For a long time Twilight Struggle (GMT) topped the ratings at BoardGameGeek; it still holds the top position in the war game category even tho' it isn't a conventional war game. Twilight Struggle is a tense two-player board game where players control the two post-WWII superpowers, the USA and Soviet Union, as they struggle for hegemony across the world. You are seeking supremacy over your rival but you have to cede ground in some areas in order to remain on top elsewhere, and all the while you need to avoid pushing the world to nuclear armageddon. If you've cut your teeth on Twilight Struggle and want to refashion and refight that contest, then Plague Island's 2 Minutes to Midnight is just what you've been looking for.
The theme may be the same but Stuart Tonge's design takes an arguably more Marxist view of history. In this Cold War simulation, you're driving military expeditions and fomenting civil wars but it's money that's the key driver. You'll be spending it to research new military technology and build your forces, to recruit spies and to bolster your influence in other countries. Armies and 'military advisors' can be deployed to other countries and you can use money to try to calm or quell dissenting citizenry.
Aside from the familiar world map, 2 Minutes to Midnight has you jockeying for position across a number of tracks, representing technology, military capability and intelligence. So this is an epic game where there's a lot going on. It's also a game that can run epic in length. A full campaign game covering the entirety of the 1946-1991 period can easily take 7 hours or more to play through! Happily tho' the game comes with much more manageable shorter scenarios, each with their own initial set up, and these typically take around 2 hours to play.
Game play involves dice rolling, chit drawing and card-driven Events but that doesn't make 2 Minutes to Midnight a game of luck. For sure, there are some randomly occurring elements to cope with and risks to balance - these all keep each play fresh - but this is a game demanding skill, concentration and a commanding long-game overview rather than blind fortune. The game is appropriately asymmetric; more overtly so than Twilight Struggle: the USA player has to cope with the democratic vagaries of presidential elections and needs to manage its burgeoning debt while the player in command of the USSR has to achieve their own '5-year Plan' and manage reforms within the Communist system while maintaining control.
2 Minutes to Midnight is playable either as a two-player game or solitaire. Players coming to the game afresh have quite a steep learning curve because there's a lot to take in across the game's several sprawling theatres. The rule book is comprehensive but some will find its size forbidding rather than reassuring. If you've grown up playing SPI or Avalon Hill simulation war games, then the rules will give you no trouble but they will be very hard going for more casual gamers. Assimilating all the rules and organising the quite fiddly setups for the various scenarios meant that most of our Board's Eye View plays got off to an initially slow start. However, once we got going, play sped up as we grew increasingly to appreciate the way in which the game's various elements dovetailed together. 2 Minutes to Midnight particularly shines as a two-player game but for best results we'd recommend each of the players learns the game and brings themselves up to speed by first separately playing through a solitaire scenario.
2 Minutes to Midnight launches on Kickstarter on 14 June. Click here to check it out. It's a complex simulation game but one that definitely rewards the effort you put into learning it. Whether you play as the USA or Soviet Union, you'll have a real sense of triumph and achievement when you win. And if you are beaten you'll be aching for a rematch.