Twilight Struggle: Factions and RegionsOctober 11, 2015
Back in July I posted my first impressions of Board Game Geek’s #1 rated game, Twilight Struggle. At the time, I gave a quick rundown of how the game works, trotted out a couple of generic comments and signed off with:
I am very much looking forward to breaking this game out again and really getting my head around the minutia of it.
Since then, I have played a dozen or so further games and feel far more able to comment coherently on what I really think of a couple of specific aspects of this game. Today I am going to look at the factions and the regions.
I’m not going to run through the basics again, as you can look to my previous post for that. What I do want to discuss is the deeper strategy at play in this amazing game
This game is fundamentally asymmetrical, and that is most definitely a good thing. The two factions play very differently, both in the types of cards that they receive and the balance of power as the game progresses. I had been told that the USSR had the early game advantage, and it became clear only a few games in that this was an accurate statement. Most of the games that I have won with the USSR have not gone past the early war phase. On the other hand, the few games I have experience that made it to late war were all won by the USA. This is not to say that a good player – or a very fortunate hand of cards – cannot overcome these in-built imbalances, but it would certainly be a challenge.
Again, this is a good thing. The USSR needs to start the game aggressively, forcing the USA back and trying to push for an early victory. The USA, meanwhile, whilst trying for a victory, should also be bearing in mind the growing advantage they hold as the game moves towards the late war phase.
Each of the game’s regions plays very differently, with different cards affecting them and with different advantages and challenges for each of the superpowers.
In theory, Europe is the most important area on the board. Complete control of Europe will win you the game when scored, but in my experience Europe is rarely the highest scoring region and tends to descend into a tug-of-war quagmire, not helped by the restrictions on coups imposed by the DEFCON status tracker.
Europe begins the game quite polarised, and many of the games I have seen have involved fierce fighting over the control of France. With various cards impacting this country, France becomes one of the key battlegrounds in the early and mid game.
Generally, Europe begins the game quite fluid, moves to a stalemate and then is completely reshaped in favour of the USA in the late game with the introduction of several very powerful USA events cards.
The Middle East is another region that has been hotly contested in the games I have played. I have particular opponents who seem to focus heavily on this region, but often at the cost of other regions.
As cards go, the region is biased very heavily toward the USSR, with most cards affecting the region directly benefiting the Russians. Early on, the only real foothold the US has is Israel and cutting it off early with an Arab-Israeli War card will hamper the USA’s ability to influence the region.
As the game continues, there are a few cards that will benefit the USA in this region, but generally speaking, it’s one of the few areas that does not slip away from the USSR as the game progresses into the late war.
Asia and Southeast Asia
A strange set of regions. Asia is in dark orange, but the lower part of the region is split in colour between dark and light orange. This means that every country in the region is part of Asia, but those with a light orange half are also part of the sub-region of Southeast Asia.
In the games I have played, we have never gone straight for Asia, but find ourselves entrenched there by the end of the early war. I do think I am going to try to refocus on Asia in some upcoming games and see if this helps with my score.
The USSR has a lot of synergy in this region and can exert a lot of control, particularly if it has managed to keep the USA out of the Middle East. With the prospect of Asia scoring in the early war and Southeast Asia in the mid war, Asia is an area that is constantly in contention. Add to this the inclusion of The China Card, flipping back and forth between the players, and you will see a lot of high value operations taking place in the region.
Africa is very unstable, with many 1 and 2 stability countries and battleground states making the whole scenario very fluid. A single 3 Ops card can completely flip an unstable battleground state.
Of the non-battleground states, there are a few that are very well placed as bases from which to exert influence. Botswana is one such example, sitting as it does between Angola, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The USA beings the game with influence in South Africa, and this is the only influence present in Africa at the start of the game. If the USSR wants to spread influence into Africa, it must either travel through the Middle East, or use powerful cards such as Decolonisation to gain a foothold.
The peak time for Africa seems to be mid-war, where many event cards have a direct or indirect effect on the region. Late war does not really add to this spread of events, but repeated mid war events will keep Africa firmly in play for the rest of the game.
This seems to be a low-scoring area with fewer events affecting it than most. I have not seen it being contested particularly heavily in the games I have played and so have little experience with it. The fact that it does not seem to factor too heavily into the final score is why I am quite happy, when playing as the USA, to cede control of Cuba to the USSR early on in exchange for precious Operations points.
Unless either side is close to winning and are anticipating the scoring card for this region, I tend to steer clear.
This region is another that I have little experience in, but it does act to illustrate the point about shifting balances of power. In the early war, the USSR can use De-Stalinisation to muscle in an quickly spread their influence around, taking control of the region. In the mid-war, however, the USA has far more events impacting this region and so has more options in regards to tackling the spread of the USSR in South America.
I don’t really have much to add on South America, not because it is an uninteresting or unimportant region, but more that I don’t have much experience in this region as of yet.
Next time I write about Twilight Struggle, I intend to take a look at some of my favourite event cards and consider the usefulness of The China Card for each faction.