General Strategy: Events vs Operations

The overarching paradigm of Twilight Struggle is that events create opportunities, and Operations are how you take advantage of those opportunities.  Accordingly, you should treat events not as your primary source of influence, but rather as gamechangers that break open the game for your Operations.

The basis for this principle is the observation that Operations are generally more efficient than events, even if the event technically gives more influence.  The Comecon event gives the USSR 4 influence, but they’re spread out and in a rather useless place.  By contrast, the 3 Ops of the Comecon card can be played as a strong coup, can take over a crucial battleground, or can extend and create threats all over the board.

On the other hand, by the Mid War, many regions begin to degenerate into stalemates.  Once your opponent controls a country, it’s hugely inefficient to try to break their control with Operations alone.  Sometimes it’s still worth it, but you need to be at a significant Ops advantage (or take multiple Actions in a row) to take over an opponent-controlled country with pure Ops.  Alternatively, maybe you just don’t have access to the region: without coup targets, all the Operations in the world aren’t going to get the USSR into the Americas.

This is where events come in.  Their effects can have dramatic ramifications and shake up otherwise deadlocked regions.  USSR secure in Africa?  Boom, Nuclear Subs and all of a sudden all the battlegrounds are yours.  US is dominating Europe?  Bam, Socialist Governments headline, and now an AR1 Europe Scoring is -5 instead of +5.

A large part of Twilight Struggle skill is therefore recognizing which events to trigger, and when to trigger them.  Some events are so powerful that you will almost never see them played for Operations (ABM Treaty, Decolonization, Grain Sales to Soviets), and some are so awful you’ll never even remember their event text (Summit, Nuclear Test Ban).  But most events are somewhere in between.  Knowing when you should press on with your Operations and when you need to call upon an event is a hallmark of a strong player.

A good example is Red Scare/Purge.  The event text is unbelievably strong: it can cause your opponent to flat-out lose the game.  But while a weaker player will tend to automatically headline the card, seeing only the advantages and opportunities of -1 to your opponents’ Ops, a strong player will also spot the potential benefits of being able to play 4 Ops at once (one of only five Early War 4 Ops cards), and recognize when Red Scare/Purge ends up being more beneficial when played for Operations.

To get better at this differentiation, it is helpful to classify the cards in the game into four categories: your opponents’ starred events, your own starred events, neutral starred events, and recurring events.  With your own events, you are choosing between the Ops and the event; with your opponent’s events, you are choosing between the Ops minus the event effect or the Space Race.

Your opponents’ starred events

Your opponents’ starred events can only happen once in the game.  Prior to Turn 7, therefore, you should seek to trigger them whenever possible — better that you control its one-time effect than your opponent — rather than discarding them (by playing them on the Space Race, or by playing it with UN Intervention).  Some examples:

  • The US should always try to get Warsaw Pact Formed out of the way as soon as possible, since 5 influence for the USSR is infinitely preferable to the looming threat of being able to instantly remove all US influence in eastern Europe.
  • A US player that draws De Gaulle Leads France can play it with an empty France and then place the 3Ops into France to make it 3/1.  On the other hand, a USSR player that draws De Gaulle can headline it and then take France easily on AR1.
  • The USSR should play Containment and Nuclear Subs on the final Action Round of a turn, where they have the least effect, rather than send them to space only for the US to draw them back and play them more effectively.
  • Truman Doctrine is useless in the USSR hand, because the USSR can just play it as soon as they have no uncontrolled countries.  On the other hand, a US player can time its play for maximum effect, by, for instance, breaking USSR control of France on the final Action Round, and then headlining Truman Doctrine the next turn to wipe out 3+ USSR influence from a critical country.
  • Many beginner US players will find ways to discard or cancel Blockade from being played.  This is a mistake.  If you draw Blockade and can safely play, you should usually do so, rather than allow the USSR to spring a nasty surprise on you in the Mid War.

