Bear Trap

Bear TrapBear Trap

1979 – 1992

In an era of seemingly increasing Soviet hubris, the USSR reverted to old patterns of power politics by meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan—the battleground country in the “Great Game” rivalry between imperialist Russia and Victorian Britain. The Soviets considered Afghanistan part of their natural sphere of influence. However, when Soviet troops directly intervened in an Afghan power struggle and deposed the existing president, they greatly miscalculated the reaction of world opinion. Smarting from defeat in Vietnam by seemingly inferior forces, the Reagan Administration sought to make Afghanistan into an equal nightmare. Over a ten year period, the United States provided over $2 billion in assistance to the Islamic resistance or mujahideen in Afghanistan.

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


I almost always space Bear Trap.  Note the crucial difference between Bear Trapping yourself and being Bear Trapped: when the US Bear Traps you, you usually just get out on the first discard, and nothing of value was lost.  But when you Bear Trap yourself, you guarantee the US at least one set of back-to-back Actions, and possibly more.  (Note also that when you Bear Trap yourself, the US gets to know in advance when you will be emerging from the Bear Trap.)  There are simply too many things a strong US can do to you with a set of back-to-back Actions to risk self-Bear-Trapping.

There are exceptions however.  Sometimes you have too many problematic US events in hand and the Bear Trap discard is the only way to escape.  This is considerably more common than a US player needing to self-Quagmire, but still somewhat rare.  A better instance is when your last two cards are CIA Created and Bear Trap and you can’t hold a card; here, Bear Trapping yourself is the only way to avoid DEFCON suicide, because by skipping your Action Round with nothing to discard, you are “holding” CIA Created to next turn.


Bear Trap has two main uses.

The first is to hope that the USSR rolls really poorly and gets stuck in the Bear Trap for an extended period of time.  If they fail their rolls, you get to conduct back-to-back Actions, one of the Holy Grails of Twilight Struggle.  The benefit of consecutive Actions is almost always immense: it can let you flip a battleground, get into an otherwise inaccessible region, set up a vital realignment, score a region undeservedly advantageously by temporarily breaking control, or a whole host of other possibilities.

Of course, the odds are against you.  If you play Bear Trap and they successfully discard and roll, then nothing has really been accomplished, except you gave up a nice US event and probably so did they.

The real point of this is when you can tilt the odds towards you with Red Scare/Purge.  Timed correctly, you can deprive your opponent of many Action Rounds in a row, and as a bonus, strand them with low Ops cards that they must hold in hand for next round.  For example, if you headline Red Scare/Purge, and then spring Bear Trap halfway through the turn, they might have no 3+ Ops events left.  In that case, not only can they not discard to Bear Trap and be forced to skip a whole bunch of Actions (allowing you carte blanche to take over the world), those low Ops cards stay in their hand through next turn as well.  (If you are really lucky or sadistic, you can use SALT Negotiations or the luck of the reshuffle to grab another copy of Red Scare/Purge to do it all over again next turn …)

The second is to time Bear Trap so as to force the USSR to skip a crucial round.  For example, you can play it as an AR7 play or headline, which causes the USSR to skip their AR1.  This is not really as nice as when the USSR headlines Quagmire on you, though.

In general Bear Trap is worse than Quagmire.  It doesn’t cancel NORAD, there are fewer “timing” opportunities for the US to play it, and there are more US events for the USSR to discard.  Accordingly, I usually hold Bear Trap as US until I draw it with Red Scare/Purge, or some kind of opportunity presents itself.  And if I still don’t have Red Scare/Purge by Turn 6 I will just play it for Ops, so the USSR at least has a chance of drawing it in the Turn 7 reshuffle.  Without Red Scare/Purge, you would much rather add this to the USSR headache list than play it yourself.

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20 Responses to Bear Trap

  1. Zachary Zhang says:

    I personally don’t think Bear Trap is worse than Quagmire for the following reasons: First, there are more problematic US mid-war events than Soviet events therefore the Soviet will be forced to Bear Trap himself more often; Second, headlining Bear Trap almost always gurantees a AR1 coup for the US as Soviet is usually relunctant to reduce DEFCON level in headline phase, whereas headlining Quagmire not only risks getting cancelled by Defectors but also runs into US headlines that lower DEFCON; Third, an AR7 Bear Trap is actually a quite powerful and versatile play for the US, because for the next turn, the US gets the rare chance of headline & AR1 combo (Bear Trap is the only way to fully achieve this, with Missile Envy a less powerful choice), with certain US mid-war events this combo could be deadly.

    • ddddddd says:

      What’s the problem with reducing DEFCON in headline phase once you’ve played BT/Q? That you don’t get a battleground coup? I’d say the opportunity to play two consecutive turns is still very powerful.

