Come closer to the fire, my friend. It will keep the chill of nuclear winter away. Are you hungry? I have some canned food that is not radioactive. I checked it with a Geiger counter myself.
You came here from Washington, D.C.? I have heard rumors of strange creatures living among the ruins. Ground Zero was the White House, and I am told that a peculiar blue light glows from the bottom of the crater.
But people tell many stories. You have traveled a long way, and I will tell you the story you came for. You desire to learn how World War III started? I will teach you with the help of a friend. A board game called Cuban Missile Crisis. Perhaps you will make better decisions than Kennedy and Khrushchev did.
Help me set up the map. You see the island of Cuba, long and narrow like one of Castro's cigars, and divided into hundreds of hexagons? There are two players, one controlling the Soviets and Cubans, and the other for the Americans. Let us now place the little cardboard pieces. Now you see the prime cause of the war. Lack of information.
Do you notice that like the game of Stratego, the Cuban and Soviet forces set up face down, so that the Americans only see a hundred or so faceless brown pieces across the map? Each piece might be a Soviet medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) battery. Or a surface-to-air missile (SAM) unit, or a rather inconsequential Cuban Army battalion. The Americans can only scan a sea of anonymous brown until their reconnaissance aircraft overfly a hexagon and flip the pieces to their revealed side. Until then, they can't bomb missiles sites that they can't spot.
How thick the fog of war is, as dense as a mushroom cloud. There are also Soviet convoys that arrive during the course of the game. They have their true nature hidden on the back side unless the American Navy intercepts them. Some carry regular cargo, but others carry intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). And to make the fog truly opaque, the Soviets secretly roll dice to determine when the missiles in Cuba become operational, so the gringos don't even how much time they have to remove the missiles before they can be fired.
Now we set up the Americans. The game begins October 16 -- each turn equals one day -- and the United States only has a few air squadrons in south Florida until mobilization is declared. Unlike the Soviet side, the American pieces are always face-up and known.
Would you like some crackers? I found them in a fallout shelter. They are dry but nutritious. Where was I? Ah, yes, now comes the heart of the game. Each side has a deck of event cards that it can choose to play, one per turn. Many cards can only be played at higher alert levels, which span Defense Condition 1 to 5 for the United States, and a state of Peace, Crisis, and War for the Soviets. Each card allows certain actions, and adds or subtracts victory points for the United States or the USSR.
At the start of the game, the Americans start at a relaxed Defcon 5 and the Soviets at Peace. Neither side can attack each other, and America can fly only one reconnaissance mission each turn turn. If only things had remained that way...
Keep your hand away from that green blob on the floor. I swear that I have seen it move at night. Now we begin the game:
It is October 16. It was a Tuesday, I think. I was going to surprise my wife with a ... no, best not to think too much of the past. The present is hard enough. But it is the first day of the crisis, and the Americans move first. They change their alert level to Defcon 4, which allows them to play the Increased Reconnaissance card that allows two overflights per day. The reconnaissance aircraft detect some SAM sites, some Mig fighters and Ilyushin bombers, and a medium-range ballistic missile site. The MRBM site is not yet active, but now President Kennedy has proof of Soviet missiles!