New to Twilight Struggle?

Twilight Struggle

Twilight Struggle can be an intimidating game.  But it doesn’t have to be — with the help of this site, the forum, and perhaps a patient playing partner, you can find out for yourself why it’s the top-ranked game on BoardGameGeek.

The first thing to know is that you do not need to memorize all the cards (yet).  Eventually, after playing a dozen or so times, you will know all the cards without having memorized them.  But you should not approach your first few games thinking that you need to memorize all the cards.  It’s impractical, unrealistic, and unnecessary.  Just have fun with the game and get a feel for how it works.

The second thing to know is that it is natural to feel rather lost during your first few games.  That’s OK.  But if you want a game where you feel like you know what you’re doing your very first time, Twilight Struggle is not the game for you.  It requires at least two or three games before you can feel comfortable.

The third thing to know is that if you’re playing with an experienced player, and really want to learn this game, you should play as the US and have your partner play as the USSR.  At the beginner level, this game tilts towards the USSR because the USSR starts the game with the initiative.  For this reason, you sometimes see people recommending that the beginner play the USSR.  This is a mistake.  If you play the USSR in your first game, you won’t get an accurate feel of how the game flows because you’re supposed to be the one driving it.  If you play as US, you might get steamrolled quickly in an hour or so, but you’ll understand the game a whole lot better, and it’ll make your second play of the game as USSR that much more enjoyable.

The fourth thing to know is that if you’re reading this, you probably want to enjoy this game.  The best way to make use of this site is via the General Strategy articles and the Annotated Games.  Once you have a decent grasp of the game, you can go through the individual card analyses.

Finally, there’s a reason why a lengthy, 2-player-only Cold War “wargame” has made it to #1 on the BoardGameGeek ranking.  It’s because despite all the x-factors working against the game, it’s still a supreme triumph of design and narrative.  It is my favorite game of all time, and most who have played it will agree.

A rules overview

Twilight Struggle’s rules themselves are not nearly as difficult as some other euro games.  That being said, they are easy to get wrong.  Here’s an overview of gameplay that hopefully helps clarify things.  If you still have questions, feel free to ask them in the forum.

Each turn has 6 or 7 Action Rounds.  During your Action Round, you must play a card, and one of the following things will happen:

  1. You play it for Operations, worth the number in the corner.  This is the most common use of the cards in your hand.
    1. If it’s your own event, then you use the Operations points only and get to do one of three things:
      1. Place influence: the most common way to use Ops.  It is subject to two restrictions:
        1. You can place them anywhere you are adjacent at the start of the turn (so on the starting board position, the USSR can spread from North Korea to South Korea, but not to Japan in a single Action Round).
        2. If you place in a country while it is controlled by your opponent, it costs 2 Ops instead of 1.  If Thailand is 0/2, it will cost 5 Ops to bring it to 4/2.
      2. Coup: the second most common way to use Ops.  It is subject to several restrictions:
        1. Coups are always region-restricted by DEFCON.  At DEFCON 5, coups anywhere are permissible; at DEFCON 4, Europe cannot be couped; at DEFCON 3, Europe/Asia cannot be couped; at DEFCON 2, Europe/Asia/Middle East cannot be couped.
        2. Coups in battleground countries will lower DEFCON one level.  Coups in non-battleground countries do not affect DEFCON (but are still restricted by DEFCON, as above).  Because you will lose the game if DEFCON drops to 1 on your Action Round, you may not permit a battleground to be couped on your Action Round at DEFCON 2.
        3. You may only coup countries that your opponent has influence in.
        4. Calculate the coup as follows: [card value] + [die roll] – [stability] * 2.  That value is how much influence your opponent loses (and any left over is how much influence you gain).  If the USSR coups Iran at 2/0 with a 4 Ops and roll a 3, 4+3-2*2 = 3.  US loses 2 influence and USSR gains 1.
      3. Realignment: the rarest way to use Ops.
        1. Realignments are region-restricted in the exact same way that coups are.
        2. However, realignments never affect DEFCON.
        3. Although you can lose influence from realignment, you can never gain it.
        4. You may realign different countries with each Op.
        5. For each Op, each side rolls one die and adds +1 for control of each adjacent country and +1 for having more influence in the target.
    2. If it’s your opponent’s event, then you get to conduct Operations, as above, but the opponent’s event also happens.  You can choose whether it happens before or after your Operations.  Sometimes the event is removed from the game.

     

  2. You play it for the event (this includes Scoring Cards).  Assuming it is your own event, you get the event effect.  Sometimes the event is then removed from the game.
    1. If you play a Scoring Card, you score the region immediately.
      1. Both of you score one of:
        1. Control: Do you control all battlegrounds in the region and more countries overall than your opponent?
        2. Domination: Do you control more battlegrounds and more countries than your opponent, and at least one non-battleground?
        3. Presence: Do you control at least one country?
        4. Nothing
      2. You only score one of these!  If you have Control, you do not also score Presence.
      3. You score 1 additional VP for each battleground.
      4. You score 1 additional VP for each country adjacent to your enemy.
      5. The difference between your scores is how much the VP marker moves.
      6. Example: in Europe, if the US controls France, West Germany, Italy, and Greece, and the USSR controls East Germany, Poland, and Yugoslavia, the US would score 3 + 7 for Domination and the USSR would score 2 + 3 for Presence.  The US thus gets 5 VP.  If the USSR also controlled Turkey, the US would only score 3 + 3 for Presence, and 1 VP overall.

       

  3. You send it to space.
    1. You may send one card to the space race each turn.
    2. The cards on the space race must be 2 Ops or higher (towards the end of the track, you will need 3 Ops or higher cards).

At the start of the turn, before the Action Rounds, you each headline a card.  This card’s event triggers.  The event with the higher Ops goes first (if tied, the US goes first).

You are dealt up to [number of Action Rounds] + 2 cards.  This means you will usually have one left over after headline and ARs.  This is your hold card.

You win the game immediately when:

  • You control Europe when Europe is scored
  • At any point, the VP marker moves to +20 or -20
  • Wargames (a Late War event) is triggered
  • DEFCON drops to 1 during your opponent’s Action Round

Otherwise, at the end of Turn 10, you score every region one more time (Final Scoring), give the holder of the China Card 1 VP, and whoever leads in VPs wins.

6 Responses to New to Twilight Struggle?

  1. Zachary Zhang says:

    In the winning situations at the end of this article, you may want to add one more: “During your opponent’s action round (including headline phase), DEFCON drops to 1. “

  2. Kohlrabi says:

    You might want to change 2.A.iv. to “You score 1 additional VP for each country adjacent to your enemy’s home nation.” for clarity. The game rules themselves say “enemy superpower”, which is too ambiguous, too, in my opinion.

  3. Alb says:

    hi!
    very stupid question.
    If I played a card as operation points, and the event is associated to the opponent, it does happen. If it underlined, does it remains on the board (active!)!?
    Thks!

    • theory says:

      Yes, but the event doesn’t re-trigger every turn. Most of the underlined events stay out because they affect the rest of the game in some way (e.g., Warsaw Pact Formed is left out, only because it subsequently enables the play of NATO).

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