The final part of my Long Twilight Tutorial series(Part 1 and Part 2), designed to give you an idea of how the game is actually played instead of just the rules. Here is the first turn of a game of Twilight Struggle that I played with a friend over VASSAL. While neither of us are superb players, we do have a good grasp on the fundamentals and this should serve as a good example of play and provide some helpful context to the rules. I highly recommend using appropriate visual aids to follow along if you’re unfamiliar with the game.
I was the US with my opponent playing as the Soviets, we used the Chinese Civil War variant and the optional cards with no modifications to starting influence.
My Hand: Red Scare/Purge, US/Japan Mutual Defense Pact, UN Intervention, CIA Created, Blockade, Independent Reds, Indo-Pakistani War, Special Relationship.
There are a few cards that stand out here: Red Scare/Purge is one of the strongest cards in the game and an excellent headline. Blockade means that I should reconsider my placement of starting influence in Western Europe, especially given that I have only 2 cards which I can discard to it and I’d rather not. CIA Created is never a card I want in my hand as the U.S. instead I want it in the Soviet hand so that they cannot play it with DEFCON at 2 or else they lose the game unless under very specific circumstances. Otherwise my hand is very forgettable, its full of 2 ops events that I don’t care about.
Set up Influence: 3 in Italy, 2 in Greece, 1 in Canada, 1 in Spain/Portugal.
Since I know that I’m going to trigger Blockade and not discard I don’t waste my set up influence in West Germany. Instead I overcontrol Italy(by which I mean I have more influence than needed to control it), put 1 into Canada in the hopes of getting Marshall Plan to allow me control of Canada and making the event NORAD live as soon as possible. Control of Greece is to protect Italy and allows me to place into Turkey. Placing into Spain/Portugal is a mistake; I should’ve placed into Benelux instead so I can play into West Germany. However the logic behind Spain/Portugal was it helps me protect Italy from Brush War if NATO is never triggered and on the rare chance I can and need to realign either France or Italy then I have a slight edge. Make sure to note how each country is connected to one another. As the US never have starting influence in France, between Suez Crisis and De Gaulle Leads France it is influence that are you asking to lose.
* American reveals Red Scare/Purge in Headline Phase.
* Soviet reveals Europe Scoring in Headline Phase.
*** American plays Red Scare/Purge Event ***
* All cards played by U.S.S.R. this turn are -1 Ops (min. 1 Op).
*** Soviet plays Europe Scoring Event ***
* U.S.S.R. has Presence in Europe for 3 VPs.
* U.S.S.R. Controls 2 Battleground countries in Europe.
* U.S. has Presence in Europe for 3 VPs.
* U.S. Controls 1 Battleground countries in Europe.
* Soviets gain 1 VPs.
* Soviet changes VPs to 1 Soviet Victory Point.
Soviet Influence in E. Germany was increased from 3 to 4.
Soviet Influence in Poland was increased from 0 to 4.
Soviet Influence in Yugoslavia was increased from 0 to 1.
U.S. Influence in Italy was increased from 0 to 3.
U.S. Influence in Greece was increased from 0 to 2.
U.S. Influence in Canada was increased from 2 to 3.
U.S. Influence in Spain/Portugal was increased from 0 to 1.
First a note on the Soviet set up of influence: it is the standard opening, Overcontrolling East Germany and Poland is crucial in order to keep the U.S. out of them in the Mid and Late War. 1 in Yugoslavia is to threaten Italy and the other countries in Southern Europe. While the Soviets start with an influence in Finland, it is best to just forget it and focus on more important things.
I headline Red Scare/Purge as noted above it is insanely powerful and I have nothing else worth considering headlining in the slightest. The Soviet Player headlines Europe Scoring, if I had done a standard set up in controlling West Germany we would’ve broken even, as is the Soviet gets a 1 point for having 1 one more battleground country. This tells me that the Soviet player doesn’t think they can improve their position in Europe to affect the scoring and that there are no super powerful events in my opponent’s hand. Better to just get rid of the scoring card now and spend the rest of the turn being more proactive. Here I’m saved from my blunder of placing starting influence by the virtue of the Soviet selects their headline for turn 1 before I place influence; otherwise they could’ve poured enough Ops into West Germany to ensure practically ensure Domination.
* Soviet player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 1: Soviet
*** Soviet plays Marshall Plan* for 3 Ops.
* Soviet Die =  *** <Soviet>
*** Soviet initiates coup in Iran with 3 Ops.
* Soviet changes DefCon to 4.
* No coups or realignments in Europe.
* Soviet changes Soviet Military Ops to 3.
* No change in influence in Iran.
Turn 1 Action Round 1 Soviet coup on Iran is incredibly important. If it’s successful then the U.S. is cut of Western Asia, making contesting Asia difficult and with the only other country with starting influence in the region being Israel, it is very easy for that to be the prelude to getting locked out of the region entirely. My opponent has horrendous luck here between using Marshall Plan, rolling a 1 and being under Red Scare/Purge.
*** Soviet plays Marshall Plan* Event ***
* US may add 1 US Influence in each of 7 non-USSR controlled countries in W. Europe.
* Allows play of NATO.
U.S. Influence in Canada was increased from 3 to 4.
U.S. Influence in U.K. was increased from 5 to 6.
U.S. Influence in Spain/Portugal was increased from 1 to 2.
U.S. Influence in Italy was increased from 3 to 4.
U.S. Influence in Greece was increased from 2 to 3.
U.S. Influence in Turkey was increased from 0 to 1.
U.S. Influence in Benelux was increased from 0 to 1.
Being able to place 7 influence is really powerful, especially this early on, as the later the game goes the less value Marshall Plan has. This is the continuation of being incredibly lucky and saves me from my misplay. Canada is now controlled and NORAD will be a live event once it gets triggered. UK is to minimize the effect of Suez Crisis so I spend less to take back control of it. Overcontrol of Italy is again, really important and I will happy make sure I have it. I’m not sure what I was thinking in overcontrolling Greece, it would’ve been better to place it into Denmark so that I more routes of access to West Germany. Turkey is to give me a hard path into the Middle East if I need it and means I need only 1 influence in order to cancel Cuban Missile Crisis if needed.
* American player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 1: American
*** American plays US/Japan Mutual Defense Pact* for 4 Ops.
*** American initiates coup in Iraq with 4 Ops.
* American changes DefCon to 3.
* No coups or realignments in Asia.
* U.S. Die =  *** <American>
* American changes American Military Ops to 4.
* No change in influence in Iraq
Coups are, as a general rule of thumb, really powerful. I don’t want to give my opponent more chances to coup Iran and I also need military operations. This leaves only North Korea and Iraq as a viable coup targets given that I also want to degrade DEFCON. The problem is that they are both stability 3, with a 4 ops card I only have a 50 percent chance of doing anything. Iraq is chosen as the path of least resistance; here my luck breaks as I also roll a 1. I don’t play US/Japan Mutual Defense Pact for the event since the odds of it coming back are high and the 4 ops are worth far more than the 3 influence and marginal benefits that I get otherwise.
* American player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 2: Soviet
*** Soviet plays Suez Crisis* for 2 Ops.
* Soviet Die =  *** <Soviet>
*** Soviet initiates coup in Iran with 2 Ops.
* Soviet changes DefCon to 2.
* No coups or realignments in MiddleEast.
* Soviet changes Soviet Military Ops to 5.
* No change in influence in Iran.
* No changes in Influence last round.
This is unlucky for both of us for very different reasons. Rolling yet another 1 means that I’m free to move into Iran and make it a very unappealing target next turn. Unlucky for me cause I want Suez Crisis to be triggered as soon as possible so I no longer have to play around it.
* Soviet player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 2: American
*** American plays Special Relationship for 2 Ops.
U.S. Influence in Iran was increased from 1 to 3.
I do exactly that. This means that the Soviet player has to overcome a 7 in order to coup successfully, on a 4 ops card this means that a 4+ is a success and best case scenario is that they knock me out of Iran and don’t get anything themselves. Given that I can safely play into Western Asia I can also get back into Iran easily.
* Soviet player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 3: Soviet
*** Soviet plays Olympic Games for 1 Ops.
Soviet Influence in Iraq was increased from 1 to 2.
Grabbing Iran now means that the Soviet player has to worry about me having Middle East and acts accordingly. This also tells me that they don’t have Nasser in hand.
* Soviet player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 3: American
*** American plays Indo-Pakistani War for 2 Ops.
U.S. Influence in Lebanon was increased from 0 to 1.
U.S. Influence in Pakistan was increased from 0 to 1.
