I apologize in advance for the length of this review. If you dislike reading, you might want to leave now and bop on over to Youtube, where they show videos and such. This is not to suggest I have uploaded a video of this review over there, because I have not. If you attempt to search their massive database of fine films for a video version of this review, you will be left wanting. Unless of course, some other psychopath managed to mysteriously post an exact filmic duplicate of the review you are about to read, but the chances of that are Slim to None, with the needle not quite spiked on 'None.'
(I take no responsibility if someone decides to go out of his or her way to spite me by posting a video version of this review at a later date. I pre-emptively call shenanigans on it, though. SHENANIGANS.)
At any rate, in this review I will be comparing Twilight Struggle to the Star Wars Customizable Card game.
Yes, I'm comparing a pseudo-wargame from GMT to a collectible card game from Decipher.
No, I haven't lost my mind.
No, you shouldn't throw rocks at me.
Yes, you should read on to see what the hell I'm talking about, so you can verify that I haven't lost my mind.
If you're a cruel, heartless person and intend to deride and belittle my opinions when you get to the end, please feel free to stop reading now and peruse one of the other fine reviews on this website so that you can hurt that author's feelings. (Obviously, it would be preferable if you hurt the feelings of NO ONE, but I can't very well control your impulses, can I?)
If you're the type to heap praise and mountains of GeekGold upon reviewers, feel free to skip the boring parts and start the heaping if you deem this review heap-worthy.
Or, if you're lazy, and you want to skip all the fascinating specifics I'm going to discuss, jump down to the very bottom where you get a summarized view of my thoughts on both games.
On to the fun...
GENERAL DESCRIPTIONS OF GAMEPLAY IN BOTH
I'm not going to bore you with in-depth intricate descriptions of how these games are played, and how the specific rules work. I will simply be providing a very general overview of the gameplay of both games, so if you are left wanting more after you've read my descriptions, there are a multitude of other reviews that run through the rules of the games, so if you are one of those obsessive types that has to know every little thing, you should probably check out one of those other reviews and come back to this one when you have the mental fortitude to handle the contents herein. (No, that's not a typo for heroin, you junky.)
Twilight Struggle is an attempt to recreate The Cold War in the form of a board game. One player controls the USSR and the other controls the US. Players vie for control of the world by expanding their influence in individual countries. The game is card-driven, which means that the cards dictate all the actions players are allowed to take that they are holding in hand.
STAR WARS: CCG
The Star Wars Customizable Card game was Decipher's attempt to create a card game out of the Star Wars license. At its peak, it was the second most popular collectible card game in the world, under the current champ: Magic the Gathering. (If you're the pedantic type, now's the perfect opportunity to do some web-based research just so you can prove me how very wrong I am of that fact in the comments section below!) In this game, players attempted to drain each other of their Life Force (aka: their deck of cards) by dealing damage based on controlling locations and winning battles.
At first blush, there's nothing obviously similar about the two games. One's a pseudo-wargame; the other is a collectible card game. What could they possibly have in common?
My reply: Quite a bit.
First let's examine the theme:
a)Players take the role of a big, lumbering, evil empire intent on galactic domination and a scrappy band of brave rebels bent on saving the galaxy from oppression.
b)Players take the role of a big, lumbering, evil empire intent on global domination and... Russia. (Oh, snap... you see what I did there?)
So, we see that in both games, the theme features similar adversaries. There are other aspects of the theme that is similar in both games as well, primarily, in the way that the theme drives both games.
2) THEME DRIVES THE DESIGN
a) Numerous exceptions exist for cards for thematic purposes.
Exceptions, you ask? SWCCG has more of them than Microsoft Vista. (Hoh hoh, computer programmer humor never gets old!) SWCCG was notorious for adding tons of new rules that were never explained and/or directly referenced on the cards themselves, requiring massive amounts of FAQ manuals and help guides.
