NUCLEAR DESTRUCTION: The Classic PBM Game

Longtime readers already know that Nuclear Destruction was the first PBM game that I moderated when I started Flying Buffalo. It is a deceptively simple game, with only one page (printed both sides) of rules. Many people look at the rules and assume it is too simple to be much fun, so we don't get many signups these days. Yet the game has players who have been playing for 27 years, and still sign up for every game. Obviously there's something there that many people are overlooking.

This game is a pure diplomacy game. You have some strategic options. You have factories that can build missiles, antimissiles, or more factories. There are "minor countries" in the game that can be "controlled" temporarily by you if you give them money. (Actually this was why I invented ND - to see if this "minor country popularity index" worked. It did, and we used it again for Battle Plan.) You can shoot your missiles at any other player in the game, without restriction. And any player in the game can shoot all his missiles at you. The idea is to talk the other players into shooting at each other instead of you. Some people are very good at this, some are very bad. No one is perfect, and there is always the possibility that someone will take offense at the color of your stationery, or the time of day you called on the phone. But it is extremely satisfying when all your plans work, and when the dust clears, you are the only one left standing.

The moves are simple and can be filled out in 5 minutes. Do you want to build missiles, which you can give away to the minor countries and have a better chance of controlling them? (You get 1 popularity point for giving a dollar to a minor, but 10 points for a missile. Problem is if you do that, the missile is at risk of some other player giving even more, and controlling YOUR missile.) Do you want to build ABMS in case someone does decide to shoot at you? This makes you less tempting as a target. Or do you want to try a more long-term strategy and build more factories. On future turns you will be able to build more missiles and abms, but for a time you will be more vulnerable than everyone else if the war starts.

And then the minor countries: there are several strategies to take here. You can write all the other players and try to "divide up" the minors equitably. One strategy, which usually backfires unless you are REALLY good, is to give each of the "other" minors to TWO other players, while exclusively reserving more than a fair share for yourself. As an example, say there are 3 other players, and 12 minors. A fair share is 3 apiece. You write each of the other players, and say you only want 4 minors. Tell player 1 that you want minor A, B, C, and D; and he can have E, F, G, and H. Tell player 2 that he can have G, H, I and J and player 3 that he can have I, J, K, and L. If you do it right, everyone will leave 4 minors to you untouched, and they will fight over G, H, I and J.

Another strategy is to give a LOT of stuff to one minor, making sure that it is too expensive for anyone else to bother trying to take it away from you. A more popular strategy is to give a little bit to every minor in the game, figuring to pick up any minor that everyone else ignores. A riskier but potentially more successful strategy is to save up your money and missiles until just before you think the war is going to start, and then making a move to take away all the minors belonging to your target, and starting the war yourself. If you are successful, he will know what you are about to do, but if you can wipe him out in one round of missiles, there will be nothing he can do about it except beg his allies to get revenge.

The most common strategy is to pick out your fair share of minors (three in the example above) and invest moderately heavy in all of them, giving each a little more each turn so no one can "beat you out" by $1 on the first battle turn.

All of this is useful and fun, but the most important criteria for victory is diplomacy. You have to get as many players as possible on your side, convince some of the players on the other side to switch, or become "moles" and tell you what your opponents are doing, figure out who are the "moles" pretending to be on your side, and convince everyone that you are less likely to win than that "other guy".

One big part of diplomacy is the "spy exchange". There are usually more than a dozen minors in the game, and you can only "spy" on three of them per turn. So if you get together with 3 other players, and each of you "spy" on three different minors, and then exchange the results, you can all 4 get results on all 12 minors. (Then of course there is the question of whether to lie about yoru spy reports. If you get caught, you are instantly everyone's target. But if you don't, you can cause serious problems for anyone who relies on your "report".)

You are also allowed to send "diplomatic messages" to other individual players, and submit "world news" that will be printed on everyone's printouts. You can, if you wish, submit either or both of these "anonymously" so that other players won't know who sent them. Sometimes a player will submit anonymous insults, and other players will go to great lengths to try to find out who is doing it. (For instance, you are only allowed one "world news" per turn, whether it is anonymous or signed. So anyone who put in a signed "world news" on the same turn that an insult appears, cannot be the author of the insult. Not everyone bothers to send in "world news" every turn, and sometimes people miss the turn. Try to get everyone else to submit a signed world news on the same turn that the anonymous player is submitting one of his insults. How do you tell everyone else what you are doing, without giving away the plan to the target?) One player used to submit ryming world news, and signed them "The Poet". There was much speculation about his identity, and one player even told me that if he could find out who it was, he would specifically NOT shoot at the poet, just so the entertaining poems would continue.

Have I piqued your curiosity yet? The game only costs $2.50 per turn, and the setup fee is $5. The complete rules are here on the web at ND RULES.. Turns are run every three weeks, to give non-email players a chance to exchange diplomacy. Occasionally we run a special weekly (or even daily) tournament. Ask to be on our pbm mailing list if you want to hear about any tournaments that we may be starting in the future. Send an email to rick at flying buffalo dot com.

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