Twilight Strategy: the e-book!

Twilight Strategy is now available in PDF, epub, and mobi for download!  It is a collection of every post made on Twilight Strategy and can make a great gift for someone just learning Twilight Struggle.

The book is, and always will be, free to download.  You are welcome to pay if you would like, but you get exactly the same book regardless of whether you pay for it or not.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Community game against me!

I’m playing against the BoardGameGeek community in a Twilight Struggle game. Come check it out and play! I will be playing US.

I’ll write down my thoughts during the game, and post it as a blog entry here afterwards as the much-requested fourth Annotated Game.

Posted in Annotated Games | 4 Comments

Twilight Strategy App

Jason Trill has made TwiStrug, an amazing app that collates all of the articles into an easy-to-read format.  Very useful for an ongoing game or for a quick lookup!

In addition, we are working with GMT to put out hard copy versions of the Twilight Strategy e-book.  Stay tuned for further updates!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Late War recap

The analyses for all of the cards are finished.  Here is a brief summary of the Late War cards (including Optional Cards, as always):

Late War Neutral US USSR All cards
1 Ops
2 Ops 2 3 5 10
3 Ops 6 4 10
4 Ops 1 1 1 3
Total cards 3 10 10 23
Total Ops 8 28 26 62
Average 2.67 2.8 2.6 2.70

The cumulative table for all cards:

Neutral US USSR All cards
Scoring 7 7
1 Ops 3 6 5 14
2 Ops 9 16 15 40
3 Ops 4 16 16 36
4 Ops 4 4 4 12
Total cards 27 | 20
42 40 109 | 102
Total Ops 49 102 99 250
Average 1.81 | 2.45 2.43 2.48 2.29 | 2.45

All of the summary tables are now collected here.

Posted in Cards, Late War | 6 Comments

AWACS Sale to Saudis

AWACS Sale to SaudisAWACS Sale to Saudis

1981 – 1987

The E3 “AWACS” aircraft is one of the most sophisticated early command and surveillance platforms available to the United States Air Force. Imagine Congress’ surprise when President Ronald Reagan announced plans to sell 5 of them to Saudi Arabia after they have only recently entered service in the United States. The “Airborne Warning and Control System” sale was, at that time, the largest military sale ever. While it met with Congressional resistance, as well as resistance from the Israeli government, ultimately, the objective was to cement Saudi Arabia as the US new anchor against Tehran. The high profile political risk associated with this arms sale would draw the two governments together long after the Cold War was over.

Time: Late War
Side: US
Ops: 3
Removed after event: Yes


The damage is easily repaired, but the loss of Muslim Revolution is not.  Given that this is essentially a 1 Op card if you control Saudi Arabia, I will only play it if Muslim Revolution or Middle East Scoring is not going to be reshuffled into the deck.  (Or if I have more important things to send to Space, which I probably do.)

If the US controls Saudi Arabia already, then I usually play this without a second thought since it doesn’t affect the scoring of the region.  (Though Muslim Revolution might be just what you need to win back the Middle East.)


There are four possible scenarios:

If Muslim Revolution is still in the deck and the USSR controls Saudi Arabia, this is a very good event with two positive benefits.

If Muslim Revolution isn’t in the deck and the USSR controls Saudi Arabia, AWACS depends on on whether you possibly wresting control (which would involve at least 4 Ops after AWACS) is really worth it to you.  Does it affect Domination scoring, or just the battleground’s VP?

If Muslim Revolution is still in the deck but I control Saudi Arabia, this is an OK event since Muslim Revolution is guaranteed to take out at least 5 influence. But I am probably willing to chance it and just play AWACS for Ops.

If Muslim Revolution isn’t in the deck and I control Saudi Arabia, then there is definitely no point to wasting the 3 Ops.

Posted in Late War, US Events | Tagged | 2 Comments

General Strategy: Realignments

Realignments are one of the most puzzling aspects of the game to a beginner.  They are rarely the most effective use of your Ops, frustratingly DEFCON-restricted, and can never gain you influence in a target country.

