Thursday, January 14, 2010

Making choices -- Why I bought Twilight Struggle

As I noted a few days ago, at least 212 wargames or expansions were published in 2009 alone, a truly amazing number. Such a vast selection means that choices have to be made. Unlike the old days when Avalon Hill published one or two games a year that everybody learned to play, today's environment means a player has little hope of ever playing all the good games that are out there.

Given that I don't have an unlimited budget (and I spend more than I should anyway) I've tried to be more selective in recent years. Among my criteria are that a game is likely to be played (so it should be reasonably popular) and that the topic or theme appeal to me in a more than superficial way.

Many don't consider Twilight Struggle as a wargame, precisely, but it's definitely a history-based game. It's one of the top sellers and rated games on BoardGame Geek so I feel confident I'll get the chance to play it often. But the biggest attraction for me is that it's largely a personal history as well. As a Baby Boomer born almost exactly a decade after the end of World War II, the Cold War was the war I grew up in, went to school during and even served my initial military career in. Many of the Mid-War and Late-War cards reflect "current events" for me, not history!

In game terms, I was born in the last half of Turn 3, on the cusp of the changeover from Early War to Late War. So, while I didn't have personal memories of The Suez Crisis (card 28) or The Korean War (Card 11), they were very recent history and in some cases had personal meaning. My dad fought in Korea, for example.

Turns 4-7 represent the Mid-war period in the game, and 5-7 basically correspond to my years as a school kid. I was too young to understand the Cuban Missile Crisis (Card 40) but I was old enough to sense the fear in the air. The "Lone Gunman" (Card 62) struck with distressing regularity and the world was full of change with Flower Power (Card 50), South African Unrest (Card 53) and the ever-present Arms Race (Card 39). We wound down the Quagmire (Card 42 in Vietnam) while I was in high school, so I missed it, but it was foremost in everybody's minds. I knew people who served and naturally all my ROTC cadre in college were veterans. Nearly every single Mid-war card has personal significance. I remember watching "One Small Step ... " (Card 80) on TV and waiting in gas lines due to OPEC (Card 61). Oh, yeah, and I became a wargamer on Turn 6!

Turns 8, 9 and 10 represent the era when I played my small active role in the affair. During Turn 8 I was an ROTC student, and we studied the "Next War" actively. SPI started publishing games examining the tactics and strategy of a potential World War III. It was a time of conflicting emotions. I worried about Reagan's talk about "An Evil Empire" (Card 97) but I had to say he was right, and I generally thought that his play of Star Wars (Card 85) and Tear Down This Wall (Card 96) were good ones, even at the time. I didn't think the US had anything to apologise for in opposing Communism. Of course, every play wasn't a success, and events such as the Iranian Hostage Crisis (Card 82), Marine Barracks Bombing (Card 88) and Iran-Contra (Card 93) were reminders that we were definitely locked in a existential struggle.

During Turn 9 I completed my military education and I deployed to Germany, staying there halfway through Turn 10. It was a time of high tension, with Terrorism (Card 92) coming too close for comfort. One day my family and I returned home from the post exchange only to hear on the radio that just 15 minutes after we left a bomb planted by Red Army Faction terrorists had gone off within yards of where we had been. Of course, we had no idea that we were in the "Late War" period and that by the end of Turn 10 a combination of Glasnost (Card 90), John Paul Elected Pope (Card 68), Solidarity (Card 101) and Pershing II Deployed (Card 99). among others, would bring the "game to an end. I'm still amazed that things ended the way they did. I don't think many people foresaw that the Soviet system would fall without at least one "throw of the die" to use the military force it had built up at such great expense.

It still seems that the most likely end to the "game," even in hindsight, was DefCon 1.

No comments:

Post a Comment