Some fun examples:
1) Bluff rules: Your card mentions them. Do you have any idea of what they are? Hell no! Are they important as all-get-out? Not really. I never met anyone who actually used them.
2) Hoth Shield Rules: Your card mentions them. Do you have any idea of what they are? Hell no! Are they important as all-get-out? You betcha! Guess you better dig out that FAQ file!
3) Dagobah deployment restrictions: Pretty sure not many (if any) cards reference them. Hope you remember them during your game!
b) Cards are designed towards the theme, which can cause some exceptions during card play.
Fortuitously, although some exceptions exist through card play, most of them are easily figured out using the written game rules and a logical state of mind. If there's something extraordinarily quibbling, a FAQ does exist with official responses from the designer of the game, although this generally isn't required to be at your side, as it is like SWCCG. Despite that, both games generate exceptions because of the theming of the cards.
Let's move on to gameplay. How can a pseudo-wargame and a collectible card game even have remotely similar gameplay, I hear you cry. Well, I'll tell you...
a)You attempt to win by taking control of locations (battlegrounds or other) via characters and battles.
b)You attempt to win by taking control of locations (battlegrounds or other) via influence and military operations.
Hey, those don't sound similar at all, right? Yeah, that's what I thought...
The primary difference is that the locations in SWCCG are placed on the table by each of the players, whereas in Twilight Struggle, the map on the board has all of the available locations ready for play at any given time.
In geek terms:
--SWCCG = Smaller, but dynamic map
--Twilight Struggle = larger, but static map
What's really interesting is that both games use similar terms to denote levels of control over the locations:
a) You can either be present at a location, or you can control a location.
b)You can either be present in a region, dominate a region, or control a region.
The only significant between the two games is that since Twilight Struggle has 'regions', there is a third form of control that SWCCG lacks since there is no regional analog in the game.
Otherwise, Twilight Struggle finds you placing influence markers at the locations on the board, whereas SWCCG has you deploying characters and ships to locations. Having enough influence earns you control of a location, or eradicating your opponent from the location so that your characters hold it alone earn you control of a location. Despite the specifics being different, there is a striking resemblance between the two concepts in both games, especially since victory in both games (at the most basic level) comes down to controlling the most locations on the table.
This leads us quite nicely into our next point, which negates my need to come up with a witty segue that would have rung through the ages due to its innate cleverness. Pity, that.
4) WIN CONDITIONS:
a)Drain the opponent of cards, or cause epic event (convert Luke or Darth Vader)
Your cards are your lifeblood in SWCCG. When you run out of them, you are toast. If you can wipe your opponent out of his cards, he is fried. The only other way to win is an insta-win based on one of the Objective cards that they published towards the end of the game. (The major storyline event of Luke converting Darth Vader [or in Bizarro-World, where Darth Vader successfully converted Luke to the Dark Side.])
b)Spike the VP track, control Europe, or cause epic event (start Nuclear War)
Victory Points are crucial in this game. If your opponent gets too many, you are toast. If you can drain the point difference back down to your favor, he is fried. Another way to win is to control Europe at the time when the Europe Scoring card hits the table, which does not have an analog in SWCCG. The third way of winning is to force your opponent into starting a Nuclear War (clearly a major event that could never be reversed.)
Although the similarities between these are not quite as exact as in prior examples, they still remain somewhat linked, especially between the two primary causes of victory: leaking your opponent dry of a critical resource, and spawning an irreversible major event. I realize that Victory Points could not really be considered 'resources', as you can't really do anything with them aside from bask in their warming glow of reassurance, but you lose if don't have enough of them, so that makes them pretty damn critical, if you ask me, and I'm the one writing this insipid report, so there you go.
5) CARD PLAY/CHOICES:
a)Where do I play my characters? Which battles do I start? What Interrupts is my opponent holding in hand?
Every turn presents hard choices, especially since you never quite know what your opponent is planning to do. Say, for instance that some Imperial Weenie like Sergeant Barich is guarding the Back Door of the Endor Bunker all by himself, dinging you for two damage each turn, and you're getting pretty pissed about it.
