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Twilight Struggle - Board Game Box Shot

Twilight Struggle

“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 forty-five year dance of intrigue, prestige, and occasional flares of warfare between the Soviet Union and the United States. The entire world is the stage on which these two titans fight to make the world safe for their own ideologies and ways of life. The game begins amidst the ruins of Europe as the two new ‘superpowers’ struggle over the wreckage of the Second World War, and ends in 1989, when only the United States remained standing.

Twilight Struggle map
image © GMT Games

Twilight Struggle inherits its fundamental systems from the card driven classics We the People and Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. It is a quick-playing, low-complexity game in that tradition. Event cards cover a vast array of historical happenings, from the ArabIsraeli conflicts of 1948 and 1967, to Vietnam and the U.S. peace movement, to the Cuban Missile Crisis and other such incidents that brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation. Subsystems capture the prestige-laden Space Race as well as nuclear tensions, with the possibility of nuclear war ending the game.

images © GMT Games

User Reviews (13)

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I play yellow
112 of 119 gamers found this helpful
“One of a kind”

Despite the look of the board and components this game is, in fact, a card game. In this game 2 players pit off against each other in a tug of war struggle for power that was the 45 years of the cold war with USA one one side and the USSR on the other.

The game is played over 10 or less rounds that span over 3 or less phases. Phase 1 is early war and has 3 rounds, phase 2 is mid war and has 4 rounds, and phase 3 is late war and has 3 rounds.

After the game is set up each player will place their allotted influence tokens into the cities in Eastern or Western Europe depending on their side. Influence is how you determine who is in control of a country. If the amount of one sides influence equals or exceeds the number indicated by the country minus the influence of the other player, that player will used the colored side of the influence token to denote that they control the country and not just have presence in it. This will help in scoring points when the score cards are played.

Like I said this game is actually a card game. Each phase starts off with a headline in which each player chooses a card from their hand and simultaneously revealed it. The number in the top left decides who resolves first and the card text must be played out. After that stage each player will take turns playing cards starting with the USSR until the specific amount of played cards that phase has been reached. There are 4 types of cards that players will run into, and there are 3 sets of cards for each phase of the round (but you will use the previous phases cards with the next phase cards). The types of cards are USSR specific cards, USA specific cards, Neutral cards, and Scoring cards. Players will draw from the same piles so you will get the other players cards and players will play most if not all the cards in their hand during an entire round usually if they want to or not.

Cards can be played for 2 different ways but each way has its on effects. Firstly the card can be played for its text. If a player plays a card for its text that matches their side they simply do what the card says. If the player plays a card that matches their side wants to not use the card text (because some cards are only one time use) they may use the number in the top left of the card to gain that much influence to place where they would like (abiding by the rules). If a player plays a card of the opposing team they use the number in the top left to gain that much influence, then the other player may use the text of the card as if they had played it. If a player plays a neutral card they can either benefit from the number in the top left for influence or use the card text, the other player does not get the card text in this case if the influence number was used. Lastly playing a score card, these must be played if you have one in your hand during the round in which it was received. Score cards will consist of a region such as Europe or Africa etc. When this card is played the players divvy out victory points based on the region. Knowing you have to play this card will allow you to either play it early or late in the round but also may tip off another player if you’re putting lots of influence into one region.

The second way to play a card is for operations value. This option allows players to ignore card text and use the number in the top left to use the space race, stage a coup or realign influence. Using this option moves them along their required military operations track, this track is cleared each round and at end any missing operations will increase their opponents victory points by the difference (required amount is determined by the defcon level). For the space race option if the player succeeds they move along the track and gain the benefits of either being the first or second to complete it. This option may only be done once a round however, or until later stages of the game. Realigning allows both players to roll a die and add bonuses based off influence in the city, adjacent controlled cities and adjacent superpowers, after the roll the player with the highest number subtracts the difference and can remove that much influence from that city. If a player stages a coup they add the number of in the top left of the card they played along with their roll, if this number greater than the number on next to the corresponding city the player may remove influence of the other play equal to the difference of the 2 previous numbers. Staging a coup in a war zone city (denoted by purple name and red number) will decrease the defcon level if this ever hits 0 the player who did so loses the game though after every round defcon is raised up one level. Also certain levels of defcon eliminate the opportunity for coups in certain regions of the world.

