“Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need, not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle...” —John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Speech, January 1961
In 1945, unlikely allies slew the Nazi beast, while humanity’s most devastating weapons forced the proud Japanese Empire to its knees in a storm of fire. Where once there stood many great powers, now stood only two. The world had scant time to sigh relief before a new conflict threatened. Unlike the titanic conflicts of the preceding decades, this conflict would be waged primarily not by soldiers and tanks, but by spies and politicians, scientists and intellectuals, artists and traitors.
Twilight Struggle is a two player game simulating The Cold War, where the players assume the role of the two remaining superpowers; The USA and the USSR. The game takes the viewpoint that all other countries are just staging grounds and battlefields between the two, subject to their Influence and backdrops to bloody Coups. Players manipulate historical events to their advantage, or their opponents disadvantage, to further their spheres of influence.
The main determination of the victor is, fittingly, the player that accumulates the most Victory Points. If one player succeeds in obtaining 20 Victory Points, they immediately win the game.
There are also a few ways the game can end without Victory Points; please see Ending the Game, below.
The game is played over 10 turns. Each turn, a player is dealt a number of cards to bring their hand up to 8 cards in turns 1-3, and 9 cards in turns 4-10. These cards can be used in one of a few different ways; they can be used to bring about the event listed on them, i.e. Cuban Missile Crisis, UN Intervention, etc. These cards also have a value on them, from 1 to 4, that demonstrates their resources that could instead be used to perform Operations around the world. This is called their Ops Value. Finally, if a player wants to, they can instead use a card to further their progress in the Space Race between America and Russia, which could provide both Victory Points and extra abilities.
Players alternate playing these cards between the two of them for a variable number of rounds, with the typical result being each player having one card left in their hand. After that, various upkeep duties are performed, and the next turn proceeds in the same fashion, until the end of Turn 10. After Turn 10 is ended, a Final Scoring is taken; the control of every region on the globe is judged, with more control awarding more Victory Points. As before, the player that ends with the most VP’s is the winner.
“Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”
—“Joshua” the N.O.R.A.D computer from Wargames
The first thing done at the start of each turn is to increase the global DEFCON (Defensive Condition) status one closer to 5, or world peace. Certain player actions and cards played during the round can bring this number down, or closer to war. The lower the number is, the more restricted military actions will be. If the active player does an action or plays a card that would lower the DEFCON to 1, the world is unable to handle the tension, and erupts in nuclear war. The player that causes the DEFCON meter to reach 1 automatically loses the game.
After raising the DEFCON status, each player draws from a deck of cards, to a hand size of 8 (in Turns 1-3) or 9 (Turns 4-10). Each of these cards represents an Event they can turn to their advantage. As the Cold War progresses, more cards are added to this deck, to represent additional developments and twists of fate. Turns 1-3 represent the Early Years of the Cold War. At the end of Turn 3, players have reached the Mid Years of the Cold War, and more cards are shuffled into the draw deck to represent that. At the end of Turn 7, the war enters its Later years, and more cards representing that are shuffled in then. When there are no more cards in the draw deck, the discards are shuffled to make a new draw deck.
“Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing medium – and intermediate – range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no? Don't wait for the translation! Yes or no?” — Adlai Stevenson, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Public perception carried significant weight in this conflict, and much effort was made to control what the people read in their newspapers. This is represented by the Headline Phase. Each player selects an event from their hand that they would like to see occur. Both players play their card simultaneously. The card that has the highest Ops Value occurs first. This phase ensures that players do not just concern themselves with Operations, but that Events are played as well.
After the Headline Phase, the players enter the meat of the game: The Action Rounds. Starting with the USSR, each player chooses one card from their hand, then decides how best to use it. Here’s how most cards break down:
The center part is the name of the card. The top bar tells you what phase of the war it occurs in. The “3" in the star to the left tells us that the card is worth three points when used for Operations, and since the star is red, that this card favors the USSR Blue favors US, and stars with both colors favor neither. Note that some cards have an * and underlined text. Cards with underlined text have certain effects that continue to persist until they are cancelled later on. Cards with an * that are used to play an Event are permanently removed from the game, so be careful to maximize their impact. Some cards are prerequisites for others later on, and some cards cancel others out. There are also certain cards that can immediately begin tallying the amount of control for each superpower in a particular region. There are three main ways to use a card: For the Event, for Ops, and for the Space Race.
A card can always be played so the Event text can occur. Going back to the Warsaw Pact card, the USSR player can play the card for its Event, and can begin to manipulate the influence of Eastern Europe. It remains in play because it enables the play of the NATO card later on. If this card is used for its Event, since it is marked with an *, it is removed from the game as soon as its effects are no longer in play(in this case, when the NATO card is played).
A card can also be used to perform Operations. In this case, the player has a number of Ops points equal to the Ops Value of the card to perform Operations. A player can spend these points to either spread influence, Realign countries to their view, or perform Coups to radically change countries’ allegiances. You must spend all of your Ops points on ONE of these choices. You cannot mix and match.
“Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach.”
Each country on the map has a number next to its name. This is the country's Stability Number. If a superpower has a number of influence in a country at least equal to its Stability Number, AND the difference between your influence and your opponent’s influence is equal to the Stability Number, you control that country. Ex:
Bulgaria has a Stability Number of 3. If the USSR has 3 influence in the country and the US has none, then the USSR controls Bulgaria.
If the US then places 2 influence in Bulgaria, the USSR no longer controls Bulgaria, because they don’t have enough influence to cover the difference(Base Stability of 3 + US influence of 2 = required influence of 5 to control Bulgaria).
