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Twilight Struggle
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Twilight Struggle

third printing

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Product Awards:  


Designer(s): Jason Matthews, Ananda Gupta

Manufacturer(s): GMT Games

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Product Description

"Now the trumpet summons us again, not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are – but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle." – John F. Kennedy

In 1945, unlikely allies toppled Hitler's war machine, while humanity's most devastating weapons forced the Japanese Empire to its knees in a storm of fire. Where once there stood many great powers, there now stood only two -- the United States and the Soviet Union. The world had scant months to collectively sigh in relief before a new conflict threatened. Unlike the titanic struggles of the preceding decades, this conflict would be waged not primarily by soldiers and tanks, but by spies and politicians, scientists and intellectuals, artists and traitors. Twilight Struggle is a two-player game simulating the 45-year dance of intrigue, prestige, and occasional flares of warfare between the USSR and the USA. The entire world is the stage on which these two titans fight. The game begins amidst the ruins of Europe as the two new superpowers scramble over the wreckage of WWII and ends in 1989, when only the United States remained standing.

Twilight Struggle inherits its fundamental systems from the card-driven classics We the People and Hannibal. It is a quick-playing, low-complexity game in that same tradition. The game map is a world map of the period, whereon players move units and exert influence in attempts to gain allies and control for their superpower.

Twilight Struggle's Event cards add detail and flavor to the game. They cover a vast array of historical happenings: the Arab-Israeli conflicts, Vietnam, the peace movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other such incidents that brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation. Subsystems capture the prestige-laden Space Race as well as nuclear tensions, with the possibility of game-ending nuclear war. Can you, as the U.S. President or Soviet Premier, lead your nation to victory? Play Twilight Struggle and find out.

The rules for the third printing are the same as the second printing.

Product Awards

BoardGameGeek Awards
Best Wargame, 2006
BoardGameGeek Awards
Best 2-Player, 2006
International Gamers Awards
Best 2-Player Game, 2006
International Gamers Awards
Best Historical Simulation Game, 2006

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Jason Matthews, Ananda Gupta

  • Manufacturer(s): GMT Games

  • Artist(s): Mark Simonitch

  • Year: 2005

  • Players: 1 - 2

  • Weight: 910 grams

  • Language Requirements: Game components are printed in English. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English. This is a domestic item.


  • 228 full color counters
  • One Deluxe 22"x34" full-color cardboard map
  • 110 Event Cards
  • Two six-sided dice
  • 24-page Rule book
  • 2 full color Player Aid cards
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Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4.9 in 5 reviews

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by Nick P.
Nearly Flawless
February 19, 2009

Twilight Struggle is one of the best games I have ever played. The mechanics of the game are nearly flawless. The was the game is formatted, entices both competing players is an epic struggle to create and maintain influence throughout the world. This is done through coups, realignments, and through increasing your own influence. All this is done in 10 rounds 6 turns for rounds 1-3 and 7 turns in rounds 4-10. During this time players will try to achieve enough victory points to claim victory over the other. All this can be done in less than two hours.

This is a card based game. In which players receive a certain amount of cards per turn, but can use the cards in 3 different ways.

  1. You can spread influence, or make a coup/realignment
  2. Each card has an event on them which can be used at least once in the game.
  3. Or, a card can be used on the space race.
A nicely added twist to the game is how every card is predominately used for the American player or the Russian player. This therefore adds equality to the game that certain cards will benefit one player while they will hurt another. There is a near equal amount of both to spread equality and add a nice twist the game. These card events are also historically accurate, and the event name usually corresponds with the card effects.

What I personally enjoy about this game is the strategy involved with placing influence throughout the world. Each county has a value that is used to determine how much influence is needed to control the country. In the game there are scoring cards which are used to receive victory points. You score points by controlling countries in each region. This is where the strategy comes in. You can dominate one region at the expense of others. This is a great feature which makes players think about how they sped their very limited influence values.

Pro: Can be played in less than two hours. (allows multiple plays in a day)
Pro: Intriguing, well balanced card based system
Pro: Great use of strategy in placing and controlling countries
Pro: Historically accurate, and event corresponding cards
Pro: More than one way to use the cards
Pro: Victory point track which allows a smooth scoring system to the game
Pro: The rules are explained in an easy to learn way

Con: The pieces of the game are very basic, and produced very poorly. The board is a flabby card-board piece. It is not stable at all, and is folded about eight times. All the pieces are cardboard cut outs which could have been made better in my garage. However, the cards are well made, e laminated and strong.

