Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Gaming Disasters: Part IV

This is the continuing story of my adventures as a Car Wars crazed youth.  (Part I, Part II, and Part III were posted quite a while back….)

 So the thing about Car Wars… everybody played it.  It was like Magic: The Gathering and Halo put together.  All of my friends played it and lots of my friends’ friends played it.  You’ve got to remember the times, too.  Each of my friends owned a completely different home computer system.  Between the five of us we had a C-64, an Apple ][, an Atari 1200XL, a Tandy, and a random IBM clone.  If you had told us that the future held in store for us a world dominated by IBM clones and Microsoft software, we would have thought you were crazy.  Those IBM clones were ugly, expensive, and had the worst games….

But I digress….

At this point we’d played a few arena games.  Our cars would move like little tanks… point towards each other… and then we’d have a bit of a dice rolling contest to see who lived.  Your odds were greatly improved by having a good design, of course.  There really wasn’t a lot of maneuver and handling checks and so forth….  We pretty much just played point and shoot.  But we loved it.  And there was this one guy who played with us who… no matter what… was the first one to die in every event.  It was uncanny.

So I was at one of my other friends’ house that hadn’t played much Car Wars and he had all his friends over that I didn’t know too well.  One of those guys was a Car Wars nut!  He’d taken all his maps, cut ’em up… and laminated them at school.  (His mom was a teacher.)  He absolutely had to play a race at the Muskogee Fairgrounds!

So the designing ensued.  The one copy of the lime green Uncle Al’s was passed around and fought over.  We rechecked our math and thought everything out.  Our work was interrupted when Weird Al’s “Fat” video came on MTV.  But finally… the strips of map were all layed out, the counters staggered around the track, and our record sheets were all filled out.

The green flag waved and… our cars literally inched around the track….  I don’t know how long it lasted, but it wasn’t long before everyone had left or gone to bed… and there had been no clear winner and not too much action.  Hmm.  Strange.

I was puzzled a bit but didn’t think much of it.  I mean… we were just kids, you know.  We loved these games, but they so rarely worked like maybe they were supposed to… but we didn’t care.  We had a blast just thinking about them and setting them up and tinkering with them….

It wasn’t too long after this that I was at my other friends house, for example.  This was the guy that was always the first to die in our arena matches.  We had like 9 or 10 people there and decided to play Gamma World.  We got our characters rolled up and the Gamma Master started the game.  Somehow we ended up in a melee and we began rolling the percentile dice.  Each of took a turn rolling… and it took maybe ten minutes or more just to get around the circle.  That’s just for one round of combat!  We might have played for two or three hours just to do one and a half fights.  Of course, only one or two guys every really scored any hits.  Probably the guys with Military Genius or Life Leech or something equally unbalanced.  So that game for most of us was just 3 hours of missing our to-hit rolls against some annoying and weird mutant!  Argh!

But it’s really only irritating looking back.  I don’t think we had any idea at the time that this wasn’t any fun.  No… we were having a blast.  You’ve got to keep in mind that the computer games of the time were for the most part even less fun than this!  And we were real young, too.

But back to Car Wars.  I didn’t really have any idea that there was something wrong with the way we played Car Wars.  Cars just crept along the map moving an inch or so each turn.  We generally kept the speed at 40 mph or so in order to be able to make a maneuver….  How else was it supposed to work?

So one day I’m at my friend’s house again… you know… the guy that always got blown up first in every arena match….  He says to me that we’ve been playing it all wrong all this time.  You don’t move 1/4 inch for each 10 mph of speed….  You move a whole inch for each 10 mph of speed!!

I was floored.  Not just to learn that all those years of gaming were… somehow illegitimate and silly.  But… to have to find out from… him….


(By the way, even after we played by the rules correctly, that guy was still the first to die in every game.  Uncanny!)

This sort of thing still happens, though, even with adults.  When I was playing Settlers of Catan for the first time recently I flipped through the rules during a break.  In a few seconds I noticed we’d been playing the cities wrong– they were supposed to double the production of the hex they were in!  The group I was playing with had just used cities as a way to buy victory points up until then!

Yeah….  It happens all the time.  It generally takes several readings of the rules and several games to find these things out no matter how simple the game is, but in every game there are a couple of killer rules that have a drastic impact on play and tactics.  Most people don’t bother to look for them… but me?  Ever since that gaming disaster with Car Wars… I’ve been… different….


One response to “Gaming Disasters: Part IV

  1. Michael August 9, 2011 at 8:43 am

    My friend introduced me to Car Wars (PB set) in the mid-80s… and it took me to point out that MGs/Fts etc did one die worth of damage, not one point (although under his way of playing cars were certainly a lot tougher!)

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