Do you, Dirk the Daring:
1) Deploy the only dude you have in your hand, Corporal Beezer (and, yes, I realize she's not a dude, but I'm using the parlance of the times here, people) to block the drain?
2) Leave it alone since you're doing equal damage on other areas of the table?
3) Wait until you have an army of people in hand to drop like a bomb to nuke poor Barich out of this mortal coil?
Here's the thing: there's probably not an obvious answer. There are upsides and downsides to all three of those options.
1) Maybe your opponent is using him as a trap, so that after you deploy a weenie blocking force, you get nuked with the characters he's holding in hand the very next turn.
2) Maybe your opponent figures out some way to increase the damage at that site to 5 or 6 cards every turn. Unrequited, that'll end things real damn quick.
3) Maybe all your other characters are all on the table already (or they are similarly lame as Beezer), so you end up spinning your wheels for a bunch of turns, never getting any decent guys in hand, which allows the opponent to start negating the progress you've made in the other areas in play.
It's your call. What do you do? What DO you do...?
b)Where do I play my influence? Where do I coup? What scoring cards is my opponent holding in hand?
I've found that this game offers similar choices, with similar ambiguity between the quality of your options.
Envision this fairly common situation:
Your opponent is USA and on this turn they've suddenly started focusing on placing influence in Asia, where they had totally ignored it before.
1) Respond by also playing your influence to negate the presence your opponent has just created down there, fearing an Asian scoring card.
2) Pray that he is faking it and continue doing whatever you were doing over in South America, assuming that an Asian scoring card won't drop later in the turn.
3) Spend one of your precious high-powered op values to stage a coup in a key location in Asia in a hope that you cripple his plans before his scoring card (maybe) gets played.
Trying to determine where to play your influence, which locations are worth risking a coup, and deducing which scoring cards your opponent is sitting on are crucial aspects of playing the game well.
Make enough bad choices, and your chances of winning will crumble faster than the Berlin Wall. (Yes, I know that thing stood up for years and years, so it really took quite some time to get rid of, but once those pesky students started whacking it with hammers... you know what happened. I don't have to explain everything to you, do I?)
As evidenced by my examples above, the non-obvious nature of many of your decisions at any given moment during your turn is another similarity between the two games. Generally, since there's not any one best decision, you just have to go with your gut, take a risk, or commit yourself to a strategic path and hope for the best.
If you end up making a string of bad decisions, you may be inclined to blame the Fickle Finger of Fate who controls that pesky fiend known as Luck; however, in both Twilight Struggle and SWCCG, there's slightly differing amounts (although relatively low) levels of luck present during the game.
6) LOW LEVEL OF LUCK PRESENT:
a) Card draws. Destiny draws. If you're good, you can track the cards in your deck, eliminating luck entirely.
Being a card game, you're restricted to playing the cards that you draw into your hand. In more recent years, though, the designers of the game decided to make more cards that 'uploaded' other cards into your hand, or even 'downloaded' them to the table directly, mitigating the amount of time you had to spend searching for specific cards that may be key to your strategy.
Another element of the game that features luck is the necessity of having 'destiny draws.' For the uninitiated, pulling a 'destiny draw' is similar to rolling a die, with one key exception: instead of rolling a die randomly, you pull a card of the top of your deck and look at the number in the upper right hand corner of the card, theoretically giving you a 'random' number for use in whatever it is required. Given that you have total control of every card that enters your deck, if you're inclined, while making your deck you can ensure that your average destiny number is higher than normal, so that you're pulling more 4s, 5s, and 6s than you otherwise might. This provides yet another way of lessening the amount of luck present in the game.
