Tag Archives: Card-Driven Games

Twilight Struggle (Games about the Cold War, #8)

Ah, the Cold War. By now, a firm trend in historical board gaming. Every five minutes there is a new release full of Soviets and Americans and espionage and nuclear threats. But you know who liked Cold War board games before it was cool? – Yep, that hipster was me. I just went overboard and decided to dedicate the rest of my (short) academic life to those games. My original inspiration for that was a quaint little game which I found very interesting from both a gaming and a history perspective. And so I come full circle. The game which first prompted me to think about board games in an academic way now makes the last installment of my Games about the Cold War series – a worthy capstone. Its name is Twilight Struggle (Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews, GMT Games). Maybe you have heard of it.
Okay, enough of the irony. Of course you have heard of Twilight Struggle! Everybody has. The game, the myth, the legend! Twilight Struggle had such a massive impact on the development of board games and especially on those about the Cold War that it cannot just be analyzed by itself. Instead, after a short intro on what Twilight Struggle is, I want to share some thoughts on Twilight Struggle‘s paradigm shifts in Cold War board game design and its legacy.

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The Leipzig Debate

What is the most exciting part about gaming history? – Doing what the historical agents might have done („Let’s see how an alliance with Imperial Germany would have worked out for Victorian Britain“) or see how what they did would translate into the game („John Shore was made a baron after his time with the East India Company, which is like scoring a prize after leaving the office of chairman.“
In short: Nothing is better than taking the perspective and agency of a historical agent. Card-Driven Games (CDGs) are reputed to have trouble with that. They can include all kinds of historical events on the cards, but the downsides to that are

  1. that the exact agency of the player in bringing about those events is a bit fuzzy (how exactly am I responsible for that storm which wrecked the opponent fleet?) and the player might feel „like an overworked Time Lord, delaying discoveries, accelerating accidents“
  2. and that the „standard“ moves to be conducted with the action points can be rather abstracted and generic („spread influence“).

One way out of this dilemma is employing standard events for each player which return to their hand – like the Home Cards for each power in Here I Stand (Ed Beach/GMT Games), which can be played once per turn and perfectly mesh with the respective power’s play style.
Today, we’ll look how that plays out in regard to the Leipzig Debate, one of the defining events of the early Reformation. After a quick look at the budding Reformation, we’ll go straight to the contestants of the debate and then the theological contest itself – and how it shaped events to come. All the while, Here I Stand will be our companion.

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Turning Weakness into Strength: Benefitting from Opponent Events in Twilight Struggle

Twilight Struggle (Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews, GMT Games) is a game of tricky hand management. Its chief innovation in the field of card-driven games (CDGs) is that both players draw from a joint deck, and if you play a card with an opponent event, you get to use the operation points (ops) from this card, but the event is triggered nonetheless. You’ll try to solve the puzzle of how to play your cards best every turn, maximizing your gains and minimizing the obstacles from opponent events in your hand. Newcomers to Twilight Struggle often think that a hand full of opponent events is a bad hand. However, if you draw all the Soviet events as the US, chances are that the Soviet hand is full of American events, so it evens out. And you’d rather defuse many of the opponent events on your own terms than allow the other player to unleash them on you.
In addition to that, quite a few events offer a benefit even to the nominally disadvantaged power. As they also get the ops when playing the opponent event, this allows for some kind of ops/event double move – all the fun, none of the regret! These events typically fall in the categories of discarding or manipulating DEFCON. There is one event that just allows you to possibly flip a battleground to your side. Let’s dive right into the cards.

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