compass Games published Europe in Turmoil: Prelude to the Great War in 2018. It uses the Twilight Struggle "game engine" and covers the struggle between "Liberal" and "Authoritarian" forces in Europe during the two decades prior to World War I. Instead of the track for the Space Race, it has one for the Naval Arms Race between Great Britain and Germany.[18]

Designer John Lapham web-published A More Perfect Union: The Struggle to Ratify the Constitution in 2012. It also uses the Twilight Struggle "game engine" and covers the struggle between the "Federalists" and "Antifederalists" during the effort to ratify the U.S. Constitution between 1787 and 1790. Instead of the track for the Space Race, it has one for the French Revolution.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Games sorted by rank". Retrieved 2018-08-05.
  2. ^ "Browse Board Games | BoardGameGeek". Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  3. ^;
  4. ^ a b Gaynor, Michael. "The Best Board Game Ever Created Is Finally Available on Steam". Motherboard. Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  5. ^ a b Hall, Charlie (2016-04-14). "One of the best board games ever made is now live on Steam". Polygon. Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  6. ^ Shlasinger, Zev (2007). "Twilight Struggle". In Lowder, James (ed.). Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Green Ronin Publishing. pp. 335–337. ISBN 978-1-932442-96-0.
  7. ^ "Best 2 Player Board Games (Reviewed Nov. 18) - Top 10 Tabletop Games". Board Games Land. 2018-10-19. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  8. ^ "Twilight Struggle Review - The Thoughtful Gamer". The Thoughtful Gamer. 2017-03-06. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  9. ^ "Review: Twilight Struggle » Shut Up & Sit Down". Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  10. ^ "Charles S. Roberts Award Winners (2005)". Archived from the original on 2010-01-17.
  11. ^ "2005 James F. Dunnigan Award Winner | Board Game Honor | BoardGameGeek". Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  12. ^ "Twilight Struggle". BoardGameGeek. Retrieved 2007-07-17.
  13. ^ a b "Best Boardgames of 2006". Archived from the original on 2012-07-07. Retrieved 2007-07-17.
  14. ^ "The Diana Jones Award 2006". The Diana Jones Award. Retrieved 2007-07-18.
  15. ^ "GMT Games". GMT Games. Archived from the original on 2009-08-31. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
  16. ^ "2011 Lucca Games Best Boardgame for Experts | Board Game Honor | BoardGameGeek". Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  17. ^ "2012 Ludoteca Ideale Winner | Board Game Honor | BoardGameGeek". Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  18. ^
  19. ^

External links[edit]