As I alluded to last week, Twilight Struggle is a very complicated game that is hard to learn. So after having taught this game to several people I think I have a good enough handle on explaining things to make this into a series of blog posts. I am not saying that I am great player at this game, only that what I’m outlining here is enough to start. Let’s get started, this week will be breaking down the different parts of the board and what they all represent. I highly recommend that you use some means of looking at the board, whether it’s a hard copy, Google Image or Vassal.
Set Up: Sort out the influence markers and place the appropriate markers on the board. When it comes to choosing sides have the more experienced player be the USSR. The reason for this is that the USSR has an advantage in the game, especially early on. It is better that the more experienced player be the USSR and explain how they are seizing advantages instead of having a new player not understand this advantage and be beaten. When it comes to using variants I highly recommend only using the optional card and maybe the Chinese Civil War. The reason why I say maybe about Chinese Civil War is that there are a few intricacies that only add to the number of things that need to be kept track of, the flipside being that it is a rather good variant. Any sort of variants that affect realignment should be decided once both players know what they are doing in order to properly learn the rules first. If both of you are new than just amicably decide who is which side.
The Board: The board is broken up into a number of regions that are color coded. Europe is purple, the Middle East is blue, Asia is orange, Africa is yellow, South America is dark green and Central America is light green. Keep in mind that within these regions there are sub regions, Europe is divided into Eastern Europe, which is paler than Western Europe. Austria and Finland count as both Eastern and Western Europe while Canada and Turkey are Western Europe as well. Asia has some countries that are of a lighter shade; these are South East Asia countries and will be scored independently at some point in the game. There is also the DEFCON track, the military operations track, victory point track, action round track, turn track and space race track, each of will be explained below.
Countries: Countries have several components to them. Along the top they have a flag, followed by the name and a stability number that is in either yellow or red. Stability number indicates how much influence a superpower needs in a country in order to control it. If both superpowers have influence in a country than control is given if a superpower has a difference of the stability number. For example, if both the US and USSR have influence in Italy, than either side needs to have 2 more influence than the other one to control it. If the number is in a red box than it is a battleground country, yellow means it is a nonbattleground country. Stability is also important with coups, which will be covered next week.
DEFCON Track: This indicates how close the world is to ending via global thermonuclear war. The game begins with DEFCON at Five, total peace. As DEFCON is degraded the regions in which you can commit coups and realignments is cut off. DEFCON is usually degraded by couping battleground countries but there are a number of cards that can do it as well. At DEFCON 4 Europe is no longer possible, at 3 Asia is no longer possible and at 2 the Middle East is no longer possible. If DEFCON drops to 1 then the game ends with the phasing player a.k.a the player whose action round it is loses the game. At the end of each turn DEFCON is improved by 1.
Military Operations Track: Often abbreviated to MilOps. This track refers to how much military activity each superpower has committed during the current turn. The most common way to increase it is to carry out coups. When you commit a coup, regardless of the result, you get military operations equal to the operations value of the card you used. If at the end of a turn a player does not have military operations equal to or greater than DEFCON, then that player loses the difference in victory points. At the end of each turn the military operations track is reset for both sides.
Victory Points Track: The Victory Point or VP track ranges from -20 or 20 Soviet to +20 or 20 American. It is a zero sum game and means that whenever someone loses victory points than the other side gains them and vice versa. If one side ever reaches 20 VPs then they win the game.
Action Round Track: Each turn is played out in a number of actions rounds, 6 in the Early War a.k.a the first three turns and 7 thereafter. An action round is the resolution of one card from a player’s hand.
Turn Track: Indicates what turn you are on, important in keeping track of when Mid and Late War cards get shuffled into the deck as well checking the general flow of the game.
Space Race Track: The Space Race Track represents each superpower’s space program. As an action, once per turn, a player may discard a card with equal to or greater operations value and then roll a die to see if they advance on the track. The Ops value starts at 2, and eventually raises to 3 and then 4. When a card is discarded, the event does not trigger, the value of that will be covered next week. Some spaces reward victory points while others reward the player with special abilities. The spaces that reward victory points will be formatted as 2/1, which indicates that the first player to get to that spot will receive 2 victory points and the second player will receive 1 point. The spaces that reward special abilities such as being able to space 2 cards instead of 1 only last until the other player reaches the spot where that ability is granted, at which point neither player has it.
Hopefully this has proven to be informative, next week I will be covering cards and what to do with them.