With the exception of the poorly made pieces, the game has fantastic mechanics, and should be ON TOP of every gamers shelf. This game is well made and is worth every penny. If you are mildly interested in board games, this is one that should be at the top of your list.

July 06, 2007

a game (for 2 players) covering the political and military struggle of the forty year period of cold war. each player represents a superpower and tries to increase its influence (from presence to domination to control) in the different countries and regions of the world. as the gameplay is card-driven each turn the players have to use their action cards either for certain operations like placing influence or attempting coups in one or more countries or they can play their cards as (historical appropriate) events, then the respective action described takes place. at the same time you also have to take care of your position in "space race" and of course you must not to trigger nuclear war which would mean to immediately loose the game.

in the ten turns of gameplay and more than three hours of real time you need a lot of planning and strategic thinking, but also some luck with the cards (hand management can be really tough at times) and the dice (when attempting a coup for example) to win the game, nevertheless it's often up to you if you take the chances (and risks) of rolling the dice. basically the game is very well balanced, the board is great (arranged very clearly) and also the other gaming material is of pretty good quality.

you'll experience hours of great entertainment and excitement. a masterpiece.

(initially published on * a blog on boardgames, comics, books and music)

Very popular game at our club
April 19, 2006

This game was introduced at our club as soon as it came out. We have some very serious gamers, who often do play-testing. Most of us have been playing wargames and such for 20+ years. This is one of those rare games that was an immediate hit with everyone who has tried the game. It became so popular, that we are having an in-house tourney (for bragging rights, I guess). When we get together to play, we often fuss about which game to play. There's always someone who doesn't like the game suggested. Not so with this game.

It is a 2-player game. It takes about 15 minutes to learn, if you have someone to show you how: Probably twice that, if you must learn on your own. It's a complex game, but not complicated. Most games of it I've seen have taken about 4 hours to play, once you know how, unless someone gets the auto-victory early, which seems to happen often enough. It's a well-balanced game. At first, in our club, the Soviets won most games, but now, it seems evenly divided. It's a card-driven game. so it never plays out the same way twice. We play many card-driven games from GMT, and we flat-out wear them out.

As with other GMT games, the historical detail is accurate and extensive. These guys are pros. Trust their games. Buy this one!

All about theme - the Cold War.
April 14, 2006

Twilight Struggle (GMT Games, 2006 - Jason Matthews and Ananda Gupta) didn't really make much of blip on my radar. I assumed that it was "just another war game" and was really surprised when a well-known designer emailed me and stated that this was the best game of 2006 - in January! This, coupled with several other good reviews, got me interested - and the more I read, the more I was fascinated. The subject of the Cold War, something that was dominant in the news for the first thirteen years of my life, was something that I understood and could relate to. Twilight Struggle is a two-player game in which both players take the roles of the USA and the USSR and attempt to control as much of the world as possible - the Cold War from 1945-1989.

After playing Twilight Struggle, I'm a bit bemused that some refer to it as a war game. Sure, wars occur in the game, but they are simply part of the bigger picture, which is area control. The game is overly enjoyable, simply because the theme intermixes with the mechanics and generally dominates gameplay. Very few games I've played have such a rich theme that one can't imagine replacing it with any other. There is luck in the game, but it's rather well balanced by player knowledge and skillful play. While Twilight may never make my top ten games, it's one in which I think about the games well after we're finished playing. Every game follows a similar flow yet feels completely different. Let's examine several features of the game.

1.) Components: This may seem trivial to some, but I was extremely impressed with the artwork of the game, by Rodger B. MacGowan. It is tremendous - very invocative of the game's theme - and the box cover just gives one pause to reflect on the struggles of this time period. The board, while well designed, is simply a cardboard fold-out (I would have preferred a mounted board). There are a few spelling errors on the board that some have made a gigantic fuss about on the internet, but only one error has any bearing on the game (a setup error - corrected in the internet FAQ). The cards are well done - simply designed, with a picture from history on them, as well as clear instructions on how to use them. Some folk aren't satisfied with the tokens included with the game - to show who controls what country, and have added tokens, etc. to spice up the game. While that sounds like a nice improvement, I haven't found it necessary in games I've played; it seems fairly simple to tell who controls what territory at a glance of the map.