The other interesting thing is that if you're a really top level player, since the cards in your deck are constantly cycling through, chances are you'll be able to track where the high destiny cards are in your deck, so that you can pull high destiny cards whenever you need them. This can be incredibly frustrating to play against when you are a new player, since you'll be pulling 1s and 2s, and your opponent is constantly getting the same 5s and 6s every single time they need to draw. What it comes down to is that if you're a good enough deck-maker, and a good enough tracker, you can play the game with almost zero luck overall. Few, if any, other collectible card games can make this same claim.
b) Luck found in card draws and rolling die for space race/coups/realignments.
Since this game is also driven primarily by cards, there also exists luck in the card draws. If you get a hand of really janky cards, and your opponent gets a hand of really amazing cards, you're going to have a rough turn. Having said that, you have control over the order in which you play those cards, so as to lessen the damage that can be done while playing them. The game also provides a built-in outlet to get rid of the exceptionally nightmarish cards via the Space Race track, where you can dump the truly heinous out of your hand with no ill-effect, other than the chance of the card eventually finding its way back to your hand.
Die rolls are another feature in the game that provide a source of luck, although generally you won't be making too many die rolls in the course of the game. You only need to roll when ditching a card to the Space Race, making coup attempts, realignment rolls, or if a card dictates you roll a die for some reason.
As was mentioned earlier, making a poor dice roll on the Space Race track doesn't really hurt you too badly, if at all. You still get to ditch the card without activating it, but you don't get to move up on the Space Race track, which generally isn't terribly devastating. It can be a nuisance, obviously, but unless you're in really dire straits, biffing a roll won't cost you the game.
Rolling horribly on coup attempts, realignment rolls, or card-based requirements can also be annoying, if you do have a long string of failurization, although generally having one bad roll won't generally totally screw you over, unless of course your poor decision making has put you in a situation in which you cannot escape, in which case you are a victim of your own ineptitude at that point. It seems to me that there is enough other ways of enacting your strategies, that if you are relying on a single die roll to get you out of a jam, then you have pretty well failed already.
In my opinion, rolling crappy constantly can be a nuisance, but will generally just make your life tougher instead of costing you the entire game. (I suppose this is where you could chime in and say that Twilight Struggle is riddled with way too much luck, that everything depends on the card draws and dice rolls, and that I'm a fool, FOOL, for even suggesting that the amount of luck doesn't negatively effect the player's ability to play effectively, but I will smile, nod, and quietly disagree with you while you flail your arms and froth at the mouth.)
As the prior paragraph may have hinted if you were reading carefully, both games use the cards present for more than a single purpose.
7) COMPONENTS-MULTI PURPOSE:
a) Cards are used for everything.
Cards are used for EVERYTHING in this game. Cards constitute your total Life Force, which represents 1) how well you are doing in the game (since when your cards are gone, you are done), 2) which characters or starships or locations you can deploy or move on the table, and 3) which cards can be used to refresh your hand at the end of turn. Learning how to manage your cards effectively is critical to success.
Not only that, but as described above, each card in your deck has a Destiny value printed on it for use when drawing destiny.
b) Cards are primary method of driving the game.
Cards are also multi-function in this game as well, as they can be used in a couple of different ways: 1) Using the card for the Event printed on it, 2) using the Ops Points on it for spreading influence, 3) using the Ops Points on it for coups or realignments, or 4) trashing the card to increase your position on the Space Race track. Once again, knowing when to use which cards for what is critical to performing well within the game.
Clearly, both games use cards for an array of different purposes and the players' options are restricted to what they are able to play from their hand, as the cards are the driving force for both games.
HOORAY FOR SUPERFICIALITY
Now that all the heavy lifting is done, let's get into the flaky, superficial similarities that exist between the two games. I won't go into an amazing amount of detail on these because, frankly, it's unnecessary, and I don't want to bore anybody to tears. If you're already bored to tears, why in God's name are you still even reading at this point? You a masochist or something?
8) ONLINE PLAYABLE:
a) Can be played online via Holotable or gEngine b) Can be played online via VASSAL or Wargameroom
You can play both online! Huzzah and happy day!