It costs 1 Ops point to place 1 point of influence in a country that is uncontrolled, or controlled by you. To place 1 point of influence in an enemy-controlled country, it requires 2 ops points. Going back to the Warsaw Pact example, the USSR decides to use it to place Influence. He places 1 influence in West Germany to begin his takeover of the American-controlled country. It costs 2 points to do so. With one point left, he solidifies his hold on Syria, by spending the remaining point to gain 1 influence there. You can only place influence in a country if it contains, or is adjacent to a country with friendly influence markers at the start of this action round, unless an Event tells you otherwise.
Realignment rolls are used to reduce enemy influence in a country. To attempt a Realignment roll, you don’t need any of your influence in a country, although it helps you be more successful. It costs 1 Ops point to attempt a Realignment roll. Each player rolls a die, and the high roller may remove the difference between the rolls from the opponent’s influence in that country. Ties are considered a draw. There are modifiers to the rolls, as follows:
+1 for each adjacent controlled country
+1 if you have more influence in the target country than your opponent
+1 if your superpower is adjacent to the target country
Although Realignment rolls can reduce your opponent’s influence, they can never add your influence to a country.
A Coup represents operations short of full-scale war to change the composition of a country’s government. You do not have to have any influence in a country to attempt a coup, although your opponent must have influence there. To perform a Coup, roll a die and add the Ops Value of the card played to enable it. If your total is greater than double
the country’s Stability Number, your Coup is successful, and you reduce your opponent’s influence by the difference. If that takes your opponent’s influence to 0, you place your influence in the country to round out the difference. Ex. Iran’s Stability is 2, and the USSR has 3 influence there. The US performs a Coup with a 3 Ops Value card. Their roll is a 5, total of 8 with their added Ops Value. 8 > 4, so the Coup is successful. The USSR loses all three influence, and since there is still one point unaccounted for, the US gains a point of influence in Iran.
Certain countries find themselves a more desirable target than others. These countries are called battleground countries, and are distinguished by their name bar being in purple.
If a battleground country is the target of a coup, the world notices, and the DEFCON track is decreased by 1. Also, when a card is played for a Coup, you move your marker down the Required Military Operations track a number equal to the Ops Value of the card used. More on this later.
One last note about Operations: If you play a card for Operations and the Event listed is associated with either both players or just yourself, it does not occur. But if you play a card for Ops, and it is associated with your opponent, it does occur.
So going back to the Warsaw Pact card from before, if the US played it for Ops, they would have 3 points to spend, but the USSR Event occurs, and they get to alter influence. Some conditions for this:
- Current player always decides whether the event happens before OR after Operations are done
- If the opponent's event is dependent on a prerequisite card that hasn't been played, the Event is not triggered, and is discarded as normal
- If the opponent's event is prohibited by a previously played card, Operations take place, but the Event does not, and the card is discarded as normal.
- If the opponent's event is triggered, but results in no effect, the card is considered played and removed from the game.
Certain cards have no events or Ops points, but instead are Scoring cards for a particular region.
Scoring cards can NEVER be the last card held in your hand at the end of a turn. When a scoring card is played, players calculate how much influence they have in countries in that particular continent. There are three levels: Presence, where you have control of at least one country in that continent; Dominance, where you control both more normal countries and battleground countries in that continent than your opponent, and Control, where you control both more countries than your opponent, and ALL of the battleground countries. These scoring cards can often provide a large and sudden influx of VP's to a player.
Ops Points may be spent by a superpower to move its marker further down the Space Race track, instead of for Operations or Events. To do so, discard a card with the number of Ops points required, as listed on the track(typically at least 2 points are required). You then roll a die, and if you roll in the range listed on the track, you advance your marker. Players may only use one card per turn for the Space Race. There are some spaces on the track that offer VP rewards of two different amounts: The first person to get to that space gets the higher VP reward. Other spaces on the track offer upgrades and rewards, but again, only to the first player to reach that space. Should the second player reach that space as well, the special effect is immediately cancelled. The Space Race is often used as a “safety valve”, to dump events that would be of great value to your opponent and keep them from getting played.
Check Military Status:
“Restraint? Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war, if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win.” —Gen. Thomas Power, U.S. Strategic Air Command
The superpowers did not want to be seen as weak, and were constantly toeing the line being effective, and keeping the war from becoming “Hot”. If the DEFCON marker is on anything other than 5, Coup and Realignment rolls are not allowed in certain countries:
DEFCON 4: No Coups or Realignments in Europe
DEFCON 3: No rolls in Europe or Asia
DEFCON 2: No rolls in Europe, Asia, or Middle East
If, when this phase comes up, your marker on the Required Military Operations Track is not at least as far as the current DEFCON status, your opponent gains a number of VPs equal to the difference.
Ex. After this turns actions, the DEFCON marker is at 4. US has played 4 Ops points worth of military operations, but USSR has only played 1. Therefore, the US gains 3 VPs.
The China Card:
China’s large role in the Cold War is abstracted through the China Card, that starts the game with the USSR. The China Card does not count against your hand limit. Playing The China Card counts as one of your Action Rounds. After playing it, it is handed to your opponent, face down. After checking Military Status, the China Card is flipped face up, and is ready for use next turn. The China Card may not be played during the Headline Phase.
Ending the Game:
There are a few ways the game can end before the end of Turn 10:
If one player causes the DEFCON track to reach 1, they lose.
If one player plays the "Europe Scoring" card and is found to be in Control of Europe, they win. A player controls a Region if the controls more countries there than his opponent and also controls ALL the Battleground countries in the Region.
Starting in the Late War, a card called "Wargames" is available to be drawn. This event immediately ends the game after giving the other side 6 VPs.
If one player gets 20 VP’s, they instantly win.
If none of these occur, a Final Scoring occurs. Every region is scored as if its scoring card had just been played. Add 1 VP to the player currently holding the China Card, and determine which player has the most VPs. That player wins the game.