Global Thermonuclear War

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A pen-and-paper game designed to be played with no additional resources.


Each player represents a nation involved in nuclear warfare with all other players. Each player has 10 cities, with one designated as a capital. When all their cities are eliminated, that player is eliminated.

Winner is the last surviving player.


Players should agree on which variants are being used before beginning. Variants described in the rules below.

Each turn is split into two stages.

1. Build-and-allocate.

  • At the start of each turn, each player builds one nuke OR one defence per city, with the capital capable of building one additional of either. They then allocate defences to specific cities
    • Game variant 1: nukes are not per-city (missile silos aren't cities), meaning all hoarded missiles remain available so long as the player keeps at least one city alive.
    • Game variant 2: nukes are allocated per-city, meaning they can only be launched whilst the city survives.
  • Players then assign targets for their nukes. (eg: 2 nukes to player four's city five. 1 nuke to player two's city seven, etc). There is no requirement that all nukes be used that turn. They can be hoarded.

Game Variant A: Focus on attacks. Then survey results.

2a. Attack!

  • Conceptually, all attacks are simultaneous, but for practical reasons are announced in turn around the table.
  • Each nuke destroys one defence, or the city if it has no remaining defences.
  • Recipients of nukes note the resulting damage to themselves.

2b. Survey the damage

  • At the end of each turn, each player announces in turn if any cities have been destroyed. No further information need be revealed (as that would reveal information about their defensive strategies)

Game Variant B: Focus on defence. Report results immediately.

2. Defend and report

  • In this variant, each city around the table is polled for all players to see who attacks it, and it's result is known before
    • EG: player one asks who is nuking their city 1. Other players respond in turn, and the destruction of city 1 is reported immediately.
      • Repeat for city 2, city 3, etc. Then repeat for player two, player three, etc.

Variants 1 and 2 are to taste. This author prefers variant 1.

Variants A is expected to be better for beginner players, as attacks and reports are handled seperately, whilst Variant B likely makes it harder to keep track of which player is hoarding or not, and so better for more advanced play. This author has not played variant B recently (perhaps ever), but prefers the idea of it.

Remember: The practical limitations of gameplay require sequential reporting of attacks and destructions, but conceptually, all are simultaneous (hence stage 1 separate to stage 2). Retaliation must await the next turn!


  • Originally created by Pauline, Evan and others to pass the time whilst waiting in the queue for Episode I.
  • An online version was created and may yet be resurrected.

2020 Revisions

  • Centers of industry and diplomacy

Instead of a capital which can build "one extra thing", proposed idea is that there be a city designated the capital which acts as a "center of diplomacy" and it's +1 build is a defence, whilst there is a seperate "center of industry" which builds an additional missile. If either city is destroyed, then that +1 ability is lost. HOWEVER, the player then designates a different city to be their replacement capital/industry, and that city gains the +1 ability on it's third turn. (if the city is destroyed, then a new city can be designated and the turn count resets). A city cannot be both centers unless it is the final city

This has not yet been play tested and has been brainstormed solely from the logic of "in the real world, if you lose your capital, you don't go without - you specify a replacement!"

  • Resource limitations

It's unknown how many people played the game when first developed, however a 2020 game with seven people found the end-game became tedious (with about half the cities gone). In discussion, it was proposed that as the player count increases, that the number of cities per player reduces. Thus it is proposed that initially there be a maximum of 42 cities - split evenly amongst players and capped at 10. Thus two, three and four player games would have 10 cities each. Five player game has 8 per player. Six player game has 7 cities each, Seven player: 6. Eight player: 5, Nine and Ten player games have 4 each...

This has not been playtested.

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