1956 – 1995

Brinksmanship was a term coined by John Foster Dulles to describe a policy of coming close to war, without falling into the abyss. At different times, during different crises, this policy was pursued by both superpowers. However, there was always the danger that brinksmanship could turn the “cold” war, hot. Additionally, brinksmanship encouraged a nuclear posture of “launch on warning.” Game theory demanded that if your opponent were launching a massive nuclear strike, you would have to launch your own weapons before they could be destroyed in their silos. These doctrines shortened reaction times of world leaders from hours to minutes. On November 9th, 1979, the United States made preparations for a retaliatory nuclear strike when a NORAD computer glitch indicated an all-out Soviet strike had been launched. As recently as 1995, Russia mistook a Norwegian scientific missile launch for an attack, and Boris Yeltsin was asked to decide whether or not to counterattack.

Time: Late War
Side: Neutral
Ops: 4
Removed after event: Yes

Love it or hate it, Wargames is the most important Late War card in the game.  No card so dramatically affects the game depending on who draws it.  The entire Late War is often dictated by the struggle for this card, fueling the Cold War paranoia by giving you yet one more thing to worry about.  Does he have Wargames?  Does he know I have Wargames?  How close can I push DEFCON this turn?  Should I cash in this scoring card now to prevent a Wargames loss, or hold onto it for an Action Round to get even more VP out of it?

The card is thus a brilliant fusion of theme and gameplay: it balances the allure of the instant win against the fear of an opponent’s scoring card, set against the looming backdrop of potential DEFCON suicide for the overeager Wargamer.

Although ostensibly a neutral event, Wargames tilts towards the USSR because Final Scoring usually favors the US.  If the US is able to build a +7 VP lead in the Late War, they are almost certainly going to win anyway.  Where Wargames tends to reverse the result are those boards where the USSR is clearly destined to lose in Final Scoring despite a -7 VP lead.

This isn’t to say that the US doesn’t use Wargames; it does, but it usually does so later in the Late War, and it usually doesn’t actually change what the outcome of the game would have been.

There are three main scenarios involving Wargames:

  1. You hold Wargames and have (or are close to) a 7 VP lead:
    • Congratulations, you win, provided you can degrade DEFCON to 2 safely.  Depending on what scoring cards remain for your opponent, you need to degrade DEFCON as quickly as possible.
      • The USSR can degrade DEFCON in the headline and score Wargames on AR1 before the US can do anything.  This is probably best unless you are worried about DEFCON suicide, and you don’t think the US can take away your Wargames win on their AR1.
      • The US must give the USSR at least one AR before they could trigger Wargames.  Therefore:
        • If the USSR is going to score on AR1 and take away your shot at Wargames, you may as well not degrade DEFCON in the headline, and drop it on your Action Round instead (with a coup)
        • If the USSR isn’t able to take away your Wargames win on AR1, but could potentially do so given multiple Action Rounds, then you do want to drop DEFCON to 2 by your AR1.  This may call for degrading DEFCON in the headline and risking DEFCON suicide.
        • If the USSR isn’t able to take away your Wargames win, period, then there is no need to risk DEFCON suicide.
    • If you don’t actually have the 7 VP yet, but you’re close, hold onto Wargames no matter what.  Even if you don’t have advantageous scoring cards, your opponent might.
  2. Your opponent holds Wargames and has (or is close to) a 7 VP lead:
    • Cash in your scoring cards as quickly as possible.
    • If that’s out of the question, your best bet is now a DEFCON victory as your opponent is probably trying to drop DEFCON as soon as possible.  Hopefully you can catch him in DEFCON suicide in the headline.
    • Alternatively, you can attack their hand with Five Year Plan, Missile Envy, Grain Sales to Soviets, Quagmire/Bear Trap, Terrorism, or Aldrich Ames Remix.
    • You could always try to keep DEFCON above 2, but this is likely impossible since your opponent can just coup it back down.  Cuban Missile Crisis or Yuri and Samantha might help, but this is a real long-shot.
  3. The person who holds Wargames is nowhere near the 7 VP lead:
    • Nothing much to do here, then.  That player will probably want to hold onto Wargames if they expect to be able to swing back the score, but otherwise it is just 4 Ops.

Keep in mind that as you approach the Late War, there are things you can do to maximize your chance of drawing Wargames.  Our Man in Tehran can help get rid of it or get rid of cards in the way, and emptying your hand allows you to draw more cards and hopefully find Wargames.  Playing the China Card or SALT Negotiations becomes a bit weaker since you draw one fewer card as a result.

Note that you are permitted to trigger Wargames without giving up the VPs and ending the game.  If you do so, the event is removed from the game.*  This is desirable if:

  • You draw Wargames with Missile Envy;
  • Your opponent has the 7 VP lead and could play either SALT Negotiations or Star Wars;
  • The deck will reshuffle and your opponent could draw it (extremely unlikely).

*Keep in mind that if you trigger Wargames at DEFCON 3 or higher, you do not remove the event from the game, because its prerequisite was not met.  But you do remove it from the game if you trigger it at DEFCON 2 and choose not to give the VPs.

Finally, Wargames is a jarring event and can turn a beginner player off of the game.  With inexperienced players, I recommend either warning them about it up-front, or simply removing it from the game altogether.  But once you get better at the game, you should start appreciating why Wargames is included, even if you find its swingness a bit distasteful.

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18 Responses to Wargames

  1. SnowFire says:

    The tips here sound a tad too over-aggressive. #2 is basically correct, if the location of Wargames is unknown and you’re behind then sure, play your scoring cards aggressively, including headlining ones favorable to you and hoping that a Missile Envy coup doesn’t disrupt them.

