And now for something completely different - a Twilight Struggle review
Hello everybody, time has come for the first topic that is only loosely related to Flames of War (or rather Team Yankee). Today, I will be sharing some thoughts around a boardgame that myself and my wife purchased a few months ago: Twilight Struggle. The reason I selected this topic is that I think this game is perfect for any Team Yankee fans who still do not have the models or an opponent to play against but want to have a taste of this Cold War era fun. It functions on a different detail level than BF's miniature game for sure, but is still a great opportunity to get a better understanding of the events happening between 1945 and 1989. In this short article I will say a few words about the two main aspects of the game: theme & mechanics and try to convince some of the readers to maybe give Twilight Struggle a try.
The good news is that in this game you are on of the two most important persons in the world. The bad news is that your opponent is the other :) In Twilight Struggle one of the players assumes leadership of USA while the other of USSR - the two major powers in the Cold War era. This means you will be fighting on a really high, strategic level. This is also why the board is actually a huge map of the world, divided into several regions. Influencing these regions is the key objective of the players and drives a big part of the scoring system in Twilight Struggle. The game thus feels like a gigantic tug of war in which balance shifts from one side to the other, based on what is going on in the world.
Another part of the theme is built by event cards that contain a game effect that is also related to a historical fact which are distributed to the heads of each faction . These cards really help to build this massive immersion feeling that is prevalent throughout the game by giving good explanations of what kind of influence a given event would have in terms of the game mechanics.
Finally, there is the space race track, which represents achievements of each superpowers in rocket science and relates the historical clash between NASA and its Soviet counterpart.
All of these build a great feeling of a clash of titans and really add to the replayability of the game.
The game could be described as a card-driven area influence war game. Like I mentioned before, the main objective of the game is to gain points by influencing certain regions. These points however, are not a standard allotment per each turn. Instead, each player is dealt a hand of cards which comprise of two main sections: a star of a US (white) or Soviet (red) color, containing the number of influence points it grants and an event (helpful to the corresponding superpower). If you are dealt your faction's card, then you can play it for either influence points or the event. However, when you get your opponent's superpower card, you can only play it for points but also the text is triggered automatically. The combination of these two factors makes for a surprisingly good mechanic that forces the player to balance and mitigate risks by playing cards in the right sequence at the right time. Another type of cards are Culmination events which target a given region and force a calculation of influence each player has in it. Based on defined criteria, victory points are added on the victory track for the superpower that is either present in the region or is dominating/controlling it.
This main mechanic of the game is also combined with a lot of other rules that define how the game is played. There are, however a few main ones that affect it:
- coups which by spending all points on a card let you roll a die and if the roll went well decrease the other superpower's influence in the targeted country and/or increase our own
- alignment change which allows for a roll to decrease the opponent's influence per each point spent from the card. Downside is that you cannot build your own influence if you succeed
- space race track which represents each superpower's advances in rocket science but in game terms serves more as a way to get rid of really punishing cards (as you use cards to get a chance to advance in the race) and sometimes as a way to get one or two extra victory points
With so many subtleties, Twilight Struggle makes for a very interesting and challenging game. Really, there are so many options you can choose from that players become vulnerable to analysis paralysis :)
Now that you have gone through this lengthy article I have to say that my approach towards the game is a bit of love and hate at the same time. The theme is great, it relates to the Team Yankee setting, lets you play god (or one of the two gods :) ) and teaches you history. Also, the mechanic is intricate and has a lot of twists. However, there is one thing that really pisses me off about this game: for a big time investment (2-3 hours per game), it has a lot of randomness to it. A lot of the game depends on the cards you are dealt and how successful are you with your rolls. Of course you will be able to manage most of the risks but in some of the games you will have the bitter feeling that you did everything right but still lost the game. But for a veteran wargamer this is nothing new, correct?
My final verdict though is: you should give the game a try. 99% chance that you are going to like it, despite its possible shortcomings. Sexy Sixes approved! :)