In general, realignments only occur at DEFCON 2.  In most cases, battleground coups are a more powerful method to alter a region in your favor.  But once DEFCON drops to 2, you must search for other ways to attack your opponent’s battlegrounds.  Realignments are one such method; they require some setup work, but can pay off handsome dividends.

First, this article will discuss some tactics involving realignment play.  Then it will discuss the two kinds of realignments that are most effective: when your opponent can’t play back in, and when you are at a +1 or greater advantage.  Finally, it will give some common examples.

Realignment Tactics

Higher realignment bonuses are always better.  But controlling cheap non-battlegrounds to boost your realignments often risks your opponent couping you back, gaining him the realignment modifier.  It is therefore advantageous when you can control multiple non-battlegrounds at once, play multiple Actions in a row, or use an event like Junta to prevent this tit-for-tat response.  Sometimes you don’t need to do this, especially when your opponent is preoccupied.

You can consult Ken Watson’s Realignment Probability Charts to determine just how much of a boost you need.  Remember that you can always use a bigger card to make up for a worse realignment bonus.

I usually use a slightly bigger card than I need, because a wasted Action Round is often quite costly, and I might not get another good chance.  This means that I try to set up multiple realignment possibilities at once, so that in case of unexpected success I can do something with the rest of my Ops.

Finally, you usually see realignments in 2-stability or higher battlegrounds.  1-stability battlegrounds are often easy to flip with direct influence placement or coups instead.

Types of Realignments

The first kind of realignment, and the best kind, is the realignment that eliminates your opponent’s access to the region.  This tends to come up when someone has isolated influence with nothing next to it.  When you eliminate all access to the region, you achieve two distinct goals: not only has your opponent lost the battleground, he has also lost any opportunity to put the influence back in.  This means you are free, on your next turn, to play in influence and take over the country.

A common example is Fidel.  The US can trigger Fidel, and then use the 2 Ops from the card to attempt two realignment rolls against Cuba, rolling at +0.  There is a 34.88% chance of success: not great, but the payoff is significant.  The USSR has no way of getting back in if their influence is eliminated.

Another example is South Africa.  If the USSR controls Angola and then takes Botswana, they can often trap the US in South Africa and realign him out of the region.

The main reason this kind of realignment is so powerful is because your opponent can’t respond to it.  There’s no tit-for-tat where you realign him out, and then he places back in, and then you have to realign him out again.

Occasionally, it is to your benefit to go for -1 realignments.  This happens when your opponent gets into a region and no one has any influence around it (e.g. Puppet Governments or De-Stalinization).  Although the odds are low, the payoff is big, so if you have a big 4 Ops card to spare, it can be a worthwhile use to stop him from locking up the region.

The second kind of realignment is when you have a +1 or greater advantage.  Any time you are at +1, you should seriously consider realigning even if the opponent can put their influence back.  If you have influence in the country, then you might realign them out and gain control automatically.  If you don’t, then you should still be ahead Ops-wise, since you are on average removing one or more influence per Op, and you still maintain your advantage against their restored influence.

This is most common in Latin America, where you have a series of realignment possibilities stretching from Costa Rica-Panama-Colombia, to Colombia-Venezuela-Brazil, to Venezuela-Brazil-Uruguay, to Peru-Chile-Argentina.

Common Examples

Generally speaking, the realignment “hot spots” on the board are:

