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Old 10-12-2012, 06:41 AM   #1
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Default Twilight Struggle?

Hello all,

I recently heard about this game on BoardGameGeek. I'd seen it in stores a few years ago and I liked the premise, but I wasn't sure if it was worth picking up as an impulse buy and I never thought any more of it.

Then I heard that it has topped the BGG ratings tables. It's a 2 player game and my household is just me and my roommate, so I'm thinking now may be a good time to get it.

How have you found the game? Are the two sides fairly well balanced? How easy is it to pick up in the first place for two complete newcomers? How much of a role does luck (either in dice rolls or drawing cards) play in the game?

Thanks for any and all input.
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Old 10-19-2012, 06:06 PM   #2
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Default Re: Twilight Struggle?

Absolutely worth it. From my perspective it hits a very good balance between powers, alot of maneuvering and jockeying for power in regions to sustain your overall power base, and yet has a decent element of randomness (the universe plays dice in every war/conflict) thru the card driven system.

definitely pick it up if you find it for a reasonable price, then be prepared to spend quite a few weekends obsessed with friends trying to destroy you while you tinker with what you thought were good policy/political decisions.
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Old 10-20-2012, 08:19 AM   #3
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Default Re: Twilight Struggle?

It seems like there are several mechanics that work in... odd... ways. Perhaps they were mechanics that the creators had not initially intended, but decided were acceptable evolutions of the game direction.

1. The powers on most of the cards - even friendly or neutral cards - are generally less useful than the OPs. Most hostile card effects can be counteracted or neutralized just by playing the card for OPs.

2. The most dangerous cards in the game are typically the 1 OP hostile cards, because they are usually useless for Space Race.

3. Space Race is very rarely used. Even a bad card which could be burned for the Space Race would have to be really horrible in order to use it for that. The further you get along the Space Race, the more demanding the OP requirements are, and thus the more exclusive it becomes. The minor advantage in dodging a hostile card's power is usually not as great as the advantage of simply eating the power and then spending the OP to rebalance. The Space Race square that allows "two Space Race cards per turn" is actually a poison pill, because it means two turns with no OP activity on the board instead of one.

4. Realignments are not nearly as useful as Coups. On the first turn it behooves both sides to rush the DEFCON meter to 2 as soon as possible, and from then on it behooves the Soviets to keep it there forever, thus preventing the US from battlefield Coups, and encouraging a minor stream of VPs.

5. For Influence, the best cards are the ones that allow a scattering of 1- or 2- influence points in a number of regions regardless of connectivity. These are best played early in the turn so more conventional OP-based influence can build off that.

6. One of the worst possible handicaps is to be left without a chance to spend OP in an action phase. Allowing your enemy even two consecutive unbroken action phases is a huge disadvantage.

I get the impression that the designers of the game had a certain goal in mind and the process of the design resulted in unexpected mechanics surfacing, which reversed or negated some of those goals. I could be wrong though.

They admitted it was their first game design ever, and it shows - not necessarily in a bad way either. Just in a way that the game supports several ways of playing it which seem at odds with the apparent initial focus of the card powers and the various other pieces of the game board.

I have, needless to say, been playing the game obsessively the past week.

Last edited by SolemnGolem; 10-20-2012 at 08:26 AM.
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Old 10-26-2012, 08:44 AM   #4
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Default Re: Twilight Struggle?

My favorite game that i rarely get to play - it's hard to get 3 hrs for just a two player game. I so look forward to the iOS version of it that will eventually come out.

I find that Space Race is essential. You dump the best of your opponent's cards from your hand into it every turn so that it will not affect the rest of the board.

I find that the early part of the game favors the USSR, and if the USA player can survive, he can come back to win by the end of the game. But it's easy for the USA player to get caught up in his own agenda early and then have the early war scoring heavily against him.

Lots of things to balance out in playing the game - how can I minimize the effect of cards that I play that will help my opponent, should I use a card for influence or for the event, should I try to coup or realign or spend influence, where should i spend military operations so my opponent can't do so, how to minimize the scoring for my opponent when I have to play a scoring card that benefits him more than me, etc.

Here's a great teaching summary for the game. I think reading this gets you a good feel for how the game plays.

Last edited by paulfish1963; 10-26-2012 at 08:57 AM.
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Old 01-16-2013, 11:20 AM   #5
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Default Re: Twilight Struggle?

Originally Posted by paulfish1963 View Post
I find that the early part of the game favors the USSR, and if the USA player can survive, he can come back to win by the end of the game.
Yes, I find this to be the case as well. It seems like the USSR is a speed player, trying to tie up the game in the Early or Mid War as much as possible. By Late War, there are a host of really bad cards that will hollow out Eastern Europe if the Soviets aren't careful.

