Twilight Struggle

Twilight Struggle

Infobox Game
title = Twilight Struggle
subtitle =
image_link =
image_caption = "Twilight Struggle"
designer = Ananda Gupta Jason Matthews
illustrator =
publisher = GMT Games
players = 2
ages = 13 and up
setup_time = 5–15 minutes
playing_time = 3 hours
complexity = Medium
strategy =
random_chance = Medium (Dice, Cards)
skills = Strategy Card Management
footnotes =
bggid = 12333
bggxrefs =

"Twilight Struggle" is a card-driven board wargame for two players, with its theme taken from the Cold War. One player plays the USA, and the other plays the USSR. The game takes its title from a John F. Kennedy quote:

"Now the trumpet summons us again, not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are – but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle..."


The victory point system in "Twilight Struggle" is very innovative in that there is only one victory point track and one victory point marker for both the US and the USSR. The track extends from -20 (complete USSR victory) to 20 (complete US victory), and the victory point marker starts in the middle at 0. The goal for each player is to have the victory point marker reach their extreme on the track or by having the victory point marker on their side of the track (negative for USSR, positive for US) at the end of the ten turns. A player can also win the game by having control of Europe when the Europe scoring card is played. Additionally, either player can also lose the game by, intentionally or not, starting a nuclear war and thus instantly forfeiting.

The 103 cards in the game have two main features, events and an operation points value. Each card can generally only be played for one or the other effect, not both; a player is required to play at least one event (the "Headline Event") each turn. The operation points value allows the player to either place influence in one or more countries, attempt a coup in a country, attempt to realign the status of a country, or advance the Superpower's position in the Space Race. The events represent a specific historical event such as the creation of the CIA, the Berlin Blockade, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, or might stand for a more general situation such as a nuclear test ban, anti-war protests, or the Olympic Games.

Events will help either the USA or the USSR. Unlike many other card-driven games, if a player plays a card (for operations) with an event associated with the opponent for anything other than the space race (the latter is a deliberate "safety valve" to allow a player to dispose of a card whose event he does not want to trigger), the event occurs for the other superpower, so a player may be forced to help his opponent in order to help himself.

The cards in the game are separated into three categories: Early, Middle, and Late War. Only Early War cards are dealt out in the first few turns, later on the Middle and then the Late cards are shuffled into the draw pile. This organizes the historical events into a general timeline, so that the US-Japan Mutual Defense Pact is likely to happen several turns before the Cuban Missile Crisis, which usually happens before Ronald Reagan's " Evil Empire" speech, but the specific order will vary from game to game. Sometimes even these general timelines will change, because players may use an Early War card as operations instead of as an event, only to have the card resurface (most cards recycle through the deck after play) late in the game.

Influence is used to align countries to favor one Superpower or the other. Each country has a number that represents the country's stability, and a player must have this many more influence points in the country to control it. For example, India has a stability of 3, so if the USA player has 2 influence points and the USSR has 5, the USSR controls India, but if the numbers were 2 and 4, the difference would be less than 3 and neither player would control India. Influence may only be placed in or adjacent to countries in which a player had influence at the start of the action round (the "domino theory" in action), and costs double to place in a country already controlled by the enemy player. A country with a high stability number is also less vulnerable to coups (see below).

Coups and realignments serve to reduce the opponent's influence in an area. A realignment roll allows a player to roll to reduce enemy influence in states, and is more likely to succeed if the friendly player has influence in the state in question, or controls adjacent states, or if the state is adjacent to a superpower. Coups (for which a player must add the value of the card he has just played to a die roll and deduct double the stability number of the target country: the resulting total is the number of enemy influence points which he removes, and any excess is used to place influence points of his own) are usually more effective, and may enable a player to regain a foothold in a continent where his opponent is threatening to gain complete domination, as they need not take place in or adjacent to a country where the player has influence already, and a very successful coup may enable the player to place influence of his own. However, supporting a coup in certain key "battleground" states will increase nuclear tensions and lower the DEFCON level by 1.

Both players must also keep a watch on the DEFCON level, which will be lowered by coups and certain events (eg. wars). Should a play be made that drops DEFCON to 1, it ends the game with a nuclear release, with the responsible player losing the game. As DEFCON drops, coups and realignments are forbidden in certain parts of the map - they will become unlikely in Europe (and indeed are also restricted in Europe after the setting-up of NATO) and Asia, for example, while still remaining possible in less stable regions such as Africa and Latin America. DEFCON automatically improves by 1 at the end of each turn, so will naturally rise back to 5 if neither player does anything to reduce it.

A final twist is that each player is required to conduct a certain number of "military operations" each turn, equal to the DEFCON level, or else forfeit VPs. This can be satisfied by playing war events (some of which may occur several times throughout the game, eg. the Indo-Pakistan Wars or Arab-Israeli Wars until the Camp David Accord occurs) if he has any in his hand, but the extra must be made up by coups.

The game is strictly for two players, with all other countries being shown firmly as satellites of one or other superpower, or else uncontrolled. The game's Designer Notes explain that this represents the internal logic of the Cold War mentality, and it applies even to lesser world powers such as Britain and France, with for example the idiosyncratic foreign policy of General de Gaulle being shown simply as a card event increasing Soviet influence in France. The only exception is China, which is not shown as a country to be controlled on the map, but rather as a card, with a high Ops value (and an added bonus if used solely in Asia). The China card is not drawn normally, but starts in Soviet hands, and after use by either player is passed to the other player for use in subsequent turns, representing China tilting from one bloc to the other. A player also receives a VP for holding the China card at the end of the game.

Having enough influence to control a country does not instantly score VP, but contributes toward "presence", "domination" (control of a majority of states and a majority of battleground states), or "control" (control of a majority of states and all battleground states) of an entire region (Middle East, Central America, Europe, etc), which will score VP when that region's scoring card is played - a region's scoring card may be drawn and played several times throughout the game. There is also a single (one-off) scoring card for South-East Asia, which will most likely be drawn some time in the mid-game, corresponding to the time of the real Vietnam War. Advancing along the Space Race towards a Moon Landing will also periodically score VP. Some events will also score VP.

The opening turns will generally see a great deal of jockeying for position in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, spreading to other region such as Africa and South and Central America in later decades - the scoring cards for the latter regions do not appear until the Mid War Deck is added. The game generally shows a slight tilt to the USSR in the early turns, as events in Asia will generally lead to an expansion of Soviet influence in that region. Late War events, such as Solidarity in Poland or the election of Pope John Paul II, help the USA to expand her influence in Europe, especially the key battleground state of Poland.


"Twilight Struggle" won the 2005 Charles S. Roberts award for "Best Modern Era boardgame", [cite web
title=Charles S. Roberts Award Winners (2005)
] and the 2006 International Gamers Award for "Best Wargame" and "Best 2 Player Game".cite web | title=Twilight Struggle | publisher=BoardGameGeek | url= | accessdate=2007-07-17] It was the first game ever to win two International Gamers Awards.cite web | title=Best Boardgames of 2006 | | url= | accessdate=2007-07-17] "Twilight Struggle" also received a 2006 nomination for the Diana Jones Award for "Excellence in Gaming".cite web | title=The Diana Jones Award 2006 | publisher=The Diana Jones Award | url= | accessdate=2007-07-18] In 2007, the game received a nomination from Games Magazine for "Best Historical Simulation".]

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