  • Cuba
    • A particularly popular target given that:
      • The USSR often can’t restore their influence, since Fidel was their only inroad into the region
      • The US starts out with uncoupable adjacency
      • The nearby non-battlegrounds are cheap
      • Cuba is especially valuable as a battleground, given that there are only 3 battlegrounds, and that it is worth double for the USSR
    • You will therefore often see coups around Nicaragua and Haiti, popular targets for Puppet Governments.
  • South Africa
    • See Cuba, with sides switched.  Usually this happens when the USSR gets into Angola with De-Stalinization, then takes Botswana and can kick the US out of the region entirely.  Other than Colonial Rear Guards, there aren’t any other US events that can get them back into the subregion.  This maneuver often means the difference between Africa Domination and Control for the USSR.
  • Venezuela/Brazil/Argentina/Chile
    • South America as a whole is geographically designed for realignments, and is the region most likely to see realignments.
    • This provides a way for you to get back battlegrounds you lost, or steal an extra battleground after you steal the first
    • Colombia/Uruguay are two of the most important non-battlegrounds on the board because of these realignments
    • Junta is especially powerful in this regard, and Che can help as well
  • Angola
  • Algeria
    • If whoever controls France doesn’t also control Algeria, this is a good way to attack the second-most-stable African battleground.
  • Mexico
    • The US can kick the USSR out if they got in with Liberation Theology.  Similar to Cuba, though less common.
  • Europe
    • Very rare, since DEFCON has to be at 5, but Italy/France/East Germany are all targets for realignments when DEFCON reaches 5.  Usually it is the US with a massive advantage in these realignments.  The SALT-ABM trick is one way for the US to get in some European realignments and alter the influence in the region.  Otherwise your best bet is events, particularly Tear Down This Wall.  The USSR can sometimes use a Comecon headline for a Turn 1 AR1 realignment in hopes of a knockout blow in Europe.
Posted in General Strategy | Tagged | 23 Comments

Yuri and Samantha

Yuri and SamanthaYuri and Samantha

1982 – 1985

In one of the many bizarre, human moments of the Cold War, Samantha Smith, a ten-year-old American school girl, wrote the newly appointed General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Yuri Andropov a letter. Andropov had recently succeeded Brezhnev, and as one of the architects of Prague Spring, his ascension was taken as a very inauspicious development for East-West relations. To everyone’s great surprise, Samantha received a personal reply, including an invitation to the Soviet Union. Despite concerns expressed by the US State Department, Samantha accepted and traveled to the Soviet Union. Her trip was heralded as important early thaw in relations and improved Andropov’s public perception in the West.  Tragically, Samantha was killed in a plane crash in 1985.

Time: Late War
Side: USSR
Ops: 2
Removed after event: Yes


A surprisingly good headline for the USSR.  Given the value of VPs at this stage, it essentially blocks the US from all but the most essential coups.  This allows you to spread aggressively through the Mid War non-battlegrounds, safe in the knowledge that the US is unlikely to coup.

Of course, if you are not interested in the Mid War regions, then this card loses a lot of value, since that was where the US was going to coup anyway.  But it is also very powerful if you combine it with improving DEFCON or use it to counter Nuclear Subs.


Play it on your last Action Round for no effect.  You can also play it slightly earlier if you need to and it won’t be disastrous.

Posted in Late War, USSR Events | Tagged | 3 Comments

Iran-Iraq War

Iran-Iraq WarIran-Iraq War

1980 – 1988

Commenting on the war, Henry Kissinger famously remarked, “Too bad they can’t both lose.” Sparked by simmering land disputes over the Shatt al-Arab, Saddam Hussein sought to establish Iraq as a true regional power, and also check the export of Shia fundamentalism from Iran. Initially, Iraq scored limited gains, but Iranian forces rallied and began a counter offensive into Iraq. Without set allies in the conflict, the United States played a cynical game of attempting to keep both sides sufficiently supplied for the war to continue. Ultimately, the US began to tilt to Iraq as an Iranian victory in the war would have been an unacceptable outcome. Iran also utilized oil as a weapon necessitating the US flagging of Kuwaiti tankers to ensure oil supplies. After 8 years of war, the border returned to its ante bellum status. However, both nations had been severely weakened by the conflict.

Time: Late War
Side: Neutral
Ops: 2
Removed after event: Yes

Towards the end of the game, this area’s countries are usually dominated by the same superpower, and so the odds of Iran-Iraq War succeeding are rather low.  Unlike earlier Wars, it’s not commonly played for the Mil Ops, since by this point you should be able to find a non-battleground to coup with the card itself.

