Episode 53: Reds & Feds

53: Reds & Feds

Release Date: April 28, 2008

Running Time: 127 min.

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ep 51

Stand down from DEFCON 2! We rewrite history, replaying the Cold War not once, but twice in this superpower sized episode. We tackle Twilight Struggle and Cold War: CIA v KGB.

News & Notes: Merlin's Company, Online Hive Tournament
The List: Twilight Struggle, Cold War: CIA vs KGB
Name That Game: Win Portrayal
Backshelf Spotlight:
Conspiracy, Elkfest
Truckloads of Goober: Wadjet
Game Sommelier: Five games to match anniversary year themes.
Mail Bag:
Sommelier redux, Abbot's puzzle, Mr. Maura Kalusky

Complete Show Notes continue after the break.


Game News & Notes

Merlin's Company Link | BGG Entry

A new expansion for the great co-operative game Shadows Over Camelot from Days of Wonder. It introduces a host of new characters - including 7 new knights and Merlin himself. The wise old wizard is now a full-blown independent character in the game, complete with his own figure. He travels the board lending guidance and a helping hand to the embattled knights.

Merlin’s Company also introduces 63 new cards: the all new Travel cards - events that may occur as you move from Quest to Quest; additional Black cards, including 7 witches allied with Morgan; and additional White cards that will help you and your fellow knights in your battles against the forces of evil.

Hive Tournament Online: Starts June 1 Link

Register now! This will be a single elimination, self scheduled Hive tournament. All games will be played with the Mosquito. Games can be played at any mutually agreed time, and you play only until you lose one match. John Yianni will award a trophy to the winner, and Mosquitos to the top 16 finishers.

The List

Twilight Struggle BGG | Official Site

Rewrite or relive the ENTIRE Cold War in single night. Twilight Struggle is a two-player game simulating the forty-five year dance of intrigue, prestige, and occasional flares of warfare between the Soviet Union and the United States. The entire world is the stage on which these two titans fight to make the world safe for their own ideologies and ways of life. The game begins amidst the ruins of Europe as the two new "superpowers" scramble over the wreckage of the Second World War, and ends in 1989, when only the United States remained standing.

Cold War: CIA vs KGB BGG | Official Site

This game puts you in charge of a spy network during the post-war era. Your purpose: to "persuade" foreign governments to embrace the "proper" ideology, by any means necessary.

Manipulate local factions of influence to get your coup d'etat up and running. Double-cross and eliminate your opponent's leaders. Gain prestige for your side by winning the Space Race, dominating the Olympic Games, or ensuring that one of your countrymen wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

Backshelf Spotlight

Mystery Connection Contest
Can you find a connection between these two games? We find a mystery connection each episode and challenge you, the listener, to hunt for it! Post your guesses to the Forum . Find the connection and you could win a pair of coveted custom Spiel Dice!

spiel dice

Congratulations to DaveNI our winner for episode 52! Read his connnection here .

Conspiracy BGG Entry

Four capitals, four bankbooks, one top secret briefcase and eight greedy spies that anyone can control. The object is to move the briefcase to your headquarters. Trick is to know how many agents to pay off, and how much to pay, which agents to move, and when to move them. No dice, no cards, no luck involved in this classic from Milton Bradley.

Elkfest BGG | Official Site

Two elk (Jule and Ole) stare at each other across a river. Longing for the greener grass where the other elk is, they set out to beat each other to the opposite bank! In Elk Fest, move your elk to the other bank by flicking wooden disks across the table and balancing your elk on them. Can your elk get to the greener grass across the river? Good grazing is just a stone's flick away!

Truckloads of Goober

Wadjet BGG Entry

Scour Egyptian tombs for treasures on a giant board with lovely carved resin busts.

spiel dice

Game Sommelier

The Challenge: Five games to fit the first five anniversary year gifts: paper, cotton, leather, fruit & flowers, wood.

Stephen's List

Dave's Vote

Change! Thumbs Up
Fair Play Thumbs Up
Cows Can't Dance Thumbs Up
Tulipmania 1637 Thumbs Up
Treehouse Thumbs Up

Next Challenge: Seven games that correspond to the seven continents of the globe.

Mail Bag

Thanks to donors "The Fury of" Matthew Fisk, and repeat donors Scotty "Knucklebones" Dickey, and Tyler "The Ill-Tempered Squirrel" Sigman

Tony Boydell from Surprised Stare Games confirms that the Abbot's puzzle in Coppertwaddle is a legitimate puzzle and has only been solved once in eight years. Can you be the second?

At last, the final apology to Mr. Maura Kalusky (see episodes 50,51)! Thanks for checking in, Maura. We'll be sure to remind our listeners about your new web site when it's ready.


I'm sure there are some goofs in there somewhere. Let us know if (when?) you find one!



It was a kick to hear you talk about a game that is more in my sphere of influence. I had lots of thoughts listening to you discuss Twilight Struggle.

