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Review of Twilight Struggle
Ed. Note: This review was first written and published by Wes Nott 

What is Twilight Struggle you ask?

It is a card driven game (CDG) about the Cold War from approximately 1945-1989. The game is 2 player with the sides being the USA and USSR (as one would suspect).

What you're trying to do is vie for influence in various regions of the world (Europe, South America, Asia, The Middle East, Africa, Central America).

At certain times you'll score victory points based on what your superpower controls in a particular region. You can win in a few different ways:

1.) If at any time a Super Power has "Control" (the game's terminology) of Europe that Super Power Wins.
2.) Having the most Victory Points at the end of the 10th turn.
3.) If a Superpower achieves 20 victory points at any time, they win.
4.) Whoever causes the DEFCON level to fall to 1 (NUCLEAR WAR!) loses the game (although technically, I think everyone loses, heh).

So whats the game like?

Well basically every turn the players draw a bunch of cards. The cards really are what drive the game and you can't do anything on the board without them. So there is some inherent randomness here, but it all evens out.

All cards have an Operations Point (OP) value of 1-4. OPs let you do stuff in the game such as realign a country, try to coup a country, or place Influence points in a country. Influence Points are what determines who controls a country and who doesn't.

All cards also have an event that has some in game effect. A lot of the time they let you do specific things that you otherwise wouldn't normally do. The "Fidel" Card, for example, removes all USA influence from Cuba and grants the USSR enough influence to control it (Gee, just like what really happened!)

So why the hell would the USA want to play a card like that? Well they wouldn't - but here is the real interesting thing: all the cards are of three types USSR, USA, or Neutral.

If you are Superpower you can choose to play a card that matches your Superpower, or a Neutral Card for either its Operation Points (OPs) OR for its event.

So ideally you'd think you would only want cards matching your Superpower or Neutral cards. But that ain't happening.

When you have a card associated with your opponent's superpower you basically just play it for its Operation Points, however, the EVENT also occurs (and your opponent gets to resolve it). You do, however, get to chose if the event occurs before or after you spend those OPs.

So a lot of the play is spent trying to mitigate damage from opponents cards you have in your hand. Sometimes you can play them at the right time and the damage is minimal. Sometimes, though, it's damning. Both players are working against this though. A note on the events - some cards go out of play once played, some stay in play on the table (or both of those), and some are simply put in the discard pile to eventually be reshuffled in to the deck.

So at the beginning of the Turn each Superpower has to play a "Headline" - what that means is they have to play a card from their hand for its event only. It's just a way for events to get played. Then there will be a number of actions rounds dependent on what phase of of the game you are in (early or mid/late war). And basically in an action round you'll just play a card for it's OPs or Event. Then your opponent will do the same. And you'll alternate in this manner until you've had the specified amount of action rounds.

You do have the option of, once per turn, using a card to attempt to advance in the Space Race. Basically the Space Race lets you dump (discard) a truly nasty card of your opponents in order to try and advance on the Space Race Track. The Space race basically serves as a way to get rid of a terrible card but there are also some victory points associated with it as well and a few other bonuses.

One more thing about the cards:

Their are "scoring cards." What does this mean? Well it's a card that either Superpower can play. The card will be associated with one of the regions on the board. When you play the card, you immediately "score" the region on the card and assign victory points.

So in game you might see an opponent heavily hitting a certain region. Guess what? He very well likely has that region's scoring card in his hand and is trying to get as much influence in the region to maximize his Victory Point gain when he plays the Scoring Card in a later action round this turn.

You always have to play a scoring card. Generally at the end of the turn you'll have one card left over. This is called a "held" card. A scoring card can never be a held card.

What is great about the scoring cards is that often you'll see an opponent start putting influence in an area. And what will you do? Go right over there and put your own influence but only because your opponent went over there and added his. It's a great sort of quasi-paranoia and keeps you guessing about what your opponent is up too.

What else happens in Twilight Struggle?

Well, the DEFCON level in the game is important. It starts at 5 and every time a coup attempt is made against a"Battleground" (game term) Country the DEFCON degrades by 1, towards the "1" space. Of course there are cards to increase the DEFCON towards peace, and at the start of a new turn the DEFCON improves as well. You have to be careful though, because often you'll get cards with your opponents event that will degrade the DEFCON. You need to get rid of those when the DEFCON is high, because you could get stuck playing it (as you always HAVE to play a card) and unintentionally starting a Nuclear War and losing the game.

Also each turn you are supposed to try and conduct a certain Operation Points worth of Military Operations (90% of the time in the form of COUPS). How many Military Operations you need to conduct is tied to the DEFCON. When you're at peace you have to conduct more, while when at say DEFCON 2 you conduct less. It's actually not very complicated at all, and when the DEFCON is low one coup will usually satisfy the military operations requirement. The penalty for not conducting enough Military Operations is that you can potentially give Victory Points to your opponent. Again both players have to deal with this.

Also the DEFCON level determines which regions you can Coup or Realign in. Generally the lower the DEFCON the less regions you can Coup/Realign in. A positive note you can always Coup in Africa and Central/South America!

OK, just one more thing about the cards (I promise):

You start the game only being dealt the "Early War" cards. As the turns goes by you add "Mid War" and finally "Late War" cards to the draw deck. In the Early War Asia, the Middle East, and Europe are the only "Scoring" regions that can give you Victory Points. Once the Mid War hits then all regions are up for grabs.

The cards are great too. The events are really thematic; stuff like Warsaw Pact, NATO, Marshall Plan, the "LONE GUNMAN", STAR WARS, Allende Elected, Cuban Missile Crisis, Grain Sales to Soviets, etc. All with wonderfully thematic effects too that any history buff would be sure to recognize.

The era that the card belongs to will contain events specific to that time period. So you wont be seeing cards dealing with Reagan or Gorbachev until the last few turns, while Fidel might get out early.

On that note, the Rulebook actually has a paragraph devoted to the event on each card - so if you are unfamiliar with the event in question you can look it up. A very nice touch.

Final Thoughts:

Anyway guys, I can't say good enough things about this game. It's just fun. The cardplay is tense. Trying to figure out when to play a card for an event of OPs is fun and challenging. Likewise figuring out what to do with all those cards you just drew that are associated with your opponent is a tough job. Just hope your opponent drew poorly too :D

The rules are only 10 pages long and nothing is actually too complicated. I had to check the official FAQ on the wording of a few of the event cards, but I had to reference the rules like twice in my first game. You really can't do much in an action round: play an event, place influence markers, make realignment attempts, attempt a coup, or try to advance in the space race. The player aids included with the game are great.

It can be lengthy, however, my first game was over three hours but we had so much fun it didn't matter.
 
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