The VPs are therefore the only thing about the card that really matters, and you’ll see people trigger this event when desperate for VPs.  There’s no downside risk, and if you already control all the countries in the area, then it’s upwards of a 50% chance of 2 VPs.  (Yes, you may trigger the war even if you control both countries.)

Iraq is typically a more popular target, because its neighbors (Iran/Saudi Arabia/Jordan/Gulf States) are usually less filled than Iran (Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan), and because it is a higher stability country.

Posted in Late War, Neutral Events | Tagged | 4 Comments



1980 – ?

A trade union movement originating in the Polish shipyards of Gdansk, Solidarity became the focal point for anti-communist resistance within the Eastern bloc. Solidarity quickly moved beyond a simple worker’s movement and rallied pro-Catholic, intellectuals and other social dissidents to its banner. Its toleration within a Warsaw Pact nation was unprecedented, and involved a cat and mouse game heavily reliant on public scrutiny of Soviet intentions, the prestige of the Polish Pope, John Paul II, and the political courage of its leader Lech Walesa. While Poland’s communist led government under Wojciech Jaruzelski did crack down on Solidarity and imprison much of its leadership, the organization went underground and began to regrow. By 1988, Solidarity led strikes had forced the Polish Communists into open negotiations.

Time: Late War
Side: US
Ops: 2
Removed after event: Yes


Assuming that John Paul II has been elected Pope, then Solidarity falls into the “empty action round” category of US events; it’s worth sending to space, but you can also just repair its damage (assuming you’ve overprotected Poland).

The main drawback of repairing rather than spacing is that it makes you more vulnerable to East European Unrest: if the US only has their John Paul II Elected Pope influence in Poland, then EEU can’t grant them control no matter how many times they play it.

The main advantage of playing it for Ops is that you might be able to later use Warsaw Pact Formed to more efficiently purge eastern Europe of all US influence.

Regardless, it is annoying no matter what to draw Solidarity, which is even further reason to send John Paul II to space if you draw it.


A fine event, suitable for AR7 or headline, especially if you can combo it with Truman Doctrine or some other Europe-affecting event (Chernobyl, East European Unrest, etc.).  It even works well with Tear Down This Wall by potentially removing a USSR modifier on East Germany realignments.  And as noted earlier, Solidarity is a great way to establish enough influence in Poland so that a subsequent East European Unrest can grant you control.

I do always try to play John Paul II for the event; even if I don’t draw Solidarity later, or don’t intend to contest Poland, it’s still nice to leave a strong US event in the deck.

Posted in Late War, US Events | Tagged | 4 Comments



1956 – 1995

Brinksmanship was a term coined by John Foster Dulles to describe a policy of coming close to war, without falling into the abyss. At different times, during different crises, this policy was pursued by both superpowers. However, there was always the danger that brinksmanship could turn the “cold” war, hot. Additionally, brinksmanship encouraged a nuclear posture of “launch on warning.” Game theory demanded that if your opponent were launching a massive nuclear strike, you would have to launch your own weapons before they could be destroyed in their silos. These doctrines shortened reaction times of world leaders from hours to minutes. On November 9th, 1979, the United States made preparations for a retaliatory nuclear strike when a NORAD computer glitch indicated an all-out Soviet strike had been launched. As recently as 1995, Russia mistook a Norwegian scientific missile launch for an attack, and Boris Yeltsin was asked to decide whether or not to counterattack.

Time: Late War
Side: Neutral
Ops: 4
Removed after event: Yes

Love it or hate it, Wargames is the most important Late War card in the game.  No card so dramatically affects the game depending on who draws it.  The entire Late War is often dictated by the struggle for this card, fueling the Cold War paranoia by giving you yet one more thing to worry about.  Does he have Wargames?  Does he know I have Wargames?  How close can I push DEFCON this turn?  Should I cash in this scoring card now to prevent a Wargames loss, or hold onto it for an Action Round to get even more VP out of it?

The card is thus a brilliant fusion of theme and gameplay: it balances the allure of the instant win against the fear of an opponent’s scoring card, set against the looming backdrop of potential DEFCON suicide for the overeager Wargamer.

