Gaming World War III: Tabletop Armageddon Part IV


1983 was one of the most dangerous years of the entire Cold War. As the year went on, events were taking place, and situations deteriorating on a number of fronts. Life went on as usual, however, it seemed as if the world was moving towards an imminent nuclear confrontation and there was nothing anyone could do about it. The United States was rebuilding its military, and embarking upon an aggressive, containment oriented foreign policy. President Reagan spoke of constructing a space-based strategic defense weapons system to protect America from a nuclear attack. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was going through general secretaries the way most people go through socks. There was a leadership crisis in Moscow, while economic, and geopolitical setbacks were happening at home and abroad. Fear was the unifying component in the governments and militaries of the Soviet Union and United States. We didn’t trust the Soviets and were convinced they were seriously considering war to help further their move towards global domination. Ironically, the Soviets feared the US almost as much. More to the point, the Soviets were absolutely petrified by President Reagan, his provocative rhetoric, and actions. The stage appeared set for a confrontation that would turn the planet into a sheet of glass and destroy civilization.

Luckily, the anticipated conflict never took place. Cooler heads prevailed and as it became apparent just how recklessly close we were to war in ’83, leaders on both sides of the Iron Curtain took steps to make certain the world would never teeter so close to the brink again. The efforts were somewhat successful yet failed to remove the nuclear threat entirely. Still, the war scare of 1983 gave enough leaders, and general officers around the world reason for pause.

First Strike is a tabletop game about thermonuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union set in 1983. The good folks involved in the design and production of the game intended to make it clear that if the hypothetical scenario had played out in reality there would’ve been no winners. On that point, I’ll respectfully disagree with the folks at Schultze Games as I’m sure we view nuclear conflict from quite different vantage points.

The game was released in 2008 and has the benefit of being the result of post-Cold War research and viewpoints. The strategic forces of the United States, and Soviet Union are portrayed as they stood in late 1983, and the nuclear forces of Great Britain, and France are included in play as well to an extent. NATO and the Warsaw Pact play a limited role too since Western Europe is one of the likely theater war locations offered in the setup and scenarios. The first exchanges of the game usually take place there with the Soviet player looking to gain as many victory points as possible before the ICBMs begin to fly. The US player, on the other hand, could go nuclear in Europe early to prevent the opponent from gathering up too many victory points early on.

One of the more realistic, and insightful aspects of the game is how strategic nuclear warfare is handled. In order to initiate any attack involving nuclear weapons, players must first select a SIOP or sub-option SIOP. To offer a refresher, SIOP was the general plan for nuclear war during the Cold War for the United States. The Single Integrated Operational Plan gave the National Command Authority a wide range of targeting options. It was a highly classified, and continuously updated contingency plan and still exists today under a different name. Anyhow, sorry for going off track momentarily….

The US player selects his SIOP plan, emphasizing whether the targeting focus will be counterforce or countervalue. The Soviet player then selects his RSIOP. These plans can be changed as the game goes on and the situation becomes more fluid.

SIOP is not the only aspect of a nuclear war that’s covered accurately. To be blunt, nearly every aspect is included and done well. In First Strike, it pays to think out your moves ahead of time because there’s very little margin for error. In the case of a nuclear war game this can translate to having your land-based ICBM force be wiped out on the ground or losing your command posts before being able to launch a second strike.

The number of variables and possibilities are endless, meaning hours of excitement, and even education for the players.

I want to explore this game more, and share it with the blog readers. So, instead of just continuing on with a summarized review of First Strike, I intend to put together a detailed After Action Review later this month. I’ve convinced an old friend’s father who did a tour with the Nightwatch battle staff back in the ‘80s to sit down and play the game. We’re going to be doing that next week. After we turn the world to rubble, I’ll type up an AAR and post it.

Tomorrow is the 4th of July so I hope everyone has a great holiday. The fighting in Europe and elsewhere will resume over the weekend. 😊


8 Replies to “Gaming World War III: Tabletop Armageddon Part IV”

  1. Really looking forward to the AAR; love the pic from Wargames – totally relevant. As a teenager in 1983 I was very aware of the threat: reinforced by films like Threads and The Day After which didn’t exactly reassure. Interested in your strategic inference that there could be a winner – perhaps I’ve been too influenced by Wargames…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved General Beringer from Wargames. The guy who played him is a great actor. Yeah, Threads and all of those movies came out around 82-84. I was just six in 83 but I remember seeing how tense everyone was. Before I write the AAR up I’ll talk a bit about my thoughts on nuclear conflict, and whether its possible to win one or not. Some of my influence came from my time in uniform of course. 🙂


      1. Barry Corbin. Fantastic actor. As I’ve said before, War Games is a fine film but I can watch the first and last fifteen minutes of the film and enjoy it just as much.


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