NOTA: versión española próximamente.
If Ananda Gupta delighted us yesterday in The interrogation, his partner Jason Matthews couldn’t be less. For those absentminded, these two geniuses are the designers of this 8th wonder called Twilight Struggle.
It is an honor for La Carta China to have both Ananda and Jason in our Interrogation section, and we only have kind words for both for taking his time to answer our questions. Once again, thank you so much, guys!
How much difficult was to create such a game like Twilight Struggle by two designers, Ananda and you? Did you split the work or did you both work on the same taks?
Twilight Struggle was not exactly difficult to create. We had some very clear objectives, and a very rich pool of history upon which to draw. All the “struggle” came in the editing. Essentially, we started with a much larger, more complex game and kept editing down until we had a very tight, very tense experience that played in the time frame we were aiming for. We did split up some of the work, but we were both very involved in the mechanics of the game — trying things, seeing what worked, what didn’t work, and coming up with new solutions to issues that evolved during playtesting.
If you could change something in the design of Twilight Struggle, what would it be?
I would split Spain and Portugal.
Was it very difficult to find the publisher? Did you have to knock many doors?
No, Ananda had been doing a lot of playtesting for GMT. I was his playtest opponent, so from the start, we were looking to work with GMT. They were the first company we approached and they said “yes.” We did not know it at the time, but Gene Billingsley is a huge Cold War fan, so we always had an unknown ace in the hole.
Did you ever imagine that Twilight Struggle would become such a successful game, reaching the #1 in BGG rank?
No. This is pretty amazing. We can only be flattered and humbled by the support of the games fans. Ananda and I were designing a game to suit our needs. Fortunately, we must have hit a nerve with a lot of other gamers too.
What would you recommend to the designers that are starting off on this?
My first bit of advice would be to play a lot of games. Ananda and I were avid game PLAYERS before designers. Having served as playtesters, we had a very good sense of game design mistakes, what the state of the art was in terms of card-driven games, and what topical niches had not been explored. Secondly, if you are interested in thematic games, like we are, keep in mind that you need to incorporate theme like stage makeup. Its got to be big, bold and obvious so that it can be seen waaaaaay in the back of the theater. I find a lot of designers try to take in too much detail in their games and the big picture gets lost in the little points. Finally, go to conventions. You can meet publishers there, you can conduct blind playtests, and you can spread word of mouth about your design. I am often surprised how many would-be designers avoid conventions and then wonder why their games are not published.
How many times have you played Twilight Struggle?
Ugh who knows? More than most people, but fewer than the avid online players. I still enjoy playing it though.
How often do Ananda and you play together? Confess… who plays better?
When we get together, we usually are trying to get in someone else’s design — Martin Wallace’s Few Acres of Snow most recently. I definitely beat Ananda the last time we played, but then I lived through more of the Cold War than he did.
What do you think of the new Spanish edition of Twilight Struggle?
It’s terrific, and I hope Devir is able to get it into the hands of game players throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
Could you summarize Twilight Struggle in one or two phrases?
A card-driven boardgame that tries straddles the line between American-style wargames, and modern European boardgame design.
Beside the Cold War, what other topics are you interested on?
I am totally a diletente. I am a little bit interested in everything. I tend to be drawn to games where politics and conflict intersect. But Ananda and I are working on a game which were be significantly different than Twilight Struggle thematically.
What in the game do you like the most? And the least?
I most like how the scoring cards keep you uncertain about your opponent’s intentions, I think this is a big boost for the game’s Cold War feel. The thing I like least is that the game can be a bit intimidating to new players.
Who do you prefer to play with, US or USSR? Why?
Always the US. I enjoy the challenge of it, and the subtlety of the strategy. The Soviets need to pound away from the beginning and never let up. The US beats the Soviets with a thousand small cuts.
Do you prefer playing face-to-face or online?
I always prefer face-to-face, but used to play online more regularly. It is a VERY fast game online, which is a real advantage.
What is your favorite card?
Defectors — it was a late addition, it was an important element of the Cold War that was not included, and I really like how it impacts Soviet play during the Headline Phase.
And what is your favorite event or character in the Cold War?
Wow, I have a weird affinity for a bunch of them. Truman, Eisehnhower, Khrushchev, Kennedy, Gorbachev. I suppose I had better go with an event, so I will take the “Miracle on Ice” — the US defeat of the Soviets in Ice Hockey during the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
The chess match between Fischer and Spasski was quite relevant for the US press and it was about boardgaming. Why didn’t you include any card about this in TS?
I actually gave that some passing thought. I just could not come up with a event effect that I thought fit the subject matter very well.
Please, recommend us a book, movie or song about the Cold War.
I will do all three. For my book, I recommed the Cold War by Martin Walker. He is a Brit, and I think does a good job bringing balance to the topic. For the movie recommendation, there are several greats, but Dr. Strangelove is the gold standard for dark humor. And my favorite Cold War song would be the old Soviet National anthem.
Tell us here whatever you want.
Hmmm, well, be looking out for our next game, I suppose.
And finally, suggest your image or photo about the Cold War.
Hard to resist Khrushchev banging his shoe at the UN.