When one player reaches 20 victory points the game is over and that player has won. If the defcon level reaches 0 the game is over and the player who pushed it to 0 loses the game. If the game goes the full 10 rounds and no player reaches 20 the player at that point with the most victory points wins. The victory point tracker works kind of like tug of war. It starts at 0 and if one player gains 3 vp it is moved to the 3 on their side, if the other player then gains 5 vp it is moved 5 spaces in the direction of that player and would land on their 2 vp spot.

There is a lot of information to intake so the learning curve can be quite steep, but all in all it isn’t that complicated of a game. The theme is spectacularly done you’ll find yourself countering every move your opponent makes and vise versa. My only gripe is that sometimes you have no good moves and you will be forced to play cards that help your opponent, but that also adds to the theme of the game. It is a great history lesson and each card is explained in the back of the instructions.

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Z-Man Games fan
I play black
99 of 107 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 2
“Duck and Cover”

I opened the heafty compact box and discovered that there was seemingly one cardboard chit for each breathing man, woman, and child living in America in 1945. After punching chits and watching the entirety of Lord of the Rings on laser disc; I dove into the rulebook. The instructions read like the instruction booklet for putting together an Ikea Store. There were numbers everywhere with every single sentence color coordinated so that rules earlier or later in the rulebook can be cross-refered. Luckily, this is not my first “war” game (I own Twilight Imperium)so I was familiar with how this goes…

After surveying the map and cross checking the rules for the third time (while I got my tires vulcanated), I took on the side of the free world, while the tire store employee readied the Red Threat. After this first game, I was tempted to call the game “Twilight Imperium Struggle” because of its length. That first game took us almost 4 hours, and we only made it to round 6.

Casting aside from the thick, scary, cross-indexed, Nuremburg bible of a rulebook, the gameplay, the concept, and particularly the theme of Twilight Struggle are wonderfully orchestrated.

The game begins just after World War II. Germany is split between the Red (USSR) and Blue(US). The game is broken into ten rounds, each representing a short span of time in the Cold War between 1945 and 1989. The goal of the game is to spread enough of your influence throughout the world to become the reigning superpower by the end of round 10.


Each player spreads their influence and change their standings (positively or negatively) or their opponents (positively or negatively)in the world by playing cards that are drawn each round. Every card contains a number and which side benefits from the event listed on the card.

Ops Points are used to Influence a country for control.

These rolls are used to reduce the amount of Influence an opponent has in a country or what blow back (bad dice roll) happens and the possibility of giving the opponent control.

In a coup, a player uses Ops Points to boost a die roll in an effort to use military force to take control of a country. Attempting coups on “battleground” countries will cause the Defcon level to drop.


When played, the effect on the game is tied thematically to the event on the card.


Mixed in amongst the Event cards are Scoring cards which (surprisingly)force players to tally up controlled countries in a certain region and determine scores.

A rare 2 player only game. Twilight Struggle is HIGHLY thematic.
This isn’t a party game, or even a game for the average board game fan. This game is long and intense. I recommend it for any power gamer as a must have. The satisfaction you have after finishing this game (win or lose) is immense.

If you are down for a long read and a long game I highly suggest Twilight Struggle.

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Advanced Grader
141 of 156 gamers found this helpful
“Now that's how you learn about the Cold War!”

In the interest of full disclosure – I’ve only played this game once and that was a year and a half ago…

To be honest, when a friend of mine told me he got this game, I thought it sounded rather boring. As much as I enjoy strategy, I’ve never been a true fan of war games. This sounded like Risk…only drier. I was wrong.

First, the quality of the game is very well produced. The board is clear, and the parts seem to be of decent quality. Be sure to have a large play area available, however.

