Headlining Scoring Card

General Considerations

In comparison with headlining non-Scoring Card and playing Scoring Card in one of the Action Rounds, headlining Scoring Card has one major advantage: it does not cost you Action Round. It also has one major disadvantage: it is vulnerable to any damage your opponent’s headline may do in the just-to-be-scored region.

Both of them should be judged accordingly to the current situation and your tolerance for risk. Some players never headline Scoring Cards unless they can do it absolutely safely due to peek-at-headline privilege. On the other side, Gabor Foldes is an example of an astonishingly strong player who likes taking a risk of headlining Scoring Card and often plays it even when his opponent peeks at his headline.

Saving Action Round

The Scoring Card may not be held. Therefore, it must be played (unless you have one of the rare opportunities to discard it). Playing it costs an Action Round which cannot be used to improve your position. Therefore, saving an Action Round is valuable by itself.

The drawback is that you score before you make use of your actual Action Rounds. This means that you lose the potential to significantly change the result of the scoring in your favor.

Vunlerability to Damage

Unless you peek at opponent’s headline due to Space Race, headlining Scoring Card is always risky. Virtually in every turn you have to be ready for the headline that makes damage in the exact region you are about to score. There are just too many cards that change the situation in particular countries or simply allow your opponent to conduct operations in a headline, and every single card of either of the types above will have its event triggered prior to your scoring.

„Ask Not” whether your opponent’s headline may interfere with your scoring or not ;-). Ask whether the maximum damage it can do is small enough to be worth the saved Action Round (and remember this will not always happen). For example, ABM Treaty may break your control in two battlegrounds or flip one battleground but if it changes the outcome by only the 2 VPs for the battlegrounds count it may be worth risking. Make reasonable assumptions. Technically ABM Treaty may even cost you 20 VPs if it turns South America from being controlled by you to being controlled by your opponent by a series of extremely lucky realignments but practically you should not take this possibility into account.

Note that overcontrolling crucial battlegrounds is the easiest way to mitigate effects of such counters to headlining Scoring Cards.

Rules of Thumb

The following rules are based on my experience and I ordered them starting from the most important one. The specific situation, like being close to own/opponent’s autovictory, Space Race’s peek-at-headline, or plethora of DEFCON suicide cards in hand, may prove either or all of them wrong.

  • If you draw three or more Scoring Cards headline one of them unless you may discard them to „Ask Not„.
  • Headline the Scoring Card if the region can’t get much worse after implementing your opponent’s headline and can’t get much better during the turn. Take into account not only your hand but also your potential events in your opponent’s hand (and calculate risk accordingly to the probability). For example, if you play USSR and have Africa Scoring in turn 6 or 7, and you have seen neither South African Unrest nor Portugese Empire Crumbles, it’s probably better to let US suffer from dealing with these cards than to headline Africa Scoring. The same in turn 4 is not worth counting on. This is more about picking the right moment to play Scoring Card in general than about deciding whether to headline it or not but keep this in mind.
  • Don’t headline the Scoring Card in a region where you have a big advantage (especially if you play USSR).
  • Overcontrolling of crucial battlegrounds lessens the impact of your opponent’s headline on the region that you are about to score.

How many VPs is „much” or „big advantage” depends on situation. The good starting point is to assume that 4 VPs in turns 1-2, 3 VPs in turns 3-6, 2VPs in turns 7-8, and 1VP in turns 9-10 is a fair trade for an Action Round. In rare situations that change the moment of reshuffling the above should be properly adjusted.

Region-Related Considerations

Although you should always be prepared for a headline that destroys your position in the just-to-be-scored region, some regions are more vulnerable for dramatic changes than the others in specific phases of the game. Provided you don’t have an overwhelming overcontrol in all battlegrounds that you control, Mid War regions (Americas and Africa) are never particularly safe to be scored in a headline phase. Middle East Scoring is a relatively safe headline during the Early War, Europe Scoring can be relatively safely played during the Mid War, and Asia and Southeast Asia Scorings are quite safe once Asia is locked (which should happen before the Early War reshuffle).

