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Posted on Jun 7, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Twilight Struggle Strategy

By Terry Lee Coleman

Only Nixon could go to China

The China card (a healthy 4 Ops) is held by the Soviet player at the beginning of the game, which offsets the potential (very) slight edge in high-value Ops cards for the US. Often, cautious players will hold the China card, similar to what one sees in games with re-roll options; it’s like waiting for that critical die-roll in Gettysburg. So, when playing the US, I tend to put pressure on the Soviet player to use the China card.

Given the opening position of the US in Asia, you may well ask, how can one do this? First off, by making sure you are playing with the official errata from GMT, the game’s publisher. Using the revised setup, the US starts with 4 Influence in Australia, instead of only 1 Influence. This is huge, as the US now controls another country, and has an anchor in the Asia theatre of operations.


Once again, the temptation is to play an Asian event card, typically the US/Japan Mutual Defense Pact card, to counterbalance the Soviet hold on North Korea. While this might cramp the Soviet player’s style for a turn or so, you’ve now lost a high Ops card for the rest of the game, which you cannot really afford early on. Instead, try some of the following strategies:

  • Pump up South Korea with a 2 or 3 Ops card (Note that this has the danger of falling prey to the Korean War card. But that might happen regardless, so it’s likely worth the risk).
  • Move into Taiwan in anticipation of the Formosan Resolution event card.
  • Consider playing the Formosan Resolution card yourself (an exception to the ‘don’t play US events early’ rule), but keep in mind that many Soviet players will play this event for you in order to use the Ops points.
  • Hold off playing the US/Japan Mutual Defense Pact for more than one turn. Not only does this keep the 4 Ops available for other turns, if the Soviet player uses it for Ops, you get Japan basically for free, even if it is currently controlled by the Soviets!

About 90% of the time, Soviet play of the China card is in Asia, taking advantage of the +1 extra Ops when all the China card points are used in Asia. Keep in mind:

  • Depending on what has happened with Japan, and possibly Taiwan, the US should be positioned to counteract the China card play (this is a good reason to not spend all of those high-end Ops on events).
  • If the Asia scoring card recycles prior to Mid War cards showing up (almost guaranteed) then the US will have the China card in his own hand to take advantage of the scoring opportunity.
  • If the China card is not needed by the US by Turn 3, it will definitely be a boon when Mid War cards and the Southeast Asia scoring card turns up.
  • Remember: the Southeast Asia scoring card only happens once, and then is removed from the game.
  • As bad as the Vietnam Revolts event can be, it only happens once. And if you have the China card, it’s less of a pain for the US.

Give ‘Em Hell, Harry

Europe is a tough nut to crack, which is appropriate for a game dealing with the Cold War. You should realize that, unless the Soviet player is cursed with very bad cards, he will be able to keep pressure up in Europe throughout most of the game. And it is here that most Soviet players will make their move early, with the intent of knocking the US player out of the ring.

While the back-and-forth tension is a large part of the game’s appeal, the US needs to be careful here, or the game could be over in less than an hour with a Soviet victory. While there are a lot of European strategies available, here are some general themes for the US to adhere to, especially during the early turns of the game.

Italy is quite vulnerable due to its low Stability value of 2, making it a likely target of coups. So, consider adding an additional Influence above the minimum 2 to hold Italy, and don’t be afraid to launch your own coup to take it back if necessary.

Alternatively, a good Soviet player can take advantage of Austria’s neutral status to play Eastern Europe events there. So, the US should consider a presence in Austria early on, to help protect both West Germany and Italy.

A common play is to place a unit in Benelux, which does give an opportunity to support West Germany. But placing one Influence in Spain helps shore up both France and Italy. Better yet, place 2 in Spain and control it.

On turn 1, if France and Italy are not in imminent danger, hold off on playing the Truman Doctrine. You’ll likely need this worse on Turn 2 or 3. Plus, with an Ops of only 1, the Soviet player can’t normally use this card on the Space Race Track, should he draw it instead of you.

Similarly, I would suggest waiting on the CIA Created card; I almost never play this before at least Turn 3, because it can only be used once. Having said that, if you are holding multiple scoring cards in your own hand, by all means play this. Not only will you know what your Soviet opponent is doing for the turn, you will be able to see whether he has scoring cards of his own. Proper timing of the CIA card can mean a 10-point swing or more. Also, don’t underestimate the psychological effect of playing this on your opponent; he may make a mistake caused by thinking too much.

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