GMT Games' Twilight Struggle has been constantly at or near the top of the charts on BoardGameGeek. It’s a great two-player strategy game simulating Cold War intrigue between the US and Soviet Union across the world stage. The game is card driven and players are dealt cards which they can play for their influence value but whose text benefits their opponent. The skill in the game is in damage limitation: minimising the advantages you are being forced to give away.
Twilight Struggle is a big game though. It’ll take you an evening to play through.
For the past year or so, Ultra PRO and Jolly Roger Games have developed a specialty in designing games that emulate the theme and hand management of Twilight Struggle. First came 13 Days, and then the micro game 13 Minutes; both of which simulate aspects of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now, with Iron Curtain, Ultra Pro and Jolly Roger have broadened the canvas to extend to the superpower tussle for world domination.
Like 13 Minutes, Iron Curtain is a micro game. It contains just 18 cards. Play is over two rounds, with each player playing from a hand of five cards in the first round and four in the second. Cards each represent a country within a region. When a region is already in play, cards from the same region have to be placed adjacent to cards from that region that have already been played.
All cards have a value representing the influence cubes that can be put out by whichever player plays that card but each card also has more powerful event text. These event texts can only be used by the player whose flag is shown on the card. When a player plays a card with text benefiting his opponent, it is the opponent who gets to implement that text even though it is not their turn.
This very directly borrows from the hand management/damage limitation system in Twilight Struggle. It is obviously greatly streamlined because there are only 18 cards in the entire game. There is no ‘space race’ here for players to dump unwanted cards. Through their card play and skilled manipulation of their very limited hands, players are seeking to control countries and score ideology points for the regions they dominate. All regions score at the end of the game but most will score twice because they also score at the point at which all the countries in a region are in play.
A marker is moved back and forth along an ideology track to represent the shifting balance of power between the US and Soviet Union (the token was missing in my copy of the game, so, for play and in the photo I’ve had to substitute a similar shaped Lego brick).
The rules are straightforward and mostly very clear (although some confusion is created by the unfortunate use of the word ‘event’ in describing the ‘aftermath’ scoring of the final two reserved cards). The key point to stress is that there is not a huge rules overhead to plough through before you can play. Meanwhile, play itself is subtle and surprisingly engrossing for such a small game. Just as Surprised Stare's Cousins' War offers a small box representation of the Wars of the Roses, previously best identified with Gibsons' Kingmaker, so Iron Curtain offers players at least a taste of the Twilight Struggle experience in a very manageable form and in a game that can be played in under 20 minutes.