Although ostensibly a neutral event, Wargames tilts towards the USSR because Final Scoring usually favors the US.  If the US is able to build a +7 VP lead in the Late War, they are almost certainly going to win anyway.  Where Wargames tends to reverse the result are those boards where the USSR is clearly destined to lose in Final Scoring despite a -7 VP lead.

This isn’t to say that the US doesn’t use Wargames; it does, but it usually does so later in the Late War, and it usually doesn’t actually change what the outcome of the game would have been.

There are three main scenarios involving Wargames:

  1. You hold Wargames and have (or are close to) a 7 VP lead:
    • Congratulations, you win, provided you can degrade DEFCON to 2 safely.  Depending on what scoring cards remain for your opponent, you need to degrade DEFCON as quickly as possible.
      • The USSR can degrade DEFCON in the headline and score Wargames on AR1 before the US can do anything.  This is probably best unless you are worried about DEFCON suicide, and you don’t think the US can take away your Wargames win on their AR1.
      • The US must give the USSR at least one AR before they could trigger Wargames.  Therefore:
        • If the USSR is going to score on AR1 and take away your shot at Wargames, you may as well not degrade DEFCON in the headline, and drop it on your Action Round instead (with a coup)
        • If the USSR isn’t able to take away your Wargames win on AR1, but could potentially do so given multiple Action Rounds, then you do want to drop DEFCON to 2 by your AR1.  This may call for degrading DEFCON in the headline and risking DEFCON suicide.
        • If the USSR isn’t able to take away your Wargames win, period, then there is no need to risk DEFCON suicide.
    • If you don’t actually have the 7 VP yet, but you’re close, hold onto Wargames no matter what.  Even if you don’t have advantageous scoring cards, your opponent might.
  2. Your opponent holds Wargames and has (or is close to) a 7 VP lead:
    • Cash in your scoring cards as quickly as possible.
    • If that’s out of the question, your best bet is now a DEFCON victory as your opponent is probably trying to drop DEFCON as soon as possible.  Hopefully you can catch him in DEFCON suicide in the headline.
    • Alternatively, you can attack their hand with Five Year Plan, Missile Envy, Grain Sales to Soviets, Quagmire/Bear Trap, Terrorism, or Aldrich Ames Remix.
    • You could always try to keep DEFCON above 2, but this is likely impossible since your opponent can just coup it back down.  Cuban Missile Crisis or Yuri and Samantha might help, but this is a real long-shot.
  3. The person who holds Wargames is nowhere near the 7 VP lead:
    • Nothing much to do here, then.  That player will probably want to hold onto Wargames if they expect to be able to swing back the score, but otherwise it is just 4 Ops.

Keep in mind that as you approach the Late War, there are things you can do to maximize your chance of drawing Wargames.  Our Man in Tehran can help get rid of it or get rid of cards in the way, and emptying your hand allows you to draw more cards and hopefully find Wargames.  Playing the China Card or SALT Negotiations becomes a bit weaker since you draw one fewer card as a result.

Note that you are permitted to trigger Wargames without giving up the VPs and ending the game.  If you do so, the event is removed from the game.*  This is desirable if:

  • You draw Wargames with Missile Envy;
  • Your opponent has the 7 VP lead and could play either SALT Negotiations or Star Wars;
  • The deck will reshuffle and your opponent could draw it (extremely unlikely).

*Keep in mind that if you trigger Wargames at DEFCON 3 or higher, you do not remove the event from the game, because its prerequisite was not met.  But you do remove it from the game if you trigger it at DEFCON 2 and choose not to give the VPs.

Finally, Wargames is a jarring event and can turn a beginner player off of the game.  With inexperienced players, I recommend either warning them about it up-front, or simply removing it from the game altogether.  But once you get better at the game, you should start appreciating why Wargames is included, even if you find its swingness a bit distasteful.

Posted in Late War, Neutral Events | Tagged | 18 Comments