Thursday, May 14, 2015

Game Review: Twilight Struggle by GMT Games

Twilight Struggle by GMT Games

The Cold War is a rich resource for many different stories and games. One game encompasses the whole conflict--Twilight Struggle. Two players take sides as either the Soviets or the Americans and then vie for world domination. The game is played over several rounds where the players try to increase their influence in the various countries and continents without dropping the DefCon Status to the point of Global Thermonuclear War. At the beginning of each round, players are dealt a hand of card which they play during the round.

A game in progress

The cards have an operations value (from one to four points) and an event (which can be pro-American (like the John Paul II Elected Pope card), pro-Soviet (like the Fidel card), or favorable to either (like the Host Olympics card)). The player chooses whether to use the card for the event or for the points. An event has a specific effect. For example, the John Paul II Elected Pope card removes two Soviet influence markers from Poland and adds one American marker, which can shift the balance of power in Poland substantially.

The operations points can be used in one of three ways. First, the player can put influence markers in countries where they already have influence or in countries adjacent (so strengthening or spreading influence). Second, the player can attempt a coup in a country anywhere on the board, possibly flipping the country's alliance to their side. Third, the player can make several realignment roles in an attempt to reduce the enemy's influence in a country. Any of these actions will cause shifts just like the events can. The trick is that if the Soviets play a pro-American card for the operations points, the event also happens (vice versa is true--if the Americans play a Soviet event for points, the Soviets get the event). If the Soviets play a pro-Soviet card for points, the event doesn't happen (though the card goes in a discard pile and may be used later when reshuffling a new draw deck). Balancing out what's best for your own side against possible beneficial effects for the enemy becomes an important tactical decision.

One card per turn can be used to advance on the Space Race track (as long as a die roll is lucky). Using a card this way is a good way to get rid of especially helpful events for an opponent, though again the card goes in the discard pile and may come back later.

The game's mechanics are simple but have a lot more depth and elegance as the game goes along. The game is weighted in favor of the Soviets which we found in playing and from a helpful podcast. In our first game, the Soviets had more points at the end. In our second game, the Soviets hit the twenty point victory margin half-way through the game, ending it early. In tournaments, players bid to play the Soviets, i.e. they give a certain number of extra influence points at the beginning to the American player. The game is a bit unbalanced in an ahistorical way!

On the other hand, the game is well-researched and provides information about the various event cards which are all things that happened in history (though obviously they can be played out of order--in one game the Lone Gunman event happened then subsequently a JFK event was played!). Creating an alternate history can be fun. The tension in battling over a country or a region is exciting and enjoyable (though more so if you come out ahead).

This is a fun, intense, informative game. If you like a challenge, play as the Americans.

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