Looking for an easy-to-digest, comprehensive but simple step-by-step guide on how to play Twilight Struggle? If so, you are in the right place.
With too much fluff on the internet, it is not easy to make sense of most guides on this topic. However, we have done the research, played the game, and simplified the process into a short, fun, and simple step-by-step resource to help you figure out the basic concepts behind the game, master them and play the game with complete ease. Although we will simplify the process, we will provide as much a comprehensive guide as possible so it won’t be short. It will give the most useful rules and principles needed with images to help you visualize the journey every step of the way.
Don’t bother with the gazillion number of instructions that can easily overwhelm you, waste your time, and have you feeling down.
Remember these war-type board games are meant to help you think in varied ways and also as hobbies to help you have fun. So, let’s dive in and enjoy ourselves.
These are the elements that make up the Twilight Struggle Board game
- One Map Board
- Two sheets of markers
- Rule Booklet
- Two Player Aid Cards
- 110 Cards
- Two 6-sided dice
Other Similar Related Games
- Axis & Allies
- Small World
- Nexus Ops
Goal of the Game
The main objective of the game is to earn victory points and control the different countries in the different regions on the map.
The two main superpowers are USA and USSR respectively.
Overview of the Map
Just like any reasonable structure, the map is divided into six main sections or regions namely Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, Central America and South America, the Middle East, and Africa.
In addition to the six main regions are sub-regions namely Western and Eastern Europe, and South-East Asia.
To differentiate between the sub-regions, Western Europe has a dark shaded purple and Eastern Europe has a light shaded purple indicated below.
Europe on the other hand contains both sub-regions indicated by both the dark and light-shaded purple.
Therefore, countries shaded with both light and dark purple are part of both Western and Eastern Europe.
The other subregions are also Asia proper and Southeast Asian countries. Also differentiated using dark and light-shaded orange.
With these, you can tell apart which country belongs to which specific location or region. Certain regions have different rules which we will talk about later.
Battleground countries have a purple shaded background with a red stability number.
For example, below you can see that India is a battleground country indicated by those specific features.
Battleground states operate differently compared to normal states. They have contrasting rules when it comes to scoring and coup attempts.
Normal countries on the other hand have a lightly shaded background with a yellow shaded stability number. This is what they look like.
Countries share connections with other countries and are visualized using black, red, and brown lines. Brown lines represent connections inside a region. Red dashed lines show connections between countries in different regions and black thick lines show connections to the superpower.
One key idea to understand is that countries with these visual connection cues are considered adjacent to each other.
Remember countries without any connections are not adjacent even if they are nearby or share the same boundary.
Remember controlling as many countries as possible is very important in this game. A country controls a particular if these conditions are met.
- Have more influence points than the country’s stability number or exactly equal to it.
- Your influence points should exceed that of your opponent’s points in the target region.
The game contains 110 cards in total. Each card contains an operation point value, event title, and a description to give you want effect can be done when drawn.
There are also scoring cards that are also played during the game.
Here are some specific features on the cards to help you understand the game better.
Color represents which side the event is favorable for. Meaning a card drawn can favor either the USSR or the US.
- Red star only cards are for the USSR.
- White star only cards also belong to the US.
- Cards with both red and white color are linked to both the USSR and the US.
Here is an example card.
NB: With any card, you draw you can choose to play for the operation point or the event. So, if a card will benefit the opponent, you can go for the operational point.
A card played goes to discard which can be re-shuffled back into the deck
There is however an exception.
A card with an asterisk gets permanently removed after being played.
For a smooth play, markers are included. Below are images of the markers.
Now we have a feel for some of the basic terminologies and symbols, let’s head on to preparing the game.
First, shuffle the deck of cards and deal a total of eight cards to each player. The USSR player receives the China card and places it face forward.
Every player starts with pre-printed locations
The USSR player sets up first. Receives a total of 15 influence points with one in Finland, Syria, and Iraq. They will also have three points in Eastern Germany, North Korea, and the remaining six points to place anywhere in Eastern Europe.
