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Game Review

Nuclear Escalation

All Ages
Flying Buffalo, Inc.
Rules © 1983 Flying Buffalo, Inc.
Date reviewed: 4/14/2005
game mat

2-6 Players 15+ minutes


Each player is the leader of a country. The nation with the most population rules the world. In the quest for world domination, players use propaganda, spies, missiles, bombers, and space stations to eliminate their rivals.


This game is based upon Nuclear War... if you know how to play it, then this game will only add a few new rules, but the game plays mostly the same.

Before play begins, population cards are randomly distributed to the players -- the number of cards that each player receives depends upon the number of players in the game -- in a four player game each player gets 8 population cards. Each Population card represents a number of people ranging from 1 million to 25 million. The game ends when only one player (or less) has population remaining.

The owner of the game shuffles the nuclear war cards, deals 9 to each player, and then goes first.

To start, each player, in turn must play any cards marked "Secret" or "Top Secret" and replace these cards with "regular" cards. "Secret" cards tend to cause populations to leave one player for another player's country -- or eliminate amounts of your opponent population.

Next, all players place their starting two cards face down on the play mat. (These cards can't be changed until they are played.) The owner of the game then starts play.

A turn follows these steps:

  1. Draw a card.

  2. Turn up the 1st face down card.

  3. Move the 2nd face down card to the 1st spot.

  4. Place a new 2nd face down card.

  5. If a missile or bomber attacked -- a target opponent is named and the die is rolled.

  6. If the attack worked, the opponent removes population from the game.

It requires two turns to launch an attack. On the first turn, a "deployment system" is revealed (missile or bomber). This card remains face up until the next turn. On the next turn, if a warhead that is usable by the missile or bomber is revealed -- the attack is launched. A warhead does a specific amount of damage plus the number rolled on the die. For example, a 10 megaton warhead kills 2 million people, and a 100 Megaton warhead kills 25 million people. The die will add 2 to 6 million casualties -- or if the mushroom cloud was rolled it will generate a misfunction.  A re-roll of the die determines which misfunction occurs: dud warhead, or double the casualties are possibilities as is damaging your own country instead of the enemy.

There are some "missile defense" cards in the game, but they are rarely found. There are more cards in the game, like "propaganda"  -- but unless you have played the game, describing them here detracts from the main game.

For fans of the original game, there are a few new deployment systems: cruise missiles, MX missiles, Space Platforms and Killer Satellites. Each is explained in detail in the rules. Their employment is similar, but their strike capabilities vary from the basic missiles and bombers in the original game.  Cruise missiles need no warhead to launch -- and they circle the table until you decide to drop it on an enemy. MX missiles damage in multiple 10 megaton strikes.  Space platforms drop extra warheads from orbit on any opponent in addition to your regular missile strikes -- and killer satellites attack the space platforms.

The game also added spies and saboteurs -- they can steal secrets from opponents or stop a missile from launching.

Should your country be destroyed -- you get a chance at "Final Retaliation." Any and all weapons that can be launched at your opponents, launch -- and maybe you can eliminate them, too.

game  cards

the die

Winning Conditions:

  • The player who has any population remaining at the end of the game wins.

more cards

Our Opinion:

Thumbs Up!This game is an expansion of the original Nuclear War. In that, it adds to the original rules some new weapons and special cases.   It can be played stand alone, or combined with the original.  This review is based on the stand alone version.

In comparison to the original game, this version is more complex. The rules are 2-3 pages longer and the details of the new items are overwhelming at first -- it feels like all of the new items are special cases.  Once you play, and refer back to the rules about twice, you'll be used to the new rules and find that they make sense. 

Surprisingly, our reviewers found that we liked this version better than the original.  Because of the variations of weapon systems, the game was less predictable. The first player to launch a space platform was certainly pleased by it's application -- warheads rained down on everyone thoroughly obliterating the rest of us.  We also noted the MX missile's supremacy in comparison to regular missiles -- they sting your opponents much more than a regular missile and are extremely effective when carrying a large payload.

 If you can find this game, it's a good addition to Nuclear War... and it's a good stand alone version, too.

Where to buy:

Any local game store can order this for you.

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