The last time I played Twilight 2000 feels like a lifetime ago, back with the Second Edition (1990) from GDW. It was one of the first “realistic” games I played, even though it was set in the future at the point. It was different from anything else I’d played at that point. Grittier than Cyberpunk, none of the characters were heroic, there were no monsters, not even mutated animals. It was different but also not for everyone.
When Free League announced a new 4th Edition (I completely missed that there was a 3rd) I was intrigued. I was introduced to their games via Mutant Year Zero and then into Forbidden Lands, Alien, Tales from the Loop etc. Their games have never failed to impress so I backed the kickstarter to see what they brought to this classic late 80s game.
First off, I love a Boxed Set. There’s something that speaks to my inner child that something in a box is cooler than just a book on its own. The box is packed as well – rule books, maps, dice, tokens, handouts. I think the only thing missing is blank character sheets but I’d have to check. There’s two rules books (Player’s and Referee’s) which total about 268 pages of material. They aren’t hardcovers though, which may be an issue for some folks. There’s also full color hex travel maps of Poland and Sweden, smaller battle maps and a few handouts to help set the scene for the initial game. The artwork is great and very evocative as has become the norm for Free League games.
Bonus Points – with the kickstarter I also received a digital soundtrack. I love when games do this and wish more companies would.
Twilight 2000 has always been about the aftermath of WWIII, following both conventional and limited nuclear war. It’s grim and it’s gritty and Free League absolutely captured that here. Character’s aren’t designed to be heroes in a traditional RPG sense, the setting is bleak and the mechanics can be punishingly hard. It’s not for everyone, but for those who enjoy a sort of hard mode sandbox survival game it is pretty close to perfect.
Character generation is done via either quickly customizing an archetype (there are 9 to choose from) or by a Lifepath system. I love games with Lifepath systems, that provide some background while giving you a character sheet. TW2K has a pretty good one, though after having recently made Traveler characters it feels a little light. There’s no events, no allies or contacts or rivals etc. Just a job, some skills, maybe talents and then move on. It’s definitely adequate though and I think the characters from the Lifepath system are a little better than the customized archetypes.
Characters are pretty easy to grasp – attributes, skills, specialties along with Health and Stress. I really like that YZ games have moved away from the punishing death spiral of having damage affect attributes and hope it continues.
The game is mostly the same as other YZ games – roll a pool of dice and 6s are hits and 1s are bad if you push the roll. The big take away though is that they no longer use a pool of d6s. Instead things are rated from D (d6) to A (d12) and you roll only a couple of dice. I don’t know if successes are harder to come by or not but they are capped by the limit on pool size (2d12). There a bunch of modifiers for things and that can definitely be overwhelming but I think it would get easier as you played.
There is a pretty extensive gear section that makes it pretty clear that this is a game set during and immediately after a war. Weapons, vehicles, artillery etc. It’s fairly robust but also limited in scope. There’s not pages and page of sundries. What I like is that the price of everything is listed in number of rounds of small arms fire something is worth in bartering. There is no more economy, cash is useless. Bullets are always useful and I love that it pushes characters into decisions like “do we spend 25 bullets on a medkit or do we use less bullets and take it”. It’s a really solid system that’s easily adaptable when characters want to trade a spare shit gun they found for some parts for their vehicle.
I appreciate that Free League didn’t update the setting. It’s still set in the year 2000 following a massive war between NATO and the Soviets that ravaged Eastern Europe. The Referee’s Manual provides a timeline of events from where the setting diverges from our own history. It’s a pretty rapid escalation from about 1991 to 2000, 19 years for the world to fall.
The main, default, setting is Poland as it was in the original game but they also include information on Sweden as well if you want to use that. The material includes brief overviews, poster sized hex maps, information on troop placement etc. It’s plenty to play with without being overwhelming. They also provide conversion rules if you want to use any of the material from previous editions.
The game’s tone is gritty, not necessarily dark but not far off. The world as you knew it is gone. Mostly. Maybe. Nukes fell in various places, there’s rumors that some states have seceded but there’s no communication. You just don’t know. Are you trying to get back home? Is there a home to get back to? Is it better to carve out a life here? While I hesitate to use the word “realistic” there is a very grounded feeling to everything. There’s no mutants, there’s no weirdness. Just desperate people trying to survive.
