Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Which Version of Car Wars Should I Run?

The original Deluxe Edition is Car Wars at the height of its craze under the guidance of Scott Haring. The crash table is harsh, but driver skill makes a big difference. There’s enough equipment to be interesting, and the movement chart is 10 phases.

Compendium Second Edition adds gas engines, lots of fancy equipment, boats, hovercraft, and better character rules. It moves to a 5 phase movement chart, fixes problems with gas engines, adds additional features to electric engines, and fixes major rules headaches introduced by laser guidance link, speed modifiers, spoilers & airdams, vehicle range, and top speed formulas.

Compendium 2e looks identical to Compendium 1e except that 2e has “Second Edition” written on the front just below the car (see picture to the left.)  There are black box Deluxe Editions that came out with Compendium 2e inside and some extra bonus supplements. That’s the coolest release. If you want to go faster than 100 mph, go with Compendium 2e— it’s the most comprehensive edition. If you want John Nowak style gritty “road warrior” type action, Deluxe Edition is all you need, though.

The newer 5th edition stuff has really large turning keys and a streamlined 3-phase system that is very fast playing– duels between 6 players reportedly go much quicker. They are still in stock at Warehouse 23, but are reviled by fans because of the lack of a design system. It think its as fast as they could make the game without moving to a clicky base system. It is perfect if you want to play with Matchbox car sized minis.

The Car Wars Pocket Box is mostly a curiosity now…. It has several systems just glossed over and all of them were expanded into “advanced rules” later. You will wreck if you try to fight at high speeds!!

In computer lingo… pocket box is the Beta, the first deluxe edition is the 1.0, the first compendium is a 2.0, the second compendium is a 2.4, and then the fix for the ramplates and the jumping falling rules and the measuring = a fire action rules constitute a significant service pack.

The biggest problem with Compendium 2e is out-of-control ramplates and game-altering speed mods. For a faster game consider dropping speed mods altogether and use the patch for the ramplate rules. Also… look at the rules for Driver Skill and Crash Table Rolls and come to a agreement regarding how to work that… and maybe just go whole hog and give a flat HC bonus for Driver skill instead of using it as a silly/strange reflex roll bonus. (Also, the Incendiary rules from 5th edition are REALLY fun.) 

Keep in mind that these finer points of the rules only matter in highly competitive duelling events– if you’re just using the system for combat in a role playing game, these details can safely be ignored.  However, the reverse cannot be said for most rpg combat systems: they can’t generally be used to play out intricate free for alls to determined the baddest player of a bunch.

Compendium 2e represents a huge amount of iterations in the development – playtest cycle… unmatched by many games.  It is a thing of great beauty… and certainly the greatest gaming book ever published.


11 responses to “Which Version of Car Wars Should I Run?

  1. 805pm March 2, 2007 at 11:33 am

    In the years when I had a regular gaming group, we always used the 2nd Edition Deluxe Set. Our games were frequently big money, one-shot affairs that were staged in a variety of settings, but often took place in a homemade city.

    Like you recommend, we completely did away with the speed mods, although we never had a problem with ram plates (perhaps because it was too difficult to use them in a crowded city). Either way, 2nd Deluxe was really the best edition in my opinion.

  2. jeffro March 2, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    We played in arenas a lot more… and there was no way get get away from the metal armored gas guzzlin’ ram car….

  3. morganusvitus April 5, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    The site looks great ! Thanks for all your help ( past, present and future !)

  4. jeffro April 6, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    Aw, shucks… :)

    Thanks, morganusvitus.

    (Usually the only people that say that are trying to sell me certain, er, “performance enhancing” drugs.)

  5. Xero April 23, 2007 at 12:22 am

    Being a long time Car Wars player I have to disagree a little bit on your comment. I started playing shortly after the original Pocket Box Truck Stop was released, just as a bit of context. The Original Pocket Box games were limited but certainly not the equivalent of Beta Software (I’m also a software engineer, who stubbled on the site looking for the latest vehicle design software). The PB versions qualify as version 1, while Deluxe Edition is simply a collection of expansions with a few bug fixes so 1.x (where x is probably the total number of expansions + 1). The game didn’t make a significant leap until the release of Duel Track, with the addition of Metal armor and Gas Engines, since these where the first significant changes to the rules since the first release. Since this was a supplement and not a new version of the game, we have to wait until the first compendium to consider a true version change. Mind you SJ games obviously considers PB to be 1, Deluxe to be 2, Compendium is 3, Compendium SE is 4 and the current is 5, but you were comparing to software.

