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Christmas at Ground Zero

26 Dec

Merry day after Christmas!

I hope everyone had a good time and that you all escaped the lash of the Krampus.

Christmas went quite well for those in the Fractalbat Belfry.  My son, always the innovator, decided to cut out the middleman.  Instead of asking for toys and then playing all day with the box they came in, he specifically asked for big boxes so he could build a fort.  My wife, being awesome beyond description, procured enough boxes that our basement looks like a warehouse.  On more than one occasion I’d lose sight of my son and daughter, with only the rustling of cardboard to betray their presence.

We also had some good gaming in over the holiday.  The game that had the most table time was the venerable Nuclear War, from Flying Buffalo games.

Nuclear War was originally published in 1965 and has three expansions; Nuclear Escalation, Nuclear Proliferation, and Weapons of Mass Destruction.  Of these we own Nuclear Escalation.

Nuclear War is a simple card game, with each player having a stack of population cards and a hand of cards containing propaganda, missiles, warheads, “secrets”, and other special cards.  The objective is to wipe out all the other players.

To do this you take two cards from your hand and lay them face down.  Each round you draw a card, place a card face down, and then turn up the first card in your line of face down cards.  This is the mantra of Nuclear War, “Draw, Deploy, Destroy”.  Once a card is face down you can’t pick it back up or re-order them, so some forward thought is required.

Propaganda allows you to steal people from other player’s populations but these cards are only valid until a nuclear war begins, which happens the moment a bomb hits another player.  To attack someone a player first turns up a missile card, but doesn’t have to declare who it is heading for.  On the player’s next turn, if he or she turns up a warhead, then they declare who the missile hit and the war is on.  Each type of missile has a capacity on what size warhead it can carry, allowing you to put a bomb up to that size but not larger on it.  If your opponent has an interceptor missile, or a saboteur card, they can stop your attack.

Once you hit your target you spin the spinner.  The results from the spinner range from the missile exploding on the launch pad (negating the attack) to a triple yield result magnifying the casualty count.  With Nuclear Escalation they added an optional six sided die with a mushroom cloud for the number one.  If the attacker chooses to roll the die, the result counts as that many more millions of people slain.  If the mushroom cloud is rolled, then you roll again on the mishap table and something else happens.  This isn’t always bad for the attacker, but chances are that the attack will be negated somehow, or worse yet the bomb goes off over the attacker’s own country.

When a player is eliminated they get to launch a final strike, where they can match every warhead to every delivery system they have left and launch them at the other players.  This can cause a cascade effect where one final strike wipes out another player, whose final strike wipes out another player, until everyone has been eliminated from the game.  Also, if a 100 megaton bomb detonates and the spinner lands on “Triple Yield”, the explosion wipes out everyone.  So it is not uncommon for nobody to win in Nuclear War.

If there are survivors after a player is eliminated, then the remaining players pick up their cards and start over, with peace declared and propaganda effective again.  Until the next bomb hits.

The game is not without its flaws.  Invariably people will be stuck with hands containing no missiles, or no warheads, or all propaganda.  This forces the player to try and cycle the useless cards out through the face down cards, wasting turns and reducing the fun of the game.  The Nuclear Proliferation expansion added cards that helped deal with this problem, but a discard rule is sorely needed in the base game.  But the game plays fast and lighthearted enough that it’s easy to get past the flaws.

The components in early editions are very basic.  This isn’t a problem for old school gamers but for players who are accustomed to the high quality components we see in modern games it could be off-putting.  I have read that in recent releases they have updated the artwork on the cards, but I haven’t heard of any other upgrades, such as higher quality paper stock for the population cards and the spinner.

I have a special fondness for Nuclear War*.  It was one of the first games that I encountered when discovering that there were options between games like Battletech and Star Fleet Battles and the department store games like Monopoly and Parcheesi.  The black humor of the game also struck a chord with those of us who grew up during the Cold War.  Thankfully the subject matter is dated now, but for those of us who wondered if we’d live to see adulthood the chance to laugh at the threat of annihilation was a welcome respite.

Nuclear War and its expansions are still available from Flying Buffalo, whose website looks like the design hasn’t changed since the 90’s.  It’s the fun family game of global annihilation.

Skippy the Super-Virus! Wiping out entire populations for over 40 years!

*I’d like to welcome any visitors from the NSA who discovered my blog thanks to the noted sentence.  

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Posted by on December 26, 2013 in Gaming

 

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