Gameday First Play – Twilight Struggle

Posted on by Jesta

Box says 180 minutes, only takes me 10 minutes to lose.

Rack ’em up, let’s go again!

In 1945, unlikely allies toppled Hitler’s war machine, while humanity’s most devastating weapons forced the Japanese Empire to its knees in a storm of fire. Where once there stood many great powers, there then stood only two. The world had scant months to sigh its collective relief before a new conflict threatened. Unlike the titanic struggles of the preceding decades, this conflict would be waged not primarily by soldiers and tanks, but by spies and politicians, scientists and intellectuals, artists and traitors. Twilight Struggle is a two-player game simulating the forty-five year dance of intrigue, prestige, and occasional flares of warfare between the Soviet Union and the United States. The entire world is the stage on which these two titans fight to make the world safe for their own ideologies and ways of life. The game begins amidst the ruins of Europe as the two new “superpowers” scramble over the wreckage of the Second World War, and ends in 1989, when only the United States remained standing.

This 2 player game is best known for being the top rated board game on Board Game Geek. It’s a card driven war game based on the Cold war with players playing either the USA or USSR super powers.

Twilight Struggle Board


The game is played over 10 rounds (if it gets to 10 rounds) and each round starts with the DEFCON level going up by one. (up is good, not bad) Players can make the DEFCON level drop towards all out Nuclear War and if that happens, and it’s your turn, you lose.

Then cards are dealt and while cards have multiple uses, each player simultaneously reveals a card for it’s effect in the ‘Headline phase‘ which only uses the event portion of it. The cards themselves are aligned with US, USSR or can be neutral. As the US player I often had a hand full of USSR cards so you always have to be careful how you play your hand.

The action phase consists of players taking turns to play cards and depending which of the 5 actions you take will depend on how the card is used.

You can use the Ops value of the card to Place Influence Markers in a friendly territory or adjacent to one helping you control countries. You can pay extra to influence a country your opponent controls should you wish. If the card you play for this action is aligned with your opponent, they will get to use the ability on the card so that can suck really bad.

You can Make a Coup Attempt by adding the Ops value of the card to a D6 roll and removing 2x the stability of that country. If you’re left with a positive number the Coup succeeds, yay! Influence is added/removed accordingly and if the country is designated a ‘Battleground’ the DEFCON track moves towards nuclear disaster.

Twilight Struggle Defcon and Military

Similarly, you can Make a Realignment Roll in a country in a D6 vs D6 roll (with modifiers) to remove influence and not effect the DEFCON track.

I said you can end up with a handful of cards which may not be on your side but there is a way to get rid of them without using their ability. If the card has the right Ops value you can try and move up the Space Race track. This ‘race’ gives you points and abilities but most importantly helps you get cards out of your hand you don’t want to play.

Lastly you can just play the card for the Event, easy. But not easy as when a card is played for the Event on it it’s usually removed from the game. That’s a card of your alignment out the game and it won’t shuffle back in…

There’s a lot to take in.  The first game last about 15 minutes, just two rounds due to me not having a good enough overview of the board. I was holding the scoring cards for two regions but I didn’t try to put any influence in those regions, oops!

The second game was a real game, getting to round 7. My opponent controlled Europe and played the Europe scoring card.

Twilight Struggle Europe


You need to think “what scoring cards are available and how am I doing in those regions? Do I need to ditch a card to the Space Race? Do I play this awesome event card but remove that event from the game? Have I made a military action this turn? Can I coup? Where is the DEFCON track?…” this every action, every turn…

Even the simple action of placing influence in a country makes you think “Is it enough? Can I control it? Do I need to control it? What might my opponent do?”… Controlling battlegrounds with the minimum need value is efficient but makes those areas weak to Coups. What do you do?

This game, in it’s very basic form is a very advanced Courtier. You play cards to influence and try and control. A lot of the big fans of this game won’t like that comparison but whatever 🙂

A much better comparison would be Divided Republic which is very similar but playable with 4 players. There’s also a lot less going on so it’s easier to get on with.

Overall it’s a good game, by far the best game, but it’s pretty good.


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