Twilight Struggle: An AAR – Part 1

frontier wars 728x90 KS

How’s the new digital Twilight Struggle play? ~

Michael Eckenfels, 17 April 2016

Everything You Wanted To Know About Letting Godless Communists Overrun The World (But Were Afraid To Ask): A First Look/AAR on Twilight Struggle (GMT) on Steam

Twilight Struggle is a highly-rated board game by GMT that came out way back in 2005 (in fact, I reviewed it back in the day, somewhere else). It is an immensely popular one, too; BGG has it as the number one, number two, and number three game among war games, board games, and strategy games, respectively, on their site. It’s been a LONG while since I’ve played it, though we did try our hand in the forums a year or so ago (I think the links have long since been closed down, though). It took a while for things to come back to me, and I don’t think they fully did.

So, when this Steam version of Twilight Struggle was released, the first thing I checked was to see if there was an AI component to it (there is). Of course, the quickest way to learn a game is to get your butt handed to you by a pro at the game, but I figured it would be better to not try to be quite so awful when playing a live person, by trying out the AI, which was sure to be a min/maxing devil.

If you live under a rock – well, first, how do you even see this page – but really, if you’ve not heard of Twilight Struggle, it’s a game for two players, simulating the Cold War in its entirety, from 1945 to 1989, and the object is to dominate the world. The game is card-driven and has a significant luck component to it (I say that based on the cards you get, which, if you get crap cards to start a game, you’re going to have trouble). Each turn is made up of a series of rounds, where the USSR player goes, then the US player goes, each of you trying to increase your influence in countries and regions around the world. The means to do so are varied, and I will get into a bit of that later, as there are a lot of ways to do so.


To win, you have to be the first player to gain +20 Victory Points. The VP Track is ONE track, with the US’s 20 space on one side and the USSR’s 20 space on the other, with a big fat zero in the middle. The game starts on that big fat zero. This is important to explain, because if one side starts gaining VP, it makes your job that much harder. If one side gets to, say, +15 VP, that means to win you need to get that 15 VP back and THEN get another +20 VP.


Unfortunately, Twilight Struggle is indeed a struggle for anyone that is new to it. I consider myself a newbie at it now, so what better way than to jump right in and try it out?


WARNING: I SUCK AT THIS GAME. I mean, I truly, truly do. I’ve started six games – count ‘em – since buying this on Steam a couple of days ago, but I barely get out of the first turn without having the USSR turning most of the planet red and putting me SEVERELY in the hole, VP-wise. Each time, I’ve gotten utter trash for cards for Turn 1, which – I don’t know, it might be some kind of handicap system when playing against the AI. Either that, or I just stink at this.


So: do not read this as a treatise as to how to play the game. Oh, sure, you will see it in action and get a feel for it, if you’ve not heard of it. If you have, though, don’t take this as a strategy guide. In fact, if you have any modicum of experience with it, you’ll probably sigh and roll your eyes and wonder how I remember to breathe every day. If you feel the need to share your vast experience and call out my failings as the leader of the free world, by all means, do so. No, I’m serious; comment on this article or go to the forums and post away. Because most likely, most of my mistakes are going to be stupid ones.


In any case, let’s get this train wreck on a roll. Hopefully I play it long enough to give you a good idea of how it works.




First, let’s look at the players.


ts aar-003


That would be Banzai_Cat, Leader of the Free World, versus the Godless Communist Hordes.


My intentions were pure. Let me just start off by saying that. When this game turns into something along the lines of the 80s TV show Amerika or the movie The Day After, it was never my intention to bring the world to ruin.


ts aar-004


The map is divided into regions (South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, etc.); some regions are much more important than others in the game. Each region is further divided into countries. Each country has two boxes; the one on the left represents the amount of Influence the US has there, and the one on the right is for the USSR. The small number in the upper right corner next to the country’s name is its Stability Number; you have to have at least this much Influence there in order to gain Control of the country. Those are the basics.


In this first portion, I have to place 7 Influence throughout the world. I can place it anywhere I want. Since Europe is the most important region on the planet insofar as getting control, I will focus on it first.


ts aar-015

The countries with red bars under their names are Battleground countries and are key to controlling the region. I have a lot of choices here, but I’m going to go with a more or less standard move: place all of my Influence in both West Germany and Italy – enough to gain Control – and the remaining one in France. This gives both the US and the USSR equal presence in the region (see the blue and red bars under Europe?).


The cards that drive gameplay are pretty simple. They have a number in the upper left corner (which is its Ops rating), and an Event printed in the middle. Each card benefits the US, the USSR, or both. You can play a card to use it for its Event, or use it for the number in the upper left corner; using the number means pulling some shenanigans like placing Influence or staging a coup. Some Events have asterisks, which means if the Event is played, the card is removed permanently from the game so it doesn’t happen again.


So, the game already dealt my cards to me. Let’s check out how badly the game decided to treat me this time.




Well, in my less-than-studied opinion, this blows chunky collective farm animals. All of the USSR Event cards are dangerous, so if I play them for their Ops value, the USSR will get a very valuable Event to fire. I can dump them in the Space Race track instead, but I’ve heard over and over that a newb mistake is to do that too much, which kind of takes the oompf out of the CAPTURED NAZI SCIENTIST. INDEPENDENT REDS is somewhat useless because the USSR doesn’t have a lot of presence in the minor countries of Eastern Europe, so it’s not much of a value event-wise and is only worth 2 Ops.


Another issue is, I really don’t have a strategy. And since I don’t, combined with these bad cards, I’ll probably end up doing poorly. But at least you’ll be entertained, I hope.


The first couple of turns are made up of six Action Rounds. In each AR, both players get to make a move, with the USSR going first each time. A Turn is started, though, with what is called the Headline Phase. The HP is sort of like an Action Round, but the card you choose to play here can only be played for their Events. The Ops value determines which side gets to have their Event fire first.


In the next article, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the Headline Phase of this first turn, and then get into Action Round 1 of Turn 1.


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One Response to Twilight Struggle: An AAR – Part 1

  1. Dean Jackson says:

    Thank you for doing this. I just bought the game from Steam as well and feel completely overwhelmed and lost. It’s a lot different from the war games I’m used to playing.

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