Only the truly critical opponents’ starred events, the ones you have no ability to manage, should be sent to space.  These include De-Stalinization, Tear Down This Wall, The Reformer, and Quagmire/Bear Trap.  These are usually either so strong, or so suicidal for you to play, that you would prefer to assume the risk of your opponent controlling how it’s played rather than play it yourself.

However, if you’re on Turn 7 or later, you no longer need to worry about the “removing” vs “discarding” distinction.  For all practical purposes, you can safely discard cards knowing they will almost certainly not return to the game.  The draw deck reshuffles on Turn 3 and Turn 7; it’s occasionally reshuffled on Turn 10, but that’s quite rare.  Of course, you still won’t be able to space every card you see, and will still have to deal with some of the events, but you no longer have to worry that cards sent to space will return to your opponent’s hand.

Your starred events

Most of these you want to keep around in the deck, since you would rather your opponent have a hand full of your events than full of his.  Sometimes the effect of a card is the same no matter who plays it: neither side particularly cares who triggers Willy Brandt or NATO.  (In other words, these are generally bad events.)  Sometimes a card is only dangerous because your opponent is playing it: CIA Created, for instance.  Sometimes the looming threat of the card is more effective than the card itself: Truman Doctrine‘s continued presence in the deck is often enough to deter the USSR from engaging in an influence war in Europe.

But there are also times when you must trigger your own starred events:

  1. Because they will be meaningless or crippled in your opponent’s hands: see, e.g., Containment/Brezhnev Doctrine, “Ask Not What Your Country…”, Cultural Revolution.
  2. Because they are so critical that your opponent will never play them for you, and certainly send to space: see, e.g., De-Stalinization and John Paul II Elected Pope.
  3. Because if you don’t play it now, its effect will be meaningless later: see, e.g., Vietnam Revolts and Puppet Governments.
  4. Because if you don’t play it now, it may never get played.  You really hope the USSR will draw CIA Created, but if you draw it on Turn 7 as the US, don’t hold out hope that the USSR will somehow draw it again by the end of the game.  Just play it if you need it.

Neutral starred events

There aren’t many of these.  Consider playing them so your opponent can’t.  This is especially true of SALT Negotiations: even if you can’t make good use of it, you don’t really want your US opponent using it to play The Voice of America again.

Recurring events

Since these events will trigger over and over again, you don’t have to worry about removing them from the deck.  So when playing neutral or your own recurring events, the general principle applies: do you really need the event?  Or are the Ops going to be better?  Latin American Death Squads maybe gives you one coup bonus, but the 2 Ops is almost certainly superior.  On the other hand, Liberation Theology is also 2 Ops, but it gives you 3 influence, can be played into US-controlled countries with no penalty, and is in a fairly critical region.  As US, Duck and Cover is usually played for the 3 Ops, but towards the end of the game, the 3VP / denial of a USSR coup may be worth considerably more.  (As a general rule, most of the neutral recurring events are pretty strong.  ABM Treaty, Brush War, Junta, and Red Scare/Purge are all among the best events in the game.)

There’s no real advantage to playing your opponents’ recurring events instead of spacing them.  The only relevant question, therefore, is whether it’s worth sending to space or using the Ops.  Since you ordinarily only have one Space Race slot per turn, you have no choice but to work around most of your opponents’ recurring events.

Generally, this is accomplished by triggering the event before playing the Ops (with exceptions: the US can preemptively defend against Arab-Israeli War with the Ops, for instance).  Socialist Governments and East European Unrest are not really problems when you can just replace the Influence lost.  But some don’t give you enough Ops to fix the problem: you’ll rarely be able to repair the damage done by Decolonization and The Voice of America, and so those are just going to have to go to space.  And certain cards are flatout irreparable: Grain Sales is a canonical example of a card the USSR must keep sending back to space instead of losing by thermonuclear war.

