Last week we looked at Watergate, a shorter, simplified version of the classic two-player political game Twilight Struggle, which is based around the Watergate scandal. This week, we’re looking at another game that has been heavily influenced by Twilight Struggle, namely Europe Divided.
It is set (unsurprisingly) in Europe, but the period of history it covers is from the end of the Cold War until modern day. It uses a modified card action system, but much like Twilight Struggle, it has you competing to gain influence in key countries with a view to scoring points when the relevant scoring cards appear.
Is it as good as Twilight Struggle? Is it just more of the same? Is it any quicker? Let’s investigate…
Thematically, one player takes Russia and the other player takes the EU/NATO. You are fighting over a series of “contested” countries in Eastern Europe: Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, etc. How does the card play differ?
The Twilight Struggle cards can be used for an action or for “points”: they have a number on that can be used to add influence in different regions. Cards in Europe Divided though don’t use a point system; instead each card has a number of different actions, of which you select one.
Influence is represented by dice, which just act as counters allowing you to easily see and change the amount of influence in a country. Money is a new addition, which is required to take some of the actions and adds a resource management element to the game.
Card actions include:
- Add an influence die to a country at level 1 (costs 2 coins)
- Increase the influence of an existing die
- Build an army (costs 2 coins)
- Move an army (costs 1 coin per space moved, but first space is free)
- Gain money
- Use the card’s “main action”
The “main action” on the card is a special action that can be quite powerful, but is usually quite context dependent.
What are these armies though? What are they for? If you ever get to the maximum 6 influence in a country, it prevents your opponent from increasing their influence in that country above 5. It effectively locks the country for you.
In order to break an opponent’s lock on a country, you need to use an army. Moving an army into a country will knock an opponent’s die from a 6 down to a 5, using up the army in the process. You would then be free to increase your own influence to a six to lock down the country yourself.
Timing is critical here. If you don’t increase your influence to a 6 immediately, your opponent could just put their influence back up to a 6 again. In fact, timing is a key feature of the game generally.
In order to score points, you have to have the right amount of influence in key countries at key times, as dictated by Highlight cards. These are scored every other round and you can see which ones are coming up. You might need 6 influence in a country, or you might just need more influence than your opponent.
Much like Twilight Struggle, these Highlight cards start in your hand and deciding when to put them into play (for a future scoring round) is tricky. Particularly because some of them will only score points for your opponent! You have to try to play these when you know your opponent won’t be able to score them.
There’s a limited deck-building element to the game as well. If you gain 5 or more influence in a country, the matching country card is added to your deck, giving you more options for playing cards. Some of these cards are just plain bad though, so although you might want to conquer the country, you really don’t want to have the card!
The game is fairly dynamic and certainly captures the bluff and double-bluff element of Twilight Struggle. Why is my opponent placing influence in Hungary? Do they have a scoring card for it? Maybe I should be adding some there as well!
Much like Watergate though, the theme doesn’t really come through. A lack of photos and recognisable events means that you end up focusing on increasing your dice to match the scoring conditions and mostly forget about any real-world context.
How quickly does it play? Watergate was significantly shorter than Twilight Struggle – somewhere around the hour mark. Europe Divided is definitely quite a bit longer than that. It’s not as long as Twilight Struggle, but it will be a good couple of hours until you really know what you’re doing.
Overall, I really enjoyed it. Needing to generate money and manage your armies adds some interesting decision making to the game without making it overly complex. It still feels tense and very much retains the spirit of Twilight Struggle. If you would be interested in a slightly shorter alternative to Twilight Struggle, I recommend it.
Have you played it? What do you think?