2.) Rules: A VERY nice rulebook is included with the game. I'll admit; I was rather wary of the twenty-four page size and the fact that it was done in the old Avalon Hill style (6.4.3, 6.4.4, etc.) But it really was done well, and I was easily able to determine how to play the game from reading them. First of all, the actual rules only take up nine pages, including examples. There is then a four page full example of play of the first four turns, followed by nine pages of history - explaining each of the cards, and one final page of Designer's notes. All of this makes for some fascinating reading, as well as explains both the theme and mechanics of the game. Two player aid cards are included, and I found that these help tremendously when explaining the game. Twilight Struggle is actually only a few simple mechanics combined together with a ton of theme.

3.) Theme: I've emphasized theme quite a bit in this review - and for a definite reason; it is rather immersive for players. Whether or not you've lived through most of the Cold War or simply read about it; it's an interesting period of time, unlike no other. The cards are the driving force behind this theme, and the way the game lays out follows a myriad of possibilities in history. Not once in my games did I ever feel like I was playing a set of mechanics, but always thought everything fit the theme extremely well. Every time a card is played, I imagine the events that are played out - and it certainly seems to promote role-playing. As the USSR player, I sadly smile and assure the other player that I only want to protect Thailand from the imperial aggressors, and chants of "I'd rather be dead than red" are heard from me when upholding the American way. Theme alone is worth buying this game for.

4.) Nuclear War: One thing I thought impressive about this game was how it actively discouraged nuclear war. No sane person would want to have nuclear war occur in their lifetime, yet many games seem to encourage players to launch missiles at the slightest provocation. In Twilight, the player who initiates nuclear war automatically loses, making players play more carefully. On the board is a DEFCON track, which is adjusted when small wars or coups are attempted. Due to a scoring mechanic involving military operations, players are encouraged to use their forces during the game; but using them too much can push the DEFCON to level one, ending the game. I thought this a clever mechanic, and it keeps the game focuses on diplomacy and area control, rather than outright war.

5.) Luck: There certainly is a lot of luck in the game, both in the dice rolled during coups and realignments, and in the cards drawn. This might be initially off-putting to some folks, but in reality, the luck is something that players must work with, and skillful play seems like it will trump luck every time. Every move that involves dice is a calculated move on the aggressor's part, and you must accept the fact that coups can end in disaster, no matter how good the odds. I've played games in which I've tried to capture West Germany several times, only to be continually beaten back by those "filthy Americans"! Again, this fits into the theme of the game, and I knew the risks going in, so I wasn't too upset (too much, anyway). Luck itself is mitigated the most by my next point, however, which is…

6.) Knowledge: An experienced player has a HUGE advantage over a player who is playing for the first time. For example, a veteran USSR player knows to not put too much influence in Japan until the US/Japan Mutual Defense Pact has been played, because it basically negates it. There are 103 cards included in the game, and many of them can be rather powerful if the opponent does nothing to prevent them. This would cause for a game with Chess-like moves to a couple of experienced players, if not for the luck mentioned above. I believe that knowledge of the cards and the luck balance one another out. I do think that playing the game for the first time is an experience that should be savored, because the cards that appear are surprising and new. Perhaps the first game is the most fun because of that?

7.) Cards: I've mentioned the cards, and well I should - because they are the driving force of the game. Even though I found games such as Paths of Glory to be a bit drawn out and complicated for my tastes, the idea of using cards for multiple options is a great one - and in Twilight Struggle, it's the main focus of the game. Each card can either be used as operations (coups, placement of influence markers, the space race, and realignment rolls), or an event on the card. What is interesting in this game is that the players use a common deck - with the cards' events helping only the USSR or USA player. If a player uses a card for its operations value (1-4), and the event favors the other player, they must play the event anyway. This can lead to some agonizing moments when you must allow your opponent to do a powerful effect simply so you can operate a critical coup. A player can "throw" away a card in the space race, which keeps any event on the card from happening, and thus puts more interest in the space race than might be there originally. The cards are split into Early War (used from turn one on), Mid War (added to the deck on turn four), and Late War (added to the deck on turn eight). When a card is played for the sake of the event on it, most of them (marked on the card) are removed from the game. Usually, a player will play most of the cards in their hand on each of the ten turns; so although this limits a player's choices at first glance, the order in which cards are played is of incredible importance. Playing the wrong card at the wrong time can lose you the game - I know!

8.) China: The USSR starts with the China card, which they can substitute and use instead of one of the cards in their hand. China has an operations value of "5", which makes it a useful and powerful card to play. However, whenever a side plays the card, it is given face down to the other side, so that they can use it on a future turn. I've started games as the Soviets, determined to never use the card - but it just sits there, tempting you - and it's so useful - but at what cost? Great, great mechanic.