GM Tools/Running The Game
At it’s core, Twilight 2000 is a hexcrawl/exploration game so there are a bunch of different tools for playing out this sort of game.
The boxed set is pretty beefy – maps, handouts, tokens, rules, dice. If you’re playing this in person or running it at a convention it looks great. It’s an eye catcher for sure. Many of the tokens remind me, in a good way, of the tokens you’d get with those Avalon Hill battle games back in the day.
Taking a cue from Forbidden Lands, Twilight 2000 has scenario sites which are non-location specific locations that characters can encounter that have their own little through stories. There’s four fleshed out sites as well as charts for making your own. These are great for a session or two of play and I love the drag and drop nature of them. The provided prison/settlement scenario site, for example, isn’t any place in particular. I can place it where I like for my game.
I don’t know for sure if this will pan out in play but the game looks like it’s hard. Not in terms of grasping the mechanics but in terms of succeeding at tasks for the PCs. I’ll list this as both a good and a less good point as it’s not for everyone. With both a limited die pool size and even the best die size only having a 50/50 chance of a success. Yes the “pushing” mechanic does change the odds (and there’s a chart to show you the odds) but that’s at the risk of damage, stress or losing reliability on your gear. When you start running in to things where more successes are better it can get very dire for the PCs. If you have 4 PCs and only 2 food…well….
Personally I like fact that this is a harder game. Much as how some people enjoy Dark Souls or Cuphead. For the genre of game that Twilight 2000 is I think the fact that this is mechanically a tough game is a point in its favor.
Hexcrawling Done Right
A large portion of the game is open world, sandbox hexploration. The game quite literally says ” In TWILIGHT: 2000, there is no one to hold your hand and show you where
to go in a world engulfed by war. It is up to you and the other players to decide where to go, together”. The game provides plenty of tool including the excellent “journey rules” from Forbidden Lands. Ultimately though any hexcrawl game needs to things – a reason for the PCs to keep exploring and an easy to manage encounter system. Twilight 2000 gives XP for moving through new hexes and overcoming challenges which encourages exploration and has a very nice card based encounter system. You can use a regular deck, but the one that comes with the boxset is lovely. If using a regular deck the value represents a type of encounter (2 = weather, 9= Marauders etc.) and the suit represents a theme so that clubs=violence and diamonds=wealth. Each of the 52 cards has a pregenerated encounter in the Referee Manual or you can use it as quick inspiration for your own.
The Less Good
The game is great but that’s not to say it doesn’t have some things to be watchful of.
This is going to be a turn off for some players. The game is designed to be hard. Unless the GM is very generous there should never be quite enough ammo, food, water, fuel etc. Unlike other FL games there’s no “power up” for pushing a roll. You don’t get Willpower (Forbidden Lands), Mutation Points (Mutant Year Zero) or even the beneficial side of Stress (Alien). The dice cap means the most successes you’re going to get is 4 and when things are based on the number of successes, like damage, foraging for food and scavenging for parts, that can be a long road.
This is a game where characters can die from exposure, they can die from hunger, they can survive a bullet wound only to succumb to infection. Characters can easily be desperate enough to become raiders/marauders even if they don’t want to.
Lack of Numerical Attributes/Stats
If you’re going to equate a letter code with a dice size, then just use the dice size. I get that people may get confused why attributes, skills, explosive power etc. are rated as 4, 6, 8, 10,12 but to my mind it’s less complicated than A, B, C, D and having to remember which letter corresponds to which die type.
The world of Twilight 2000 is grim and it is unrelenting. This can definitely be an issue for some players who are looking to their games for escapism and/or heroism. Heck, one of the scenario sites in the book has a warning about the content because it is a Lord of the Flies/Taps sort of thing revolving around a military academy.
While one could lighten the mood I think that does an immense disservice to the setting. There are other, more heroic post apocalyptic games out there for that.
The new edition of Twilight 2000 is an excellent game…for the right group. It is grim, it is difficult and it is deadly. Groups who enjoy that sort of hard mode hexcrawling survival game will find a lot to love but others may find the tone too much for a fun night of gaming.