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Subject: A "serious" nuclear war sim? rss

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Scott
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There have been some silly nuke games, which sort of makes since laughter is maybe the only sane way to handle something so unimaginably horrifying. I also know there have been some really well-respected WWIII game that had nuclear elements. But have there been any recent games that gave serious treatment to nuclear forces?

I can sort of imagine a game that would have political and maybe negotiation elements, but that has also deeply investigated the composition of nuclear forces and their possible use. Escalation, limited response, MAD, NUTS, game theory, counterforce/countervalue; it's definitely a simulatable topic.

Has it been done? Is it just too horrible or unthinkable? I can't imagine a hobby that simulates WWII would get squeamish about nukes, but maybe. I think a serious treatment that respects the moral-weight of the subject is totally inbounds, but maybe I'm wrong?


(I did find this list, but I thought I'd throw it out to the grogs and see what else might be out there...
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Roger Hobden
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M St
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Warplan Dropshot
Warplan: Dropshot II/III

(The first one is on the list you mentioned.) These both go in detail into delivery mechanisms and available stockpiles, especially the first (a period when there was a big difference between US/USSR capabilities).

First Strike

Same designer, more detailed look at a specific situation.

Seapower & the State

Strategic warfare from the naval perspective, includes rules for gradual escalation.

Third World War Series

Again, these games contain rules for potential gradual escalation. How realistic they were is anyone's guess...
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Brian Train
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Carsten Bohne
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On a smaller scale: Next War: India-Pakistan
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Jordi Cairol
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IIRC, Battles Magazine #10, War of Tanks: France 1940 - The Breakthrough at Dinant has a very good article comparing some of the games on this topic. It's worth a reading if you can grab it.
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Anthonii ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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dasher47051 wrote:
On a smaller scale: Next War: India-Pakistan
I thin in the latest Wild Weasel Podcast, the designer was talking about the next game in the series (Poland) having Strategic Nuclear weapons in the game.
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Andy Daglish
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A problem here is that no one knows anything about the subject. The failure rate of nuclear weapons in combat, esp. nuclear, is unknown but thought to be high. They are unpredictable. In an era when exoplanets have been detected tens of thousands of light-years away, its just possible everyone knows where everyone else's submarines are at all times. No one really understands the software any more, nor what it might be doing. Similarly most aspects of the chemistry of many radioactive compounds is unknown, and after Chernobyl all sorts of interesting effects were noted, whose close study would have proven unfortunately lethal. Meanwhile conventional explosive weapons have reached a maximum efficacy which there is little point in exceeding. They can produce perfect destruction in a short space of time, with far greater certainty, and the phenomena of 'running out of targets' can be achieved in days of unrestricted warfare. A problem of nuclear weapons, especially when used against nuclear targets such as power stations, is the resulting toxicity of widely-spread heavy metals which can have worse health effects than their radiations. This is also true of fighting within a modern urban environment, and this effect was seen in Bosnia where paint factories burned for days or electricity sub-stations where blasted into streams, resulting in toxic countryside: its not really feasible any more. In medieval Britain combatants would sometimes fight in Ireland for the same reason. I note the hard-to-explain rarity of wars in world at present, with most either quasi-affairs such as drugs in Mexico, or to do with Russia's slightly desperate desire to retain significance in the modern world, though here a population of 150 million has an economy similar in size to that of California's 30 millions, or France's 60.
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Bob Zurunkel
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I would agree with Andy, plus add that the potential risk of retaliation outweighs any possible benefit of using nuclear weapons. Present day armies, except for China's (which has a very limited ability to project its power), are far smaller than WWII armies and thus can be dealt with by conventional weapons.

The ultimate futility of nuclear weapons has been known for some time. I read a Cold War memo by a high ranking Russian officer who had reviewed Russia's plan for tactical nuclear war. His response was to ask what planet they expected to live on afterwards, since much of earth (and all of Europe) would be uninhabitable.

Maybe, just maybe, countries would be more likely to use nukes against naval targets. But again, conventional weapons could do the job with less risk.
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Cracky McCracken
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Fleets 2025: East China Sea limited use of nukes vs naval targets.

Ultimatum global cold war gone hot. Total annihilation of the earth. And we played this back when it was current!shake
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Bill Lawson
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First Strike and Warplan: Dropshot II/III
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Tim Parker
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Cracky wrote:
Fleets 2025: East China Sea limited use of nukes vs naval targets.

Ultimatum global cold war gone hot. Total annihilation of the earth. And we played this back when it was current!shake


I second all the Ultimatum recommendations. I have had a number of seriously intense games and every time I play the game the first two words that come to mind are Thomas Schelling (I love his book Strategy of Conflict).
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Scott
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Westie wrote:


The ultimate futility of nuclear weapons has been known for some time. I read a Cold War memo by a high ranking Russian officer who had reviewed Russia's plan for tactical nuclear war. His response was to ask what planet they expected to live on afterwards, since much of earth (and all of Europe) would be uninhabitable.



I think you and Andy are both basically right. The likelihood of any State using nuclear weapons against another State is small. When you consider the variable success of the weapons (along with everything else Andy mentioned) and the imperfection of missile defense systems, even a relatively small nuclear force has a pretty credible deterrent effect; only one has to get through the net to make things horrible for the other country. Probably I'd side with nuclear optimists in that the nukes make even conventional war between big States extremely unlikely. The problem of course is the risk of an accident and/or the weapons developed by States getting into the hands of psychotic non-State actors...probably a discussion for another day.