As for the game play, I never once felt bored and was always intrigued by what was going on. There are numerous ways to achieve a victory, which I think really helps you out as a player to follow different strategies.

The various cards and actions in the game are based on real-life events, and the rule book has some history behind those events, which makes for some interesting learning while playing the game.

Twilight Struggle also seems to be evenly balanced. There were several times my opponent and I were each sure that we had the upper hand, only to be foiled by the other person. In fact, it was so well balanced that, had my friend not taken the one course of action he did to win, I would have won on the very next turn.

If you like a good strategy game between two people, Twilight Struggle is definitely one to consider. However, don’t be put off by the box design or the subject matter – it really is more intriguing than it lets on. Now if only we can get my friend’s wife to believe us so that he can take her on.

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United Kingdom
Gamer - Level 5
68 of 78 gamers found this helpful
“Only the most avid gamers need apply”

It is clear from many of the reviews and scores given to this game that it is enjoyed by many people, so it would be wrong to say that this is an awful game. The key to it is the balance and complexity – both the US and the USSR in this board game representation of the cold war have a near equal chance of winning notwithstanding the huge variety of cards, events, combinations and so on.

So why the low score? Well, to my mind this game has three key characteristics which make this game suitable only for the most avid gamer.

First, the game is long. Very very long. If you are playing a balanced game without knowing what you have to do with each combination of cards instinctively (more on that below) then set aside 4-6 hours for a game including set up.

Second, before you play the game properly you need to invest a massive amount of time reading the rules, the cards, and understanding the game mechanics. Unlike most games where reading the rules and perhaps having a practice turn or two will suffice, you need to do more. Much more. There are 110 cards, and you need to know the events on all by heart. Those events are not always straightforward, so this is more than reading the card. Understanding that De-Stalinisation is one of the only ways for the USSR to get into South America for example is key – players will want to trigger this event as the USSR at an opportune time and as the US ensure that this card is held / neutralised / sent to space even though the event seems innocuous in and of itself. The game is balanced, so messing up just one of the card combinations can lose you the game. You won’t see that you have lost because of that until a couple of hours later but the inevitability of the loss against an equally matched player will be there. So if you do want to play this game, read and memorise all of the cards and their explanations at the great first. You need to commit 15-20 hours to this as a minimum.

Third, rules technicalities abound. Be prepared to have to play alongside a computer or tablet so that you can resolve these by checking forums, Twilight Stratergy etc. And again, because this game is so closely fought, accept that you might win (or lose) on a rules technicality. This is in the vein of many other ‘wargames’ (c/r Warhammer ‘game of arguments’ for example), and there are resolutions available if you put the time in, so for a truly avid gamer this won’t be too much of a drawback.

So before you play this game ask yourself if you are a hardcore avid gamer with time to burn. And if you are, do you have an equally hardcore avid gamer (also with time to burn) to play this game with. If so, ignore the points above and dive in. But for everybody else, I recommend looking elsewhere for your gaming fix.

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Gamer - Level 1
44 of 51 gamers found this helpful
“Skeptical at first, but completely changed my mind after!”

I was initially skeptical at first on purchasing this game, however my husband was really convinced by the storekeeper on how ‘amazing’ it is and since he is a fan of historical events, he decided to purchase it.

The first night we took the game home, we could NOT understand a single thing from the rulebook (mind you, we are both University graduates with English as our first language). We even tried to watch some tutorial videos of it on youtube but still could not understand a single thing.

We gave up that night, however since it was such a pricey game and was ranked really highly on the boardgamegeek site, I was determined to learn it and see what’s so great about it. The next day I found a youtube video with regards to the tutorial, over an hour long which REALLY, REALLY clarified EVERYTHING out. I am not kidding, hands down, the best tutorial of the game I have ever found and worth watching for those who needs further clarifications on the rules (search up BGRWJ 008 on youtube, it’s the one that’s 1:11 hours long).

