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Posted on Mar 30, 2010 in Boardgames

Twilight Struggle: The Cold War, 1945-1989 – Boardgame Review

By Terry Lee Coleman

Timing is also important to the scoring of the game. The most critical areas of the Cold War (Europe, Asia, the Middle East) are represented by scoring cards. Scoring cards cannot be held, but must be played during the turn. Depending on how many countries you control, and how many Battleground countries (representing more important nations, such as Japan, UK, France, Israel, Iran, Panama, Brazil, etc.) you possess, you get increasingly more victory points when the scoring card for that area is played.

Twilight Struggle thus becomes worthy of its name, as with each play of a card, you and your opponent vie for dominance of far-flung areas of the world. And while players may be able, under certain circumstances, to hold a single card over for the next turn, each turn deals a new hand to each player, ensuring that things never get dull.


Another plus for Twilight Struggle is how remarkably well-paced it is. The game begins using only the 35 cards of the Early War deck, depicting the era from the end of World War II to the late 1950s. And just about the time the majority of those early cards are used up (most events other than scoring cards are removed once activated), on Turn 4 the Mid War deck, with its 1960s and 70s events enter the game, followed by the Late War cards on Turn 8. The events get more involved, and the stakes get ever higher as new scoring areas such as Africa, North and South America, are added to the mix.

Similarly, there is a fine degree of game design elegance in how the game handles that Cold War standard, the threat of nuclear destruction. Every time a coup happens in a Battleground country, the DEFCON level moves closer to Mutually Assured Destruction. At the same time, if either the US or USSR doesn’t meet its expected military operations for the turn (through coups or war event cards), that side will lose victory points. As you play, you discover there are some subtle traps to cause an overly aggressive opponent to cross the line into Armageddon and lose the game.

Other nice touches include the Space Race, which lets you "break" the rules by playing one card per turn in space without triggering an event-and gains you other advantages as your space program progresses toward the moon. Also, each turn begins with a "headline phase" that causes events to be played before actions begin. Some of these, like the Red Scare/Purge card, can affect your opponent (or you) for the entire turn. Finally, I’m impressed that the designers pull no punches in pointing out the harsh realities of the Cold War, as when they allow either side to start brush wars in unstable nations or employ death squads for coups in Latin America.

What the Deluxe version brings is a gorgeous mounted board, thick quality counters, some rules clarifications (along with game-balancing for tournaments), and a host of optional event cards. Some of these events, such as NORAD (which gives our Canadian partners in North American defense their due), integrate nearly seamlessly with the basic game. Others, like the Chinese Civil War rules, are more likely to be tried out for occasional variety than used for serious play. The most surprising thing is that some of the new cards’ effects seem unclear as written, unusual for an otherwise well-developed game. And to be fair, some who preferred the clean, uncluttered look of the original may find that the new deluxe game board, with its rich bursts of color, might not appeal to them.

Not everything is perfect. Certain "gamey" strategies, such as using the Wargame card-which allows a player who is ahead late in the game to give up 6 victory points to his opponent if at DEFCON 2-are unchanged. And there are still ways to trip the nuclear wire in ways not always easily noticed by the novice, which some may find frustrating. On the other hand, certain cards have had their effects reduced in a way that helps game balance immensely. Overall, the changes are a welcome addition. They should add even more replay value to what is already one of the best strategy games on the market, and one which offers an interesting, evocative look at a critical period in modern history to boot. If you are looking to introduce a friend to the hobby or to remind yourself of why you liked historical games in the first place, the Deluxe version of Twilight Struggle Deluxe Edition is a great place to start.

Editor’s Note: Gamers interested in the Cold War era may want to read two Armchair General articles, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., Interview and Cold War Museum Finds a Home.

About the Author:
Terry Lee Coleman is former Senior Reviews Editor of Computer Gaming World magazine. He has written about board and card games for several years in such publications as Fire & Movement, Armchair General , and others. While Terry doesn’t mind a cold tasty beverage now and then, he prefers most of his gaming-or at least his dice-to be hot.

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  1. Nice review! I’m glad to see one of my favorite new games getting coverage. I may be mistaken, but it appears to me that there are at least 3 errors in this review:
    1. Coups are not the only “wargame” like thing resolved by die roll. Realignments, the Olympics, war cards (Korean War, Indo-Pakistani War, Brush War, etc.), and others are also resolved with a die – in the case of realignments and the Olympics, with a competitive die roll.
    2. Failing a coup attempt does not create an opening for your opponent to exploit – you just wasted your efforts for a “no effect.”
    3. There is no “North America” score card. It is a “Central America” score card.

  2. I saw some people playing this game a few months ago. Looked really fun!