Posted on December 16, 2008 by GRIM
Twilight 2000 was always one of those games that I read more than I played. I spent a lot of time coming up with scenarios and survivor communities but very rarely got to play it. I played a short campaign – as a player – where I blew myself up with a grenade that bounced back down the stairs to me after a bad roll – but that was about it. The whole ‘military unit’ campaign flavour, accompanied by the embarrassingly Americanocentric viewpoint of the material made it a poor fit for the freewheeling, British RPG groups I’ve always been a part of, but I loved the setting and while not a greatly played game it holds a seat of affection for me.
The original game, Twilight 2000, has been through a few incarnations. The original was written during the resurgence of the Cold War in the 1980s – ‘Wolverines!’ – when a Warsaw Pact/NATO conflict seemed quite likely. Later additions took in Glasnost and the collapse of the Soviet Union and still managed to spin a reasonably plausible scenario during the 90s, a more ‘low key’ apocalypse. Now a new edition, by 93 Games Studio, is out, this time marching the timeline forward to 2013 (interestingly the time-point for the original Cyberpunk game) and feeding off the current state of affairs and paranoia about the future.
This should be a rich bed of material from which to project a future apocalypse, a superpower in its thrashing death-throes, increased Russian aggression, an ascendant China and India, Muslim fundamentalism, bird flu, environmental disaster, economic collapse, peak oil, all that stuff should lend itself to creating a detailed and plausible end of the world.
This is a monster tome, weighing in at around 350 pages of pretty close type with a low amount of illustrations and without full-on paragraph breaks. The version I got to review was on PDF and was very slow to load with a considerable delay in switching between pages. This problem, combined with the sheer weight of rules material, and the dark page background, make it impractical and frustrating to reference via laptop and expensive to print. If you’re going to get a copy, get a hardcopy.
The book is divided into sections detailing the lead up to the conflict that became the end of the world, the conflict itself, the immediate aftermath and the ongoing state of the world. Then we get into character generation, rules, combat, vehicles and a huge, huge amount of rules information on pretty much every conceivable scenario. It’s an awful lot to take in all at once.
My feeling and instinct is that this book is just much bigger than it needs to be. I feel that a slimmed down version, amalgamating or excising some of the rules and material for later supplementation would have been a better approach, as it stands the book is, perhaps, 50-100 pages too long and given the text density that is a hell of a lot to digest.
The artwork is a very, very mixed bag. There’s a fair amount of clipart in there, which isn’t a bad thing, but it hasn’t been utilised particularly well or treated that well on the page. The commissioned artwork has, similarly, been apparently mistreated, suffering distortion and bad clipping which has resulted in one repeated piece of artwork, which should have been a stand-out piece, ending up resembling a group of midgets in army uniforms. There’s a few better pieces of artwork but they lose their quality thanks to the way they’ve been used. All in all, extremely disappointing and many of the illustrations don’t match up too well to the text, creating a feeling that is more akin to Fallout than Twilight 2000/13.
There’s a lot of common word substitution errors, like rein/reign and others like it, leading me to suspect that this book didn’t have a proper going through by an editor. This is forgivable on small indie projects, but Twilight is a brand with a lot of weight and nostalgia behind it and it deserved going that extra mile. Other than these aggravating little errors the writing is fairly clear but the content of the writing is a little worrying.
The scenario given for this end of the world starts out strongly but then starts to lose its way, casting aside plausibility in order to try and engineer an even worse world situation than that given in the earlier versions of the game. This one has the world population reduced to 10% of its current size, a disaster of such enormous proportions that, in play, Twilight 2013 would be worse than the fairly nasty scenarios presented in the Cold War versions – perhaps because appreciation of the effects of total nuclear war were more apparent back then.
The text also disagrees with itself, one of the killer blows in the new setting being a new flu epidemic. After WWI the world was struck by a terrible influenza epidemic that infected about a third of the world population and killed about 2.5% of those who caught it. In the Twilight 2013 scenario the death rate is stated as 2.8%, the infection rate unknown, but in the detailed text it reports the disease wiping out 75% of populations in particular towns or cities, a ridiculous number and one that would lead to a plague burning itself out rather than being as effective as it could be.
While the Americanocentrism of the earlier editions is somewhat mollified there are some laugh-out-loud moments of lack of understanding of international politics or the political systems and cultures of other nations, such as the background having a royalist takeover of the UK and presuming political powers for the royal household that it hasn’t had since Magna Carta or the time one of my ancestors helped lop off a King’s head for overreaching his political power. Similarly it’s hard to see China being militarily expansionistic in the unilateral way it’s presented in the book or to see France as a nuclear aggressor power, however insensitive they are about atomic testing.
If you’re not a politics or history buff then this won’t bother you, nor will it bother you if you decide to play in an historical Cold War setting, but it would be a hell of a lot of work to come up with your own, more plausible Twilight setting and it’s a shame the one presented in the book is so damn ropey.
The rules for Twilight 2013 are called the Reflex System and I suspect the intention was/is to take this system on and apply it to other genres and games. The system itself is bit of a syncretic one, there’s identifiable pieces of many other RPG systems in there, most of them ones that have been hailed for their combat systems or tactical play. One can find pieces of Interlok, Silhouette and the original GDW systems in there, as well as other parts I’m sure are familiar but which I cannot quite place at this time. While these elements are familiar the system works backwards compared to a lot of others, aiming low, using multiple dice – but not a dice pool – and using your statistics to set difficulties, which are then modified, rather than having things the other way around – which is more conventional. While this works it seems a little needless to complicate matters compared to what most people are used to.
Despite the Frankenstein approach on rules creation the system does appear to work, especially with most of the options added in, and is deadlier and more ‘realistic’ feeling than the original GDW system. I just can’t help but feel it’s a little unwieldy, especially given the sheer number of variations, specific rules and so on thrown in there, which reaches Rolemaster like proportions.
A bloated, ugly monster that remains – somehow – playable but whose background simply doesn’t do it for me and doesn’t seem plausible. The sheer scale of the carnage in the default setting is too high for meaningful play in a Twilight manner and, rather, pushes the game more into Darwin’s World territory, minus the dark humour. What saves the game from a lower than average score is that it is truly complete, containing everything you need to play and covering such broad ground, while this is also a strike against it – it’s too big – it’s sufficient to lift the game from the mire.
* Comprehensive system.
* Fully detailed background.
* Less Americanocentric than previous editions.
* Self-contradicting design goals.
* Not plausible.
* Much bigger than it needed to be.
Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough