Thursday, February 01, 2007

Twilight Struggle, or How I Dated Chuck’s Ugly Girlfriend

Tuesday saw Portland get a surprise snowstorm - OK, the computer models all predicted it, but since they’d also predicted a nostorm the week before, I guess everyone thought that if it wasn’t snowing at 5am, it wasn’t gonna happen - so the only person who could make it over was Ben, as he lives two blocks away. We decided to introduce him to Twilight Struggle, the Game I Hate To Love.

The game is actually really good, but it suffers from success relying too much on the event cards that you draw. It is possible to mitigate the luck with good play, but I’ve had too many games where I’ve been up 5 points at the start of the turn only to end with a loss because of a bad hand. Still, the basic concept really appeals to me, and so I was happy to teach and play.

Ben hadn’t played any card-driven wargames before, so this was an excellent chance to introduce him to the genre. If you take Hannibal, abstract the army activity down to a couple of very light mechanisms and event cards, and make every space on the board its own little race for influence, then set it in the Cold War, that’s what the game feels like.

Since I hadn’t played recently, I made my trademark rules errors, of which all are understandable:

1) We played that you could make Realignment rolls in Europe/Mideast/Asia regardless of the DefCon level (the 1st ed map track says only “Coups”),

2) We played that you couldn’t realign more than once in a country during a given activation - this makes sense to me, but the rule says it’s legal to re-realign.

3) We played that all coups increased the DefCon level, when it’s only increased when you coup in Battleground States. This had a big effect on the game, of course.

4) If one player hits 20 VP during the turn, it’s game over, man.

As such, and since it was a learning game for Ben, the game never got to a point where the USSR (Ben) was in a position to win without a particularly good or bad hand getting dealt. Some of the things I re-learned from the game:

1) VPs are huge. If you have a chance to get some, barring some upcoming event/scoring card that you need to tend to, grab ‘em.

2) Red Scare/Purge should almost always be played as a Headline if you’ve got it unless you are concerned about a potential VP problem and want to head it off at the pass. The loss of OPS for your opponent is equivalent to a Power Play in hockey where your opponent has one less player on the ice.

3) Don’t be afraid to play events that will help your opponent if you can counter them with the OPS. For example, Crisis in Suez lets your opponent remove influence from three countries, which you can offset by replacing it (assuming you have influence in or around the country after the removal) or minimize by placing first if you would lose access. Timing of events is everything in this game.

4) Let your opponent play your events unless they will help you. If you play an event, all you get is the event. If your opponent gets it, you get the event but don’t have to play a card. However, some events benefit tremendously from timing - Brezhnev Doctrine is much better if you play it in your Headlines Phase as the USSR, not so great if the US plays it as their last card.

5) Coups are a great way to get your influence into an area you are thin in. The otherwise tight Iraq-Iran-Pakistan-India corridor has to be accessed from non-battleground states that are nearby.

6) The China Card is really useful to get you set up in Asia, but you better have the scoring card or know that your opponent isn’t going to get it next turn when they can use it. The one VP at the end is sometimes useful, but sometimes not.

I was intrigued enough by the game to run through a replay online, and that’s where I discovered my mistakes. As such, I’m actually looking forward to trying this game yet again. God, I’m such a sucker.

Thanks to Ben for saving my regular game night, especially as I’m not going to be at the next couple of sessions since I’ll be in Cancun. Where the forecast calls for rain. I can only hope that these forecasters ignored their weather models, as there’s nothing quite as wonderful as flying for 10 hours to sit in a hotel room all day.

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