The Second setup goes to the US Player who starts with 25 influence points in the following locations. One in Iran, Israel, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Panama, and South Africa. Two points in Canada, 4 in Australia, 5 in the United Kingdom, and 7 anywhere in Western Europe.
Now place the Victory point marker on the victory track starting at zero. Points will change throughout the game based on points gained by each player.
You then start the DEFCON Status at five which equals peace. The more it degrades, the nearer you are to a nuclear war. Therefore, restrictions are placed each step of the way.
If the DEFCON status reaches level one or nuclear war, the active player will lose the game.
Next, place the space tokens on the required military operations at zero.
Then place the player tokens at the start of the Space race track section.
Next place the action token also at the Action Round Track.
Now put the Turn marker on one of the slots on the Turn Record Track.
The early war, Mid-war, and the Late war are the main divisions or sections of the game.
After these placements, it’s time to start the game.
Remember to pay attention to the Sequence of play sheet.
The DEFCON status is at the lowest (5) during the first turn so no need to lower it.
Since this is the first turn of the game, you don’t need to deal cards since you have already done that. However, the cards are dealt from the early war deck.
The number of cards is dependent on the deck of cards. In the early war, the number of cards dealt is 8 and in the mid and late war, the number of cards is equal to nine.
Improve DEFCON Status
If the DEFCON Status degrades below five, you will need to add one to it to shoot it up towards peace. (5)
Just like I said earlier, each player receives a total of 8 cards during turns 1-3 and 9 cards in total from turns 4 – 10. The china card is not dealt with at this stage.
At the start of the headline phase, these are the steps to follow:
- Choose one card from your hand.
- Both players then flip them immediately.
- And the card with the highest operation value is activated first.
- Carry out the event on the card and move on to the next.
Remember if a player plays a card meant for their opponent that they don’t control, then the player carries out the event on the card as if they played it. However, if not, the active player can carry it out. This takes us to the next round – Taking actions.
At this phase, players play back and forth with the USSR player starting first up to a total of 6 individual rounds. However, in the mid-war turn, there will be seven action rounds.
Progress is recorded with the action turn marker on the Action Track.
After the USSR Players play his turn, the US player also takes his turn and the process repeats for the remaining action rounds.
Military Operation Check
At this stage in the game, players check whether they have performed all the required actions. If not, the defaulted player will be penalized in terms of victory points. Players will then reset their military operations count back to zero.
Revealing Held cards
Players must reveal cards to ensure that all scoring cards have been played.
China Card Phase
After this, the China card can now be played. So, flip it face forward.
Advance Turn Marker
After each turn, you have to move the turn marker to the next number. If the previous turn was turn 3, proceed shuffling the mid war deck of cards and if turn 7, shuffle the late war cards.
Final scoring is done after turn 10 according to the scoring rules of the game.
Let’s go more in-depth into how the cards are played.
Players can either play the cards for their operational point or the event. Playing for operation points means you can either place influence markers, attempt a coup or make realignment rolls, or play the card during the space race track. We will go more into operations in the next heading.
Scoring cards can also be played to initiate regional scoring.
During the first turn, there are only six action rounds so some cards will be held with one exception. Scoring cards must be played before jumping to the next turn. With the other cards, you can choose when to place them.
If you want to bypass a turn, discard it or decide not to play the card.
If you play a card for its operational point, and the event favors your opponent, the event will still occur nonetheless.
Also remember that if a card has an asterisk on it, it will be permanently removed if it is played.
As I said earlier, you can play a card for its operational value or an event.
With operations, you can perform the following actions.
- Influence Marker Placement
- Attempt coups
- Make realignment roles
- And make a space track attempt.
Influence Markers Placement
You can place influence markers in countries you already have influence in at the start of the turn to increase it, an enemy country adjacent to you, countries adjacent to you, and countries adjacent to your superpower.
Note: By adjacent I mean, connected to you either with the black or red dotted line.
