Category Games

Twilight Struggle: Starting Off.

In another way of opening new “mental horizons”, I purchased a boardgame called “Twilight Struggle”.  Here’s the description from the rulebook:

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’ struggle over the wreckage of the Second World War, and ends in 1989, when only the United States remained standing.

Here’s the official website for the game:

The game is comprised of a fairly large board (referenced from here on as the “game map”), 103 cards, 228 cardboard markers, the core rulebook and two “aid” cards (one for each player).

You can see what the board looks like here:

As I have some familiarity with games such as this, I know from experience that it’s helpful if you can identify three main things:

  1. What is the objective of the game? (this helps set your destination)
  2. Are there any optional rules? (this helps you “eliminate” rules from the core set)
  3. What is the sequence of play? (this helps you gain context and increase your focus)

Having some very basic experience with more complex games, such as Squad Leader and Advanced Squad Leader (more on the latter in future posts), I have learned how not to be overwhelmed with the amount of content (rules, pieces, etc.) and instead focus on the core elements to get a “basis” from which to operate (play).

Let’s start by answering the questions posed above.

What’s the objective? According to the rules:

The object of the game is to score Victory Points (VPs).  Regional Victory Points are scored through geographic Influence over the six Regions.  VPs can also be received through the play of certain Events.  Each region has its own ‘scoring card’.  Playing a scoring card causes Victory Points to be scored, based on how much influence each superpower has in that region at the time the card is played.

Let’s stop here and analyze this paragraph.

The answer to the original question is summed up in the first sentence: “score Victory Points (VPs)”.  That sounds straightforward enough.  What else?  Well, we know that Victory Points can be attained in two ways – 1) through geographic Influence over the six Regions, and 2) through the play of certain Events.  The capitalization of the words ‘Influence’ and ‘Events’ is not random – these represent concepts that we’ll need to understand as we get further into the rulebook.

Are there any optional rules? It turns out that there are some optional rules – these are found in section 11.0 of the rulebook – entitled “Tournament Play” – and at the very end of the manual which are entitled “Designer Optional Rules”.  Since we’re just learning how to play, we can ignore these sections.

Going a step further into the rulebook, we can also identify other sections that we may be able to (temporarily) ignore.  (Again, our goal at this stage is to learn how to play in a short period of time.)

The manual is 28 pages in length and is comprised of the following six sections:

  1. Core Rules (pgs. 1-9)
  2. Extended Example of Play (pgs. 10-15)
  3. Card Histories (pgs. 16-25
  4. Designer Notes (pgs. 26)
  5. Counter Inventory (pg. 27)
  6. Miscellaneous (pg. 28)

In scanning through these sections, we only need to pay attention to sections 1 and 2.  And if we are brave enough to ignore the “example of play” section, we’ve narrowed our focus to a third of the manual!

What is the sequence of play? Our last step is to find out how the game is structured.  We first need to know how many turns there are in a typical game.  Sometimes games can go indefinitely and are not restricted to a specific turn count – Twilight Struggle is not one of them.

According to the rules, Twilight Struggle has ten turns and each turn has the following structure:

  1. Improve DEFCON Status
  2. Deal Cards
  3. Headline Phase
  4. Action Rounds
  5. Check Military Operations Status
  6. Reveal Held Card (Tournament Only)
  7. Flip ‘The China Card’
  8. Advance Turn Marker
  9. Final Scoring (after Turn 10 only)

Given this, a standard game of Twilight Struggle will contain 80 discrete steps.  If you spend two minutes on each turn (as an example), the game will take a little less than two hours.  While you are not bound to any specific deadline, it’s important to have a high-level assessment of how long the game will likely take.  It’s a good barometer to help you improve as you gain more play experience (more on this later).

At this stage, we now have a better understanding of what we’re dealing with!  This small time investment will start to make things significantly easier for us as we take a closer look at the rules.

Part of the enjoyment for me is to learn the mechanics of the game, but real enjoyment ultimately comes when you can get beyond the sheer mechanics and really start to think about strategy and winning the game.  That’s our ultimate destination in this journey.