Following my ambition to play more of the BGG Top 50, CyberKev and I sat down yesterday afternoon to play Twilight Struggle. I hadn't really heard much about it before, and had no particular prejudice against, but I was worried by the play time listed at 3 hours. Due to the rest of my life crowding in on us, we only had 4.5 hours available to play. I took the USSR and CyberKev took the USA.
I'd read the rules on BGG so I sort of knew what was going on. The big mistake I made was misunderstanding about playing scoring cards. I thought the rule that says scoring cards must be played meant that scoring cards took effect at the end of the turn even if you hadn't played them. That's not true - you must use one of your actions to play them. So when I found myself with 2 scoring cards in my first hand, I wasn't entirely satisifed. In the first turn we scored 3 regions despite having not much time to do anything in them.
I also struggled with the Space Race. I hate hate HATE HATE HATE HATE the mechanism where you roll a d6 to see if something works for you. You spend your card on the Space Race and if you roll right you can advance. If you don't, you get nothing. What, are we playing Talisman here? That's not a mechanism for a proper game! It's especially bad because you can't do anything to influence the result of the roll. In any game where the rule is "if you roll 1-3 on d6 you succeed, otherwise you fail" what's going to happen is that one player is going to succeed all the time and the other player is going to fail all the time. Game designers: don't do that!
Games which use d6 rolls properly include Igel Argern where you can space out your hedgehogs so as to take advantage of a wide variety of rolls; D&D where you roll fistfuls of the things so the numbers even out; and BattleLore where even if you roll Lore which doesn't kill anything, you still get some stuff. Talisman is the chief sucker paramount with regard to d6 rolls, where depending on the result you will become rich or totally screwed. Way too random for my tastes, and I was amazed to find such a mechanic in such a highly rated game.
Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah... the Cold War. So CyberKev started off really strong in Europe and took a commanding lead on points. He maintained his lead for several turns until I realised the value of military action and started coups in a few places. He allowed me to make up some points in mil ops, and some lucky play by me got me into the lead.
Let me share my thoughts on coups and realignment. By placing influence points you can gain up to 4 influence. A coup can potentially gain you 8 influence, and I can't remember the numbers for realignment but it can be handy. Therefore placing influence is often not the best option, and I think for the first few turns we didn't really appreciate that. Anyway, back to the game.
I really like the event cards - they're well designed. I don't like how most turns I had a fistful of American cards that I needed to try not to play - that caused a lot of anguish, especially as the Space Race was so clearly a waste of my resources. When I did have Soviet cards I wanted to play them for events AND for points, so there was a lot to think about there.
We found that the game involved a lot of racing around to different continents when we figured out that scoring was going to happen there. Bluffing might work, but I wouldn't depend on it. I felt a bit rushed - I was always trying to win one more battleground country so I could dominate, whilst making sure CyberKev didn't have all the battleground countries somewhere else. The other continents simply didn't exist for that turn. That felt strange. Also, I didn't much like the idea of battleground countries. Sure, I presume they were countries where the Cold War was contested particularly fiercely, but we're recreating history here - I would have preferred the option to choose our own battlegrounds.
After 6 rounds I lead by one point. At that point we'd been at the game for 4.5 hours, and it looked like we needed another 3 hours to finish. In my opinion, 7.5 hours is way too long for any game except cricket. For that reason alone I will never play Twilight Struggle again. Although the game implemented its theme very very well, it didn't really excite me. Yes, I agree, it's a decent game, but it's not a game for me.
So who won? Well I asked CyberKev to do a final scoring after I left because although I was ahead on the VP track I didn't feel like I was doing so well. Indeed, the USA was 10 points ahead after the final scoring after Turn 6. Hmm... if it had been much worse than that I think a thermonuclear war would have looked good. Last I heard Mrs CyberKev was battling on in my place, and the war continues...