For a half century, the world stood divided between two nuclear superpowers — the Soviet Union and the United States. Between 1945 and 1989, the two engaged in a secret war against each other in an attempt to either dominate the globe or to ensure its freedom.
GMT Games' Twilight Struggle is a board game that attempts to re-create all of the action, fear, suspense and tension of the Cold War. Voted boardgamegeek.com's No. 1 board game of all time by the site's users in 2010, Twilight Struggle is an intense game set against the backdrop of this major conflict in world history.
In this two-player game, opponents take on the role of either the USA or the USSR as they attempt to spread their ideology and power. The two superpowers use influence to gain control over nations throughout the world in order to gain points.
Game play itself is largely card driven, and it is really quite fun and thrilling. Each round, players are dealt a set number of cards that can be played either for their operations value (the number in the upper corner), or as an event that is described in the card's text. Operations points allow you to place influence markers in nations around the world or take other actions.
The card event mechanic is where this game really shines, however. Actual historical events are incorporated into play. For instance, the Soviet player may blockade West Berlin or ignite the Korean War, while the U.S. player may form NATO with Western Europe or may broker peace between Egypt and Israel. With a random deck that evolves every few game years, the combinations ensure that the same game is never played twice.
On the whole, this is a very well-designed game. Designers Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews took great care to balance historical fact with workable game dynamics. Their love of history is obvious in the cards available, and the rulebook elaborates on each, making this game educational as well as fun.
Typically game play lasts two to three hours, so this is a game you've really got to commit an evening to. The complexity level, while initially intimidating, is not so great as to keep the player's nose firmly planted in the rulebook for hours. Nor is it a game that one can pick up by only a cursory glance at the rules.
In short, if you're a gamer who doesn't mind a little complexity and loves games with a strong historical theme, check out Twilight Struggle.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org