Just before Christmas I received a real big box from the folks at Free League. Inside was their latest box-set roleplaying game; the new edition of Twilight: 2000. When the PR hit me that Free League was releasing this game, it took me by surprise. I’d honestly not heard of this roleplaying game before, but apparently it has a pretty long history dating back to the late 80’s.
I cracked it open and dug in. Let me tell you folks, this game is a buck wild one.
What Is Twilight: 2000?
Sadly this game was not the turn of the millennium reimagining of Forks, Washington’s favorite teenage vampire love story that I was expecting (though with some tweaks you could probably make that happen in this game).
No, Twilight: 2000 is a roleplaying game set during a hypothetical world war three where the cold war didn’t end in the late 80’s, and instead the USSR and eastern Europe/USA escalated conflicts across Sweden and Poland. It puts you in the role of surviving soldiers and civilians trekking across hostile territory in some kind of armored vehicle, doing your best to help out those in need and rejoin NATO forces, while staying one step ahead of the Soviets.
It looks and feels like cold war alt-history fanfiction by way of Cormack McCarthy; bleak, somber, and more than a little dingy. This isn’t so much a game about east versus west or US against USSR, but about ragtag groups of survivors from all walks of life having to fight a war they didn’t ask for. This is a survival game, filled with tough choices and weighty dilemmas.
There’s definitely the kernel of some good found family and ‘the real war was the friends we made along the way’ kind of roleplaying here, but vibe-wise it feels very much like a late night History Channel production. My only wish is that there were some ancient aliens included too.
What’s In the Box?
Similar to the ALIEN RPG Starter Set, Twilight: 2000 is chock full of stuff. There’s two soft cover rulebooks (Player’s Rules and Referee Rules), several matte region and battle maps of Poland, Sweden, and a handful of hex-maps for combat, blank character sheets, cards for initiative and encounters, a whole page of thick cardstock tokens, as well as a collection of custom dice.
Aesthetically it all feels like the kinds of things you’d find in an army surplus store; the dice especially are camo green with warning yellow fill. The booklets and maps are all weathered paper textured and stained, as if they’ve been pulled right out of a survival kit. All of it nails the wartime feel, and it’s all very high quality.
What Does It Feel Like To Play The Game?
Twilight: 2000 is a lot.
That’s not a knock against it, but a heads up to interested players. This game is a boxed set for a reason. After digging through everything and setting up a few encounters to play through, the rules pile up fast and positioning is incredibly important. This is a game that benefits greatly from its custom dice, maps, and tokens.
I made two characters based around two of my recurring D&D characters; Rose and Ink.
Ink I made using a pre-made archetype, the Spook. She’s a cold war spy type character from the US whose extraction back home failed. Now she’s on the run trying to get to an airfield to US forces in France.
Rose I made using the lifepath generating system. She’s a Swedish civilian born into affluence but who turned to crime later in life. Now she’s a scrounger who’s skilled at getting what she wants out of situations and people, and is trying to leave the country to get to relatives in France.
Both of them are on the run. They have a battered American Humvee with only half a tank of gas and a dozen rounds of ammunition for its big gun. Ink has a rifle. Rose has a pistol and knives.
I tested out the combat system by placing their tokens down on a map, having them try to sneak through enemy territory. I drew an encounter of three marauders. It didn’t go well. Over the course of the combat both sides expended their ammo, only landing a couple of shots. Using cover and vehicles adds a lot of modifiers to rolls, as does armor and testing your character’s Coolness Under Fire (CUF), which is similar to ALIEN’s Stress system. It’s a lot to keep track of, and would have taken a lot longer without the aid of tokens and a map.
By the end of the combat one of the marauders was dead, two had fled into the surrounding wilderness, Ink was critically wounded from a grenade and Rose was missing an ear from shrapnel. The rest of the encounter was Rose doing her best (and failing) to patch Ink up.
It’s incredibly tense and a lot to keep track of. It’s definitely engaging and a lot of fun, but it’s a much more time consuming kind of combat than I’m used to with a roleplaying game. And that’s when I started to realize…
…Twilight: 2000 is a (comparatively) rules light tabletop war game…with just a whole bunch more roleplaying mechanics added on. If you changed up the setting and archetypes, this could be a game of Warhammer 40K or another wargame. It all makes for an interesting blend of mechanics and story that I wasn’t expecting going in.
It feels good, but it’s a very different vibe if you’re going in expecting it to be a straight up roleplaying game.
The Look of War
At this point Fria Ligan has an established aesthetic through-line with most of their roleplaying games: Big, two-page spreads for every chapter filled with a digital painting that’s dark and realistic but lacking fine detail and fine lines. It’s in the Tales From The Loop games, ALIEN, and now Twilight: 2000. Honestly, it’s a good fit. It does, however, feel at odds with the other illustrations in the books, which are more illustrated and much grittier in style and color.
It’s an aesthetic clash that pairs quiet, somber scenes of survival with grisly, almost Mike Mignola-inspired drawings of soldiers with guns.
Also there’s a lot of guns. Like a LOT of guns. If you’re a war history nerd or an armchair combat dude, this book has you covered. It’ll please some, no doubt. I didn’t really vibe with it though.
Twilight: 2000 is definitely an acquired taste. Roleplaying in what feels like cold war alt history fanfiction isn’t my cup of tea, but this game pulls it off and has so many interesting and complex mechanics to support it that I know it’ll make some folks really happy.
If any of the above has sounded interesting to you, I say pick it up. It’s the beefiest roleplaying game product I’ve come across for the price outside of some collector’s editions, and it provides a ton of content for referees and players to sink their teeth into.