First of all, have you just played it the once? I think that it is a game that definitely grows on you, so if you like it the first go around, watch out! The card driven games actually feel much different after a few plays. The first play is just a joy getting surprised by the various cards. Never knowing what might happen is really fun. After a few plays, you know the cards, and so you can really work to mitigate the damage from cards you know will come out.

This leads me to a question that is not related to TS completely. How much do you guys know about the strategy of a game before you play it off of the list? I try my darndest to not read about how (strategy) to play a game before my first play, as figuring that out is half the fun. I read plenty about a game to make sure I want to buy it, and will read FAQs and the like, but I avoid any play guides or strategy discussions. Just wondered if you two tend one way or the other?

Next, Twilight Struggle ties in well with a poll you had a couple of polls ago. I find this type of game really good for e-mail play. Two player games flow pretty well online, and you can really dig deep into how you want to play each card without making the game extra long. Face to face is still better, but Twilight Struggle makes a great online game.

Lastly, regarding the components. The Twilight Struggle map is actually a step up from the basic map that you will find in a lot of the war games. Only some of the maps are made of the less rippable card stock; lots of the maps are more like glossy paper (I believe this is GMTs 'deluxe' map quality). It would be great to have a mounted board, but the TS map is really pretty good for those types of games. A piece of plexiglass on top fixes most of the issues.


Lots to chew on here.

Yes, we only had a chance to play a full game once before recording. I'm sure it will hit the table again (when we have the time) very soon. Especially since we have the "flow" of the game down, I can see what you're saying about the cards making the game feel much different the more we become familiar with them and how they interact. I think that will only add to the enjoyment of the game since it adds even more strategy to each turn and decision.

We're both in your camp when it comes to insulating ourselves from strategy before playing. Part of the fun and challenge of play is discovering the strategies as we play. We often will stop and consider different moves (especially on a first play) just to see if we understand the consequences of the choices and discuss them with each other. This might not lead to the most optimal play sometimes, but that's how I learn. Game strategy is like a sandbox and it's fun to play around to see what can happen, to test the limits of the game.

Twilight Struggle would be a great play by email game I can see that, for sure.

As far as the gameboard goes, I do understand that the war game companies print way fewer copies of each game and therefore the costs are higher per unit, BUT there's established precedent with older wargame companies like Avalon Hill, for instance, who provided gamers with great strategy and quality boards that would stand up to many games. I used to have a sheet of plexiglass for boards like this but I think I lost it in college! Guess it is time to get a new one...

Thanks for spurring on the discussion!


Just listened to the show. Thank you very much for the thorough and detailed discussion of the game. I particularly enjoyed the Twilight "soundtrack" choices.

I sympathize with your concern about components. I had to kinda beg to get the cardboard map. GMT had originally intended to include blocks as well, but the collapse of the dollar made European wooden cubes impracticable. But, its important not to confuse GMT or any other contemporary wargame company with AH. Avalon Hill itself got into trouble and ended up being owned by AH's printer -- Monarch printing. The genius of the AH model was that games were a side business to printing. So games could be run during printing downtimes and with lower overhead. It is a model, paranthetically, that works well for larger German publishers like Ravensburger.

But, no modern wargame company has the luxury of idle printing presses at their disposal. That does not address the questions of precedent and expectation set by Avalon Hill, but it is part of the economic equation.

Anyway, thank you both again. I really enjoyed the whole show.

Jason Matthews


Great to hear from you, Jason. Thanks for listening!

Pretty obvious, we had a great time with Twilight Struggle. I just hope we didn't butcher any aspect of the rules too badly in our rundown!

I'm curious to know about your research process when constructing the event decks. Did you first decide on the historical events that should be included in the Early, Mid, and Late war cards and then pair them up with game mechanics or did the game mechanics themselves suggest certain historical events. I realize this is a chicken/egg question and the answer may well be both. Being a writer, I'm a structure person. I guess the basic question is what process did you use to structure the event deck?

As for the board and printing issues, your point is well made. High printing costs plus small print runs make it a real challenge for GMT and others to make games that

1. are affordable and 2. have components that meet a certain quality level/expectation.

Obviously, GMT has found a formula that works for them and keeps them afloat.

I'll stress again the board issues are minor quibbles, really. The thin board should not keep anyone interested in strategy/politics/history from giving it a go.

I'll only add that since the game is already at the higher end of the price spectrum, I can say that I'd pay $10-15 more for a copy that included a nicer board. Perhaps if Twilight Struggle stands the test of time, there will be a deluxe anniversary edition some day!

Lastly, can't help but wonder what new games you're working on. Anything you care to tease us with?


I've been meaning to get my grubby mits on Twilight Struggle for some time now.
Following the review it's gone further up my list although I have to confess that I have always been a little bit put off by component quality.

I'd really prefer this to be higher up the goober scale. Given its popularity it must be time for a reprint to satisfy the non-grognards in the audience.
(I'd like a board like in War of the Ring)

Is there anywhere I can play this by email ?

