Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

CAR WARS at Lost Shade Games in Harrisonburg, VA

I showed at the gaming gig an hour early… and the players were already at the store. I asked them if cars with guns was okay for the day’s game, and they said it was. (One guy started reciting every single character and vehicle gimmick from the recent Death Race movies.) There was a minor mix-up with there being no large table for me to play on, but a Warhammer grog helped me to find a spot. Good to go! By the time I got set up, a couple more players showed up.

To get… er… warmed up… I started everyone off in a Scorcher duel at the Brewer’s Cellar. My thinking was that if someone showed up late or if some one died way early, we could just start them up in a fresh duel in an empty cell. One paring ended quickly in a head-on collision. Another was a very low speed game that had some action, but ended with one of the contestants getting his car burned up. A third pairing began with more or less long range flame thrower shots and ended with a solid t-bone ram.

Based on this session, I can’t say that the straight up Scorcher design is the best car for a set of mostly new players. The players all knew that right angle turns at 60 mph could kill them. At least two players knew from experience that low speeds in this event would result in an almost sure death by fire. Nevertheless, everyone still went slow for the most part. (If I had played, I would have gone up to at least 40 or 50 mph… either to set up a game winning t-bone or to avoid one.) Another downside to usual tactic of stopping and pivoting in this game is that you end up having to shoot through multiple smoke counters. This slows the game down and forces people to drive around in order to set up a second pass.

Dark Cowboy and The Green Menace trade flamethrower shots at the Brewer's Cellar

The Scorcher duels seemed to drag on a little and one guy was having to sit out for what seemed like way too long. (An expected 6th player never showed.) I didn’t start the requisite forth cell Scorcher duel, but instead… brought out a proven design that I’d hoped would result in a lot more action. The Lothario has a big inaccurate weapon on the front, a smaller more accurate weapon on the back, and a pair of highly inaccurate rockets on the side. I put everyone into the middle of the Brewer’s Cellar map and let ’em go.

The resulting action was very surprising to me. The Grim Reaper got ganged up on during the first turn. (This was the guy that got in the lucky t-bone in the Scorcher duels.) I was really wishing I had some system to really handle secret and simultaneous fire decisions right then…! That guy only got hit once, but… reading the writing on the wall, he chose to turn his car around and head away from the angry mod of crazed duelists. He stayed at 20 mph or so the whole game and skidded towards the wall when he executed his thirtieth D6 bend. (In his Scorcher duel, he’d made at least a dozen consecutive control rolls.)

Meanwhile, veteran duelist Grimm Nails held his fire and drove towards the center while everyone else took wild shots at each other and talked smack. Suddenly… Grimm Nails had cars on all sides. The Sweeper… uh… swept into his flank and pummeled him with ATG fire before executing a perfect t-bone collision. In the confusion, Grim Nails failed a control roll and went into a spin out. The Green Menace was just making his pass then and poured on the ATG shells. Grimm Nails had lost most of his right side armor then, all of his front armor, and his ATG was only just barely still functioning. He managed to pivot his damaged sides away from the action. Then… through a deft use of his vehicular radio… somehow managed to convince everyone that the Sweeper was the juciest target on the board.

At this point, we were running out of time. (The store closes at 8PM sharp.) Everyone took their last shot on The Sweeper. Some people missed… some people hit… but it all worked out for Grimm Nails. With the last shot of the game, he scored a tricky hit from across the arena with his RR. He rolled a perfect twelve for the damage… and set the powerplant on fire for the win!


The Grimm Reaper (yellow) skids towards the outer wall just moments before Grimm Nails (grey) went into a spin out.

Random thoughts for what to do next time:

1) Free-for-all is good… but it needs to be in a tighter space, maybe.

2) The Lothario needs any or all of the following changes: HC 4, Accel 10, APFSDS ammo, HDFT instead of the RR, and three or four HR’s on the right side instead of a pitiful two.

