Twilight Struggle Session Report: The American Perspective, the Stunning Conclusion

June 24, 2012

You might remember that a few months ago Rick and I started a game of Twilight Struggle using ACTS and VASSAL (the first post is here and the second post is here). Today I wrap up my commentary. When we last left off, I dropped back a little to a ten point lead, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East were all hotly contested, and I had domination of South America and Africa.

Turn 6

U.S. Hand: 2/Grain Sales to Societs, 3/SALT Negotiations, 4/Muslim Revolution, 1/UN Invervention, 2/Voice of America, 2/Missile Envy, 2/Decolonization, 2/Nixon Plays the China Card, 2/Liberation Theology

This is a pretty mixed hand with a lot of 2 ops cards and some tough Soviet events to get rid of, but at least I’m in the lead at the start. Rick opens with Socialist Governments to pry me out of Italy, and I respond with Grain Sales to Soviets. Interestingly, I grab Central America Scoring, which I promptly hand back to him and use the 2 ops to shore up Italy instead. Now that we both know that Central America is going to be fought over in earnest, Rick plays Junta to take Italy. Thankfully, as I own Guatemala, it’s an easy matter for me to realign Mexico and eliminate Soviet influence there.

I think Rick sees the writing on the wall, so he scores Central America, which drops me from 10 to 9 VP. Then he grabs Chile with Allende, and I promptly follow up by using The Voice of America to eliminate any gains he may have made there. In the meantime, I’m using spare ops here and there to realign and take Zaire and S. Africa. Willy Brandt gives the USSR one more VP, and then Rick follows up with a successful roll on the Space Race Track (U.S. now at 6 VP). I’m seeing my lead slowly draining away, but I keep spamming ops into Africa, realigning to eliminate USSR influence, and the like. By the end of the turn, I’ve got control of Africa, domination in South America and Central America, and beat the Soviets to a draw everywhere else. And I’m feeling lucky…

The conclusion of Turn 6.

Turn 7

I won’t bother recounting my hand, because I pull two critical cards that will let me win the game if I play them right. The first is Duck and Cover! The second is Africa Scoring. I gamble and elect to play Duck and Cover! This is a huge risk. DEFCON is at 3, and this card will degrade it to 2. Also, the Soviet card We Will Bury You! is still in the deck, and if Rick plays it, that will occur first in the headline phase, which will drop DEFCON to 2. Then my card event will occur, and nuclear war will start, which means I’m responsible and lose the game. However, I haven’t seen Rick play many high ops cards for the event yet, and I’m betting that if the card is in his hand, he doesn’t want to play the event and lose the 4 ops. So I go for it.

Truth be told, I don’t quite remember what Rick did on his headline or his first action round, but it didn’t matter. My headline occurred, I picked up 3 VPs, (U.S. now at 9), and then played Africa Scoring. With control of the continent, I pocketed 11 victory points, which brought me to 20 exactly, and I  won the game. 

The end of the game.

In the end, I think this was a very interesting game. With so many scoring cards being played in turn 4, we both felt rather free to place ops wherever, knowing that there were few scoring cards to bite us. Per usual, however, the U.S. won by playing hard in the Third World.

Rick commented that while he felt the game was helpful, nothing beats face to face play, and I’d have to agree. At the same time, if there is a game I’d like to play again via PBEM, it’s Twilight Struggle. With so many decisions to be and card interactions, it’s nice to slow down, use ACTS’ game journal function to keep track of what’s been played, etc.

In the end, I guess the world decided designer jeans and cheap fast food were preferable to a worker’s paradise…


Is Needing to Know the Deck Good or Bad?

June 17, 2012

[Note: Obviously I’ve been away for a while. My wife and I welcomed our second child into the world on April 4. Since then, gaming has been a little sparse!]


I committed a major error recently in my online Twilight Struggle game with Rick, and it got me thinking about card-driven games in which knowing exactly what’s in the deck is a requirement for even mediocre play. I call these games “deck knowledge dependent,” and since I’m coining a phrase, let’s offer a definition.

Deck Knowledge Dependent: A game in which knowledge of particular cards, card combinations, or card/rule interactions is necessary to even achieve a mediocre level of proficiency in friendly play.

Ex: “I tried to teach my brother Twilight Struggle, but he’s a casual gamer, and it’s just too much of a deck knowledge dependent game for him.”

A good example of a deck knowledge dependent game is, in fact, Twilight Struggle. There are many, many cards that one simply must know about in order to compete. This makes the game rather hard to teach, because while the rules are simple, there is a rather lengthy checklist of things to “keep in mind.” For example, in the Early War a U.S. player has to be aware of the effects of Blockade, Korean War,  Nasser, and DeGaulle Leads France or risk losing a key battlegrounds in Europe and Asia through suboptimal card play.

However, I wouldn’t consider a game like Wilderness War to be very deck knowledge dependent. Sure there are a couple of “gotcha” cards like Ambush! and Smallpox, but you usually can’t do much to defend against them anyway, so you just take your lumps and a single play of either card isn’t likely to cause one to lose the game.

I have found over the years that I have very little patience with deck knowledge dependent games unless I really enjoy the theme. I simply love learning the ins and outs of the Cold War through vacations, books, movies, and games, and so I am willing to put up with the complexities of Twilight Struggle, but if I needed that much “deck knowledge” in a game where the theme didn’t interest me at all, I don’t think I’d play it very regularly.

What about you? Do you enjoy games where mastery of particular cards, card combinations, or card/rule interactions is a huge part of playing? Or do you prefer to stay away from them? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the combox.