Vassal has a good module for the game, and isn't very intimidating once you actually get in it the first time. A few flaky bits, but nothing big. I have heard that the wargameroom.com implementation is just superb, but I haven't played it as it is real time. If I have time for real time, I play face to face :)

I recommend the Vassal implementation. Let me know if you ever want to try it out.


I'm pretty familiar with Vassal as I use it for BattleLore (actually haven't done much recently due to time commitments) - I'll have a look at loading the TS module.

Presume you need a pretty good appreciation of the rules and cards before playing this way ?

Cheers ! S

Yes, you need to know the rules to use the Vassal module, but the cards are all fully in the module. If you snag someone who knows (and owns of course) the game, you should get a decent experience. The rules for GMT games are all available on the GMT website.

Steerpike just needs to listen to Episode 53 while he plays on Vassal... :)

incidentally the ????????? above is where the syetem could not resolve the cyrillic representation of "perestroika"

I wonder if it works in the text:


Just thought I'd test out the website to its limits

Sorry cyrillic fonts dont translate on the site. :( The new version of the site (which should be up very soon) has a translate feature which may make it possible for the whole site to be in russian. Freaky!

Okay so I'm not the only person in the world to own Wadjet! Yay!! :) I bought it at Origins from the company one year (complete with an extra hand-cast figure exclusive to the show, although I don't know where it went because it didn't fit into the box) and have played it a few times. I will probably bring it out again sometime just because it IS so pretty, but like you I really wish there was more of a game there...

I'm glad you extended the episode to give a full explanation and breakdown of Twilight Struggle. Although I get a lot of games (and answered low in your poll because, well, I end up buying them anyway and have many of them before you cover them), TS wasn't on my radar for many reasons. I'm not entirely sure it will get there (my gaming group doesn't lend itself well to long 2-player games because the people who like longer games tend to come in pairs or live too far away to make it practical), but it was good to get a feel for it so that if I do decide to get it I am informed! Keep up the great work!

-- Joe


There's another great way to play TS (and some other card driven games).  It is at http://acts.warhorsesim.com and is the Automated Card Tracking System.  It keeps track of the card hands for each player as well as the turn, phase, DEFCON level, VP level, etc. and will send emails to both players as plays are made.

Re: Vassal play, I believe their latest module for TS stil uses the 1st edition of the playing cards.  The latest version of the playing cards is 2nd edition.  The Twilight Struggle FAQ is at http://www.gmtgames.com/nnts/TSFAQ_4.1.doc and explains some of the differences between 1st and 2nd edition as well as other gameplay questions.

Thanks, Kanak, for the pointing out the Automated Card option. I was completely unaware of it, and it looks like they have a nice assortment of classic titles, too.

In looking through the FAQ, I did have to chuckle that the 1st edition Twilight Struggle board had a big typo with the nation of "Chilli." I wonder if they like theirs four way or five way? :)

PS: I noticed from your BGG profile, you're in Hawaii. Dave just did a trip to Maui in January and said he couldn't find any game stores at all. Perhaps, you can hook us up with places for games, especially  if Francie and I are lucky enough to tag along with Dave and Roberta some time!

Well, I live on Oahu, so I can only tell you about our island.  80% of the state's population is on Oahu, so we tend to have the most as far as retail goes.  We have 3 FLGS stores on Oahu that I know of:

Armchair Adventurer -- Probably the best selection of board games, with a large military miniatures section, but really messy (i.e., boxes stacked to the sky).

Other Realms -- emphasis on miniatures, comics, ccg's, with a sprinkling of board games.

Jelly's -- old music albums, old books, as well as a board game selection and big warhammer section.

All 3 stores allow in-store play and events.

Also, you could show up at our gaming group if you wanted, The Oahu Board Gamers.  Our website is at http://settlers.meetup.com/106/

We have grown from about 6 members at startup last year to 33, with a regular attendance of 16-20 people every other Saturday.


Ted (aka, Kanak, aka MajorOracle on BGG)

ACTS is fantastic, and there's a great spreadsheet on BGG that you can use to keep track of the board that does a fantastic job of all the book keeping.

I finished a game on ACTS a few months back.  Took about 6 months to play and I ended up winning mid war.

I haven't looked at the BGG spreadsheet, but don't forget Cyberboard if you are using ACTS for keeping track of the board.

ACTS is more intimidating to the new user, but I agree that it is really nice once you get going on it.

I think that Twilight Struggle ties in well with a poll in a couple of polls ago.This type of game is really good for e-mail play. Two player games flow pretty well online, and you can really dig deep into how you want to play each card without making the game extra long. Face to face is still better.


Hawaii Helicopter Tours

The pace and decisions in the game would make it very well suited to email play, for sure.

I can imagine some fun diplomatic messages (banging a virtual shoe against the table?) sent via email "couriers" between the two superpowers.

What really matters is how much the game can influence, sometimes we find it awkward but other times its just making you addicted. So everyone should go and try for every stage and enjoy it fully like the ones coming up in online game series is Skies of war which is just full of fun.