The same night we watched the video, we tried playing the game, and found it unbelievably amazing. Next day I got more interested in historical events (which I never was) and even decided to read up more on the history of the events on the cards. Super fun way to learn about the Cold Wars really. I liked how this game really makes you think about the future consequences of your actions.

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Rated 10 Games
Intermediate Grader
50 of 59 gamers found this helpful
“How I Learned To Start Worrying About Starting Nuclear War”

Twilight Struggle is more than a game. It is an exercise in tension wrapped in an area control game stuck in a hand management mechanic.

This two player game is all about political influence during the Cold War on a global scale played using cards that are either good for one side of the cold war or the other. Sometimes both.

The cards include key events from the Cold War that can be used to trigger those incidents and/or using points values to start coups, attempt political realignments or place influence in nations around the world. And occasionally you send a card into outer space as part of the space race.

It’s an absolute masterpiece, and as tense as any game has any right to be. It’s possible to win the game by having more influence worldwide, and it’s possible to lose the game by inadvertently starting a nuclear war.

The game sounds more complex than it really is, and the basic rules are easy enough to digest if someone can teach them to you. But learning the rules is not learning the game, and having two experience players slug it out is a nerve wracking and rewarding experience.

This is game that should not be missed.

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88 of 127 gamers found this helpful
“My favorite 2 player game!”

I had preordered the game in 9/2011 and I couldn’t wait to get it because, after reading about it, I was sure it would be a great game for me and my wife. When it finally arrived I read the rules and we played the same afternoon. The first game was ok because we didn’t know the cards (it’s quite important to know what kind of events can be triggered during each round) and the rules so well. The soviets, played by my wife won on round 7 although I could have caused a nuclear war on her turn and win, but I didn’t remember this rule until later. We played a second game right after and it was way better. The interaction between players is great, the theme works very well and card driven area control mechanic is very nice. The great thing about the game was that you could see history unravel as you played and I was shocked to see that the 6.5 hours that we spent for two games had passed without any of us noticing. In my opinion it is the best area control game for 2 players!

*My wife didn’t like the fact that the USSR is a bit overpowered at the begining and the USA has an advantage later in the game but that’s how things went in the Cold war.

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Went to Gen Con 2012
84 of 136 gamers found this helpful
“Very fun in-depth and HIGHLY thematic strategy game!”

First, the rule book is very thin compared to how in-depth this game really is. It is Highly thematic and captures the Cold War perfectly. No matter how many times I have played Russia Always starts off with the advantage with the U.S. pulling forward Mid to Late game which is true to the time. It is not a difficult game to learn but does take a long time to play. My average play time is around 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours depending on opponent. Overall I only play this a few times a year but every time I do it is good until the last minute. I highly recommend this game to ALL strategy gamers out there!

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Advanced Grader
Gamer - Level 4
83 of 149 gamers found this helpful
“The best 2 player you can have”

This game is AWESOME!
Based on the Cold War period the game involve the traditional political war between EUA and URSS until the fall of the Berlim Wall.
The mechanics of the game is almost flawless with lots of balance and alternatives to win. You can cause the 3rd World War, you can invest on the space race between the two countries, you can destabilize a government or you can aid on a coup d’etat.
This game is also a lesson of international history. You can learn so many things about this period of world tension and power demonstration.
Also besides the theme, it is super fun! You will enjoy for sure!
I recommend it strongly!!

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63 of 159 gamers found this helpful
“Really one of the best games ever”

When I first read about the game I thought it sounded interesting but really wasn’t my type of game. After playing it I’m hooked. I’ll never pass up a chance to play.

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61 of 160 gamers found this helpful
“Great design”

There is something about this game that makes me just marvel at it while I am playing it.

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64 of 212 gamers found this helpful
“Amazing game but not for me...”

I can’t put my finger on it exactly but this game is not for me even though I think it is an amazingly well designed game

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Gamer - Level 1
63 of 220 gamers found this helpful
“The best game ever”

Great game. Lots of tension.


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