While Europe was the main contest, it was Asia where the spread of Soviet communism experienced its greatest triumphs. Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, all of them came under the influence of the snowballing Russian empire. While the United States of America had a solid grip in Western Europe, it was losing its influence pretty much everywhere else, as decolonisation efforts sprung up and former colonies rejoiced in their new freedom. The powers of the West were crumbling in this age of uncertainty.
To make matters worse, US efforts at launching an animal into space had failed miserably. Meanwhile, the Russians had not only already launched an animal, but also a man into space. The great superpower that the US once was was but a distant memory. Cuba’s communist ideals flourished under Fidel, and even regions of South Africa began to feel the allure. All seemed hopeless for the great nation of America in this cold, cold war…
But then, one by one, the nations of Eastern Europe began to renounce their support of Russia. Soon, the most important continent in this war was once again united with America, and as the allegiance of Europe became solidly American, the Russians had no choice but to admit defeat; despite their successes elsewhere in the world, it was Europe that ultimately determined the fate of the war. The US had lost many battles, but ultimately won the war.
That, loyal readers, is a recap of Twilight Struggle, a game that many hobbyist board gamers would be familiar with, even if they haven’t played it. That’s because, for as long as I can remember, Twilight Struggle was the number one game of all time on boardgamegeek.com, a position it only lost to the revolutionary Pandemic: Legacy. Despite all the time it sat in that position, something about the theme of “Political Struggle During the Cold War” didn’t quite appeal to a much younger me, and whilst I was interested in at least trying it out, the opportunity never arrived…
Until recently. After a member of my family picked up a copy for cheap, we sat down to engage in what was touted to be the best game of all time. A battle of communism and capitalism, of East and West, of global superpowers in such a volatile time in history. Join me now as I tell you what I really thought about the game, and whether or not it’s worth the investment. Greatest game of all time or overrated? Find out with me right now!
What I Expected Going In
To say my expectations were high would be an understatement. I’ve played almost all of the top twenty games, and they are certainly all something very special. For Twilight Struggle to have maintained its spot for such a long time, to me, means that it must be something extraordinary.
GMT games are known for being deep and strategic. Dominant Species, for instance, has so many things going on at a time and requires a lot of forethought, but is an outstanding game for the heavy euro gamer. It also takes many, many hours to play. What else would you expect from a company that originally made war games? Their dedication to flavour and depth is respectable, if sometimes excessive.
Thus, I would summarise that going into Twilight Struggle, I was expecting a long slog of a game that would require my undivided attention. I definitely had high hopes for it, given its status and the devout fanbase its managed to acquire over the years. I’d heard a bit about it from a friend who had been hyping it up a fair bit, and from what he had told me, I began to imagine it as somewhat akin to Rebellion; to great but unequal powers battling it out for control of the board. Given that Rebellion is my favourite game of all time, Twilight Struggle would have to do a lot to unseat it.
What I Got Coming Out
Let me start off by saying that Twilight Struggle is by no means a game for everybody. Whereas I would heartily recommend Pandemic: Legacy to any and everyone who asked me for a recommendation, Twilight Struggle is certainly a lot more niche; not only is it two player only, but it also requires heavy investment from both players during the game. This is both due to time, complexity, and the fact that Twilight Struggle HEAVILY rewards repeat plays.
The main reason for this is that there can be some absolute blowout cards that define the game. Not knowing their existence or position in the game can lead to some real negative play experiences. For example, in our second game, an otherwise outstanding game came to an abrupt end when I played the card Wargames.
That’s right. The game ended on the spot, out of nowhere. We were just getting excited about this final age in an epic back and forth when all of a sudden I accidentally won. It wasn’t exciting. It wasn’t expected. It didn’t feel clever. It was just…over.
Other cards exist in the game that have a very historical flavour to them, but have similar punishing effects. For example, The Warsaw Pact can completely obliterate any of the US player’s early efforts to control Europe; if you spend your early game aggressively taking Eastern Europe, you will struggle to recover after this card hits.
Thus, it is very possible that Twilight Struggle will leave an unexpectedly salty taste in your mouth. In fact, our impressions after the first game were nothing short of bewilderment. How had this game managed to make it to number one, let alone maintain that spot? It was squarely in the “alright” category; neither of us disliked it, but it didn’t blow our minds.
Upon a second and now third play, however, I can safely say that whilst Twilight Struggle is still leagues away from being my number one game, it is definitely an interesting one. Each and every time I play, my strategy evolves. As I begin to be able to anticipate certain events from my opponent, my play becomes smarter. Suddenly I realise that without Fidel coming to power in Cuba, Central America is relatively safe for me (except for De-stalinization). I know to avoid investing heavily into Eastern Europe, but also to be careful about Western Germany, lest an early Blockade ruin me.
Twilight Struggle is, as said earlier, not a game for everyone. In fact, I would say that the appeal of the game is actually rather limited. Not many gamers I know would be willing to commit several hours time and time again to a game that starts off as just mediocre. However, for anyone not adverse to a Cold War theme, heavy mechanics or the task of playing through at least twice before deciding whether they like it, Twilight Struggle may be able to shine through. With now three games under my belt, it has grown on me, and I am looking forward to playing it again.
And that is always a sign of something special in my eyes. There are many games I’ve played over the years, but few that I actively think about playing again. While Star Wars: Rebellion will get the nod over this any day of the week (at least, for me) Twilight Struggle has done well to cause me to ponder on how I should next bring the fight to the Soviets (in the game, of course).
The Aficionado quite likes this game.
Wanna give Twilight Struggle or any other game mentioned here a try? Check ’em out below!