Still, the systems developed for nuclear delivery and defense are interesting, and the psychological and strategic aspects of even the possibility of their use should make for an interesting game. I'm going to be checking some of these games out...
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Robert Lesco
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I'm not sure how readily available it is but NORAD is quick to learn and play. It's a suitably depressing diversion during commercial breaks when Failsafe or Dr. Strangeglove is on TV.
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Alexandre Carmel-Veilleux
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anthonii wrote:
I thin in the latest Wild Weasel Podcast, the designer was talking about the next game in the series (Poland) having Strategic Nuclear weapons in the game.



My understanding so far is that in Next War: Poland it'll still be TacNukes but with a serious escalation risk (what Mitch is/was calling the Zippo rule.) Every use of a TacNuke requires a dice roll to avoid full on thermonuclear war and the target number increases with every detonated nukes. The rule I saw made it so 8 or 9 tactical nukes was the point were thermonuclear war was automatic.

So it won't be a strategic sim but will force strategic nuclear war considerations on tactical uses.
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Glenn McMaster
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Westie wrote:
I would agree with Andy, plus add that the potential risk of retaliation outweighs any possible benefit of using nuclear weapons.


Sure, if you're the USAF. But what if you're not? Just sit there and get bombed?

Quote:
The ultimate futility of nuclear weapons has been known for some time. I read a Cold War memo by a high ranking Russian officer who had reviewed Russia's plan for tactical nuclear war. His response was to ask what planet they expected to live on afterwards, since much of earth (and all of Europe) would be uninhabitable.


That's just the planner types being comprehensive. The old book, "The Third World War" had a nuclear exchange that was like poker - the Soviets fire one, NATO responds with one. That's what the real deal probably would look like. MAD doesn't go away just because there's been one exchange, right?

Quote:
Maybe, just maybe, countries would be more likely to use nukes against naval targets. But again, conventional weapons could do the job with less risk.


There's a thread further down here on a 60 Minutes piece on a simulated B-52 attack on Russia where they fired 80 "Hiroshima" bombs at targets in Russia, carefully picking off military targets around the major cities. (No tracks of where the 80 'red' missiles coming the other way were going though). The only actual historical experience is from 1945. The Japanese treated the A-bomb attacks as a large conventional explosive and capitulated due to the overall strategic situation. But they did not surrender because of the A-bombs in and of themselves. Evidence seems to suggest that if they had some on their own, they'd have returned fire and the war would have gone on. On the Americans side, also these were viewed as large conventional weapons.

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John McD
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GLENN239 wrote:
The Japanese treated the A-bomb attacks as a large conventional explosive and capitulated due to the overall strategic situation. But they did not surrender because of the A-bombs in and of themselves. Evidence seems to suggest that if they had some on their own, they'd have returned fire and the war would have gone on. On the Americans side, also these were viewed as large conventional weapons.



You couldn't treat a large H bomb like a bigger conventional weapon though. The WWII A bombs were orders of magnitude greater than conventional weapons of the day. H bombs now are orders of manitude greater than those A bombs.

I don't think you could really make a good game out of nuclear warfare though. The moral dimension of rendering the planet uninhabitable by winner, loser and bystanders is just not gameable in that way. The stakes are so unimaginable. The idea of a winner so impossible.

The game would either have to be about rendering your opponent unable to respond before you strike, ie, win some meta game before the nuclear war. Or perhaps a negotating game to take a position down from Defcon 1 to something, anything, else.

That said, the best nuclear war game I've ever played was Defcon.
https://www.introversion.co.uk/defcon/

I'd very heartily recommend it which goes to show, you can actually make a good game out of nuclear warfare.
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Don Weed
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The old NORAD game from Conflict magazine was kind of sobering. You won by scoring more mushroom clouds in the other people's territory than in yours.
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gary guyton
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I really think the "sane" nations of the world, ie. the US Great Britain, Russia, China, etc. won't use nukes unless their backs were against the wall. That could easily mean wars of unconditional surrender have become obsolete in today's world. But when it comes to states like Iran and NKorea...those folks with nukes scare me. I have no clue what they would do.
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Robert Lesco
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statman8 wrote:
The old NORAD game from Conflict magazine was kind of sobering. You won by scoring more mushroom clouds in the other people's territory than in yours.


My recollection was that there was only the one continent (North America) on the map but I hear tell there is a revised version. My copy was pretty old when I bought it and that was in the 1980s.
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Tony Doran
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milsimmer wrote:
I really think the "sane" nations of the world, ie. the US Great Britain, Russia, China, etc. won't use nukes unless their backs were against the wall. That could easily mean wars of unconditional surrender have become obsolete in today's world. But when it comes to states like Iran and NKorea...those folks with nukes scare me. I have no clue what they would do.


+1

And, of course, the crazies among the non-state actors.
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Rick Thompson
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This geeklist may be of some help:

Nukes in boardgames
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Hoss Cartwright
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Nuke war card game has been the standard for most realistic.

Glad i could help.

HOSS
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Daniel Blumentritt
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narodynot wrote:
milsimmer wrote:
I really think the "sane" nations of the world, ie. the US Great Britain, Russia, China, etc. won't use nukes unless their backs were against the wall. That could easily mean wars of unconditional surrender have become obsolete in today's world. But when it comes to states like Iran and NKorea...those folks with nukes scare me. I have no clue what they would do.


+1

And, of course, the crazies among the non-state actors.


It's pretty amazing to me that none have ever been stolen and used by any terrorist groups. Especially considering the shoddy security in some of the disposal sites in the former USSR.
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Brian McCue
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aforandy wrote:
A problem here is that no one knows anything about the subject.


It's true, thankfully, that nobody has any practical experience.

But strategic nuclear war between the US and the USSR surely got more person-hours of planning, testing, simulation and, yes, wargaming than any other conflict. So the urge for a hobby wargame can be high, especially for some people. I have Ultimatum and I guess Warplan Dropshot and its supplements were the closest thing I had to an ongoing Grail Quest until Markus brought up Salamis.
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