The Best Board Game Ever Is a Chilling Re-imagining of the Cold War
‘Twilight Struggle’ is finally available online
by MICHAEL GAYNOR
Of all the modern board games that constitute the current golden age of tabletop gaming — your Settlers of Catans, your Ticket to Rides, your Pandemics — one looms larger than all the others, like a mythical icon made of dice and cardboard.
That game is Twilight Struggle, a behemoth of a board game famous for its epic rulebook, length and depth of strategy. And this week, it’s being given a new, digital life with a release for P.C. and Mac via Steam.
Twilight Struggle, first published in 2005, is a two-player game that pits the United States and the Soviet Union against each other in a re-imagining of the Cold War. Players jockey for control of countries around the world, scoring points based on how much territory they’ve accumulated through influence and coups.
Its unique strategic element involves playing cards derived from real-life capitalists versus Commies events — say, Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech or the Cuban Revolution — and reshaping the game world based on how well one side can mitigate the other’s actions.
That description doesn’t nearly do justice to this incredibly complex, award-winning game, where one must imagine and prepare for dozens of potential moves every turn.
And just like in the actual Cold War, it usually embroils a player in crisis, paranoia and threats of starting nuclear Armageddon. That fact kept it at the vaunted top slot on BoardGameGeek.com’s ranking of more than 80,000 games for five years, until it was usurped by newcomer Pandemic Legacy earlier this year.
For my money, Twilight Struggle looks poised to retake that top spot after Pandemic Legacy’s honeymoon phase is over. Pandemic, however, is also an incredible great game.
Translating such an intricate game to computers isn’t easy. Its print publisher, GMT Games, tried once before and ended up canceling the project in 2014 “after a long and challenging development process.” This version, developed by Playdek, came about via a Kickstarter that launched in June 2014. Less than a month later, the campaign raised $391,047, dwarfing its $50,000 goal.
The digital version is faithful to the tabletop original, with a sleek user interface and transitions between turns. It will also solve one of the game’s biggest problems — finding someone to play with. It’s not simple to convince a friend to read a couple dozen pages of rules and strategy, and even less so to sit them down for a game that could easily last six hours.
It’s a challenge one might encounter even among like-minded gamers at a brick-and-mortar store’s tabletop night, given the length. An online multiplayer component is just what struggling Strugglers could use.
So far, the community has praised the easy-to-adapt-to interface as well as cosmetic additions like the mood-setting Cold War sound effects and audio clips Playdek has integrated into the game. However, a consistent critique so far is that the A.I. opponent in single-player is buggy and slow, so expect playtime to last quite a while until that’s fixed.
Playdek says that post-release, it’ll work on developing the A.I. system, and it has also promised a mobile release on iOS and Android, “with other platforms to follow after.”
As they say, the Cold War never really ended.
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