I highly recommend using the online utilities for SWCCG as it makes the game extremely playable because it eradicates the biggest hurdle for finding opponents to play against: the cards. With the online programs, you have access to every single card ever made, and you don't need to purchase a single thing. Making decks has never been easier!
I've not played Twilight Struggle online, as I much prefer playing board games face-to-face, and I have enough friends into the game that I should never need to resort to online play to get my fix.
9) SUPERFICIAL SIMILARITIES:
a) Two player only, hard-fought games can take a while (for a CCG), lots of back and forth, lends itself to tourneys.
b) Two player only, hard-fought games can take a while (for a board game), lots of back and forth, lends itself to tourneys.
Both are two player games. So, yeah...
As you can probably infer from all the above verbiage, both games lend themselves to making tough decisions in a pinch, and sometimes that requires some serious cogitation. As a result, both games, if being played by two careful players, can take some time to finish.
SWCCG was notorious in the collectible games market for taking 'too long' to play. (1 - 2 hours). I suppose people became accustomed to the length of two-player Magic games, which can take almost no time at all (if someone is playing aggressively enough) and considered that the norm for card games. The length of the game never bothered me, because both players are always actively engaged during play, and the time flies right by.
Twilight Struggle takes some time to finish as well (usually about 2 - 4 hours) depending upon the speed of the players. Granted, this is not long when compared to your average wargame, but when compared to most 'Euro' games, the length could seem interminable for players who are accustomed to games that last only an hour or so. (There's an obvious opportunity here to make a crack about ADD and/or Ritalin, but I'll take the high road, because that's the kind of guy I am.)
What's interesting to me is that both games feature a sense of momentum swinging back-and-forth between the two players during play. Twilight Struggle makes this a key component in the way that its Victory Point track is designed. Point scoring is a constant tug-of-war that may eventually end with someone spiking the counter to his or her side of the track.
SWCCG can feel similar in the sense that if both players control certain areas of the board, they can keep slapping the other player with damage that will keep alternating until someone decides to do something about it. Alternating massive battle beat downs can be common also, which also help keep the back-and-forth swing going.
In both, there's typically a sense of one player being on the 'offensive' with the other playing going 'defensive' to counter their attacks. This can shift between players at any given moment, and will often change numerous times through the course of the game.
Both games are easily played in tournaments. Twilight Struggle even has a few rules variations for when playing in that environment. I don't know what else to say about this observation other than to say that I don't care much for cheese. You may interpret that as you will.
In case you've missed the entire point of this article until now, my goal was to basically show how both games feel similar despite being completely different types of games. (Here's to hoping my writing ability wasn't so shoddy that this was a mystery until now. If so, I've wasted a lot of time on both our ends, which would make me sad.)
1) Both require thoughtful study of board before decision.
Rushing your decisions in either game is extremely foolhardy. You generally want to scope out the board as well as possible and get a sense of how your action will affect the overall situation on the board before you make your play. Another thing you want to keep in mind is that you never want to limit your options. If you paint yourself in a corner by a boneheaded and/or overly risky play, chances are you won't be long for the world.
2) Both require maximizing your results using your resources.
Deciding where best to deploy your forces is key to winning the game. Since both games require you to work with a limited pool of resources, maximizing the effectiveness of each of your actions is incredibly important to perform well.
3) Both require you to consider the effects of the combinations of cards.
Chances are certain cards you are holding at any given time can have interesting consequences when played back-to-back or together. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to link the results of two cards together to yield better position on the table. (Hell, finding powerful combos is just plain fun, too.)
4) Both have a strong tie to the theme driving the game.
Theme is an integral part of both these games and the cards themselves are tuned towards that end very strongly. Without the strength of the theme, both games would not nearly be as enjoyable.
