July 18, 2024

First Impressions of Nuclear War Simulator by Matrix Games

Peter Robbins, 23 March 2023

My first and foremost impression is that this is a piece of software that is hard to label, yet not?

You start to ask yourself pretty quickly: Is this a mainstream game? Is this a grognard’s wargame? Is this a combat simulator? Or, is this an attempt at a mostly approachable Modeling & Simulation1 sandbox for purist simulator lovers only? Probably the last of those.

It is almost there from a completeness sense, but it inherently feels (at first impression) like it is just a tad below fully “done”.

I may be convinced after more time with this software that it is more than just a personal playbox of destruction.
Is this DEFCON? No.
Is this ICBM? No.
But it’s not trying to be either, and that’s…. ok? But is it ultimately enjoyable? ….. A tentative… Maybe? I need more time with it for its approach to soak in I think.

Gratuitous Self-Quote:

“What Goat Simulator was to Goats, this is to Nukes. Think of that as you may.”
– Peter Robbins (2023)

One thing you should do apart from reading this quickly-produced First Impression2, is go to the game’s main website and look over the videos there.
Also, seek it out on YouTube, and read the heck out of its forums on Steam and on Matrix Games websites before purchasing. I think you should make sure it’s to your taste before purchasing. There are additional tidbits on what it includes in their site’s screenshot section and on itch.io
Also make sure to check out the development team’s YouTube guides here

Ultimately: If you are into pure sandboxing with reasonably impressive AI, it may be your thing. If you are not into more of a sandbox approach to gaming, then maybe steer clear.

Let’s run through a single scenario, and firstly, we’ll let the AI run things. And then we’ll intervene a bit here and there and just see what we can actually “affect” in the results that ensue.

click to enlarge most images

AI vs AI Example

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We’ll pick a timely scenario, which starts with Russia doing poorly in a prolonged conflict with Ukraine. They decide “Hey, let’s send one nuke and see what happens?” Well, we’ll show you what happens.


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The US gets a little trigger happy in response, and we’ll see how it escalates from there.


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You can see the first salvo of nukes heading from Crimea, the lovely foothold the west allowed Russia to waltz into while we were still mesmerized by the Sochi Olympics.


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US Naval forces respond with a conventional attack on the Black Sea fleet.


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Russia responds further with a nuclear strike on Polish railway infrastructure, which is feeding in western armor and weapons into Ukraine.


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The US retaliates again conventionally, this time with precision air strikes against targets in Kaliningrad and Belarus.


Different Casualty Map Overlays

Here’s a short slideshow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Predicted Fallout Overlays

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These filters are all turned on or off at the top right of the screen, near the > Play and Play x 10 speed, and other video player controls up there.

Here’s a quick gallery of several views; click to enlarge them individually.

Sorry Tom! (Friend that lives near Warsaw Poland) Had to pick a country to target!


Let’s Try And Make Our Own Quick Scenario

Ok, this was a little less intuitive than I thought it should or would be. Make sure to take the time to watch their YouTube guide videos, and it will start to click for you.

In this example, I’ve just added in all of the US and Russian military bases and weapons, and then we’ll do a Quick Plan targeting everything with everything 🙂
Mutually Assured Destruction!


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This is a quick sandbox I created using New Scenario, and saving it as “Sandbox” instead of play thru. All US and Russian objects were added to this sandbox. I wish they had this as a default setup without having to have created it myself, but it was pretty quick to whip up.


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Starting the Quick Plan option.


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Here I’m just loading up ALL Russian objects in the sandbox to be viable targets.


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Executing all weapons targeting all Russian military and weapon facilities.


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Some of the graphics up close in flight are nice. The global map itself is also extremely well done, and crisp.


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Pretty… Pretty deadly that is.


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Close up ballistic missile plumes are quite pretty, but the missiles are ultimately points of light and little bit of fog, or further away, arrows. This is fine in a purist sense, but a little bit of extra graphics here I think would go a long way to sooth wargamers souls.


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This is going to hurt!


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This is just a portion of the casualties from the onslaught. I have to pause it occasionally and re-run the Fatalities calculator, as if you try and wait for a full on MAD (mutually assured destruction) level of detonations to finish, the program tends to stop working calculating the totals.


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Apparently I hit a lot of cities with flames of destruction. Lots of soot in the air.


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So this is a bit creepy using real people’s images like this, but I guess thermonuclear war simulation is creepy unto itself, so, go for it.


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So this is even creepier when you run it in their tutorial for Adding Individuals. Full descriptions are provided of the person’s illness and condition. Rather creepy. Interesting, but creepy. I think it’s the images being included instead of stick figures that makes it a little “too real”? Possibly? I do like the more street map view they have in this tutorial, I need to see how to inject that into the other sandbox map displays.


Is this software worth its price?

Is it ultimately worth $30?
Yes, if you like a more purist simulation sandbox of nuclear war and its simulated effects on populations and individuals. This is M&S3 software; it is not a “game”.

I really think this software is more along the lines of an “Indie Simulation”, and it’s harder to warrant the $30 for something that is kind of fun to mess with for a grognard, but ultimately you feel just is lacking some depth and immersion.

I don’t like saying this about something I can tell the devs put a lot of thought and sweat into making. It’s just not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

  • What would I recommend to a more mainstream gamer? DEFCON
  • What would I recommend to a more wargamer type reader? ICBM
  • What would I recommend to Bill Gates even nerdier cousin Willy Gates, who has a penchant for wanting to put their own family into a nuclear holocaust and email them the resulting pics of their thyroid cancer bulges?….. Nuclear War Simulator

I’m not kidding, it actually include a Friends & Family function…

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This is a shot of the effects on one of the devs in one of their YouTube guides


… which is a bit morbid, but so is nuclear devastation in general.

Do I want to give the developer a chance to convince me that my first impressions here are off base? Sure, absolutely, and I will be reaching out to them to do a playthru interview. I wanted to be as honest as I could be with these first impressions for Armchair Dragoons readers so they could make their own decision on whether it is for them, and I hope the developers can appreciate that.
I don’t think its for everyone.

One quick litmus as to whether you should buy this game:
Go here, and if you absolutely love it, can’t get enough of it, multiply its capabilities 20 fold+ and then you have Nuclear War Simulator.

Appendix – Supporting Resources


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  1. M&S
  2. again, fewer than a couple hours with it so far
  3. Modeling & Simulation

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