Gaming World War III: The War Comes Home Part I


The majority of wargames based on the premise of World War III are set in Cold War era Europe. This holds true for many of the games released between 1975 and 1991, as well as more contemporary examples. While there are certainly games that revolve around a US-Soviet or NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict set at another geographic location, the numbers pale in comparison to the Europe-based games. For every Gulf Strike there is a NATO:The Next War in Europe, and four or five other similar games. It’s the nature of the wargaming beast and I’m fine with it.

There is a unique sub-niche of World War III games that unfortunately never receives the attention it deserves. This group consists of wargames centered on a Soviet invasion of the United States. Yet where movies, and novels of a similar premise sometimes enjoy tremendous popularity and establish a cultish following, Invasion USA wargames sort of missed the bus there with perhaps one notable exception. In any event, I believe the sub-genre is worthy of a blog post, or article now and then just to keep the memories alive, and maybe lay the groundwork for a resurgence at some point down the line.

The granddaddy of all Invasion USA games is, of course, Fortress America. This was not a wargame per se, but a strategic boardgame. The difference between the two largely has to do with scope, and levels of detail, and realism. Fortress was published and released in 1986 by Milton Bradley as part of the Gamemaster series. This series also included Axis and Allies which had been released two years earlier. Although Fortress did not attain the same level of popularity that Axis enjoyed, it was still a solid game.

Fortress America is a 2-4 player game about a major invasion of the United States launched from three separate directions by three adversaries. The Asian People’s Alliance (China being the major power) attacks the West Coast, and the Central American Federation (Cuba being the major power) the southern border. The Euro-Socialist Pact (Soviet Union dominant) will land along the East Coast and push inland. The US player is forced to defend against all three attacks at once. Color codes are straightforward. Yellow: Asian People’s Alliance, Blue: Central American Federation, Red: Euro-Socialist Pact, US: Green.



At first glance it might seem impossible for the US side to mount a credible defense given the odds, but the US player has some things going in his favor. The combat rules distinctly favor the defender. The same is true about the reinforcement rules and layout. For the invaders, their reinforcing units must originate in their respective invasion zones. As the game goes on, this is farther and farther away from the frontline. The US player never runs out of forces, and can be reinforced right at the front. Other rules allow the US player to rebuild units from the ‘destroyed unit’ pile. This does not apply to the invader players. Once their units are lost in combat, there is no opportunity to regenerate them. They’re permanently removed from the game.

This might not seem fair, and I guess it really isn’t. But there needed to be some way to balance the scales to make the game as even as possible. In that regard, the rule slant towards the US player was successful and has resulted in the US player being given a fighting chance to be victorious. Personally, most rounds of Fortress I’ve played or been involved with in other ways, have been close contests that came down to the wire largely because of the rule shift.

The game’s backstory is reasonable and describes the events and timeline leading up to the attack. In the late 1990s terrorists detonate a nuclear weapon in the Persian Gulf, destroying the West’s oil supply. This caused a global panic, with governments suddenly quite concerned about diminishing energy and fuel reserves. The United States addresses this by starting an ambitious solar-powered satellite program aimed at providing the world with enough solar energy to meet global needs. The US took advantage of the program to install an anti-missile laser aboard every satellite it launched, establishing an anti-missile shield in orbit. Very few government officials and scientists knew about the program. When the system was completed and in place, the president informed the world. Many nations approved of the move. Understandably, the Soviet Union was not one of them.

Moscow would not accept the US dominance and vowed revenge. Over the next decade, while the US basked in complacency, Moscow changed the world order and shifted the balance of power in its favor through a number of brushfire wars, coups, and political uprisings. In Asia, Central America, and Europe three hostile power blocs prepared to launch a simultaneous invasion of the US from three different directions. The US military was in no position to stop them before they landed ashore thanks to years of budget cuts, and a false assurance that their satellite weapons continued to give them complete military superiority.

As a kid I loved this game. Now, as an adult I still give it an above-average grade minus the nostalgia factor. Fortress America was no Axis and Allies, but it was a good enough game to keep the player’s interest. It even spurred a remake in 2012. The new edition was below average, in my opinion. Like many movies, games, novels, and such these days, the creativity factor in the remade Fortress was pretty poor. It is definitely not worth picking up. The old one is though, and you can find one easy enough on or eBay.

Interesting side note: The original Fortress America had two different covers. The first one contained an image of a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Saddam Hussein. He was removed in the second cover and replaced by a new character who looks like no famous dictator.



Fortress was not the only Invasion USA game published, just the most popular. In part II on Wednesday we’ll look at some of the other Invasion USA-themed games. They will be pure wargames, not strategicboard games like Fortress America was.


13 Replies to “Gaming World War III: The War Comes Home Part I”

  1. It always boggled my mind how this game managed to completely ignore the 2nd largest land mass in the world, the one with the longest coastline in the world sitting next door! Never mind that Canada is the logical first step for two of the Bad-guy coalitions.

    I guess they gave equal treatment to Alaska as well 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it would’ve made the game too complex for regular boardgamers if they included all of that. I agree with you though. Invasion America is a game that had Canada included. I’ll talk about that one on Wednesday’s post.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. That’s a good game. One of my favorite from the late 80s. Nicaragua could’ve become a major flashpoint.
          Hope you’re enjoying the game


          Liked by 1 person

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