It was about time Twilight Struggle hit the table again. Although I’ve played six or seven games over email (using the VASSAL engine), I hadn’t had a face-to-face game since the first time I played it back in May 2013. Much as I love the game by email – and I do love it – it’s really not the same as sitting down opposite an opponent and trying to judge their bluffs and misdirections.
Olly had expressed an interest in trying The Beautiful Game for quite a while, so we finally took the opportunity to commandeer a club table and give it a go. There are two schools of thought regarding taking sides in a teaching game: (a) the newbie should play the USA, so the old hand can show them how the USSR drives the game in the early turns – it will probably be a short game, but it will be a fairly ‘normal’ game; or (b) the newbie should play the USSR, so they have a greater chance of not being utterly crushed in the early turns – it should be a longer game, but the USSR might leave openings for the experienced USA player.
I opted for (c): “Which side do you want?” As it turned out, Olly picked USSR, so I guessed we were in for a longer, more unpredictable game, which suits me just fine. I’m by no means a brilliant player, so I expected us to be fairly even in the early game. As it turned out, I had some horrendous US hands early on (nearly all USSR events, without the Ops values to make up for it), so although I notched the score up to 14 VPs at one point with some solid Domination in Asia, Olly managed to pull back a lot of points mainly by attempting a Europe-Control win. He was a couple of cards away from pulling it off after an excellently orchestrated round of Realignment Rolls in West Germany, but a lucky Coup in Italy (yes, DEFCON had remained high enough to pull that off!) meant I took back a Battleground country. That denied him the win when he played Europe Scoring, but he did score a metric shedload of points. Unfortunately for Olly, that came in Turn 4, meaning Europe Scoring would be in the discard pile for several turns to come.
Meanwhile, Asia and Central America were swinging round to the USSR as well (after a lengthy Panamanian Coup / counter-Coup / Brush War debacle), but the Middle East was fairly solidly in support of the USA (no danger of OPEC points for USSR) and I had grand plans for South America. DEFCON was in my ‘happy-zone’ of 2–3 and I was starting to see some excellent USA events coming out in both hands.
It all came to a sudden end in the headline phase of Turn 6. DEFCON had just risen from 2 to 3, as per the start-of-turn routine, and I played Junta for my headline card, in order to Coup the last Battleground in South America (having South America Scoring in my hand), although I had the option of playing the Coup elsewhere if Olly played a DEFCON-dropping card in his headline. It turned out to be the other way round: Olly played Olympic Games, so my Junta triggered first. I played the Coup in Venezuela, taking Control of South America and dropping DEFCON to 2… then I boycotted the Olympics and DEFCON dropped to 1 when Olly was the phasing player. Instant win for me.
Twilight Struggle‘s always a pleasure, and Olly seemed to enjoy it quite a bit (while appreciating that the game depends enormously on experience and knowledge of the cards), so I may make a regular opponent of him yet. With the digital implementation supposedly just a few months away, I imagine there’ll be quite a surge of interest in the game, alongside a sudden increase in playing ability across the world as thousands of gamers can get more games under their belts in less time. Maybe it’ll become a regular feature at various Newcastle Gamers tables.
After a quick round of Olly’s long-forgotten copy of Roman-themed trick-taking game Triumvirate (verdict: meh) and a similarly quick game of Hive with Pillbug expansion (I won, but only after Olly pointed out my stupid move, so it’s a moral draw), it was time for another bit of mental workout as John Sh joined us for three-player Trajan.
Trajan remains my favourite of the Stefan Feld games I’ve played, and it’s all because of the mancala. At first utterly brain-melting, after a few plays the mancala mechanism becomes a beautiful engine of selection and planning, allowing the slightly more experienced player the opportunity to line up several actions in a row. And I am that slightly more experienced player, with a few face-to-face games and substantially more web-based games under my belt. Unfortunately, for all my elegant planning and diabolical scheming, the game just didn’t work out for me.
I was trying something a little different to my usual strategies, this time mainly concentrating on instant gratification and VP bonuses wherever possible (and largely ignoring senate votes) rather than spending the early game building an engine for a later payoff. That meant I raced ahead in the first quarter, kept the lead in the second, lost it in the third and came last by the end of the game. It’s nice to try different strategies now and then, but the lesson was learned.
John looked in trouble early on, but saved up to play a blinding bit of shipping and remained strong in the senate to narrowly retain his margin over me in the final tally.
Olly, meanwhile, having never played before, exercised his long-standing Feld-affinity and did spend the early game collecting +2 markers and the corresponding extra-action markers to take several bouts of “three actions in one turn”. That set him up nicely with Trajan tiles and allowed him to collect plenty of forum/extra-action tiles, both in the forum itself and across the military areas. He powered into an unassailable lead through the third and fourth quarters, with a huge tableau of shipped commodity cards only adding to his bonus points.
Final score – Olly: 134 / John: 101 / Me: 96
A shameful showing for me! And I only did that well because I’d picked up a couple of wild-card construction tiles earlier on, giving me 20 bonus VPs in the final scoring. *shakes head*
Another excellent session. The next Newcastle Gamers (all-day!) session falls two days after Christmas Day, so I imagine turnout will be low and I certainly won’t make it. I’ve got some plans for gaming over the Christmas period though, so there’ll hopefully be more on here before the New Year.
All photos by Olly, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is usually on the second and last Saturday of every month, 4:30 pm until late at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne, but this month’s second session is an all-dayer (10:00 am until late on 27 December) and there’s an extra one on 3 January (also 10:00 am until late), so even more opportunities for gaming!