In the days of the Cold War this computer based strategy game about the first 30 days of the Third World War on the European theatre appeared, and it left a chilling impression.
Theatre Europe was released in 1985. It was released for several platforms, like C64, ZX Spectrum and Apple II.
In Theatre Europe, after choosing which of 3 difficulty levels, the player can opt to play either NATO or the Warsaw Pact.
The main play screen consists of a rather simple ascii-draw map of Europe, from southern Sweden to northern Italy, and from Great Britain to Russia (Moscow included). Terrain is mostly flat and black, with the exeption for country borders, mountainous terrain and main supply cities. Units are armies (WP) or corps (NATO) and are depicted by discs (full strength) or circles (damaged). Every unit has three stats: ARMament, AIR support and SUPplies.
Gameplay is relatively simple: the game is turn based (IGO-UGO) and each turn cosists of a movement phase, an attack pahse, reinforcement phase and an air phase. The first 3 are pretty self-explanatory, the last phase is the phase in which the player can divide his air force reserve over several missions. Some of these are more or less obligatory (like air superiority), others optional (like Iron Snake, to reduce enemy reinforcements). At the end of the turn, there's the option of using a 'special mission', which, amongst others, can be used to initiate a nuclear strike.
If the player initiates a Strategical Nuclear strike, he's summoned to call 0203 668405 within 30 seconds, to obtain the necessary lauch code. It appeared this was actually a real phone number in Great Britain, contactable 24/7. With the obtained launch code (which is "Midnight Sun", in case the phone number no longer is in use) the player can select an enemy city and then sit back for a short in-game movie depicting a city, sounding the air attack alarm and after that, the incoming missile and the total destruction of that city, leaving a chilling image of a mushroom cloud over the ruins.
Normally the use of nuclear attacks provoked a retaliation, with the game ending in an all out nuclear war. On the higher levels, also conventional deep inderdiction strikes or the use of chemical attacks could escalate in a matter of days in a all out nuclear war, thus pushing the message also seen in the 1983 movie 'Wargames's tagline: "The only winning move is not to play".
The game can however, after some practise, be won by both sides, using a stricty conventional warfare regime.
The game also offered an arcade side: after selecting the attacks, one battle could be selected for arcade play, after which the player had to shoot enemy tanks using rockets in an arcade like fashion. The player performance would influence the outcome of the actual battle. However, upon starting the game, these action sequences could be turned off.
On gb64.com it is claimed that the programmer, Alan Steele, made the game based on any and all info he could get his hands on at the time, including Britain's Ministry of Defence and the Soviet embassy in London. His intent was to "write a war game based on the current situation in Europe, to see what would happen", so simulate WW-3 strategic combat results as realisticly as possible. Using those stats, the WP would win overwelmingly in a conventional conflict and since it was NATO policy to resort to the nuclear option in case the forces couldn't hold back the WP, the game (and alternate reality, according to his studies) would end in total nuclear war each and every time. In the end, Alan 'fiddled' with the numbers, to make the game winnable for both sides.