The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Another brick in the Wall

I played 1989 last night, and it’s clearly in the mold of Twilight Struggle. There are minor diferences:

  • The realignment rolls (and coups) are rolled into “Support Checks” (well streamlined, I think).
  • There isn’t a headline phase (boo!)
  • Instead of just countng VPs when a scoring card shows up, you resolve a Hannibal-like battle. Nice.

Looking back at my issues with Twilight Struggle, they are:

  1. The neutral events dominate.
  2. The granularity of luck
  3. The screw — a handful of scoring cards.

How does 1989 compare?

Neutral Events — Well, there are less of them, but still pretty big. I think this issue is reduced. However, there are more “coded” events (that require a
prerequisite). Playing the USSR, there were ~4 event cards that never mattered because the “head of the chain” card appeared at the end of the first deck, and was then tossed to China (the “Space Race” in Twilight Struggle) after the reshuffle. That was great. On the other hand, having Solidarity show up as the Democrats first card was painful.

This ties in with Granularity of luck. My game took 3+ hours (it went the distance), and I’m still wondering how much of the game was determined by Poland falling almost instantly on turn 1. (To be fair, my opponent was so busy teaching me that he missed a card play that would have gotten an auto victory 1/2 way through the game). It’s wrong to judge after one game; but I suspect a few key cards that could swing a game.

The problem with the scoring cards is still there, but a) the scoring cards leave the game after the democrats take power in a country, so they ebb and flow. B) the person playing the scoring card gets initiative in the power struggle; a minor benefit but that offsets some of the pain of having one less card play. But only minor. My opponent had one turn where 2 of their 7 plays were scoring cards. Not pleasant.

Overall, I think that the issues I had with Twilight Struggle are basically still here, perhaps mitigated. Or just perhaps I don’t know the game well enough to know which cards (etc) are the big chunks of luck I should be watching out for.

So, my gut feeling is that this is an evolutionary improvement over Twilight Struggle rethemed to suit the source material. Not bad. Call it indifferent plus (due to novelty), with the jury still deliberating.


Written by taogaming

October 23, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with ,

6 Responses

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  1. I liked 1989 significantly better than Twilight Struggle just because it had some more nuance to it. The geography of the board actually means something since the realignment-replacement action is actually regularly worth doing, and the different factions have interesting effects on the scoring contests. Twilight Struggle is a boringly obvious game which runs three hours and turns mostly on luck and which the Soviets are usually going to win anyway (why is it rated #1 on BGG again?). 1989 is a game which runs three hours and turns mostly on luck, but at least the decisions are not always totally obvious and there is some nuance to it, so at least you have some opportunity to engage with it. Still not a keeper though – it’s just too long for how little game there is on offer.

    Chris Farrell

    October 24, 2012 at 1:52 am

  2. Thanks for the review. I’ll be playing my first game on Sunday. One of my favorite things about Twilight Struggle is the theme. It spans a vast amount of popular (and “accessible”) history. Growing up in the 80s, I identified with the late-war events and learned a LOT about the origins of the Cold War, and how its tendrils connected to other events I knew only a little about. When browsing through the cards for 1989, I don’t have nearly the sense of familiarity with the subject matter. Did that affect your enjoyment of 1989 at all?

    Chris, I vehemently disagree with your assessment of Twilight Struggle being “obvious”. I’m 30+ plays in and am still learning nuances to the game — especially when playing another experienced player whom I haven’t played with before. To each his own.

    Jeff Coon

    October 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm

  3. The WBC results more or less prove that Twilight Struggle isn’t a game primarily determined by luck:

    (That’s not to say everyone enjoys playing it.)

    Eric Brosius

    October 24, 2012 at 5:29 pm

  4. The WBC plays with both the Chinese Civil War variant and bidding for sides. Even with that the Russian side won 34-26, and it is noted in previous years the Russian side won more often.


    October 25, 2012 at 1:30 pm

  5. Mark, I wasn’t disputing that the Soviets have an edge. I was disputing that the outcome turns mostly on luck.

    Eric brosius

    October 25, 2012 at 3:54 pm

  6. If the game had 10x the cards it currently has, but only a small subset appeared — with some sort of side-balancing mechanism — would that help address your issues?

    Frederic Bush

    October 28, 2012 at 1:01 am

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