9.) Coups and Realignments: At first, every player I've seen who plays the game (including myself), thinks that coups are far superior to realignments, since they can have more dramatic effects. But knowing when to do a realignment can be more devastating, as I've found out to my chagrin. A player can reduce their opponent's influence in key spots, and using the die rolls in certain places can swing the entire game over to their side.

10.) Scoring Cards: There are seven scoring cards in the deck, one for each of the six regions on the board (Europe, Central America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Mideast), and one one-time scoring card for Southeast Asia. Whenever a player draws one of these cards in their hand, they MUST play it at some point during their turn. This gives the person who draws them some useful information, since they have advance knowledge of the reasons being scored. And this brings a bit of tension to the game, as players wonder what cards the other person has. Bob just put several influence markers in Africa - does he have the Africa scoring card? This leads to bluffing and wondering, which really adds to the theme - as nations warily watch one another. One can't afford to allow the other player to completely control any single region - but you simply can't control them all - so where do you put your forces?

11.) Complexity/Time: The game is not nearly as complicated as its brothers in the card driven genre - I was able to understand it after only one turn. At the same time, even though I think fans of "Eurogames" may enjoy it - it's heavier than much of their fare. Fortunately, the theme helps ease one into understanding the game, and anyone who enjoys the theme should easily work their way through the intuitive and simple mechanics. The game can easily take two to three hours on first plays; but once players know what they are doing, the game could conceivably take only an hour, although mine usually clock in just under two.

12.) Fun Factor: For me, when you look at my top ten games, it's fairly obvious that great theme = fun. And I think that Twilight Struggle has a great, immersive, theme - one of the best ones I've ever seen tied to a mechanic. So do you think I consider it fun?

If you are someone who likes the theme of the Cold War, wait no more - this game does a perfect job of simulating that era. For those of you wondering what this "card driven war game" is all about, this game can act like a primer to that mechanic. This game has the potential to be a mediator between war gamers and "Eurogamers", as it seems to attract players from both genres. I don't think it will cause me to explore card driven games any farther, since I'm completely satisfied with the level of Twilight Struggle. As a child, I never knew how the Cold War would end - and I still don't know, every time I play this game. Best theme of the year!

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

A Painless History Lesson
September 25, 2008

Twilight Struggle is truly a nail-biter, and I loved every minute of it.

Although I have issues with the foldable thin cardboard game board, the fiddily little chit markers, and the not-so-user-friendly rulebook, the game is ultimately a card-generated geo-political battle that puts Risk and others of its ilk to shame. The theme is so richly researched and the card play is so nuanced, there is no way any two superpower struggles will ever be the same.

It took awhile for me to convince someone to play it as it looks like it would be a major investment of time with a steep learning curve, but after you get the feel of the flow of action, you begin to see the genius behind the actions. With 10 rounds of play requiring 6-8 turns per round, there are many strategies to employ. Aside from trying to maintain sufficient presence and control in Europe and Asia in the early stages of the game, you must also be aware of your military actions as well as trying to move ahead in the Space Race. Every decision you make can have significant results.

To explain the play of the game would take too much time, and it truly should be experienced to be fully understood. I played the example game as a solitaire version so I could better explain it when I first taught it, but soon discovered that Twilight Struggle is best understood by playing rather than reading about it and trying simulations. Rarely in playing a game do you find yourself marveling at the actual decisions a designer made in creating the game, but the times I have played the game, we both couldn’t help but comment on what a great idea certain rules and actions were. Here are some of my favorites:

  • The game encourages aggression. If you spend of all your turns allowing the historical events to determine the play of the game, you will avoid making what are called Military Operations, which will cause your opponent to advance in Victory Points (which ultimately wins the game).
  • The fact that scoring cards must be played in the round they are drawn and cannot be discarded or held means that players must constantly keep a watch on growing superpowers and work to keep said-powers from gaining too much influence which could result in an early win.
  • The fact that some cards can continue to come into play while others are discarded make deadly events like the Korean War able to be played more than once in a game while other events are one time only.
  • The constant reduction of the Defcon Level toward nuclear destruction keeps all players limited in Military Operations the closer you get to annihilation. And since the goal is not death and destruction, the player who causes nuclear war automatically loses. You have to like that rule!

It is a fascinating, engaging game that could easily be 5 stars if it would just improve its components. A game this classy in design deserves a much better presentation.

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