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

Twilight Struggle Strategy

By Terry Lee Coleman

Twilight Struggle Strategy

How the US Can Weather the Early Red Onslaught

Twilight Struggle marks a return to a simpler, more accessible card-driven strategy boardgame, appropriate for a genre which began with We the People. Let’s face it: even veteran Paths of Glory players want something a little less involved on occasion.

For Armchair General’s review of Twilight Struggle click here.

Notwithstanding the simple mechanics, the game is flexible enough to accommodate varying styles of play. Not all of the subtleties of the game are readily apparent (a good thing, as it adds to replay value), and figuring out how to play well your first few games can be difficult, particularly so from the US side.


Think of the game, especially in the early stages, as a boxing match. The Soviet player is a slugger, trying to put his opponent on the canvas from the beginning of the fight. The US is more of a classic boxer, and must avoid the Russian Bear’s attempts to land a haymaker. Be patient, keep the early rounds close, and counterpunch until you see an opening.

Tear Down This Wall

With the brunt of the Soviet onslaught, it’s easy to feel as though the US is being overwhelmed by Soviet cards at the beginning of the game.

Actually, Early War cards break down as follows:

Three scoring cards, only for Asia, Mideast, and Europe.

Presence = 3 victory points each for Asia, Mideast , Europe

Domination = Mideast 5, Asia and Europe each 7

Control = Asia 9, Mideast 7, Europe is an automatic win

Complete control of an area early in the game is rare, especially among players of roughly equal skill. Most big scoring swings come from one side having domination, and scoring additional points from securing more Battleground countries. So, it is important to keep track of how many times scoring cards will appear, particularly early on, when the US is most vulnerable.

Here is the distribution of Operations Cards:

3/4 Ops

US = 7 cards; Soviet = 6 cards (plus the China card)

2 Ops

US = 3 cards; Soviet = 5 cards

1 Ops

US = 2 cards; Soviet = 3 cards

There are also 6 cards which may be used by either side. Only one of these, Captured Nazi Scientist, is discarded after playing as an event.

While keeping in mind that there is no guarantee that the US player will have the US cards in his hand at any given time, the US would seem to be quite competitive in terms of raw Operations numbers. However, the best US Ops cards are almost all tied to events which are discarded after play.

It is awfully tempting to play these events immediately to counter Soviet movements in an area, particularly in Europe. Think before you act. When to play event cards—especially onetime event cards—is key for a US player to stay in the game.

  • There are 35 Early War cards.
  • How often they are shuffled back into play depends on how many events are permanently removed from the deck.
  • If a lot of events are removed, then scoring cards will be recycled more often, making it critical that you press your scoring advantages when you can, and stay close to your opponent where he has the edge.

In general, the US should take Ops with most of his 3 & 4 Ops cards during the first couple of turns rather than events, so that the higher Ops cards are reshuffled for later turns. If not, he will likely regret it when playing an experienced Soviet opponent, because the Early War deck has to last through three, four, and sometimes even five turns before the Mid War deck truly becomes a factor.

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