Twilight Struggle for a long time was the highest ranking game on Board Game Geek. It held the #1 spot for many years and to be honest, I never understood why. I’m not saying it’s a bad game at all. The design is fine, the game play is tight (although far too long), the components are a little bland, but the theme is reasonably strong. Although this is only if you have any knowledge about the Cold War to begin with for which I know nothing that doesn’t come straight out of a James Bond movie (yeah History isn’t my strongest subject), so for me it might as well be an abstract game of Tug Of War.
Well now, completely out of no-where we’ve got Twilight Squabble, essentially taking the Tug Of War aspect and condensing it down to a 10-15 minute game using only a small deck of cards. It still uses the Cold War theme, but plays in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the price.
However does down-sizing from a struggle to a squabble come at too high a price in other areas or does it hold on its own? Well AEG do seem to be the king of the micro-game category these days so already we’ve got a strong pedigree and I can never listen to anyone talk about history within ten minutes without my eyes glazing over, so it might just work.
Designer: – David J Mortimer
Ages: – 14+
Time: – 10-15 Minutes
Players: – 2
THE COLD WAR IN TEN MINUTES
In 1947, the superpowers of the United States of America and the Soviet Union began a new sort of conflict, a struggle in the twilight of World War II. This war centered on the increasing development of nuclear weapons, and as the years passed it seemed like the war would never end.
Politics and conspiracies ran wild for decades with each side desperately trying to shift the balance of power in their favour, but this carried the risk of one of them over-stepping the mark and resulting in a full blown nuclear war. On top of this both sides were involved in what was known as the Space Race to be the dominant nation in spaceflight capability. That’s what Twilight Squabble tries to emulate. There are two ways to win:
- The End Of The War: – when the final era card of the war (1985-1991) has been played, the game ends and whoever has the Balance of Power in their favour is the winner. Should the balance be equal, then whoever has progressed the furthest in the Space Race is the winner (essentially a tie-breaker).
- Mutually Assured Destruction: – If the Balance of Power shifts too far to one side (landing on a Mushroom Cloud space), then nuclear war has begun and the side who landed on that space loses as the other nation resorts to the final solution.
SPY GAMES AND MIND TRICKS
Twilight Squabble takes place over 5 era’s which span the length of the documented Cold War. Each era is represented by three cards for each player. Both sides’ cards are exactly the same, they contain the same strength values, but the flavor text and art are specific to each nation.
Each card has two values including 1/2, 2/1, and 3/3. Players draw three cards then secretly place one face down next to the Balance of Power tracker and one next to the Space Race tracker, retaining one card in their hands (the trackers are separate cards themselves). The players compare the cards they played and whoever has the higher number in the top left corner wins. That player moves their token a number of spaces equal to the difference between the two cards.So, if the U.S. player plays a card to the balance of power with a value of 3 and the Soviet player plays a card with a value of 1, the U.S. balance of power token will move two spaces toward the U.S. side.
Now before the cards are revealed there are ways to mitigate the results. Players may have the opportunity to deploy their Agent or Double Agent to the Balance of Power tracker. A successfully deployed Agent (meaning it wasn’t countered by the enemies Double Agent) allows a player to reveal the opponent’s Space Race card. Now with this information the player can narrow down which card the opponent played to the Balance of Power tracker. Subsequently they get to replace their played card with another from their hand.
Once agents are resolved, then players have the opportunity to boost the strength of the two cards they played to the table using “social-economic” tokens. Each token increases the top left number of a card by one, which may be all you need to win the round.
Finally, once cards are revealed, it is possible to “counter” the other player’s card using the remaining card in your hand providing the counter value matches the opponents card. A countered card is discarded along with any tokens, therefore a successful counter measure could sway the balance of power greatly, possibly leading to nukes flying so you do have to be a little bit careful. The Space Race cards are then compared in the same manner, and the player who wins moves her token to the next level on the space tracker, gaining whatever one-off benefit it provides. The era is then completed and the next era begins.