    As for the dedicated Ram Car, yes they are powerful and should be, the changes are more of a nerf (to use modern terminology) than a fix. There were certainly ways to beat ram cars and to make the less effective in your arena (Ram cars do not perform as well when unlimited cash and multiple opponents are involved, not to mention the effectiveness of Roll Cages and composite armor). I was the first in my local area to use the dedicated ram, so I can tell you from experience they are not fool proof (though they did fair well at national/world championships). And remember that Ram Cars have a real hard time hitting vehicles in the air.

    But other than that the blog looks good, and it’s good to see there are still CW fans and players around.

  6. jeffro April 27, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    I’m surprised at how people are sticking up for the pocket box Car Wars rules.

    As far as the versioning of the editions… pocket box Car Wars did go through three editions of itself. “5th edition” picked up on that sequence… and I’m not sure what the 4th edition was. (Maybe the small-box “Compendium-lite” edition?)

    And of course, the question of ram cars is not about whether or not they can be beaten, but whether or not you want the game polarized like that. It may be that the arenas and price levels that we tended to play in were particularly bad for this, of course.

  7. Kizan November 6, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    What about the black 1996 version of the compendium rules that are part of the final Deluxe box set? Is it any different?



  8. jeffro November 9, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    It has very different artwork from the Compendium 2e above… but I’m not sure if there were significant changes. People refer to it as Compendium 2.5, I think, and it seems to be the standard for arena dueling with folks from different groups getting together since the nineties.

  9. Chris Goodwin June 30, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Man, I hated ram cars. See, I wanted to play a game where people drive cars and shoot at each other, not a game where people drive fast and try to run into one another. I’m glad the ram plate rules were nerfed; I’d like to see ’em nerfed more (or gone).

  10. Craig Crump July 7, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Well, hi, I’ve never posted here before, but I also have to stick up for the pocket box, and I agree with Chris Goodwin about ram cars. I bought the game as soon as it was published, having been a huge fan of some of the things that they listed as inspirations, and my friends and I played campaigns that I fleshed out just using the pocket box, Truck Stop, Midville, etc. By the time I had purchased the Deluxe Edition, we had decided that there were too many options being thrown in, and soon the fun of the game was hindered by ever-increasing lists of improvements for your car (if your driver was rich)which nixed each other. It seemed to get tiresome to have to dig out blahblah issue of Autoduel Quarterly and decide whether Johnny X could use the particular version of whatever upgrade that he had installed. So, the Deluxe Edition DID serve a purpose there, although I didn’t like all of the equipment included in it, and usually convinced my group just to go with the pocket box and some of the weapons from the deluxe ed, and we threw the ram plate and several other items out completely, because it seemed that every new publication would include more unnecessary ‘stuff’ that would ruin some older concept or make some bit of equipment useless, thereby changing the game completely. And yes, I had guys trying get me to allow things such as mounting flaming oil jets on the front of their cars so they could be a big flaming ramplate. Once. Anyway, my point was that we had hundreds of hours of fun with only the pocket box editions and I never had a problem interpreting the rules. Adding detail to a game beyond a certain point simply slows it down. Car Wars can really take way too much time if you throw in everything and have lots of drivers. I remember playing at a convention once and everyone eventually just giving up after about 10 hours because it was so tedious trying to look up every rule because so-and-so was whining, etc. The pocket box really didn’t require much of that; it was complete enough, and seemed fairly elegant ‘back in the day’ because of it’s simplicity. I added more character/driver development, which did need a bit of help if you were an RPGer who wanted a bit more detail about the drivers such as ‘what did they do when NOT driving’ – although in all fairness that was outside the scope of the pocket box and it’s purpose! :)

  11. jeffro July 8, 2008 at 6:41 am

    Thanks for dropping by, Craig.

    I’m glad to see people speaking up for the Pocket Box. Over all, I stay pretty close to it as far as vehicle design goes. I admit to being sentimental about the lime green Uncle Albert’s catalogue, but I don’t really use a lot of the fancy stuff. Mostly this is because there’s so few people that know the design rules as well as me– it kinda ruins the fun if one person can win just by hacking a spreadsheet for a while, though back when I was a teenager that was a really big deal and all part of the appeal.

    As far as rules go, I just can’t make myself go back to straight pocket box. After playing a lot of games, I appreciate what they were trying to do with each iteration of the fire and movement rules. Compendium 2e is still my favorite edition (especially if you are very strict about limiting equipment) and I haven’t regretted taking the time to carefully apply any of the more fiddly rules within its covers. I play lots of competitive two player team events, though, so your mileage may vary.

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