Twilight Struggle Review

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”

Description from the Manufacturer

“Now the trumpet summons us again, not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are – but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle.” – John F. Kennedy

In 1945, unlikely allies toppled Hitler’s war machine, while humanity’s most devastating weapons forced the Japanese Empire to its knees in a storm of fire. Where once there stood many great powers, there now stood only two – the United States and the Soviet Union. The world had scant months to collectively sigh in relief before a new conflict threatened. Unlike the titanic struggles of the preceding decades, this conflict would be waged not primarily by soldiers and tanks, but by spies and politicians, scientists and intellectuals, artists and traitors. Twilight Struggle is a two-player game simulating the 45 year dance of intrigue, prestige, and occasional flares of warfare between the USSR and the USA. The entire world is the stage on which these two titans fight. The game begins amidst the ruins of Europe as the two new superpowers scramble over the wreckage of WWII and ends in 1989, when only the United States remained standing.

Twilight Struggle inherits its fundamental systems from the card-driven classics We the People and Hannibal. It is a quick-playing, low-complexity game in that same tradition. The game map is a world map of the period, whereon players move units and exert influence in attempts to gain allies and control for their superpower.

Twilight Struggle’s Event cards add detail and flavor to the game. They cover a vast array of historical happenings: the Arab-Israeli conflicts, Vietnam, the peace movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other such incidents that brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation. Subsystems capture the prestige-laden Space Race as well as nuclear tensions, with the possibility of game-ending nuclear war. Can you, as the U.S. President or Soviet Premier, lead your nation to victory? Play Twilight Struggle and find out.

Playing Time

180 Minutes

Number of Players


Best With

2 Players

Complexity Rating

3.53 out of 5

There are a handful of games that I play obsessively.  Games that no matter how many times in a row I play them, I want to play them again, do a little better, see if I can squeeze more points from the game, master its intricacies.  Twilight Struggle is one of those games for me.  Set during the cold war, this absolutely fantastic two player game has you choose one of two sides, the U.S.S.R., or the U.S.A., and fight for global influence while avoiding the constant threat of global nuclear annihilation.

It is an incredible game.  The mechanics can be a bit intimidating, there’s a lot to understand when it comes to realignment rolls and coup attempts, but once you pick up on how everything works, the game clicks into place, and has an elegant internal logic.  But really, the depth of strategy to this game is unparalleled.  One of the best aspects is the card play.  Each player is dealt a hand of cards, and in all likelihood, your hand will contain cards that will damage you (when you play a card belonging to the opposing player, the event on that card automatically happens).  So much of the game is spent trying to find ways to play your cards in an order that least hurts you.

The theme is beautifully realized, with cards that play off of actual historical events from the cold war, with fun little quotes.  It really does feel like you are playing out the cold war, attempting to spread your factions influence across the globe while avoiding the ever present specter of global nuclear war.

Things I Loved About Twilight Struggle

This may just be the very best strategy game on the market.  Disagree?  I’d love to hear your choice.  At the very least Twilight Struggle deserves to be in the conversation of best board game of all time.  No matter how many times you’ve played this game, there will always be new moves to master, and new intricacies to discover.

This game will stretch your brain.  Honestly, once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll feel smarter, and you’ll find ways to improve your stretegic thinking, which will carry over into other games you love playing.

The game is incredibly well balanced, and you are never out until you are out.  I’ve seen many amazing comebacks in this game, through a clever trick that forced an opposing player to trigger thermonuclear war.  Luck plays a small part, but in reality, even the worst of circumstances can be turned to your advantage, with some clever play.

Each of the two sides (U.S.S.R. and U.S.A.) play quite differently, although mechanically they are virtually the same.  The cards make a lot of difference, as does the turn order.  Although the general consensus is the gameplay slightly favors the U.S.S.R. player, in my experience the game is incredibly well balanced.  Which means it is really, really well designed.

Things I Hated About Twilight Struggle

The game is incredibly complex.  Often times the amount of choices available can be overwhelming, and the entire experience, in particular for new players, can be exhausting.

You absolutely need to know the cards in order to play well.  You need to be able to anticipate when other cards might come out, and how best to utilize said cards, while other cards require previous cards to be in play in order to use their event.  All of that simply requires experience with the game, there’s no way around it.

You will be really bad at this game the first couple of times you play.  You will feel like you have no idea what you are doing, and will often be frustrated as your more experienced opponent mops up your influence quickly and easily.

Final Thoughts

I love this game.  There’s a reason it held the #1 position on Board Game Geek for a very long time.  It may not be as flashy as some of the other games we’ve played, the board itself looks rather dry, and you may be disappointed that you aren’t commanding troops or moving warplanes.  But don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a dry, dull game.  It is incredibly fun, and no two games play through in the exact same way.

If you are a fan of long games, that require a lot of strategic thinking, and which are incredibly rewarding as you learn all the different strategies and techniques to defeat your opponent, then this is the game for you.  You will be able to play it again and again, finding new ways to improve your game, and win the cold war.


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