I play into Lebanon in order to blunt the power of Arab-Israeli War as well as continuing to threaten Middle East Scoring. Pakistan also presents a new threat and is crucial in order to enhance my standing in Asia as well as a bulwark for Iran.
* American player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 4: Soviet
*** Soviet plays Formosan Resolution* for 1 Ops.
Soviet Influence in Iraq was increased from 2 to 3.
Again, the Soviet Player has to respond to the more immediate threat of getting nothing in scoring. Note that since we’re playing with the Chinese Civil War variant, the Formosan Resolution event does not trigger until the Civil War has been resolved.
* Soviet player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 4: American
*** American plays Independent Reds* for 2 Ops.
U.S. Influence in Pakistan was increased from 1 to 2.
U.S. Influence in Malaysia was increased from 0 to 1.
I take Pakistan and Malaysia in order to shore myself up in Asia and to move into the contested part of Southeast Asia, most importantly Thailand as it is the only battleground there.
* American player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 5: Soviet
*** Soviet plays Decolonization Event ***
* USSR may add 1 Influence in each of 4 African and/or SE Asian countries.
Soviet Influence in Thailand was increased from 0 to 1.
Soviet Influence in Laos/Cambodia was increased from 0 to 1.
Soviet Influence in Angola was increased from 0 to 1.
Soviet Influence in Tunisia was increased from 0 to 1.
Speaking of Southeast Asia, Thailand is important as it is a battleground, Laos/Cambodia gives them a crucial non battleground in the race for Domination. Playing in Africa is a bit more problematic however, Angola means that CIA Created is now a DEFCON suicide card as I can always coup it, causing thermoglobal nuclear war at DEFCON 2 and thus the Soviet player loses. Tunisia does give access to Algeria and Libya but comes at the cost of allowing me to a coup a non BG country, which allows me to satisfy Military Operations next turn and not lose 2 VP.
* Soviet player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 5: American
*** American plays Blockade* Event ***
US player must discard a ‘3’ or more Ops card or lose all Influence in W. Germany.
* American does not discard a card.
* Already zero U.S. influence in W. Germany.
*** American plays Blockade* for 1 Ops.
U.S. Influence in W. Germany was increased from 0 to 1.
By turn 3 I want to have control of West Germany, No harm in starting now.
* American player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 6: Soviet
*** Soviet plays Truman Doctrine* for 1 Ops.
*** Soviet plays Truman Doctrine* Event ***
* US player may remove all USSR Influence from one uncontrolled country in Europe.
Soviet Influence in Libya was increased from 0 to 1.
Here the log shows an oversight that we both made at the time. Both Yugoslavia and Finland were legal targets for Truman Doctrine and after the fact I removed it from Yugoslavia in order to cut them out of the south for the moment. And if anyone is wondering, yes it is a may but at the time both of us were a bit preoccupied with other matters at the time and had no qualms in changing the board. Playing into Libya gears them up for a fight next turn in the region.
* Soviet player updated turn to Turn 1, Round 6: American
*** American plays CIA Created* for 1 Ops.
U.S. Influence in W. Germany was increased from 1 to 2.
Same deal as last action round. An argument could be made that playing into Jordan so I can get into Saudi Arabia next turn can be made. I’m left holding UN Intervention on the grounds of it’s the only card in my hand that I don’t mind holding compared to the other cards which I either wanted to trigger or get back into the deck.
* American changes Soviet Military Ops to 0.
* American changes American Military Ops to 0.
* American changes DefCon to 3.
* Coups and realignments now allowed in MiddleEast.
* American player deals cards.
* American player updated turn to Turn 2; Headline Phase
Overall, I’m in a strong position, all three regions that will be scored in the Early War are leaning in my favor albeit precariously. It is very much still in the balance.
End of Turn 1 Summary:
Regions Scored: Europe
Regions still to be scored: Middle East, Asia
Events Removed from Game: Marshall Plan, Truman Doctrine, Blockade
Discard: Red Scare/Purge, Europe Scoring, US/Japan Mutual Defense Pact, Suez Crisis, Special Relationship, Olympic Games, Indo-Pakistani War, Formosan Resolution, Independent Reds, Decolonization, Independent Reds, CIA Created
Well that is what a first turn of Twilight Struggle is supposed to look like. While there were some misplays and some things that could be argued, in general this is what an actual game looks like. I hope that between this and the rules explanation you have an idea of whether this game is for you and some idea as to how to begin being a good player at it. Until next time.