POLITICS REDUCED DOWN TO A DECK OF CARDS
There’s not a lot to say about the components in Twilight Squabble, but then let’s face it, the same could be said about Struggle as well. You get a selection of cards with the propaganda style artwork you’d recall seeing during those years. It fits well and stops everything from looking too bland, which it could easily have fallen victim to.
Don’t expect to gain any insightful knowledge into the Cold War though, there’s no additional flavour text explaining the history, but then that was never my first concern anyway! Other than that you’ve got a few cubes. Yeah that’s really it, but it’s a micro-game so what do you expect? However unlike many small card games out there, Twilight Squabble hasn’t stuffed you with a giant over-sized box. It’s about as big as the standard Love Letter box, so it’s nice and compact for travel and storage with no wasted space. I’m so glad they’ve stopped forcing those annoying pouch bags on us. . .
LEAVING NOTHING TO CHANCE
Twilight Squabble manages to keep its promise of sticking to a 10-15 time limit. It really is a swift game as after all you’re only playing a max of 5 rounds and that’s assuming someone hasn’t been seduced by the big red button already. There’s enough to think about to stop it running on auto-pilot, but if you’re taking longer than 15 minutes, then one of you has obviously crashed and needs rebooting.
It’s interesting to note that there isn’t a lot of luck involved in Twilight Squabble when you think about it. The cards you draw in each era are the same for each player. All that differs is whether you’ve held some cards back from a previous round. So you’re usually on the same level when playing your cards so it all comes down to the mind games with your opponent and the state of the Balance of Power.
The agent cards in particular add to the fun as they’re in limited supply, so you don’t want to clash with the opponent on them. Now if you want to add a little randomness you can use the optional event deck which affects all players, but it’s entirely up to you. I like a little bit of uncertainty in this case and it’s such a simple rule addition that you might as well use it all the time.
The replay value is typical of most micro-games. You’ll play Twilight Squabble a couple of times and then bring out the big guns. It’s not something I would want to play over and over again in quick succession as with only a small quantity of events and everyone’s deck being the same, there’s not a ton of added variety. But it will do what a good micro game does – fill the tiny gap in between larger games whilst allowing your brain cells to take a 10 minute break. I only wish it could cater for more than 2 players, but of course, thematically that wouldn’t make sense.
VERDICT ON TWILIGHT SQUABBLE
First of all, don’t grab Twilight Squabble based on your enjoyment of Twilight Struggle or as a taster of what that game includes. It stands fine as its own thing and even though the Cold War theme fits, it’s a micro-game at the end of the day so you could have pasted any theme on really.
The artwork and components are fairly standard affair, but at least it’s packaged in a suitably sized box for a change. That being said this does capture the essence of that Tug Of War feeling between you and your opponent, but adding the twist of having to not shift the balance too far in your favour to avoid losing the game outright.
For a 15 minute micro-game Twilight Squabble contains a good amount of hidden depth here, which you won’t see at first glance from looking at a bunch of basic cards. Timing your agent card and the use of your counters can make a huge difference and you can get into some cool mind-games with your opponent. The threat of mutual destruction almost feels like a catch-up mechanic where by there is always the chance to pull back from an initial bad start allowing for some very close, tight games by the end.
It’s not going to teach you anything new about the Cold War, but if the theme appeals and you want a nice, quick card game for two that has very little luck involved for a cheap price tag, it’s a solid one to add to your micro collection.
YOU WILL LIKE TWILIGHT SQUABBLE IF:
You want a cheap and cheerful micro game for two players.
You enjoy games where you’re getting in your opponents head.
You enjoyed the tug of war style of Twilight Struggle and want a shorter, more condensed version.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE TWILIGHT SQUABBLE IF:
You want a strong Cold War theme – it fits here, but you could paste another on easily.
You enjoyed the heavier aspects of Twilight Struggle and feel this has lost what made that game great for you.
You want to learn about the Cold War – the historical flavour text is non existent so this has no educational value.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.