    But #1? I’d only be so aggressive if I think there’s a strong likelihood of a fast Wargames being the only route to victory. Which I suppose happens, but better to play standard and then cash in Wargames if convenient then to risk DEFCON suicide to cash in Wargames at the earliest possible second. There’s so much that can go wrong, including simple dumb things like your opponent headling a favorable scoring card, thus denying yourself both a coup and Wargames itself to the obvious DEFCON suicide. Only in the rare situation of the USSR having We Will Bury You, and KAL-007 being accounted for, would I think the drop DEFCON in headline -> Wargames be a wise play; WWBY is your own DEFCON victory threat and gives you VPs anyway. (Maaaaaaaybe turn 10 with heavy card counting as well to suspect that your opponent has scoring cards favorable to them, and you’re sure you’ll lose in Final Scoring. Maybe.) So I suppose there’s really two situations: Wargames where you think your position is terrible (maybe your hand is bad) yet Wargames is viable (+7 VP, or can get there), and Wargames where your situation is basically fine (say you’re up +10 VP, but the board also favors you for the moment.) Wargames is still great because you won’t have to risk DEFCON suicide nonsense on the later turns, but there’s no reason to court DEFCON suicide right now – you should win anyway, so play it safe.

  2. dedaan999 says:

    One thing to take into account, if SALT Negotiations and/or Star Wars are still in play and your opponent has a 7 VP lead (and in case of Star Wars, the US is ahead on the Space Race track), be extremely careful with playing Wargames for operations, since your opponent may pick Wargames from the discard pile.

    • ddddddd says:

      Indeed. I’ve never yet seen it played for the event, and the VP not given (action declined) but I can imagine it happening. (eg. otherwise Star Wars is as good as Wargames)

      As an aside, what a great card – full props to the designers! I remember the first time me and my opponent discovered it (our first Late War game) and we were like “You can win with just one card??!”

  3. pietshaq says:

    Just a quick rules clarification: is this playable in headline phase as an event?
    I mean: USSR leads by -7 VP, and headlines Wargames against US headlining We Will Bury You — does USSR win?

  4. In point two you talk about trying to keep Defcon above 2 to stop Wargames and as an example card you mention Cuban Missile Crisis. I presume you meant How I Learned To Stop Worrying as Cuban Missile just sets the level to 2 whereas the latter sets allows you to set it to 5.

    I just played a game as the US where the only way I was going to lose was by Wargames and was pretty sure he had it his hand and was far enough ahead in VP’s. My hand wasn’t great so I allowed him his AR1 coup then I played How I stopped… and set the DEFCON back to 5. He then spent the next 3 turns couping to get it back down. Once he made a second pointless coup I knew he had Wargames. It may be obvious but I think this defense strategy is worth a specific mention for the following reasons:

    -You know your opponents hand is at a disadvantage as one of the cards is Wargames and can’t be played until they get DEFCON down
    -Their obligation to coup every turn may force them to use any of your good events or scoring cards that may help you get VP’s
    -You buy yourself 3 free turns in which you can try to flip a region you can score from your hand, play events like wars or advance the space race to try to get enough VP’s to stop Wargames

    In my game I failed to get enough VP’s to stop him anyway but with a bit better rolling I would have. Accordingly I would recommend players that have far superior board position but are behind on VP’s to try to hold onto How I stopped… until the late war as a pretty effective defense. It is also a good way to make VP’s through military operations and is a good target for Salt Negotiations to make them coup for all 6 of their available AR’s.

    • BJE says:

      CMC sets DEFCON to 2 and bans the opponent from couping. It is possible for the DEFCON to rise through subsequent event play, while CMC stays in effect, without lifting the CMC coup restriction. If scoring were marginal or fluctuating for Wargames victory, it is (unlikely but) possible for a player to have achieved a 7 VP lead but be unable to coup to degrade DEFCON to 2 because of CMC followed by an event play that raised DEFCON from 2 where CMC originally set it. It is similar to how it is safe for the American to play Lone Gunman at DEFCON 2 if CMC blocks Soviet coups and the Soviet can’t escape CMC by removing Cuban influence (the reverse could apply to CIA Created).

  5. Chris says:

    I just had a fun game where I was playing as US with a fairly split board; they had Europe, the Middle East and Africa, I had domination in CA, and domination in Asia, but me down by 5 VP’s. It was the very last round, so I knew they had Wargames, and I had no scoring cards, or cards that could affect VP, to try and get back into safe VP territory. Their AR1 play gave them the VP’s, then they couped to get Defcon to 2. Fortunately, and unknown to them, I had two cards that raised Defcon by 2 levels. This lead to them doing 3 coups using low op cards, while I just reraised Defcon.

    What’s interesting though, is how badly it worked against them. My AR7 play from the turn before was removing 2 ops from their control of France, which meant in my AR1 I was able to flip Europe, then later take control of CA followed by nullifying the Middle East and Africa. They ran out of cards to coup with, and had very few good op cards to respond to me with following their coups, which very much handed victory to me on a plate. (Final scoring gave US 22 VP’s, and USSR 0)

  6. Anonymous says:

    Is there a tie-breaker for War Games?

  7. Daniel B says:

    If you are the USSR and losing and worried about Wargames, you could always play Nuclear Subs on AR1 (or even HL) and the USA probably won’t be able to get the DEFCON down to 2.

    Granted in that position as the USSR there’s a good chance you’ll lose anyway, but at least you give yourself a shot. Late War may favor the USA but it’s not so one-sided as to make things hopeless.

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