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Twilight Struggle: Turn Three

June 15th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 5 Comments · AARTwiStr

If you don’t know what we are doing or why, click here. Or you can just start with Turn One.


Troy: This turn is all about how long I can stave off the inevitable American victory, thirty years too soon. My cards do not co-operate. You’ll see why in a moment.

Bruce: So here’s the deal: I am four victory points away from ending this by automatic victory. The problem is that I have a really nice set of cards to push the game along, and don’t have any scoring cards that would help me, for example, take advantage of the fact that I currently dominate the Middle East. It’s therefore likely that Troy has at least one of the scoring cards, although it’s too much to hope that he has the right one for me. But I do have something else up my sleeve: two cards called Olympic Games and Duck and Cover.

Olympic Games allows me to roll the dice with a +2 bonus against Troy, and the winner gets two VP. That would put me at 18, and two points from automatic victory. That, however, depends on Troy not boycotting the Olympics, which would instead degrade the Defcon level and give me 4 ops points.

That, in turn, would allow me to play Duck and Cover as an event, which raises the Defcon and then gives me VP equal to 5 minus the resulting Defcon level. If Troy doesn’t boycott the Olympics, and I win that roll, and then I can play Duck and Cover next, that is 4 VP for me and I win automatically. That’s a lot of “ifs.”

For example, Troy could derail this whole sequence by first boycotting the Olympics (which would take the Defcon, now at 4, to 3) and then attempting a coup in a Battleground country before I can play Duck and Cover, thus taking the Defcon to 2. That would preclude me from playing Duck and Cover at all, because that card degrades the Defcon level, and taking the Defcon to 1 (nuclear war) loses you the game. How desperate for VP is Troy? Would he risk a roll-off at a -2 disadvantage in the hope that he gets lucky? I can’t imagine that he would. So even if I get the Defcon to 2 and play Duck and Cover, that’s only 3 VP, and I need 4. I’m not going to get any VP from Asia or Europe, and I can’t count on the possibility that Troy has Middle East scoring.

This is one of the many great things about Twilight Struggle – you can have the perfect turn planned, but never get to implement it because your opponent is one step ahead. Or you can find good uses for a bunch of seemingly bad cards, and all of a sudden you’re sitting pretty. A friend of mine described this game as one of “managing chaos” and I think that’s one of the best things about the design.


USSR plays DeGaulle, removes 2 American influence in France and adds one Soviet Influence. France now uncontrolled (1 USSR influence, zero American).

Troy: DeGaulle is an important card for me since it gives me a small edge in Europe. But things are bleaker elsewhere. The Middle East is mostly untouched, but has enough US influence to give Bruce domination. If I can get a good European balance, though, I can bring out the Europe scoring card that I’m holding.

USA plays Containment, adding one operation point to every card Bruce plays.

Bruce: This will be a big help in trying to overturn the current USSR advantage in Asia, especially since I hold The China Card. France is now a big, open, Communist sore in the middle of Europe. I assume Troy is going to try and control it this turn. If I could get the Defcon to 5, I could simply re-align him right out with all of my adjacent, controlled countries. But because of my VP status and current hand, I’m actually going to be pushing the Defcon in the other direction.

Action Phase 1

USSR plays Indo-Pakistani War for 2 influence: +2 France (control)

USA plays COMECON activates USSR event: +1 Poland, +1 EGer, +1 Romania, +1 Austria (control)

USA 4 influence: +1 UK (control), +1 Spain/Portugal (control), +1 France (costs 2, neutralizes France)

Bruce: With possibly as many as all three Early War scoring cards in Troy’s hand, I have to monitor my position in the three relevant regions (Asia, Europe, Middle East) each round, and make sure that Troy never has Domination at the end of one of my rounds, because that means his next card will be that scoring card if he holds it. With Communists running France, I need to make sure I control more total European countries than Troy does. With Containment and a lot of high-value cards in my hand, plus U.N. Intervention to negate a good Soviet event, I can out-influence Troy all turn. So the only question becomes where to place the influence, and for now it has to be reactive on my part. I’m in several low-stability European countries already (Spain/Portugal, Greece, and Turkey) and can grab them without much trouble, which will keep me ahead in Europe in terms of total nations controlled. Right now, despite France, I’m not worried about Europe.

Action Phase 2

USSR plays Decolonization for influence +2 France (control)

Bruce: Troy really wants France. Ok, he can have it, because all it does is net him an extra VP if Europe scores. There is no way he can get control of more countries than I have this turn. So I need to turn my attention to the other problem region: Asia. We’re currently at 3 Battlegrounds each, but Troy has control of more countries than I do. If he were to flip a low-stability country like Pakistan with a coup, he’d have Dominance in Asia and preclude me from trying a coup elsewhere in the region because the Defcon would then be 3, and that level of tension prohibits coups in Asia. So I’m going to coup before he coups – in Thailand, which will give me a central position from which to expand and break down his control of Southeast Asia. In order to give myself the best chance possible, I’m going to do something risky and use The China Card, which counts as a “5” card because I’m using all the points in Asia. I can only fail if I roll a 1.

