The loneliest place in history must be the control room deep in a NORAD bunker. There, a computer terminal tracks a pellet-shaped ICBM tracing an arc over a wireframe map, then swallowing a city in a glowing white nuclear blast—the end of the world, rendered in calm polygons. Introversion's DEFCON steals this iconic war-room look, but combines it with an eerie, ultimately horrifying ambience: As aesthetically awesome as the team's award-winning Darwinia, it can make you feel like a panicked general watching his population vanish while a distant soprano on the soundtrack stands in for the screams.
Yet as chilling as it seems, DEFCON is also a great party game. Introversion gets the appeal of keeping score in "megadeaths"—or millions of dead civilians—which you can earn by sneaking up on Tokyo or London with your nuclear subs, or knocking out your buddy's air defense and pounding Mexico at your leisure. You can practice against the computer, but DEFCON is meant to be played online with other human beings trash-talking each other and forming easily made and easily ditched alliances. It's a high-stakes game where a good sneak attack can completely flip the score, which keeps everyone on edge as they struggle to be the least-smoldering cinder on the globe.
Beyond the game: Kudos to Introversion for nailing both the absurdity and the horror of a global thermonuclear war; this may be an open homage to the 1983 film WarGames, but the shrewd wit feels closer to Dr. Strangelove.
Worth playing for: With only a handful of units and basic tactics to learn, this is an easy game to teach your friends, but there are dozens of strategies to master. Try the "spectator mode" to watch what other generals are doing, and feel free to goad them on in the public chat.
Frustration sets in when: Controlling individual ships requires deft right-clicking that's hard to master in the heat of a sea battle.
Final judgment: A simple, addictive game that'll make you cheer when the missiles launch, and give you nightmares when they land.