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7 Responses to General Strategy: Events vs Operations

  1. Thomas Helvard says:

    I second using SALT for event even though theres nothing interesting in the discard pile, just to get it out of the deck…what, Muslim Revolution AGAIN? (This happened in my last game as US, but thank god for Missile Envy 🙂

  2. Sunwoo says:

    i cant understand why turn10 reshuffle happens or not.

    • Stryker says:

      If you play with Optional Cards then that’s 7 more cards that must be played and makes a Turn 10 reshuffle much more unlikely. Ask Not could draw anywhere from 0-7 extra cards from the draw pile. Our Man in Tehran could draw anywhere from 0-5 extra cards from draw pile. Every time China gets played it’s one less card from the draw pile for the next turn. Every time an Early War or Mid War starred event card gets played for the event, that’s one less card in the deck. Together, they can make the difference between running out of cards on the Turn 10 draw and needing to reshuffle or not.

      • Anonymous says:

        So what is earliest a third reshuffle could happen with optional cards? Let’s assume:
        -Ask Not draws 7
        -Our Man draws 5
        -China card is never played
        -starred events are played when dealt.

        • Alsadius says:

          By default, each player gets 8 cards on turn 1, 7 new cards turns 2-3 (since they held one over), and 8 new cards on turns 4-10. So the cards drawn by turn (without any changes from discards, China card, extra actions, etc.) total up to 16>30>44 cards turns 1-3 (early war), 60>76>92>108 cards turns 4-7 (mid war), and 124>140>156 cards turns 8-10 (late war).

          The Early War deck has 35 base cards(38 with optional cards), of which 20(21 with optional cards) are starred and 15(17) are not.
          The Mid War deck has 46(48) cards, of which 27(28) are starred and 19(20) are not.
          The Late War deck has 21(23) cards, of which 19(21) are starred and 2(2) are not.

          I’m going to analyze this assuming optional cards are in, because trying to track both scenarios is driving me batty.

          Turns 1-2, the deck has 38 cards, and 30 are drawn, leaving 8 before the reshuffle. Stars don’t matter yet.

          Turn 3, the remaining 8 cards get dealt, then it’s shuffled and an extra 6 are dealt post-shuffle. Depending how many starred events got played in the first 30, there could be as many as 28 cards that got shuffled in, if no starred events have been played – remember, there’s two still in player hands – or as few as 7 cards that got shuffled in, if all 21 starred events got played. That leaves 1-22 in deck.

          Turn 4, the 48 Mid War cards get added to the deck, giving us 49-70 total, then 16 are dealt, leaving 33-54.
          Turn 5, 16 are dealt, leaving 17-38.
          Turn 6, 16 are dealt, leaving 1-22.
          Turn 7, 16 are dealt. This probably means a shuffle, but there could theoretically be up to 22-16=6 cards left if no starred events were played in the Early War. At this point, I’ll split the high-end and low-end analysis, because they diverge a lot.

          High-end:
          Turn 7, you have 6 cards left.
          Turn 8, you add 23 Late War cards(29 total) and deal 16, leaving 13.
          Turn 9, you finally get your reshuffle. Those 13 are dealt, you shuffle, and of the 109 total cards, 2 are in hand, leaving 107 in deck (if no starred events have been played at all). Three are dealt, leaving 104.
          Turn 10, 16 more are dealt, leaving 88 in a deck that’s only been reshuffled once.

          Low-end:
          Turn 7, you have one card left, so you reshuffle and take the 37 total non-starred cards from Early and Mid War (less 2 in hand) for 35 total in deck. 15 more are needed, so you have 20 left.
          Turn 8, you add 23 more to the deck, and deal 16, for a net of 27 left.
          Turn 9, deal 16, 11 left.
          Turn 10, deal those 11, shuffle again, and you put back in the 39 total non-starred cards in the deck (less 2 in hand) for a deck of 37. Five are dealt, leaving 32 in a twice-reshuffled deck.