For those who like to go deeper, here is a strategy site dedicated to discussing the game. They just (as of Jan. 14) finished their analysis of all the cards.

Twilight Strategy

And finally, here are a couple of my own gaming group's houserules, mostly born of discussions about official rules ambiguities, with a few half-hearted attempts made to justify them:
  • If you play UN intervention for the event, you get to add its OP to the total. (We couldn't figure out why it would have an OP at all otherwise.)
  • Bear Trap and Quagmire expire automatically on the end of your turn. (Rules as written don't make this clear whether it "carries over" into next rounds.)
  • China counts as a full non-battleground country in Asia, and only the USSR can ever put or remove influence from it. Until China is "activated", the China card does not exist and has no in-game effect. (The optional China rule seems to be intended to hamper the USSR, but the majority of the optional cards introduced in the later edition seem to help the U.S., especially in the late game. Leaving China as a guaranteed non-battleground Soviet ally seemed like an interesting rebalancing for Asia Scoring and the Destalinization card.)
  • Any card that "cancels" a given card will also "prevent" it. So NORAD cannot be played as an event after Quagmire has been played.
  • Any card that allows a "free" coup or realignment may ignore DEFCON, but it also prevents that player from reducing DEFCON.

It's a fun game and it's clear the makers took a good amount of time in making it work. However, they admitted that it's their first attempt at making a game at all, and I think the ambiguity of the language shows this.

Last edited by SolemnGolem; 01-16-2013 at 11:37 AM.
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Old 10-10-2019, 08:00 AM   #6
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Default Re: Twilight Struggle?

Late bump, but thought I'd post it in case there's anybody still reading this.

The proper rules for the points I mentioned are:
  • UN Intervention, if used for the power, adds no OPs. In the unlikely event that you cannot or do not wish to use it for the power, it's a 1-OP card.
  • Bear Trap and Quagmire do indeed carry over across turns.
  • The "Chinese Civil War" square is used only for one variant of the game, which almost nobody ever plays.
  • Cancel/Prevent is still not clarified to date. In the digital implementation of the game by Playdek, some events do both despite the card saying only "cancel" (e.g. De Gaulle Leads France), and other cards only cancel but don't prevent (e.g. Quagmire).
  • "Free coups" ignore DEFCON and do not award Military Ops. But they do degrade DEFCON if they're done in a battleground state.
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Old 03-21-2021, 02:24 PM   #7
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Default Re: Twilight Struggle?

A few updates, including answering some questions of my own from nine (!) years ago.

How have you found the game?
Thematically it captures the paranoid brinksmanship very well. The powers of the cards are a good implementation of historical events in a zero-sum game. The luck aspect is higher than what I'm personally comfortable with in a game of this complexity and length (and investment), but it's a good game nonetheless. Some of the card designs appear to be quite oddly balanced, implying there's a legacy beta build in the current cards. I've had a fair bit of fun making custom cards too.

Are the two sides fairly well balanced?
Over the course of the game, the Soviets tend to get the first coup of each turn, which helps them. The Americans tend to get the last retort of each turn, creating a bit of a dilemma or a crisis for the Soviets to respond to. Card powers tilt towards the Soviets pushing a very aggressive early war, then to Americans regaining some momentum in mid war, and a very swingy late war.

How easy is it to pick up in the first place for two complete newcomers?
High complexity, expect to get many basic rules incorrect. Best to watch some Youtube walkthoughs, browse twilightstrategy, and check out reddit or other FAQ sites.

How much of a role does luck (either in dice rolls or drawing cards) play in the game?
Heavy. It's possible for the Soviets to draw cards that will assuredly kill them by the mid war regardless of their actions. The Americans also can get into a draft-suicide in late war. Both sides will depend regularly on input randomness (what cards have you drawn, what powers and OP points do they give you?) and output randomness (once you've decided what to do, you'll have to throw the die, and whether you succeed depends entirely on the die). Although the output randomness is more immediately frustrating (since its thwarting effect is immediately visible) I would say the card draft is actually more insidious. If you keep drawing 1s and 2s all game long, you can easily feel discouraged.

As with any game, the longterm solution to a "bad luck tilt" is to play many more games so you can see the results in the aggregate. Twilight Struggle, with its steep learning curve and very significant time commitment per game, does not make this easy. If you're the sort of player to get tilted at a row of bad luck experiences, you may find this game frustrating.

I am one such player (having played thousands of games against the AI as well as against live players) and I've started making custom cards to try to rebalance the game somewhat.

The game can also be played remotely and online. Playdek has an implementation (largely bug free, though some little ones remain) on Steam, and VASSAL has a freeware implementation.
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