If you read this blog regularly, you might have noticed that I’m into the Cold War (it’s not very subtle). During my time at university, it’s been my chief area of interest, and I even wrote my M.A. thesis on it – to be precise, about the Cold War in board games. In this new series of blog posts, I’ll briefly introduce the games I analyzed in depth for the thesis (and some that I didn’t) – both in game and academic terms. We begin with Twilight Squabble, and therefore, to follow the publisher, with the entire Cold War in ten minutes.
What kind of Cold War is this game?
Twilight Squabble is a pretty simple game which lasts about ten to fifteen minutes. Two players take on the role of the United States and the Soviet Union engaging in the space race and a tug-of-war for power. However, if you tug so hard that your opponent falls, they will fall on you and crush you – or, in game terms, nuclear war breaks out and you lose.
What’s Noteworthy About the Game?
As Twilight Squabble is so short and yet aims to capture the entire Cold War, it must boil everything down to the very essence. Therefore, it’s a good source for what is perceived as this essence of the Cold War in the public imagination: Politics, nuclear rivalry, the space race, and espionage.
The game’s view of the Cold War is so extremely zoomed-out that it does not employ a map of any kind – every move is about the whole world (although the card events mention certain locations). Back when it was published (2016), that was pretty rare for a Cold War game, but now others have followed suit.
Twilight Squabble offers a very ambivalent view of the Cold War arms race. Sure, it’s nice to be more powerful than your opponent – that’s your victory condition, in the end. But being too greedy and domineering will just push the other side to extreme measures – namely, let the nuclear warheads rain down on you, and no matter how that turns out exactly, nobody would call you a winner for it. That danger is thematically reinforced by the strong card events relating to military/technological advances. Of course, if you go too soft on your opponent to avoid nuclear war, they might just exploit it and sneak ahead of you.
Many Cold War board games employ a strong visual contrast between cards, markers etc. that belong to the US/Western side (blue) and those of the Soviet Union/East (red) – but none more so than Twilight Squabble. The cards are entirely designed in shades of red and blue.
The Cold War societies prized “manly toughness” as an attribute to deal with the new political challenges centered on defense and security. Also, there was a major re-traditionalization of gender roles after World War II. And yet, feminism also made big strides at the time – and women were adept at putting the external security threat forward as a reason why they needed to step up their civic engagement. Twilight Squabble captures this spirit of subversive femininity in two card illustrations: The Double Agent is using her compact mirror to glance behind herself (and which hidden properties her lipstick may have is left to the imagination of the player). And the “Kitchen Debates” card features a lady who’d just like to get away from Khrushchev and Nixon’s squabbles.
If you want the Cold War in a game and are pressed for time, Twilight Squabble may be right up your alley. Among the Cold War Board games, I bestow on it the title of The Most Condensed.