As an interesting illustration of this point, Decipher tried to release a game called WARS that used the mechanics of SWCCG once they lost the Star Wars license to Wizards of the Coast. The presence of theme wasn't nearly as strong as it was in Star Wars CCG. Shortly after introducing the game, it died miserably and went out of print. There were numerous other factors that contributed to this outcome, but I believe a large part of it was the fact that people just could not get into the new theme that they had concocted for the storyline of the game. The mechanics alone weren't enough to make the game popular with the players.
In the interest of equal time, here are some differences that exist between the two games. I won't go into massive detail, because, once again, I don't think it's necessarily required, as these should be fairly obvious. (I'm also growing weary of typing, so I intend to bring this report to a close in a little bit.)
a) You have to buy a billion cards for playable deck of SWCCG. b) TS comes with everything in the box.
NEW PLAYERS a) Indoctrinating new people can be near impossible. (Why? See above point.) b) Relatively easy to suck people into the game.
TRANSPORTING a) Couldn't be easier. Put cards in a box. b) Lug around a piece of plexi-glass.
Yes, I realize a piece of plexi-glass isn't required, but it makes playing Twilight Struggle so much easier that I can't ever imagine playing without it. I've officially been converted to the Army of the Plex. Give it a try sometime. You'll like it. I promise.
MY OPINION OF BOTH GAMES
By this point, I'd think it's pretty obvious that I am a big fan of both of these games. Playing both Twilight Struggle and SWCCG in the recent past made me realize how much they had in common with one another, which is what inspired this article.
I love how both games make you stop and consider all your available options, without ever providing an easy out. There are no obvious decisions, and everything you do has a certain level of risk involved with it. This results in an extremely intense atmosphere of play that totally sucks you into the game. The time just flies right by while playing, and I'm typically astonished by how much time has passed after the game has ended, because I've been totally oblivious to its passage.
The strong sense of theme that permeates both games also serves to increase the overall enjoyment of both games. Upon conclusion, you are able to construct a memorable story of the events that transpired, and they're typically very amusing...
"You remember that time when Yoda was flying that X-wing and helped blow up the Death Star II! That was crazy!"
"You remember that time when the USSR totally controlled all of South America until there was that successful American coup in Mexico! That was crazy!"
What's more, the games are just fun. I always have lots of fun while playing them, even when I lose. I realize that fun is a nebulous concept, but both these games work wonderfully in giving me an enjoyable time while playing. Part of it, I think, is that I always have plenty to mull over when the games are over. If I fared poorly, I can review my choices and figure out ways of improving the next time I play. I always learn something new whenever I play either game.
I firmly believe that fans of Twilight Struggle will find a lot to like if they decide to try SWCCG, and I know for a fact that players of SWCCG will practically be guaranteed to enjoy playing Twilight Struggle.
For Twilight Struggle fans, I suppose the biggest hurdle to trying SWCCG is eliminating any bias against collectible games that one may have. If you're curious to try the game, the absolute best thing you can do is hunt down the Death Star II preconstructed decks (one for Imperials, one for Rebels) and play them against one another. They are extremely balanced decks, and give you a great overview for how the game is played without getting into any ridiculous rules exceptions or any other complicated issues, as the decks adhere pretty much to only the basic rules of the game. There's always the online route, too, but you'll need someone who already knows the game to teach you before you can really give that a try. Once you know the game, it's a great way to increase your knowledge of the gameplay, and to get more out of the game.
For SWCCG fans, the only hurdle I can think of to trying Twilight Struggle is just committing yourself to trying something new. You might find out you really like the game. Owning and playing TS has really made me more interested in longer, more complex games, and I hope to try some more of the 'shorter' card-based wargames before too long. My eyes have been opened to a whole new realm of gaming that I had previously shrugged off as completely irrelevant to my interests, which I realize now was a tragic error on my part.
If you've read this far, I thank you for your interest and patience. My hope is that I've made folks aware of games that exist out there that they may ordinarily have completely ignored without giving them a fair shake.
Anyway, I hope reading this was worth your while. If not, then boo-hoo for you, this is time you'll never have back, so now you're that much closer to rotting in your grave.