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Best Cold War Board Games

The Cold War was the period between 1947 and 1991 from the end of World War II to the fall of the Soviet Bloc. 

It was a period of geopolitical tension that threatened to plunge the entire world into nuclear war at any moment. Characterized by spies, veiled threats, and overt threats, the world held its collective breath while the major powers postured and threatened. 

In the end, we avoided global nuclear war, but we’ll never truly know how many times we came close. 

Today, we’re looking at this period in history and how it’s been translated to cardboard and the tabletop. The Cold War is rather unique. Unlike other war games that were designed and made years after they ended, there are actually several games on this list that were made towards the end of the Cold War before the Soviet Bloc fell. 

Get ready, we’re diving into the list of our best Cold War board games.

🏆 Our Top Picks for Cold War Board Games

In a hurry? Take a quick peek before you go.

Best Quick

13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis 1962
  • 2 player card driven strategy game about the Cold War & Cuban...
  • No knowledge of the crisis or war games is necessary
  • Plays in 30 to 60 minutes

Best Card

Confusion: Espionage and Deception in The Cold War
  • For 2 or more players
  • 30 minutes play time
  • Confusion takes players back to the early 1960s and the Cold War...

Best Overall

Twilight Struggle
  • 2-player game
  • Great strategy game
  • Takes about 3 hours to play

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Best Cold War Board Games Featured Image

#1. Twilight Struggle

Twilight Struggle Board Game

Sometimes I’m late to the party, and I was definitely late giving Twilight Struggle a playthrough. 

From here on out, whenever I think of Cold War board games, Twilight Struggle is the first thing that pops into my head. 

Twilight Struggle is set during the Cold War between 1945-1989. It’s extremely well done and if you’re a fan of this period in history, you need to check it out. Players fight for control using influence, spies, and diplomacy. If ever diplomacy fails and world powers resort to nuclear war, everyone loses; very similar to the real world. 

You can clearly see that this was a passion project as well as a quality-produced board game. The artwork and components fit the theme perfectly and perhaps one of the coolest parts of the production is the rulebook. It’s filled with snippets of history that explain each card and how it relates to the Cold War.

I learned more from reading the rulebook than I ever did in school, which is either a testament to the game design or a knock against the US school system. 

Twilight Struggle
  • 2-player game
  • Great strategy game
  • Takes about 3 hours to play

#2. 1989: Dawn of Freedom

Dawn of Freedom takes a more focused look at the Cold War by taking a magnifying glass to the fall of the Soviet Bloc. One player takes control of the communists trying to keep power and the other takes control of the democrats as they push popular opinion towards revolution. 

Once you dive into the game, you may notice some similarities to Twilight Struggle and that’s no surprise since Jason Mathews had a hand in the design for both games. 

It feels like a more streamlined version of Twilight Struggle. Several elements that don’t apply to the theme like the DEFCON tracker and space race have been removed. It uses a similar card-driven system so if you’re familiar with its predecessor, you’ll be able to jump right in fairly quickly. 

Overall, it’s another amazing entry into the Cold War era and both games do an incredible job portraying the complexities, struggles, and history of these periods in time. It just all comes down to whether you want a global experience or a more focused experience. 

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1989: Dawn of Freedom
  • Recent historical theme
  • Communist player tries to keep Warsaw Pact allies in the fold,...
  • For 2 player strategy game

#3. Cuban Missile Crisis

Taking another in-depth view of the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis takes a look at a period in history when nuclear war was only ever one bad decision away.

Players take the role of either Kennedy or Khruschev. The goal of the game isn’t actually to start a war but rather focuses on recon and politics. Players will use cards to implement policies and resources that would have been available during the actual Cuban Missile Crisis and US players will need to verify missile launch sites over Cuba to negotiate peaceful disarmament of Cuba… or start a nuclear war. 

