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Nuclear War Game Bombs Its Way to Success : Fantasy Card Competition Breeds Some Fallout From the Controversial Topic

April 18, 1986|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

The "war room" in Irvine began sending nasty messages over the computer network's electronic mail system shortly after midnight.

To Battle Creek, Mich.: "Dear Tony the Tiger. Hope you ate your Frosted Flakes!! It's your last meal!!" From: Doug Malewicki, inventor.

To Little Rock, Ark.: "Ya awl will be happy to know yur town will shortly be renamed Littler Rock. There just ain't goin to be much left of it after we uns is dun wid u." From: the Irvine Tachtical Wheapons Teem."

To Chicago: "Greetings from the granola yuppies of California. One way for us to get more needed water is to vaporize your Lake Michigan for more rain." From: Doug Malewicki, inventor.

8:10 a.m. Saturday: Day one of "The Day Before," the third annual nationwide Nuclear War card game tournament, is now into its third hour.

Hunkered down in their "bunker"--a cluttered office in Doug Malewicki's Irvine tract house--Malewicki and three other men are reaping the results of their pre-game computer tomfoolery eight hours earlier.

The first round of moves made by the 20 teams scattered across the country came over the computer screen at 7:40 from tournament headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz. Although no bombs had been dropped on them by any of the other teams, the results of the first round did not constitute good news for the Irvine team.

Goodwill, Okla., played a "secret card" on them ("You have tricked the enemy into an ineffective but time-consuming Summit Talk"), which will cause them to lose a turn. Lawton, Okla., also played a secret card on them, causing 2 million of Irvine's people to defect to another country. And, as a result of "propaganda cards" played on them by Lawton; Austin, Tex., Enid, Okla., and Little Rock, Irvine lost another 25 million people.

"We started with 48 million people and we're down to 21 million already," explained Malewicki, who invented the Nuclear War card game in his spare time 21 years ago. "As soon as I write down 'Malewicki, inventor' (on a message), people like to start zapping you.

"Some of these guys," he commented to a recently arrived visitor, "are playing this game seriously."

For Malewicki, a 47-year-old aerospace engineer, the game--and the annual tournament it has spawned--is just as it was meant to be: all in fun.

Others contacted by The Times were somewhat less enthusiastic about a game based on nuclear war.

'Basically Escapism'

"My only impression (of the game) is that it's basically escapism," said Tim Carpenter, field director for the Great Peace March, who had not heard of the game. "I can understand (that), but I would hope people would spend that energy and time concretely working to build a world beyond war and a nuclear-free future."

Marion Pack, director of the Orange County office of Alliance for Survival, said she'd "heard of a couple of games possibly similar to it but not this one.

"If there are winners (in the game) through the use of nuclear weapons then that would be unrealistic because there will be no winners from nuclear war," said the director of the Southern California-based anti-nuclear education organization. "If the end result is people see the need for diplomatic solutions to the problems we're dealing with, that would be beneficial because we know the answer is improved relations between all the world's nations because we're all living under the threat."

But at the "Day Before" bunker in Irvine, mutual trust and diplomacy were not the tools of the hour. Indeed, despite their heavy losses in the first round, Malewicki and his fellow nuclear warriors laughed like fraternity house pranksters and retreated to the kitchen for pretzels and corn chips.

Despite the early hour, it was appropriate fare for playing what Adventure Gaming magazine calls "the quintessential beer and pretzels game."

Flying Buffalo Inc. (FBI) of Scottsdale, the maker of Nuclear War, describes it simply as a "fast-paced comical card game in which the object is to be the sole survivor of a nuclear exchange."

Since Flying Buffalo owner Rick Loomis bought the exclusive licensing rights to Nuclear War from Malewicki in 1972, he has sold about 60,000 copies of the $14.95 card game through toy and hobby stores. It comes with two decks of cards and a spinner (the arrow lands on such categories as "Dud Warhead (no effect)," "Bomb Shelters Save 2 Million" and "Radioactive Fallout Kills Another 2 Million."

A Cult Favorite

As its survival on game store shelves indicates, Nuclear War has become something of a cult favorite among its small but growing legion of players.

During a game convention in Houston in 1983, a midnight Nuclear War tournament for "100 warm bodies, preferably in costume" lasted until 7:30 in the morning. Players showed up dressed as "radioactive mutants" and "alien frogs," and Malewicki himself made a personal appearance, arriving in a wheelchair and dressed in black as Dr. Strangelove.

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