Review: Twilight Struggle

Set in the terrifying heights and tragic lows of the Cold War, Twilight Struggle is a unique board game which deserves to be up there with the giants.

The board game that’s won countless awards and was on the top of Board Game Geek rankings for years is deserving of praise, as it merges interesting and engaging gameplay with an immersive and realistic depiction of mankind’s most precipitous war.

The game itself uses a card based system in which cards can be played for their events, which are based on historical Cold War events, or for the points to engage in influencing neutral countries, realigning allies or launching coups in enemy-aligned states.

With events such as the Arab-Israeli War, the Marshall Plan, Cuban Missile Crisis and the Pershing II, the game represents the full spectrum of the Cold War from Truman’s Presidency to the last days of Gorbachev.

For those unfamiliar with this modern generation of board games designed for actual play, surprise may come at the dynamic play style in which Twilight Struggle works. Player to player interaction is paramount, as should be expected in a 2-player game, with cards like “Missile Envy” that can dictate the pace of play in ways that would make Monopoly weep.

Much of the fun of the game comes as both players develop strategies with knowledge of the existing cards and mechanics. In this matter, I recommend that if two wish to play multiple games they pick a faction and stick with it to learn the full abilities and momentum.

For example, as the United States my typical strategy is to deliberately shore up support in frontier European countries, such as West Germany and Italy, while allowing countries susceptible to socialist influence such as the United Kingdom or France to take the brunt of a Labour victory or De Gaullist rhetoric, and bring them into line later on.

Following on from the European strategy, I’ve found the “iron triangle” of support in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan necessary to prevent Soviet domination of Asia. From then on, a wider strategy of early African influencing in Angola and the Congo, or cornering Vietnam by installing a government in Thailand, or preparing for Soviet influence in the Americas by playing into Colombia and Venezuela.

I’m sure if you interrogated my Soviet-playing friend he would regale you with similar tales of strategy and coercion.

There are few criticisms that I have of the game. The first would be the frequency in which the game ends in accidental nuclear war – though this criticism is really a compliment, as many are aware of the many times the world nearly did descend as such historically.

The other is of a few redundant mechanics, often those based on luck. These criticisms pale in comparison to a game that is at all times dynamic, exciting and historically accurate.

If we have to give a number rating, 9/10.

Image from, u/mangist