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Nuclear War Can Be Fun!

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I’m a big fan of Nuclear War. Wait, don’t get me wrong — obviously I’m not in favor of a real nuclear war actually happening. But like many children of the Cold War era, I’ve always had a morbid fascination with the subject of Global Thermonuclear War. Everything about it, from bomb shelters to the rockets under the warheads to the science behind the explosions is of interest to me.

And of course, given that games are my #1 passion, nuclear games are always some of my favorites. I’m such a fan of Missile Command that I actually own a fully operational arcade machine (since the trackball + trio of buttons = the only way to properly play it). I also own a fully non-operational Atomic Bomb (but that’s another story).

But my favorite way to stop worrying and love the bomb is the classic card game Nuclear War, published by Flying Buffalo. In this brilliantly dark-humored game, each player is a nation armed with ICBMs, and the goal is the destroy all of the people in all of the other countries. Fun, huh? Well, since it’s just a game, of course it is! And in this game it’s not uncommon for a losing player’s “Final Strike” to wipe out the erstwhile winner, which is the perfect outcome to have sometimes, just to remind everyone there really can be no winners in an actual nuclear war. (Then again, I enjoy a game that sometimes ends with no winner, as you can tell from Chrononauts and the whole concept of the Ungoal in Fluxx.)

I have vivid memories of my first experiences with this game. We were in high school, and Nuclear War was THE game to play at my lunch table (and at after-school game club meetings in the library) for quite a while. And since Nuclear War was published by a small game company and therefore not available in very many stores, the quest to obtain our own copies led us to discover things like our Friendly Local Game Store (hello, Dream Wizards!) and the dealer’s room at sci-fi conventions (my first being Balticon 14).

Nuclear War also provide me with some crucial early steps in becoming a game designer. The game has a flexible structure that makes it easy to come up with your own new cards, and adding new ideas to a game you love is a common first step for many a designer. Moreover, as I’m sure others have done, I came up with my own set of rules for combining cards from Nuclear War with the board game Risk, thus allowing players to nuke territories on the board, marking them with radioactive counters (we used those plastic disks from tracer guns… remember those?)

Yet another game-designy thing I did with Nuclear War was to study out the cards in the 3 standalone games (original Nuclear War, Nuclear Escalation, and Nuclear Proliferation) and devise my own optimized formula for a best-of deck. I wrote an article about that deck, complete with a card list and a couple of reference cards I created, and it was some of the first material I posted on the internet, twenty years ago. (Wow!)

And after that, when I invented Fluxx, Nuclear War continued to inspire us, as we looked to the example of Flying Buffalo for encouragement in our belief that we could succeed as a small game publisher. (Which we did, and which they are still doing!)

I mention all of this now because Flying Buffalo is currently running a Kickstarter to promote their spiffy new 50th Anniversary Edition of the game, and I wanted to give the project my full endorsement. Now’s the time to add this classic to your collection, and if you already have a copy, buy another one anyway, I’m sure your first one is worn out enough to be worth upgrading. And look how much nicer the Population cards will be in the new edition!

This article first appeared on WUNDERLAND.COM and on FaceBook the Blog of Andrew Looney

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015