My Favorite Card: Ananda Gupta on Aldrich Ames Remix

This Conflicts of Interest Online post, the latest in our My Favorite Card series, is from Ananda Gupta. Gupta is co-designer of GMT’s best-selling Twilight Struggle (2005) and Imperial Struggle (2020), and is design director of Riot Games’ Teamfight Tactics, the most popular strategy game in the world. He won the Dunnigan Award for game design in 2005. Here’s his post on a card that stands out to him from Twilight Struggle, and how and why it was reworked.

The original Aldrich Ames card was a classic example of not quite thinking through a card design. Jason and I wanted to capture the huge impact of Ames’ treachery–an impact still not fully understood. In Twilight Struggle one of the key skills a player develops is the ability to play around bad cards and dangerous events. For example, if as the US you draw a card like Brezhnev Doctrine, you can minimize its impact by saving it for last.

We wanted to do more than just grant visibility of the opposing hand, a common pattern for depicting espionage or intelligence. That didn’t seem severe enough to capture the breadth of Ames’ betrayal. So it made sense to take away this play-around ability by letting the Soviet player dictate the order of play.

A mock-up of the original Aldrich Ames card from Twilight Struggle.

A mock-up of the original Aldrich Ames card from Twilight Struggle. (It had a 4 ops value instead of 3, though.)

What we didn’t think through was the actual player experience. The original Aldrich Ames caused the game to bog down horribly, as high-skill Soviet players would consider every permutation of card play order and how each might affect their own play. No card in a CDG should have such a dramatic impact on the game’s pacing.

So when the opportunity arose to print an alternate version of the card, one that still went beyond mere hand exposure but still caused significant damage, we eagerly took that chance. The result is, I think, a much better play experience that still grants an appropriate place to the man who was arguably America’s most dangerous traitor.

The Aldrich Ames Remix card from GMT Games' Twilight Struggle.

The Aldrich Ames Remix card from GMT Games’ Twilight Struggle. (Twilight Strategy.)

Aldrich Ames Remix card image and original Aldrich Ames card text from Twilight Strategy. Featured image from Playdek’s Steam version of Twilight Struggle. Follow Ananda on Twitter at @agauntpanda.