Superpower-Related Considerations

Twilight Struggle is an asymmetrical game. Playing USSR differs from playing US and this applies to headlining Scoring Cards as well.

USSR

The USSR player takes usually bigger risk by headlining the Scoring Card than the US player does. This difference does not come from the fact that US headline triggers first in case of an equal cards value (this applies only to the situation when two scorings are headlined so this never applies when USSR headline interferes with the American scoring) but from the fact that the alternative is safer: USSR may headline something else instead and play Scoring Card during the first Action Round with no downside risk.

There is actually a downside which does not count as a risk because it will happen for sure: such a decision allows US to perform a battleground coup on his AR1. However, Mid War deck is full of potentially good US headlines that allow stealing the battleground during the headline phase anyway.

The upside of headlining a bad scoring (and the downside of headlining a good scoring) by the USSR is that USSR’s headline may be Defectored. You should not rely on it entirely but in really desperate situations (like -12 VPs and having Europe Scoring in hand with Europe being under American control and no chances to change it) you may take this risk.

USA

If the US player does not headline Scoring Card, USSR has at least one Action Round to improve position in the critical region. On the other hand, headlining Scoring Card is often tempting, especially when you get the Scoring Card that corresponds with your AR7 play from the previous turn. A common example is breaking control in North Korea in the AR6 play (AR6 technically because this usually occurs during the Early War) and headline Asia Scoring with no USSR presence.

Turn 1 Middle East Scoring headline is a special case. If you play with an extra influence for the USA and it goes to Iran, this gives you 4 VPs and almost one hundred percent certainty of surviving the Early War. The only USSR headlines that may prevent this are Nasser (not too harmful because it removes Nasser from the deck before Sadat comes and gives you a fine battleground target for couping in turn 1 while you still don’t lose on the Middle East) and De-Stalinization (completely harmless since it would be totally wasted if used to place influence in Middle East and it’s still impossible for the USSR to gain domination this way. Besides, no sane USSR player would ever headline De-Stalinization on turn 1).

Card-Related Considerations

Don’t even try to remember all the cards that may potentially make your Scoring Card headline harmful. There are too many of them. You should, however, remember some cards and event interactions that may dramatically change the outcome of the Scoring Card headline even though they do not actually change the number of IPs in any particular country. Even if they don’t affect the headline scoring directly, they require advanced analysis of a particular situation (at least among the advanced players).

Five-Year Plan

In USSR’s hand this may turn into a free discard of an unfavorable Scoring Card and an Action Round saver simultaneously. If USSR has Five-Year Plan and can afford holding no card (no unspaceable DEFCON suicide cards), a Scoring Card is usually not really worth headlining. It’s better to wait with it and with Five-Year Plan, and decide whether you wish to play the Scoring Card or discard it for free.

A more sophisticated example of using Five-Year Plan to handle Scoring Cards is to stay with Five-Year Plan and two Scoring Cards with two Action Rounds remaining, play Five-Year Plan, let it trigger first, and then improve the position in the region that has not been discarded.

USA, on the other hand, may use this card to take a chance and discard a favorable Scoring Card from USSR’s hand.

Formosan Resolution

May change the outcome of Asia and is likely to be headlined by the USA if the change affects either superpower’s domination (which is probably not true).

Quagmire/Bear Trap

A player affected by this card may not improve his position anywhere until the ‚curse’ is gone. For USSR it means that headlining Quagmire is usually much better than headlining the Scoring Card which is played right after the Quagmire is over. For USA it means that he may headline Bear Trap and take the advantage of having the first Action Round to play the Scoring Card with no downside risk instead of USSR (see Superpower-Related Considerations above).

Shuttle Diplomacy

It is hard to expect that the US player headlines it directly even if it changes the outcome of Asia Scoring or Middle East Scoring dramatically. The prank may be made by Missile Envy triggering USSR-held Shuttle Diplomacy right before the scoring goes.

Missile Envy

May lead to trigger a region damaging card when you did not expect it because it is you who had the card in hand.