3) Ixnay on the ibitzing-kay.  Nobody tells anybody what to do. Period. Let people play their own game. This is a role playing game, not a euro.

4) Players need to think about what they want to do before it’s their move. When I call you… I want to hear “D3 bend to the right” or “straight” or “D3 drift to the left” or “t-bone the sucka!”

5) I’m bringing index cards next time. Players can write their fire decisions down during the turn break. When I ask if people have fire, the ones that want to lay their cards down. I will then resolve the fire in order of best reflex roll to worst… or maybe from worst to best– whichever the person with the best reflexes there decides.

6) If you have a question… try to wait for the turn break, but *after* I’ve put my notes in order.

7) I really need a turn/phase record tracking chart to fill-in as things happen. Five players to is a lot to manage– and I don’t have my usual co-referee up here. (Not yet, anyway.)

8) No more d6 tie-breakers for the reflex rolls. I’m sick of rerolling those dice so much. From now on… your driver skill points are the tie breaker. (Everyone keeps asking me when the skill points will have a game effect. Well… the answer is… they have an effect right now!!)

9) No hat flipping at the table.

Here are the final standings:

The Dark Cowboy
Driver Skill Points: 1 + 0 = 1 + 0 = 1 + 0 + 1 = 2 + 0 = 2
Gunner Skill Points: 1 + 1 = 2 + 1 = 3 + 1 + 1 = 5 + 1 = 6
Prestige: -1 – 1 = -2 + 0 = -2 + 3 = 1 + 1 = 2
Kills: 1
Scorcher duel #2: After a 25 point head on collision, exchanged FT fire with the Green Menace. Successfully burned his opponents car to a crisp.
Lothario free-for-all: Never went faster than 25 mph. Shot at people.

Grimm Nails
Driver Skill Points: 1/1 + 0/1 = 3 + 0 = 3 + 0 = 3 + 1 + 1 = 5
Gunner Skill Points: 1/1 + 1/0 = 3 + 1 = 4 + 1 = 5 + 1 + 1 = 7
Prestige: 4 + 3 = 7 + 0 = 7 + 0 = 7 + 3 = 10
Kills: 3
Vehicles: One Killer Kart
Salvage: One Killer Kart (three hits to power plant, side armor destroyed, four shots fired)
Wealth: $385
Wins: 1
Scorcher Duel #4: Traded FT fire at long range… then got t-boned to death.
Lothario free-for-all: Held fire early in the game… then got surrounded by several cars. Spun out… then pivoted to keep a damaged side away from opponents. Before the game was called, hit The Sweeper with RR for 12 points of damage to the power plant… setting that car on fire for the win.

The Green Menace
Driver Skill Points: 0 + 0 = 0
Gunner Skill Points: 1 + 1 = 2
Prestige: -1 + 1 = 0
Scorcher duel #2: After a 25 point head on collision, exchanged FT fire with the Dark Cowboy. Was set fire during the melee.
Lothario free-for-all: Cruised around shooting at people. A master of accelerating out of a tight turn.

The Sweeper
Driver Skill Points: 0 + 1 = 1
Gunner Skill Points: 0 + 1 = 1
Prestige: -1 + 0 = -1
Scorcher duel #3: Head on collision for 45 points of damage. Game over.
Lothario free-for-all: Pulled off three moderate speed t-bones. Played aggressively, but was ganged up on by everyone in the final second before the game was called.

The Grim Reaper
Driver Skill Points: 0 + 2 + 1 = 3
Gunner Skill Points: 0 + 1 + 1 = 2
Prestige: -1 + 3 + 1 = 3
Kills: 1
Scorcher duel #3: Head on collision for 45 points of damage. Game over.
Scorcher duel #4: Traded FT fire at long range… then did several D6 maneuvers at 20 mph… then t-boned his opponent for the win.
Lothario free-for-all: Got ganged on the first turn… then stayed away from the brawl. Skidded towards the wall but recovered.


