Day 817: Nuke War ’84

Posted: 2013/02/03 in Indie Games

I didn’t buy this after playing through the trial the first time. I only barely decided to buy this after the second trial today. But the longer I played “Nuke War ’84”, and the more I understood it, the more I liked it.

The game comes to us from “We Love Hamsters Software”, who also brought us “Superdimension Iliad”, “LCD Dungeon System”), and “Ghosts of Tarr-Minos”. “Nuke War ’84” invokes the motif of the setting from games like “Balance of Power” and “Nuclear War”, which I played on the Amiga, but the gameplay is quite different. The game is a bit like rock/paper/scissors on steroids, but with a simple diplomacy element integrated.

And I do mean simple. Everything about the game is simpler than it looks, in fact. That’s a good thing for those who’re intimidated by strategy games, or who’re open to a streamlined experience. If your idea of a great strategy game is XCom then this is likely not going to be your cup of tea, but if you’d rather play Risk than Axis and Allies then you may be a candidate for it.

Back to the rock/paper/scissors element. The game has you approaching each turn by asking you a simple question: would you rather build up your forces, or learn more about the enemy forces. You’re going to do some either way, though. Choose to build, and you get to fill in two of your squares with bases of your choice, and then intelligence is provided to you on a random enemy square. If you choose to learn about the enemy, you get to choose two enemy squares to get present (and future) intelligence on, and then you get to build one installation. So it’s really a question of which category you’d rather put the 67% towards, and which should get the remaining 33% of your military’s attention.

When you build bases you get to choose between ICBM missile bases, air bases, submarine bases, or anti-missile bases. The first two are available immediately, the latter two are only available as you pass certain years (after 1964 for sub bases, and after 1969 for anti-missile bases). You may or may not ever hit these year thresholds as the USSR might (and frequently does) declare war before you hit those years. Or you may choose to declare war before then, if you can convince congress to go along with your wishes (which they frequently won’t).

There’s another benefit to choosing to spy on the enemy as your primary focus for a turn. Should the enemy declare war that turn, they won’t be able to mount a surprise attack.

So how is it a bit like rock/paper/scissors? Well, once the cold war becomes a hot war with one side successfully beginning hostilities, you have to anticipate the enemy’s moves. When you activate an air base, do you think the skies are clear enough for you to launch bombers, or would it be better to launch defensive fighters in case they have bombers in the air? (A mixed approach between bombers and fighters is also an option, but it provides less attack strength and less defensive power.) Or do you anticipate enemy ICBMs coming in, meaning your best approach is to make sure you have anti-missile batteries in the air? (Anti-missile batteries will also strike bombers if they get past your fighter screen.) Or do you launch subs, as the missiles they’ll launch are more accurate than ICBMs and cannot be shot down like incoming bombers.

Bombers and subs take a random and unpredictable amount of time to get to their targets, whereas ICBMs arrive the same turn they’re launched. It’s almost never worth launching a fighter defence wing the first turn, since the bombers will take at least one turn to arrive. Anti-missile batteries are extremely effective, but last only for the turn they’re launched, whereas fighters aren’t as effective at shooting down bombers but will stay in the air turn after turn shooting down what they can, unless and until they get show down themselves.

Strategy for me boiled down to picking a strategy and sticking with it: missiles (either ICBMs or those launched from subs) are guided, so having done lots of intelligence gathering during the early stages is key. On the other hand, if you’re going to have a bomber-centric strategy, don’t bother with much intelligence as bombers are smart enough to pick their targets when they arrive at the USSR; what they pick is random, but at least you’re not possibly hitting empty space like an ICBM. And bombers are deadly accurate, whereas ICBMs sometimes miss by quite a bit.

One interesting element of the game is that it can end in a tie. The game considers what the international community thinks of each side’s actions, and if the score is close, but the losing side has curried more international favour, then the game will indicate the war was inconclusive. That was an interesting element: I can’t think of many games where a tie is a possibility.

In some ways it reminds me of “Sol Invasion”, which I reviewed way back on Day 33. Both games are singularly basic and unimpressive at first glance, but once you “get it” you suddenly see the game in a new light. In the end I enjoyed “Nuke War ’84”, and given I spent a couple of hours exploring the game and trying different strategies, it was well worth the 80 Microsoft Points I spent on it today.

Here’s what the developer (We Love Hamsters Software) has to say about the game:

“Two tribes go to war in this strategy game that recreates the tension and paranoia of the cold war era. Build bases and spy on your enemy, each side waiting for the best moment to push the button first. Once war is on, gauge the benefits of offense versus defense as you activate your bases. Can you outwit the computer and win a nuclear war?”

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