Monday, April 03, 2017
As a child of the 70s and 80s, I grew up in a world where The Cold War was a fact of life. Now that doesn't mean when you ask about a game theme, my first inclination would have been - let's relive the Cold War! But, when Twilight Struggle first hit the gaming scene and I started hearing how great it was, the theme didn't dissuade me. In fact, after my first playing, I was enamored by it. It brought back the feelings I remember from growing up and watching the news - a lot of tenseness and uncertainty. This is one game where the theme is not tacked on, it is integral to the game.
During the turns, players alternate playing a card (typically one, though some few cards change that) for the Ops points (which can be used in a couple of different ways) or the event on the card. If the player chooses to play a card for the Ops points AND the event is their opponent's event, the event happens in addition to the operations being conducted. This is one of the key mechanisms in the game. Often, you are saddled with a hand of your opponents event cards and have to figure out how to play them in such a way as to minimize their effect. At the same time, for the cards that go out of the game once the event happens, you sometimes have to suffer the event in order to try and reduce the number of cards that have your opponent's events that will be in the deck when a shuffle occurs. These tense decisions are what make every round and every card played interesting.
Now, if it sounds like I enjoy the game, you are right. I like this game a lot - it is well balanced and the theme is an integral part of the game. If you've been reading this blog, you know it hit my Top 40. However, it isn't perfect. There is a pretty good learning curve to the game. Mechanically, it isn't too bad to pick up, but by learning curve, I mean the cards. Knowing what cards that are in each era, knowing when scoring cards enter the game, knowing where you can avoid wasting precious Ops points are all important and a player that is more familiar with those will easily dominate a player that doesn't. There are some great subtleties to the game that you can only see after a number of plays and if you are constantly beaten quickly, it is hard to learn them. Of course the flip side to that is that there is a lot of hidden beauty and depth here. Every playing is different, even with the same cards and events. Your hand might dictate trying to better your position in a way you never have before.
I can look past the minor flaws because the game is sooo fun. As I said, every play feels important. You never quite know if your opponent is doing something to rid themselves of cards, feint interest in a certain area, or plowing forward with an agenda. This being a two-player only game, the length of playing face-to-face and the need for an opponent of equal skill/exposure to the game does keep it from my top 25.
About the elctronic forms. The game is pretty well done and available for most platforms (Win/Mac via Steam, iOS and Android). The game (as far as I can tell) is identical on each, which leads to one shortcoming - the UI isn't perfect on the iOS platform - the slight rigidity of the screen size means that part of the visible chat window is cut off from view by another part of the UI. This is a minor quibble to be sure, but a little annoying. Otherwise, the game is really well done. You can play live, but async play is available and you are notified by email when your opponent has taken their turn. It is easy to see any bit of information you need from the game - far easier than on the tabletop. It plays well and is easy to see what an opponent did on their turn. When you want to execute and action that has a die roll, you usually get "the odds" so you can decide before actually taking the action. You can see how an entire region will score if a scoring card comes out, so you are informed on whether you should take action in a region.
After all that, I am slightly undecided about whether I need to keep a physical copy of the game in my collection. I'm leaning towards - NO. The electronic form provides a satisfying (and faster) expereience. The table top is a lot of fun as you can try and read your opponent's anguish level, but the pace of play is going to be much much slower. I'd highly recommend this game, and would be happy to sit down and play at the table on occassion, but I think I can retire it from the "owned" column of my personal collection.
(pictures from BGG and all credit to the original contributors)