You can use operations to also make realignment rolls. This action is used to reduce the influence of the opposing player in a country. The cost is one operation point.
This is how to go about it:
- Each player rolls a dice
- The higher roller will then remove the difference between the two rolls from the other player’s influence points in the country.
- If it is a tie, no markers are removed.
- Modifications are made to dice rolls as follows:
- Add one (+1) if adjacent to your superpower.
- Add one if you have more influence than the opponent.
- Add one for every adjacent controlled country.
Coups are also actions you can perform with operational points.
Here is a simple process to do it:
- Choose a country you want to take over from your opponent.
- Only the active player can attempt a coup.
- Roll the dice
- After the dice roll, add the value of the card you played to the dice roll.
- If the total is higher than the stability number of the target country x 2, then the coup is successful.
- You will then remove the enemy influence token equal to the difference of the two numbers you computed.
- If the difference is greater than the number of influence points of the enemy, add an additional marker to the target country.
You also move your military operations marker equal to the operational points on the card played. For example, if 2 then you move the marker two places on the military operations track.
Remember any successful or unsuccessful coup degrades the DEFCON status one level away from peace to nuclear war status. This is only if the coup attempt was in a battleground country. More on this later.
The Space Card Turn
“We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share . . . I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth”. -John F. Kennedy.
The Space race track has a marker for each player’s superpower. The superpower must spend operational points in order to move to the next box. The operation must be equal to or greater than the number shown on the track.
Also, the roll must meet a range of 1-3.
The player can choose which card to play on the space race track.
To get started follow these steps:
- Roll the die
- If the number is within the range of numbers in the box, you can move the marker to the next box.
- The card will then be discarded immediately and the event if for the opposition will not trigger.
- The first player to move to make a move a move on the space track moves to the next box.
- The second player only gets to move by one point.
- You can also receive special powers based on the space you are on.
- If you reach space two (Animal in Space), you can play two space race cards.
- If space four (Man in Orbit), your opponent must show and reveal their headline event first.
- If space six (Eagle/Bear has landed), you may discard one held card.
- If you reach space 8 (Space Station), the player may play eight (8) Action Rounds every turn.
All these special abilities are cumulative.
China Card Play
You can also choose to play the China Card.
The China card can be used for four operational points and you also get an additional point when all points are used in the Asia region.
There is no event with the China card so it can only be used as an operation. When used it gets passed to the next player and after that it turned face down.
End of Game
Scoring is one of the most important concepts in the game. The main idea is to earn more victory points than your opponent.
There are three scoring levels in a region:
You get points equal to the level you qualify for. In other words, the more influence you have in a region, the more points you score.
- To earn presence points, you must control at least one country
- For domination, you must control more countries than your opponent and also have control of more battlegrounds than them as well.
- For Control, you must control more countries and every battleground within the region.
You get a bonus point for each battleground you control and every country you control adjacent to the enemy territory.
You then total each player’s points and adjust the scoring track accordingly.
Remember, some regions have additional scoring rules.
Victory Point Track
The Victory point track shows a sequence of numbers ranging from US-20 to USSR-20.
At the beginning of the game, the victory point marker will be at the center which is zero. And whenever a player scores a point, they move equal to the number of points. However, because the same marker is used, when the opposing player scores, the marker is moved in the opposite direction towards the other player.
Any player that scores 20 Victory points wins the game hands down.
End of Game Victory
After the tenth turn, all regions are scored and points are given accordingly. This happens if neither side attains an automatic victory before the tenth turn.
Any player that gains control over all of Europe wins automatically regardless of scoring elsewhere.
For a player to win the game during this scoring process, the victory marker must be on the positive side and not the negative number. For example, if the US player has the number on the positive number and the USSR player has it on the negative end the US player wins and vice versa.
Over To You
Playing Twilight Struggle is not an easy feat, but with this simple but in-depth article, you can play root very easily. If you love this hobby, check out our board game page for more ideas.
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