In this video, I detail 5 tips that I’d recommend for playing Twilight Struggle.
Trigger the Marshall Plan event as the US
Especially in the Early War, when US ops points are at their most precious, it can be tempting for the Americans to play this 4 op card for influence or a coup. However, it’s my opinion that the US should trigger the Marshall Plan event as soon as possible, ideally as a Turn 1 headline.
The Marshall Plan event gives the US a head start in spreading influence in western Europe. In particular, it gets Canada and the three 2-op countries to within 1 influence point of being under US control. Canada is nice for the US to control in order to gain the NORAD benefit, but it’s my opinion that controlling Europe goes to whichever side can seize the 2 op non battlegrounds along the Mediterranean. Even if the US loses France to De Gaulle, their control of these 2 op countries makes it extremely difficult, and prohibitively expensive, for the USSR to achieve domination in Europe. If I was playing as the USSR, I would consider Europe a lost cause after a Marshall Plan headline and would simply work to get a stalemate in the region until the Reformer comes around in the Late War.
A US headline of Marshall Plan allows the US to focus its efforts on the Middle East and Asia during the Early War. Because the US has a difficult starting position in Twilight Struggle, it’s in the US players best interest to limit the areas where they need to add influence. Asia scoring can be more important than Europe scoring over an entire game, so it’s best to have the US make as strong an attempt as possible to get a foothold in western Asia. This can’t be done as effectively if they’re also scrambling to protect Europe.
Thailand is possibly the most important battleground in the game
Asia tends to produce bigger point swings than Europe or the Middle East, so it’s a vital region to gain influence in the Early War. The USSR starts the game with the advantage of possessing the China Card, so it’s an uphill battle for the US.
Out of all the Asian battlegrounds, Thailand tends to be the most important. Typically, the US will hold onto South Korea and Japan, while the USSR will control North Korea, Pakistan, and India. It can be devastating for the USSR if the US can seize control of the western Asia battlegrounds, but it’s more common for the USSR to be there after a first turn coup of Iran or 1 influence placement into Afghanistan.
This leaves Thailand as the make or break battleground. If the US controls it the region is deadlocked, but if the USSR takes it they’ll likely dominate.
The US starts off in nearby Australia, but they can’t move into Malaysia until DEFCON drops to 3. The best case scenario for the USSR is to play an early Vietnam Revolts or Decolonization, but they’re in a similarly problematic position if DEFCON is still above 3.
For either side, getting into Thailand gives you a strong position in both Asia and Southeast Asia. If possible, the side in control of Thailand should work to control the SE Asia countries adjacent to Thailand, for both SE Asia scoring and to protect Thailand from enemy influence placement. This is slightly easier for the USSR if they can play Vietnam Revolts, as they’ll have an extra op point for any card played completely in SE Asia.
The China Card Battleground Flip
Players must be aware of the fact that the China Card can completely flip control of a 2 op country in Asia due to the fact that it provides 5 ops in that region.
Players who control either Pakistan or Thailand, but do NOT hold the China Card, must be sure that those countries are either not bordered by a country with enemy influence or they need to have a 3 influence advantage to prevent the flip.
This can be expensive for the US in the Early War, but the USSR gets a bit of help from Decolonization (where I usually put 1 op into Thailand and the rest into Africa). A battleground flip completely changes the scoring of a region, so it’s very important to be able to prevent that from happening due to a single influence placing card play.
Destalinize into South America.
Short of discarding Destalinization after the Turn 3 reshuffle, the next best thing the US player can do to get around this powerful card is to play it early enough where the USSR player might be limited in what influence they can move around, or to have them be at a point where they might consider it more important to play Destal into the Early War regions.
In my opinion, the vast majority of Destalinization plays should have the USSR putting 1 influence into Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Of course, this is most ideal when DEFCON is 2, but you might be able to do it at a higher DEFCON against a weaker US player who mistakenly considers other priorities.
Although the US will get Mid War cards that allow the US to freely place influence into South America, an early USSR presence can make this a non-threat, one easily corrected with cheap influence placement. The most dangerous situation for the USSR would be to not build influence into South America, only to have a Voice of America pop up and wipe out everything.
After an effective Destalinization play, the USSR will be in a position to score control, and the US will either have to waste ops points going for control of more countries in the region or hoping to get lucky with Voice of America, Brush War, Junta and cards that allow coups.
If the USSR controls South America during a game where the South American scoring card pops up twice it can easily turn into a 20 VP win.
Small Advantages Win the Game
Twilight Struggle is a game about creating and maintaining several slight advantages. Newer players can be drawn into a mentality where they try to rack up points in a region that they already dominate, which ends up being counter productive. A good strategy throughout the game is to try to maintain very small but significant leads in as many regions as possible, with a priority on the higher scoring areas like Asia.
It can sometimes be a more strategic option to play a deadlocked scoring card during the headline phase, or to simply score a region immediately after gaining dominance or a battleground advantage. It is a mistake to pour an entire turns worth of ops into a region that you already have the advantage, as the amount of ops points being put in will not give you a suitably appropriate outcome in increased scoring.
It can be said that it is more important to understand how to play scoring cards that have you at a disadvantage than it is to be able to maximize scoring in a single region. Over the course of a game, the winner will likely be the person who played defense for the majority of the game by protecting their small advantages across the map.