Evan Moses

My blog and projects

Twilight Struggle makes you stand up

I played the first half of a game of Twilight Struggle with A.C. tonight, and it’s definitely one of my favorite games.  The geeks over at Board Game Geek agree with me, as it’s consistenly the highest rated game on the site. And before you ask, it doesn’t have anything to do with sparkly vampires and tween girls.

Twilight Struggle is a two-player strategic game where two players take on the roles of the US and the USSR during the Cold War.  You spend your turns playing event cards, either to trigger events that are based on actual Cold War history, or for points to let you spread your influence throughout the globe or remove your opponent’s influence.  Some cards also trigger scoring in various world regions (Asia, the Middle East, etc.) according to how many countries in that region are dominated by each power.  Much of the strategy comes in from being able to score regions when it’s most advantageous to you.

This is not a game for the faint of heart or short of time.  A.C. and I have played 3 or 4 times now, and each time it’s taken at least 3 hours and once closer to 5.  We didn’t finish tonight’s game, we just made it to the round 5 out of 10, with plans to resume when we can.  I feel like we’ve just barely started to scratch the surface of the game’s strategic depth.  A lot of the strategy depends on knowing what cards are out there, and there are over 100 unique cards in the deck.  The right card played at the right time can cause devastating reversals, as I found out tonight: I opened a round with the Africa Scoring card, thinking my handy dominance of Africa would get me close to a game-winning 20-point lead, but A’s Missle Envy grabbed a 4-point card from me.  Since he got to see my scoring card before I got to play it, he was able to use those points to dominate Africa instead, and net 4 points instead of me netting 4.  I still feel like A and I are playing a very superficial game:  there are a lot of chances to mislead your opponent about what cards you hold, and set up influence in regions that aren’t currently in play but soon will be, and neither of us are very good at that yet.

This time, I played the USSR and A.C. played the US, and I’ve been close to winning for most of the game (the winner is the one with the most points at the end of ten rounds, but if either player ends up 20 points ahead, or has “control” of Europe when it’s scored, they win immediately; also, if you trigger nuclear war, you lose). This was due partially to good strategy, and partially because the USSR has a decided advantage in the early game, but probably mostly because I had some great dice luck early, and A.C.’s was bad.  If I don’t win soon, though, there’s a good chance I never will, since the US makes up for the USSR’s early advantage with great cards in the late game.

In spite of its length, Twilight struggle remains interesting and exciting throughout.  Like Go and other territory games, you’re always fighting on multiple fronts, making feints and countering them.  You’re always on the verge of being overrun by your enemy in any particular region, by virtue of a bad die roll or a fortuitous event.  Unlike most of the other games I play, both A and I spend a big chunk of our time standing up around the table instead of sitting.  This is partially because of the large size of the board and flatness of the pieces, but mostly because most moves makes you want to slap down a card and say “Hah!” to your opponent.