Twilight Troubles: Cold War Follies

12 Jul 2016 8

Some games go out of their way to ensure that you don't do anything really stupid. Twilight Struggle is about a period in history during which the prevailing wisdom among the most powerful people in the world was that the safest thing to do was build weapons which could destroy humanity during a period of extreme paranoia. In the political science equivalent of quantum physics, this obviously ridiculous position seems to have been correct. So, it's fitting that the game lets you pursue seemingly catastrophic strategies. Rather than writing a strategy article, for which I recommend Twilight Strategy, or a dry list of easily missed rules, I thought I'd just recount some of my own memorable blunders. Those who might otherwise feel put off by a mortifying experience may take some comfort from the company.

In my review, I recounted how I (and, apparently, forum users Kolbex and Baelnor) discovered rule 8.1.3:

If DEFCON 1 status is reached, nuclear war breaks out and the game ends immediately. The phasing player is responsible for the status marker moving to DEFCON 1, and loses the game.

We all apparently tried to host the Olympics at DEFCON 2, allowing our opponent to degrade DEFCON on our turns. Lesson learned: don't do that.

Did I claim the lesson was learned? Slight exaggeration. I needed a reminder later. I was holding a bunch of US events as the USSR halfway through an early turn at DEFCON 2. I had managed to discard enough that I avoided the worst of it, but would have to play all of the rest. I led off the crappy opposition cards with “CIA Created”, which allowed my opponent a single ops point worth of action. She promptly couped Panama. I was apparently shocked enough at the amount of foresight I'd have needed to avoid that nuclear war that she felt obliged to commiserate. Commiserations don't pair well with glee at a cleverly taken, ruthless win.

Random TS Screen

More recently, I found myself holding Arms Race, which gives you VPs if you’re ahead in military ops. DEFCON was at 2, so I couldn't coup a battleground, but if I blew ops points on a coup somewhere that wasn't a battleground, I feared that my opponent would guess that I was holding Arms Race and would get ahead of me in military ops. Fortunately, I was also holding Junta, which lets you place two influence and then make a free coup. I figured that was perfect, since it would let the coup appear to be a mere side effect. It worked exactly as intended my opponent didn't increase her military ops on her next turn, and a lucky roll meant the coup even succeeded. My next round saw me crestfallen after I played Arms Race and got no points. Turns out I was so pleased with myself, I hadn't even noticed that I didn't get any military ops from Junta, due to rule 8.2.5:

Events that allow a free Coup roll do not count towards required Military Operations.

Curses!

My last tale of woe doesn't refer to a rule per se, but to a peculiar fact I overlooked about one of the scoring cards. I had been pursuing a mostly balanced strategy in my games, trying to hold as many battlegrounds in each region as possible, but decided to switch things up. So I let Europe fall, and figured I'd make up the points in the Middle East and Asia. It was working pretty well, up until my opponent (the AI this time, I believe) played Europe Scoring while holding all of the battlegrounds there. That’s “Control”, and for Europe only, the score bonus is “Automatic Victory”.

That story, at least, has a happy ending-- I have since lured an inattentive opponent into making the same mistake. The moral of the story is this: our failures are tolerable insofar as they allow us to set up others for failure. Look for my line of children’s books coming this fall from Insufferable Bastard Press!

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