      Also, isn’t your first point just another way of saying that the USSR usually have more problematic cards (D&C, CIA, Grain Sales, 5YP) which can get him into DEFCON suicide territory, so is usually forced to play BT on himself (like it says in the article)? I’m not sure this makes BT “better”; it’s just more necessary.

  2. Charles Martel says:

    Bear Trap isn’t much worse overall, but it’s certainly worse for the US to have than Quagmire is for the USSR to have.

  3. G says:

    Two comments.

    1) In the post you used “Quagmire” in one place which is presumably a copy/paste from the Quagmire article.

    2) The above is more link-spam

  4. Tod says:

    Does Bear Trap continue into the next Turn? If you are left holding 1 point cards, you can’t dice roll?
    If, after being dealt cards at the beginning of the next turn, you are left holding a hand that are all 1 point cards, would that mean you can never get out of the Bear Trap?

    • theory says:

      That is correct (though you’ll still be able to headline a card). It is obviously very rare to draw nothing but 1 Ops, but it is more likely if you are under the effects of Red Scare/Purge.

  5. Just to clarify, is the common interpretation of this card that the USSR player must *only* perform the action on the card on their next AR? We have been playing that the USSR must follow the card, but still gets their normal AR (and can play any card as usual) after rolling. We only play that the USSR is not allowed to continue to play after they are unable to satisfy the conditions on the card.

    • theory says:

      The USSR player can only perform the Bear Trap action, and cannot play normally until the AR after they escape the Bear Trap.

      • ddunbar says:

        I’m still unsure of why Bear Trapping yourself is so bad. If you assume the event triggers second, you use the card for ops, then on your next turn you discard/roll to escape. Or is your interpretation of the card that the USSR player must do the discard/roll on the next US action round as well, thus having to perform the discard/roll sequence twice before possibly playing again?

        • theory says:

          The idea is that if the US plays Bear Trap, then the USSR (probably) skips one action round, and then the US plays again. The US loses an AR, and the USSR loses an AR.

          If the USSR plays Bear Trap, then on the next action round, the US can take an action, knowing that the USSR cannot possibly respond on the next action round before the US takes another action. There are many ways to exploit being able to take consecutive turns; the simplest example is breaking control of a country: Thailand can go from 1/3 to 3/3 to 5/3 over two action rounds.

          • ddunbar says:

            Ah. The piece I was missing was that the USSR doesn’t get to play their normal turn, even if they escape from the Bear Trap. The first annotated game clarified this for me, thanks!

  6. Evan says:

    This is an excellent AR7 crisis card, especially if you have a DEFCON degrader to headline next turn.

    But as theory says, T6 bear trap is best played for ops in order to make Late war an unmitigated disaster for the USSR.

  7. oludwig says:

    i had another game on vassal. in midwar (t6) my ussr-opponent played bear trap as his last card. (the china-card has been played by the ussr-player as well if that should matter somehow), so he had to continue discarding cards during the next turn. is that correct? is it because he played beartrap as his last card?(would it be different if he had played it as 2nd-last card f.ex.?) or do i misunderstand the card? my opponent claimed, that there is another bug and rage-quit by blowing up the world intentionally.

  8. Franck says:

    If i have a non 1 ops cards and a scoring card in AR7 and under the effect of Bear Trap, does it cost me the game? It basically seems so.

    • Jack Storm says:

      @Franck, you are always allowed to play scoring card. It is one of the rules.
      You can’t be forced to hold scoring card. Losing by holding a scoring car generally only happens via stupidity. Like playing “Ask Not What Your Country…” on AR6 or AR7 and picking up a bunch of scoring cards.

  9. Vitaly says:

    STEAM-version of Twilight Struggle has the next problem. If You are Bear Trapped/Quagmired, You can play Your scoring cards only if You have scoring cards=ARs left in the turn. So, if You hold one scoring card, You can play it only in AR7, if You hold two, You can play them in AR6 and AR7 etc. Although it would be nice sometimes to play scoring card immediatly and before Your opponent changes the situation. Is it correct?

    • Alsadius says:

      The Steam version is correct here – you must keep trying to escape the trap, unless you’re in one of the following situations:
      1) You’re down to having as many remaining ARs as remaining scoring cards, so you must play a scoring card each turn to avoid holding one.
      2) You have no 2+ ops cards. (Usually this happens because of Red Purge, but it’s possible to just have a hand with a bunch of 1-ops cards as well.)

      In either of those situations, you must play scoring cards until you’ve played all of them in your hand. If you’re in situation #2, where you have ARs left but no legal escape-attempt cards, you simply lose any subsequent actions. (Which means that they stay in your hand for the next turn, and you get fewer new cards, so you have fewer chances to escape. Thankfully, it takes truly awful luck to get into this situation, but if you do, it can be nightmarish to deal with.)

  10. Pingback: Into the Trap: The Soviets in Afghanistan, #1 | Clio's Board Games

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