          But wait, there’s more! None of this factors in other things that can affect the total. All of these impacts are measured in terms of the deck size that results from them being used – for example, playing the China Card once is +1, because you play one less event, so you hold one more card and draw one less, leaving the deck one card bigger.

          Early War onward:
          China Card: +1 per turn
          Five Year Plan: -1
          Blockade*: -1
          UN Intervention: -1

          Mid War onward:
          SALT Negotiations: +1
          Cultural Revolution*/Ussuri River Skirmish*: +1 each (by allowing re-play of China twice in one turn)
          Grain Sales to Soviets: -1
          Ask Not What Your Country…*: -8 (if played as a headline, and the whole hand is replaced)
          Space Race: -1 per turn, beginning turn 5 (if Captured Nazi Scientist is played, maximal space rolls are made, and all of them are successful, then you reach Space Station on turn 5 and begin taking one extra action per turn.)
          Our Man in Tehran*: -5
          Quagmire*/Bear Trap*: These get complex. Theoretically, either player could be stuck with a hand full of 1-ops cards, only able to play their headline each turn, for the whole game. If this hits on turn 4, that is up to a +42 impact for either one of them. (Note that they can’t both do this, since there aren’t enough 1-ops cards in the deck for it. There’s only 14, which is exactly enough for an initial hand of 8, plus one more per turn for six turns. You can theoretically have people headline events with >1 ops to stretch it out longer, or get hit by Red Purge for a turn or two, but that’s a bit crazy even for this scenario. Suffice it to say, the potential impact here is gigantic, but extremely unlikely)

          Late War:
          North Sea Oil*: -1
          Terrorism: -1(even if it gets double effect, the US player only draws one extra card, because they lose an action round with the other.)
          Latin American Debt Crisis: -1
          Aldrich Ames Remix*: -1

          So, let’s see the final atrocities that result from this.

          On the deck-burning side, the scenarios above actually hold almost exactly. Any discard-based card burn puts non-starred events in the discard (since in this scenario, all the starred events get used), so the deck might shrink before a reshuffle, but the shuffle puts it back to the size it’d otherwise be. Aggressive burn can get us a Turn 6 reshuffle, though – since there’s only one card left in the low-end scenario, and 17 available burn through the mid war, it’s not especially difficult if you’re burning starred events aggressively. You can’t *quite* get a turn 5 reshuffle though – even if I missed a card somewhere, there’s not enough time to trigger all the starred Mid War events in just two turns and still do all the other burn described.

          You can get also get the “turn 10 reshuffle” on turn 9 – you only need 12 burn to make that happen, and by Late War there’s as much as 18 available. (The above list adds to 21, but keeping Blockade through two reshuffles to get a late burn is worse than just using it early, and Ask Not/Tehran “cost” you 1 burn each to hold past the turn 6 reshuffle.)

          I suspect that you might be able to swing this a bit harder by keeping the optional cards out (in particular, a turn 5 reshuffle is probably possible), but tbh I’ve analyzed this to death already, and don’t care to do it all again.

          On the deck-preserving side, these preservation efforts *do* persist through reshuffles, unlike deck-burning. We can already delay the second reshuffle to turn 9 even without advanced strategies, so we only need a further 19 preservation to get no second reshuffle at all. China is good for 10, SALT/Cultural/Ussuri give +1 each, and the abomination of a perfect Quagmire/Bear Trap is what brings us home.

          (BTW, if anyone wants to use this analysis as the basis for an essay or an article or something, go ahead. I’d prefer you include a link here, but this is all just math, so I don’t have anything like an intellectual property claim to it, unless you start outright plagiarizing me.)

  3. Arthur says:

    Hey Theory, thanks for all your hard work on this site. Got a question regarding events that require other events to activate. So if NATO is played by the USSR is the event considered inactive until Marshal/Warsaw is played? Or is it treated as a normal discard?

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