Skip to Content

How To Play Twilight Struggle (7 Minute Guide)


Twilight Struggle is a 2 player historical board game that follows decades of warfare between the United States and the Soviet Union. Based on a timeline of 45 years, each turn advances the players approximately 3-5 years into the future. Players will move units across the map while gaining allies and control while playing this card-driven board game.

If you don’t own Twilight Struggle already, check it out here on Amazon.



Begin by placing the board in the middle of both players with room for a discard pile next to it. The initial influence chips will then be placed on the board as well as the VP tokens at the start of the Victory Point track which will be moved in either direction while scoring. Each player will then be dealt 8 cards each from the Early War deck. After receiving their hands, each player will add the specified amount of additional influence pieces to the board indicated on their cards if necessary. The USSR player will take this step first, followed by the US player.


The object of the game is to gain control over as many countries as possible to gain more Victory Points than the enemy player by the end of the game.

Player Actions

During gameplay, the influence marker will be flipped to the colored side when a country is controlled. In order to gain control of a country, the influence must be greater than or equal to the country’s indicated stability number as well as the opponent’s influence. For example, if a country has a stability number of 3 has 1 USSR marker on it, the US player must place 4 of their markers on the same country to take control of it. All battleground countries are marked with a purple banner.

Each player’s turn will follow the order that is displayed in the lower left hand corner of the game board:

First, increase the defcon by 1 if possible. Then, each player will be dealt more cards so their hand always equals 8. This rule stands for turns 1,2,3 and 9 as needed. Rounds 1-3 will be played with the Early War cards only, Mid War cards will be added for rounds 4-7, and the Late War cards are added to the deck to be used for the remainder of the game.

The next step is called the Headline Phase. Players will draw 1 card and place it face down on the table in front of them, and each will flip it over facing up at same time. The card with the highest number in the upper left corner is played first. If these numbers are the same, the US player will go first. The Action Round phase follows and players will each play cards from their hands 1 at a time going back and forth. Turns 1-3 will have 6 action rounds per player, and then there will be 7 action rounds for the rest of the game.

Players will play the event on their card if the star in the upper left corner matches their country’s color, which is red for USSR, white for US, or half red and half white for both. For example, the US player can play the action of a card if the star is white or both red and white. If the card has asterisk at the end of the text, it is only used once and will not remain in the game. All other cards go to the discard pile after resolving and could be reshuffled into the deck if needed.

Both opponents will play cards to earn operations points, which is the value in the star on the upper left of each card. They can choose to use these points in 1 of 3 ways per turn. First, if the color of the star does not match the active player’s country, they have the option to resolve the card before or after their operations points are used in the game. If the color of the star matches the player’s color or shows both, only the operations points are used and no action is played. Influence markers in the amount of the operation points listed on the card should be placed on any country the player has influence or that is adjacent to one they have influence in. It takes 2 points per influence marker to add them to a country that is controlled by the opponent. These markers can also be spread out to multiple countries during this turn.

The next option is to perform a realignment roll on any country that the opponent has influence in. Each player will roll 1 dice and add 1 to the result for each controlled adjacent country of the opposing superpower, if your country is adjacent to your superpower, and if your country has more influence than the opponent. The player with the highest roll will remove the difference between the 2 in their enemy’s influence points. The amount of rolls should be equal to the operations points, and multiple countries can be selected during this turn of there are enough operations points indicated on the card.

Lastly, players can choose to use their operations points to perform a coup. To do this, you will multiply the country’s stability points that your opponent has influence in by 2, roll 1 dice and add the operations points on the card to the results of the roll. If this number is greater than twice the country’s stability points, your opponent will lost the difference in influence markers on that country. If the opponent does not have enough influence to be taken away, you will add the remainder to your own country.  The active player will then move the Required Military Operations marker by the points value. If this happens in a battleground country, the defcon marker will decrease by 1. This action can happen in any country besides Europe and Asia because of their defcon statuses.

Once per turn, you can play a card in order to move forward on the space race track. The operations value on the card should be greater than or equal to the number printed on the next space you would like to advance to. After rolling the dice, if the value is equal to the required value on the board, you can move forward 1 space. Some spaces give victory point bonuses to the first and second player to get to that position as indicated on the board. Scoring cards are played like normal event cards throughout the game.

Points are based on the level of influence players have in each region as follows:

Presence is having control of 1 country in a region. Control is when you have control of more countries than the opponent and all battleground countries in that region. Domination is having control of more battleground and non-battleground countries in a region than the opponent. You must have 1 battleground and 1 non-battleground country to dominate a region. The map on the board shows the victory points for each level of presence in each region. 1 bonus point is awarded for each battleground country that is controlled and another for each controlled country that is adjacent to the opposing superpower.

After all action rounds are finished, check the Military Operations marker on the bottom of the board. If that number is lower than the current defcon level, the opponent will gain the difference in the two numbers in victory points.

Each superpower will have 1 card in their hand before moving on to the next round, and should show each other the bottom of their card to prove that it is not a scoring card, which must be played in the same round it is drawn. Whoever has the China card at the end of the game gets 1 bonus victory point.

How to End the Game

The game can end in any of these 3 ways: If a player reaches 20 victory points , if the defcon marker moves to 1 causing the active player to lose the game, or if one player controls Europe during European scoring. Otherwise, the game will end after a total of 10 rounds have been played and will be scored accordingly.

How to Score the Game

If 10 rounds of the game are completed with no winner due to the above conditions, the player with the most victory points added up is the winner.


The first turn in Twilight Struggle is vital to the success of your country through the remainder of the game. It is important to make the right decision on where to place your influence chips on the board during this phase to make it harder for your opponent to establish domination before you. For the USSR player, it is smart to go for Greece or Turkey in the Middle East or Jordan and Lebanon if the US player has influence in Israel. On the other hand, the US player should use Lebanon and Jordan to protect Israel in the event that the USSR player has already established influence in Iran.

Variations of the Game

There are many variations of the game Twilight Struggle including the Chinese, Hungarian, Polish, Italian, and Portuguese Editions, all with multiple separate printings throughout the years.

Rule Variations for Playing with Kids

Although Twilight Struggle is intended for 2 players, it would be a good idea to form groups or teams while playing with young children to help them understand and play the game effectively. Alternatively, the rules can be altered completely using only the dice and cards to determine where each player should place their influence markers on the board.


Time to play: 120-180 minutes

Alternative titles of the game: Gleichgewicht des Schreckens, Student valka, Zimna wonja

Manufacturer suggested player age: 13+

Community suggested player age: 14+

List of expansions: Twilight Struggle: Turn Zero and Promo Packs, Twilight Struggle: Regime of the Colonels Promo Card, Twilight Struggle: Promo Deck, Twilight Struggle: Turn Zero

Community rating: 8.3/10

Popularity: Rank 5

Difficulty: Hard

Designer credits: Ananda Gupta, Jason Matthews

Published year: 2005

Link to official game site:

Awards: 2012 Ludoteca Ideale Winner, 2012 Gra Roku Game of the Year Nominee, 2011 Lucca Games Best Boardgame for Experts

If you like this game you’ll also like:

Dominant Species, Eclipse, Risk

If you don’t like this game, you should try:

Monopoly, The Game of Life, Uno