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Debriefing Twilight Struggle: The Soviet Side

June 20th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 3 Comments · AARTwiStr

Turn One
Turn Two
Turn Three

Bruce may have a wrap-up when his schedule lets up, but for now here’s my take on the game you read about.

It was a rout. Not close at any point. Except for a great burst of Communist expansion in Turn 2 – expansion that never coincided with a useful scoring card – nothing went right for the Russkies.

What did I do wrong?

Some of it was not my fault. All three scoring cards came out in both the first round and the third round. Scoring cards in the first turn are a pain to deal with because you don’t know if your opponent is setting up influence to play a scoring card immediately or if he/she is setting up a grand strategy. And in the third turn, when I needed to take advantage of a wide open Middle East and a small edge in Asia, my only card with a 3 value was a US Event card. You know that each scoring card will come out at least once in a War Era (Early, Mid, Late) but there is no guarantee that they will come up twice. Here they did, and all in clumps.

Some of it was Bruce being Bruce. He knows the game better than I do and was smart enough to play Containment as his 3rd turn Headline, meaning there was no way I could get a leg up – his minimum action points on a card was 2 and most would have 3 or 4. That one card meant that even if I could get some momentum on the board, he could match me point for point.

But I made a couple of huge mistakes that came back to kill me.

First, the Military Operations points on the initial turn. An attempted coup in Iran in the early going could have changed the game, successful or not. A failed coup would have meant getting those points, a successful coup would have remade the Middle East – and that was a scoring round that killed me. It’s easy to neglect that aspect of the game because it’s not in your face. Plus, as the Defcon rises, you can lose avenues for meaningful realignments or coups. This is one aspect of the game I need to get stronger at.

Second, I tended to play more friendly events than Bruce did. Why? Partly because I like events. I love how designers Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews have crafted event cards that evoke the Cold War period. Given the choice between playing influence points in Asia or playing Suez Crisis, I’ll go for the Suez Crisis – Lester Pearson gets his Nobel Prize and Western Europe falls on its face. Neat. But every influence point matters and Bruce was spending them like crazy.

Twilight Struggle, in many ways, defies planning. Unlike Paths of Glory where you can use the Action Points to coherently push at a military objective, stuff happens in Twilight Struggle that can alter your calculus on every phase. This becomes more true in the Mid and Late Game (which we didn’t reach this time around) but applies to the early going as well. There is a lot of luck involved in the cards you draw, and you have to make due. There are three types of cards (US, Soviet, Neutral) and can range from 1 to 4 points and some can reappear over and over. Others only fire once. If your opponent gets a bonus/penalty card, you can find yourself in a hole where the object of the turn is to survive the onslaught.

This is another perfect example of how the game captures the Cold War theme. You need to respond to your opponent’s moves, but not lose sight of the major objective. Maybe events should be timed to tip the balance irrevocably in your favor and influence to counter other influence? If you can get cards that match up (Suez + DeGaulle, Independent Reds + Soviet Event, UN Intervention + anything you hate) you can get the ball rolling in your favor. But that can turn at the drop of a hat. You may be saving all those points for a push in South America, but a coup in Africa can force you to rethink your options.

And then the die is cast. Bad rolls are beyond your control, so you need to weight them in your favor. Never try a realignment deep in enemy territory. Use high value cards to push the odds to your side of the ledger. All of this seems obvious. And it is. But it’s easy to get wrapped up in your grand strategy for the Middle East, and like a gambler or a second-rate President, start throwing good influence after bad. Constant reassessment is the name of the game.

Not that you can get by without a plan of some sort. In the week between turns two and three, I kept looking at my hand, thinking of how I could make good use of it. I realized pretty early that this turn would probably kill me, but I needed a way to stay alive until Bruce had no choice but to play crappy cards in my favor. (I didn’t know he was sitting on UN Intervention.) But my charge in Turn Two was all about executing a plan to transform Asia. A successful coup in Pakistan would have helped me keep America out of India, but for the most part it worked. It just didn’t work enough.

Bruce will have more to say about the VASSAL mod in other places, I’m sure, but our games (and there will be a rematch) have persuaded me to put the board version on my buy list. I have some misgivings about the scoring system being so dependent on when a player chooses to count the points in a particular region, but it’s not like I can think of a better option that work as well with the existing game mechanics.

Oh, and thanks to Bruce for agreeing to do this. It was his idea, actually, and considering how busy he is, quite generous.

Of course, he finds kicking my ass at board games good R&R.


3 Comments so far ↓

  • Toby Hede

    I opened up VASSAL with the Twilight package the other day and had no idea where to start. It looks great. I will definitely be trying it out. Knowing the game is definitely a big help though.

  • Michael A.

    Thanks for the report; it was interesting to read.

    And the offer of game in Age of Napoleon still stands. :)

  • roberton

    My thanks too for the whole game and its coverage. (I might be the one who you refer to as asking for an AAR of a game).

    Very interesting, and I’m wondering if I can play anyone if I buy the game. Or even if I could just buy the game and pretend I’m going to play it… :-)

    Anyway, it was intriguing to see what happened and the thinking from you and Bruce about why and what you did. Perhaps would have been even better had the game lasted longer, but it was great despite that so IMHO it shows there’s some mileage in this idea. So no rush, but please do another one sometime!