Tuesday 27 April 2010


Back in the early 1980s, when I was just starting to discover the joys of drainpipe jeans, Dungeons & Dragons and supporting Hull FC, Games Workshop brought out a fun little boardgame called “Apocalypse: The Game of Nuclear Devastation” in which you could wipe out most of Europe with funky stacks of nuclear missiles while enjoying your Indian takeaway on a Friday night.

The game fitted perfectly into the paranoia of the time – would we all be blown into atoms by a nuclear holocaust as soon as Ronnie Reagan was elected, or would we actually manage to live long enough to see Revenge of the Jedi at the cinema? It didn’t really feel as if we were living on a knife edge, although there was just this nagging fear that one frustrated NORAD computer having a seriously bad day could totally mess up our role-playing schedule for the next few millennia.

I first played Apocalypse at the School Wargames Club....Room J7 if I remember correctly on a late Friday afternoon sometime in 1981. I had a blast, most of which came from the pleasure of launching nuclear weapons at your mates and obliterating Vienna. Hey, I never liked that Ultravox record anyway.

I owned a copy of the game in the 1980s and played it a lot at University. It always entertained me that one of the most enthusiastic players was a friend who was a diehard CND supporter – I remember he said it showed “the futility of nuclear war....no winners...blah, blah”. But I always had a sneaky suspicion he just liked obliterating the Low Countries with a three inch nuclear warhead stack. Sadly, I sold my copy of Apocalypse in my Great Boardgame Purge of 1996. The game fetches a fortune on EBay now (and far more than the £10 I sold it for), but I’ve mentioned to a few of my chums that I thought the European devastation theme fitted well with my current Great War interest and that I'd like to try the game again sometime.

Following on from Salute on Saturday, my old wargaming chum from the Humberside club, Mike Brown, and his son George, came to stay for the weekend. I’d originally intended to get all the trench boards out for a series of “Through the Mud and the Blood” games, but we opted for a barbecue on the Saturday evening instead and Mike brought over his copy of Apocalypse.

We played a game after the barbecue, and the years came flashing with memories of Classroom J7, the days of Hull FC still being at the Boulevard, my student housemates and, for some odd reason, all those really catchy Yazoo songs from about 1982.

Things I remembered liking about Apocalypse #1: Simple rules. Three pages only. You can read them in the time it takes to eat a post-barbecue tiramisu.

Things I remembered liking about Apocalypse #2: Elegant strategies. There’s a funky system in which you effect combat between armies which involves choosing a number on a dice (instead of rolling it) while your opponent guesses the number. You have various armies in your province, but only the number of armies equal to the number you chose on your dice can enter the province you're attacking. If your opponent guesses the number correctly, you’re defeated, but you only loose the number of armies you attacked with. OK, we’re not talking Paths of Glory here, but it is fun, gives rise to a lot of bluff between players, and after a late afternoon’s drinking at the pub following the Salute show was just about all I could manage on Saturday night.

Things I remembered liking about Apocalypse #3: NUKES!! Oh yes, building the stacks of nuclear warheads was awesome when I played in the 1980s. And unlike listening to most Brit Synth-Pop of the 80s, it still is fun. You get a missile for each successful conflict, and the stack grows higher and higher. So, here’s the Minsk Monster pile of warheads Mike constructed.

Things I remembered liking about Apocalypse #4: Unleash Hell. You always seem to get to the point when everyone has a stack of missiles. Some large, some small, usually dotted around the capitals of Europe and they inevitable destabilise the game. You simply can’t have an opponent sitting around with a missile threatening your attack into the Carpathians, can you? So it’s time to open the silos for a pre-emptive strike. War, huh...what is it good for? The aim is really to set off a chain reaction as your opponent’s missiles are blown up, killing his armies and ideally blowing up everything around as well. All of which tends to completely undermine the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction. But hey, that’s just part of the game – there’s even rules to clean up the nuclear wasteland afterwards, so you can feel sort of liberal and moral while playing the game if you really want to. I don't think we bothered with cleaning up after our nuclear holocausts, however. Anyway, here’s my stack in Rome about to be obliterated by the Minsk Monster....

Things I remembered hating about Apocalypse: Oh well, there’s only one. And it’s that the game just goes on, and on, and on. It’s very difficult to play the victory conditions in the game, which simply say something like play until you’re the last one left alive. We played until most of Northern Russia, Italy and Central Europe was obliterated and covered in a nuclear winter, but even then we had the feeling that we could have carried on well past the early hours on Sunday morning. I guess in the early 1980s, with only three television channels in the UK, few videos, no computers and no internet boardgames just took longer. Why hurry when the best thing on TV after midnight was the test card?

So there you have it...”Apocalypse – The Game of Nuclear Devastation”. Designed by Mike Hayes, released by Games Workshop in 1980. Total Win. And far more fun than a nuclear war.

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