Twilight Struggle – Boardgame Review
Overall, I’d classify GMT’s components as good. Here are some details:
- Rules are well-written; however, some important errata and clarifications have come out since publication. Check the latest list on boardgamegeek before you play. Make sure the US starts with control of Australia and follow the definition for domination of a region found in the rules NOT on the player’s aid card.
- The folded, cardboard map of the world is sturdy, though it doesn’t hurt to use plexiglass to keep it flat for play. GMT allowed a couple of embarrassing typos to slip through, but there is nothing that interferes significantly with the game. It’s a point-to-point system, and keep in mind that not all countries that are intuitively adjacent are actually adjacent in the game. For example, you can’t get to Iraq from Syria without going through Jordan. The designers made conscious decisions to consider more than physical geography. While I don’t agree with all their decisions, I can live with them.
- The cards are adequate; though we would have paid more for a more durable finish. If you don’t mind playing with card protectors, that’s your best bet-our cards are rather beat up. I recommend putting the China card into a card protector with a distinctively-colored back, regardless of how you handle the rest of your cards. China is a special card that is never shuffled into the deck; it is exceptionally easy to do just that without some way to distinguish it.
- There are no armies or navies in this game. Most of the counters are simply red (with a hammer and sickle) or blue (with a star) influence markers in various denominations. Bright colors and simple icons mean the markers are easy on the eyes and do their job well. There are small counters to keep track of when key events occur; they are numbered to make identifying them easier.
- Adding control markers-such as red and blue wooden blocks from an old Risk game-makes it much easier to keep track of which player controls each country and speeds victory point calculations during scoring phases. There are other solutions-such as having a good memory or tracking it in a chart on the side-but we’ve found the control markers to be the most elegant.
- Though it should be simplistic, keeping track of how many actions each player has completed seems to be a constant struggle. It gets bothersome to fish through the discard pile to reconstruct the turn. Thus, we give each player a number of blocks equal to the number of action rounds and remove a block each time we play a card.
Twilight Struggle came out the same weekend as the Boardgame Player’s Association’s Winter Activation Meeting, where other card-driven games take center stage. Though it was not an event on the schedule, Twilight Struggle was the talk of the show, with plenty of demos and pick-up games. At Prezcon-a month later, the dealer sold out in the first few minutes he was open. I played the game three times there-including delaying my departure until late on Sunday to finish a game-and I wasn’t the only one who took the opportunity.
It’s not all good news. I’ve heard some complaints about the cards. For example, a Russian player familiar with the cards doesn’t place any influence in Romania, because Romanian abdication gives it to him or her for free. Also, the way the wars work often creates "gamey" effects. Thus, because a victorious Arab-Israeli War allows the Russians to replace all US influence in Israel, most US players place little influence there until after the event takes place. While I think there might have been better ways to simulate regional wars, I don’t think the designer’s choice is ruinous to gameplay.
There are many protestations about the power of the Late War deck. They can bring a close game to an abrupt end-Aldrich Ames allows the Soviet player to arrange the US player’s cards for the turn and War Games gives you an instant win if you are at least 7 points ahead. My philosophy, though, is that such power plays were characteristic of the historical period and are acceptable here.
By far the most noteworthy criticism about the game is that the Russians either win early or else the strong US cards that come out in Mid- and Late-War give the game to the Americans. In my experience, the criticism is not valid. While such outcomes happen-particularly with inexperienced players, good card management and heads-up play gives the game to the better player, with a bit of allowance for luck.
What this all comes down to is that I highly recommend Twilight Struggle. One of its strengths is that few other games deal with the subject, yet it is not important to remember pre-Glastnost years to enjoy the game. GMT’s new entry in the card-driven category is simply a lot of fun and gets better with repeated play against different opponents.
Armchair General Score 93%
Twilight Struggle at GMT Games.
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Kaarin Engelmann is a freelance writer and editor based in Springfield, Virginia. She serves on the board of directors for the Boardgame Players Association, which sponsors the World Boardgaming Championships, which takes place in Lancaster, PA, during the first week of August. Together with her husband, she has published three boardgames under the auspices of Engelmann Military Simulations.
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