DEFCON – The Scariest Wargame

Tick, Tock. Dozens of fighter squadrons dogfight in three-way fights, some thousands of feet in the air above a border town. Tick, Tock. A wolfpack of submarines has popped up in the middle of a carrier group and is violently hunting the vulnerable ships down, sending each one to the bottom of the sea. Tick. A notification appears: DEFCON 1. Tock. Hundreds of nuclear-equipped missiles are launched at the major air bases, fleets, radar stations, nuclear silos, and cities of the world. Tick. Some are intercepted by air-defense systems, but there are so many missiles and so few still-operational defenses that it’s almost pointless. Tock. An explosion of white consumes a huge area. A notification appears: 17.3 million dead. That was just one missile. There are dozens more on their way.

DEFCON provides nothing more but the most abstract look at the horrors of nuclear war, but it’s the most intense and terrifying wargame devised. You will lose millions upon millions of people every playthrough. Your carefully devised military setup will in the end be destroyed by overwhelming numbers, and at that point, you can only pray that the cities being targeted have air defense shelters. After all, you just need to lose less people to win. Every hit you take is points deducted at the end of the game, but I can never shake that dreadful feeling when I see that a city has been reduced to a series of craters, with only a few survivors managing to stumble from the wreckage.

Compounding this dread is that DEFCON can be played in real-time, so you can watch a missile appear on the horizon, dodge all intercepting attacks, and slowly descend into a metropolis over the course of 10 minutes. The waiting makes it worse. Tick, Tock.

Do not go near DEFCON if nuclear war freaks you out, because this game will make you lose your mind. It is without a doubt, the most terrifying wargame ever, but will hopefully remain purely hypothetical. Tick. Tock.


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