„Ask Not

If US intends to play Scoring Card just to save an Action Round for a miserable reward (or even losing some VPs) he may as well play „Ask Not” to discard unattractive Scoring Cards.

Also note that „Ask Not„, if played on turn 6, may sometimes cause turn 6 reshuffle. Both players may make use of this, even the USSR player if he triggers „Ask Not” early enough in turn, though the decision lies in US player’s hands entirely. If you intended to headline a Scoring Card and lose 5 VPs just because you don’t expect the region to get any better, you may as well lose 6 VPs and an Action Round but discard the unfavorable Scoring after the reshuffle in return.

North Sea Oil

Provides the US player with the flexibility that may make waiting with the Scoring Card much more rewarding than headlining it. Note that headlining Scoring Card and playing North Sea Oil as an event in the middle of the turn by the USA does not save the Action Round in comparison with headlining North Sea Oil.

Aldrich Ames Remix

See Five-Year Plan with sides switched although playing it in the last but one Action Round with two Scoring Cards in hand is much less rewarding and more risky than the Five-Year Plan equivalent of this play.

Wargames

The threat of USSR headline dropping DEFCON to 2 followed by AR1 Wargames victory may force USA to headline Scoring Card which he would rather cash later for a higher VP reward.

Defectors

Headlined by the USA, Defectors cancel whatever USSR’s headline is. This is a good reason for Soviets to headline a very bad Scoring Card which cannot be discarded and scores in a hard-to-flip region, and a very good reason not to headline a favorable Scoring Card.

The Cambridge Five

Although it triggers prior to US-headlined Scoring Card, it does not affect the headlined region because US player no longer holds the card in his hand. Another good reason to headline Scoring Card if you have many of them and can’t (or don’t want to) use Kennedy to get rid of them.

Our Man in Tehran

First of all, this card, together with „Ask Not„, may help provoking earlier reshuffle. See „Ask Not” above for details.

The second role of this card is a little speculative. If you have it, you may resign from headlining Scoring Card, play Our Man in Tehran, and use the knowledge that this card usually provides about several cards in your favor that are not in your opponent’s hand (see the second rule of thumb above). The worst case is that you decide to play the Scoring Card with no extra reward and lose Action Round. On the other hand, it may increase your certainty about your opponent’s problematic cards.

This is far more useful for USA because the US player sees five cards while the USSR player sees only what the US player had decided to discard.

Pseudo-Scoring Cards

OPEC and Alliance in Progress are events that serve roles of pseudo-Scoring Cards for USSR and USA respectively. The general rules on headlining them are partially similar to those described above. There are serious exceptions, however.

The main exception is that, unlike the real Scoring Card, either of these two has a high chance to be triggered prior to the opponent’s headline. The number of potential damagers is highly reduced. In fact, the score of Alliance in Progress may be reduced only if USSR headlines either ABM Treaty or Glasnost boosted by the earlier play of The Reformer.

The second important exception is that these cards may be held. Each of them is also a 3 Ops card. Whether you hold them or play them for Ops in an Action Round, none of this costs you time. You may also space them which costs you time but gives no VPs to your opponent.

The least important factor is that they may be brought back from the discard pile by SALT Negotiations or Star Wars (although Alliance in Progress cannot be triggered twice anyway). This doesn’t actually matter for headlining purposes but it sometimes changes the optics of the reshuffle-related combinations.

If Libya was subject to the Ops War, and then the successful Brush War brought it to 0/14 Soviet overcontrol or something like that, the above applies to Reagan Bombs Libya as well. This is an extreme rarity. Other cards do not provide enough VPs to be though of as pseudo-Scoring Cards.

Summary

Headlining Scoring Card is an important strategic problem, and a difficult one. The hints given above are very general. Nothing but personal experience may teach you to recognize subtelties that decide about the strength of this move under particular circumstances.

You should not, however, overestimate the downside risk, which many players do once or twice they find headlining Scoring Card a crippling blow for themselves. It is just a kind of move. If you know what you are doing, this is just as risky as it corresponds with the nature of the game.

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