Nuclear War (card game)

Nuclear War (card game)
Nuclear War (card game).jpg

Nuclear War is a card game designed by Douglas Malewicki, and originally published in 1965. It is currently (as of 2007) published by Flying Buffalo, and has inspired several expansions. It is a satirical simulation of an end-of-the-world scenario fought mostly with nuclear weapons.



The game is a multiplayer game, with each player having a small cardboard playmat upon which cards are placed and revealed. It is intended to be played by 3 or more players, but can also be played with only 2.

At the start of a game, each player is dealt a number of "population cards," ranging in denomination from 1 million to 25 million people. Players must protect their population, as the total loss of population leads to player elimination. They are then dealt a number of cards, which may be of the following types:

  • Secrets which usually steal or reduce another player's population.
  • Propaganda which steal another player's population, but have no effect once war has started.
  • Delivery Systems (Missiles & Bombers) which stay in play ready to hold a warhead.
  • Warheads which are fitted to a Delivery System, or discarded if there is not one available for them.
  • Special which are usually defensive cards to shoot down incoming Missiles, or cards to increase the devastation caused by attacks.

Initially, players take turns playing secrets. Once all players have played all secrets and replaced cards from the deck they can announce 'no secrets' and place two cards face down. Players then take turns during which they will play a third face down card, and then reveal the oldest face down card (first in, first out) and resolve it. Secrets and propaganda cards are resolved immediately upon being exposed, while missile launches take more than one turn to properly setup.

Once players have a warhead fitted to a delivery system (for example by revealing a missile on one turn, and revealing a warhead on a subsequent turn), they may launch an attack. A successful attack reduces the target player's population; when a player's population reaches zero, they may launch an immediate retaliatory attack (called "final retaliation") but are then out of play. Often, this strike will end another player's game, leading to a final strike on a third party, and so on. Hence, in some cases, many players can be removed at once (via this mutual assured destruction method). If a player is knocked out with a propaganda card, no retaliation is allowed. When someone launches an attack, "war is declared" and propaganda cards are now worthless until a player is eliminated, at which time "peacetime" resumes. Some groups play that if a player is eliminated by a secret during peacetime, no retaliation is allowed, even though this is not stated in the rules, in the same way that there is no rule in Monopoly about a "free parking jackpot" but people play with one anyway.

The object of the game is to be the sole player still in play after all attacks are resolved. More often, retaliatory strikes remove all players. If all players are eliminated from play, then there is no winner. Alternatively, a variant scoring system determines the winner via a point system—1 point for a knock out, 2 points for a propaganda knock out, 3 points for a retaliation knock out, a variable number of points for position depending on number of players, and finally 2 points for surviving (with the survivor not necessarily being the points winner).

The delivery systems in the game reflect those rockets in the American arsenal at the time, including Atlas, Titan and Saturn rockets. The available systems include the XB-70 Valkyrie deep penetration bomber, which had been cancelled several years prior to the game's release, but which had two operational prototypes at the time.


Flying Buffalo has released a number of expansions, many of which can be played separately or with the original game. Each expansion highlights the worries of the end-of-the-world scenarios—including actual, theoretical and feared weapons—at the time of their releases.

Nuclear Escalation (1983)
Adds deterrents and defensive capabilities, space platforms, the "glow-in-the-dark nuclear death die", and more.
Nuclear Proliferation (1992)
Each player now represents a different country with unique special powers. Adds submarines, atomic cannons and more.
Nuclear War Booster Packs (1995)
Booster Packs of 8 randomly packed card from a set of 47 new cards.
Nuclear War Bonus Pack #1
9 new countries, warhead cards, a set of population cards, a bumper sticker and a player assistance chart.
Nuclear War Bonus Pack #2 — India/Pakistan War Variant (1999)
Combines the Nuclear War game with the India Rails game.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (2004)
More cards for the game including new cards usable as either a missile or a warhead and a Deluxe Population deck featuring characters from Nodwick, Kenzer & Company and Dork Tower.
Nuclear War Bonus Pack #3
Same as Bonus Pack #1 but with new style of population cards from Weapons of Mass Destruction.


  • Nuclear Escalation - Charles Roberts Award for Best Science Fiction Boardgame of 1983[1]
  • Nuclear Proliferation - Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Boardgame of 1992[2]
  • Nuclear War - inducted into the Origins Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame[3]

In 1999 Pyramid magazine named Nuclear War as one of The Millennium's Best Card Games.[4] Editor Scott Haring said "Back when people were well-and-truly scared of the possibility of nuclear vaporization (I guess today either the threat is lessened, or it's become old hat), Nuclear War dared to make fun the possibility of mankind's dreaded nightmare via a card game."[4]


  1. ^ "The Charles Roberts Awards (1983)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2008-04-15. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  2. ^ "Origins Award Winners (1992)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2008-04-15. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  3. ^ "Origins Award Winners (1997)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2008-01-30. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  4. ^ a b Haring, Scott D. (1999-12-17). "Second Sight: The Millennium's Best Card Game". Pyramid (online). Retrieved 2008-02-17. 

External links

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