USA plays CHINA CARD as a coup Thailand. Card counts as 5 action points. Die Roll = 1 +5 = 6 Stability = 2 x 2 = 4, USSR loses 2 influence in Thailand (to zero). US gains 5 Milops.

Troy: Losing Thailand is bad, but this is actually the best possible outcome for me. I can still put points in Bangkok if necessary, but Bruce can’t – he has no bordering markers. It’s a battleground state, dropping me to two (the Koreas) compared to his three (India, Pakistan and Japan). Asia just got a lot more complicated. Worse for me is the Defcon climbs and I can’t try a coup in Pakistan, since at Defcon 3, Asia is off limits for that kind of shenanigans.

Bruce: That was a total disaster. I did knock Troy down to two Battleground countries, but if I had rolled even one point higher, I would have been left with a US influence marker in Thailand and could expand into the neighboring countries next turn. As it stands now, Troy can just reclaim Thailand, and I can’t try another coup because the Defcon is too high by rule to allow those rolls in Asia. Even if he leaves it alone, I have no influence adjacent to it with which to place my own points there. Arrrgh!

Action Phase 3

USSR plays 5-Year-Plan for 3 influence. USA picks random card to discard. Card chosen is Defectors, US event must be played. US gets 1 VP (to 17)

Troy: I have four cards in my hand when Bruce chooses. And he picks the only one with an American event. I wanted to burn this off in the Space Race at the end of my turn, but I needed the influence points.

USSR ops: +1 Lebanon (control), +2 Hungary (control)

Troy: Influence points which really don’t matter in the end. Here’s why. I drew all three scoring cards this turn. That meant three fewer cards to use as influence or events. Three fewer chances to make some headway in places that could matter. Therefore, instead of using Decolonization earlier to make a quick run at Africa for the mid-game, I had to spend it on points. Worse, there is no chance of these scoring cards NOT coming in to play. They must be played if you have them. Of course, Bruce doesn’t know I have them all. He’s probably guessed about the Europe card, though.

Bruce: And there, like mana from Heaven, comes a single, unexpected victory point which completely changes the game calculus. My next play wins the game.
USA plays Duck and Cover. Degrade Defcon by 1 (to 2). US gains VP equal to 5 minus current Defcon (2). 5 – 2 = 3. 3VP to USA.
USA now has 20 VP – Freedom Prevails.

Troy: See, he didn’t even need me to kill myself with the rule set. He just huddled his schoolkids under desks and declared victory. Our practice game went all the way to the late war and revolts in Poland and East Germany. I don’t even get to build the Berlin Wall this time. Stay tuned for the post-mortems, wherein each of us talk about why we like Twilight Struggle and why I really botched this game.

Bruce: That was a weird game. I’ll have to go back through the turns and see where it got out of hand, but I think that actually happened early, when the Middle East got scored on Turn 1. It’s a shame we didn’t make it further, because there are a lot of neat dynamics that become evident when the remaining scoring regions come into play in the Mid-War period. We will have to play another game (rematch!) now that Troy is more familiar with the card set. Make sure to let him know if you enjoyed this and would like to see another so he can decide whether to invest the time and blog space on it.

The one thing I need to point out about this report is that the VASSAL module for Twilight Struggle is absolutely outstanding, and makes playing it over the Internet a breeze.

Like Troy, I’ll have a post-mortem later.


5 Comments so far ↓

  • Scott R. Krol

    That was a quick game, although I’ve noticed that when folks are first learning the game they do go by fairly fast since you’re still learning all the nuances of the cards. I remember my first game ended in a glowing planet because we weren’t paying attention to the effects the cards were having on DEFCON and my opponent pushed us over without really meaning to. :)

  • Troy

    This was our second complete game. Our first one went all the way to turn seven or eight. The post mortems will make clear what went right and what went wrong, but this should have lasted longer than it did.

  • Rob O'Boston

    Finally we get turn 3! Great stuff Troy, I really enjoyed it. The commentary was very interesting. I have a copy of TS that I haven’t gotten to the table yet, but I want to break it open and study the cards. Understanding the cards and how they interact sounds like the key to enjoying the game.


  • Troy

    There will be a rematch, but probably not a public display of my incompetence.

    Glad you enjoyed it, Rob. I had fun doing it.

  • Natus

    Wow…an American win. My online wargaming buddy swears that a US win is impossible because the game is imbalanced towards the USSR.

    Great AAR; hope to get to play but PoG is taking up all my brain cells…