Cuban Missile Crisis is a more traditional war game in that it uses a lot of cardboard tokens on a hex grid along with charts and references. It’s not as intense as some others where you’ll need to refer to a booklet every turn, but it’s still fairly complicated. 

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#4. 13 Days: The Cuban Missle Crisis 1962

13 Days does something interesting that the other games on this list don’t do. The game stays true to the source material, but in a way that plays in 45 minutes. 

13 Days is often described as Twilight Struggle Lite and I’d have to agree. In this 2-player game, players face off on either side of the Cold War and need to balance increasing their influence with avoiding the DEFCON level. It has the same tension and hard decisions that made Twilight Struggle so good but in a quick, streamlined form that stands up on its own. 

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#5. Cold War: CIA vs KGB

CIA vs. KGB is a great 2-player card game. As you might guess, players take on the role of either CIA or KGB operatives and need to win influence for their respective countries. The player with 100 points first, wins the game. 

There’s a lot of bluffing and strategy going on in this sleeper card game. Which player goes first and which objectives are actually completed, all make a huge difference in overall strategy, making bluffing and second-guessing yourself the norm. 

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#6. Confusion: Espionage and Deception in The Cold War

When talking about an incredibly thematic period like the Cold War, it might seem odd to include an abstract game, but that’s exactly what we’re going to do with Confusion. 

Confusion plays similar to Stratego. Players have hidden pieces and need to capture the flag in the center of the board, while each piece moves in a unique way. That’s where the similarities end. 

The twist is that players don’t know how their own pieces move. The enemy knows, though. 

Players have to guess at their own movements and then memorize how their own pieces move to get an overall view of the board. It’s an odd way to show how spies operated in the field during the Cold War, but it works well. It’s confusing, you’ll never have the full picture, and it’s a ton of fun. 

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Confusion: Espionage and Deception in The Cold War
  • For 2 or more players
  • 30 minutes play time
  • Confusion takes players back to the early 1960s and the Cold War...

#7. Kremlin 

Think you’re good with politics? Let’s see if you can handle the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Politburo). Even saying that makes me tired.

Kremlin takes players into the heart of the Soviet communist party as they control various members of the committee. The star of the Kremlin system is the secret actions that every player takes and the ever-present fear that your star member of the party will wind up dead or banished to Siberia. It’s a cool look at the political struggle within the system and is definitely a must-try.  

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#8. Cold War

This is a bit of a weird entry to the list. Cold War came out in 1984, so it was technically published during the end of the actual Cold War which officially ends in 1991. 

Cold War is a 4-player traditional war game that’s filled with a massive map and cardboard tokens that you’d typically expect from the time period. Unlike traditional war games, however, the rulebook is rather small. 

It’s fairly easy to pick up and play and is a fun power struggle as 4 players gain influence through politics and money throughout the game. It’s a bit older but if you find a working copy, it’s definitely worth a look. 

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#9. 1955: War of Espionage

War of Espionage is a quick little 2-player tug of war game. 

Each player is in control of a faction. Players then work to bring 3 of 6 different countries to their side of the board. It’s a simple system that uses card management and card combos to raise and lower your influence. 

If you’re looking for something simple and lightweight, this might be a good choice, especially for younger kids. 

1955: War of Espionage
  • You are the head of one of the two major Faction's Covert...
  • Your task is to protect your country from the tainted views of...
  • To do that, you will be utilizing resources provided to you by...

Wrap-Up

I had a lot of fun researching and writing this one. I was born in 1988 and subsequently, didn’t learn much about this time period in school. One of the most interesting factors about Cold War board games is that they all seem to heavily focus on educating players over the course of the game. 

Some other war games do add a bit of historical knowledge into the mix, but Cold War-era games heavily focus on it as part of the theme. It may be because in the grand scheme of things, the Cold War was relatively recent and there are still many people alive today that lived through this period and remember it well. 

We hope you enjoyed our list of the best Cold War board games! Have you tried any of the games on this list? Did we miss any of your favorites? Drop a comment below and let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

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