Let me be absolutely transparent: This is a review that is heavily weighted by nostalgia.
Nuclear War. I was regularly playing this game with my gaming group in the early 1980’s, before a game about blowing up millions of people to win might be considered “politically incorrect” (finger quotes mandatory). It was a go-to game to play before or after a more lengthy game with heavier strategy and I recall we played a lot of it with both of the expansion packs. We loved Nuke War.
Cut to today. Surprised it is still in print, I purchased a brand new copy of Nuclear War. The box is almost identical to the copy I had in the 80’s and the cards and spinner have not changed much, either.
You read that correctly – the game has a spinner. The only other game I have played that had a spinner is Twister when I was thirteen and reaching to put left hand on green while rubbing body parts with Caroline in the process when I was still figuring out what the body parts were for, so… huzzah for spinners.
In Nuke War, each player plays as a nameless country, embroiled in global propaganda, where population is stolen from other player’s countries to join your own. This can only go on so long before someone launches a missile and then propaganda means nothing and the cold war is over – all countries start blowing each other up. The game’s goal is to be the last player with remaining population cards, and there are other random events that shake things up, such as the Super Germ, where 25 million people die from an epidemic.
Nuke War touted it was, “One of the few games where it is possible to have no winners (often everybody loses!).” This is true, and there were quite a few games where we annihilated each other, with no player having any remaining population. In a way, this abstract game felt real. Back in the 1980’s, we worried a lot about someone pushing The Button and starting a global nuclear war.
Jump to now and I play the game again, 30 years later. I’m playing with a 14-year-old son. I watch him and judge his reaction to the cards, spinner, and game play. To me, this is old school gaming and I am almost giddy. We blew each other up with nuclear weapons. Lo and behold, neither of us won. We destroyed each other.
My son said, “Seems like the way to win a nuclear war is not to play.”
He’d never seen the movie, Wargames, (a parental failing of mine that I will soon rectify) so he arrived at that conclusion on his own. But I thought I had to get it across to him that this is ONLY A GAME. We played again.
This time, I won, but not but much – just 6 million population, after my son’s nation had final retaliation.
We played two more games.
He won one of them and wasn’t very talkative during these games. We’d been playing for a couple of hours.
“What do you think about the game?” I asked. It was a fair question after he played four games in a row.
“Next game, let’s only do propaganda until the end; until everyone has defected from one country or another. That way, no nukes and nobody gets blown up.”
He doesn’t want to play a game where millions of people are wantonly killed. Despite myself, I am raising a boy that is better than me. I could not hope for more. Unfortunately, the game is very dull unless you do blow each other up but we gave a “cold war only” version of the game a chance.
While I won’t make him play Nuke War again, I make it a point to play games with my son and cultivate the simple enjoyment of sitting at a table and interacting with people over a game. We just don’t do these sort of things enough.
While the theme is not politically correct, I still love the Nuke War card game.
· Game: Nuclear War
· Publisher: Flying Buffalo Games
· Designer: Doug Malewicki
· Year Originally Published: 1965
· Players: 2-6
· Ages: “players of all ages” but realistically, 8+
· Playing Time: 30-45 Minutes
· Retail Price: $29.95
· Serious Game Rating: 4 of 10
· Family Game Rating: 7 of 10
· Component Quality: Excellent except for the population cards, which suck and have to be cut out with scissors. (I later bought improved population cards from Flying Buffalo at a convention for $10)
· In the Box: 100 playing cards, 40 population cards, 1 Bomb Effect Spinner, Rules and 4 playing mats
· Expansions Available: Nuclear Escalation, Nuclear Proliferation and Weapons of Mass Destruction