6 responses to “CAR WARS at Lost Shade Games in Harrisonburg, VA

  1. Earlburt April 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    The more players who can keep track of themselves and help pitch in with others the better for sure. I will definitely try to come up from Greensboro the next time you can assemble this many players. I’ll bring all my arenas so there will be plenty of options. Kettering would have been good for the Lothario duel. Though, the center of Brewer’s Cellar is also tight enough.

    It occurs to me that the Octogon might be a lot of fun with 6-8 players. We’ve always played the Octogon in small numbers, where one person can always hide out. But a crowded Octogon… that might be magical.

    The Lothario does have too much armor. But it could shed every point of armor and it still wouldn’t be accel. 10. I don’t think you could achieve accel. 10 without dropping the ATG… and then it wouldn’t be such a charming car. I would not balk at the other changes.

    Also, lower armor on the Lothario, especially much lower front armor, would help keep it more of a shooting game. So much front armor, plus the beefy ATG, make rams too appealing.

  2. jeffro April 18, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    I have never felt like referee to this extent. I made rulings constantly for five hours. Because they were mostly new players, I ruled things I wouldn’t normally have to do, but it was just relentless. I basically called to-hit mods, executed crash table results, resolved rams, and helped with the maneuvers… all while tracking handling status, speeds, ammo, and damage. Wah. (I want to get a black and white striped shirt now.)

    I think the Lothario would have given a plenty fine game had we had one more hour. (I think those Scorcher duels were educational, but they took up a lot of time.) But yeah… it has too much armor for what we did.

  3. Matt V April 18, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Whenever I am done running a game at a convention I feel like I’ve been through a war. 4 hours of to hit calculations, explainations, and record keeping is brain busting.

    It makes me realize that Car Wars is a much better game when played with players that know the rules, and the difficulty of showing a few new players how to play and keeping the action going makes me yearn for a more simple rules set. Do we really need the -1 to hit from the front or back, or can the target speed/vector modifiers be simplified.

    I’m not sure if you are still keeping track of all the cars and when they move each phase, but I think this is unneeded when you have people controlling one car. They should be able to do that themselves. What I do is have a sheet that shows the turn and phase and check marks for each so I don’t loose what turn/phase we are on. At the beginning of the turn I write down everyones speed from who’s sitting to the left of me to the right. When I call out the phase I say what speeds move. If there is a need for players going the same speed to see what the other vehicle does, we resolve that, but most cases it doesn’t matter.
    Also, I scrap the reflex role. I have everyone roll two dice. The highest is the person who will move last if there is a tie due to speed. Then clockwise around the table goes move first to last. It’s random and is randomized to where you sit and who rolled the highest. It fair also.
    Also, from your writing I’m not sure if you are keeping track of the players HC, ammo, and damage. That is not needed if you are.

    Glad to see you are getting Car Wars on the table.

  4. jeffro April 19, 2011 at 8:10 am


    I’d say the BattleTech judge that was running a three player game had comparitively little to do. He ran a game in less than one third of the time and spent half of it gabbing with the guy that got killed on turn three… and was forced to make (if I recall) less than ten actual rulings for the entire game.

    Star Fleet Battles tournaments are all two player matches and… from what I’ve heard… the judge is only called over if there is an actual dispute.

    The Earlburt & Jeffr0 Compendium 2e strain of CAR WARS was developed with three hour session, 8 car, two player Killer Kart events… and is optimized for… uh… I can’t remember anymore. It had to be whatever would allow for a deep contest of tactics and driving– whatever would do that…?

    (My beloved custom speed-range chart is obviously in the wrong direction from getting rid of the front/back mods like you suggest, though.)

    I have an insane sense of fondness for the reflex roll. It is exactly the sort of rule that a Euro gamer would scrub out without even thinking about it.

    I have considered making a hex and chit version of CAR WARS that would be designed from the ground up to require no referee and no rulings by anyone. The main thing would be to make maneuvers, crash table results, and collision rules that required no judgement, fudging, or interpretation. It might be workable… but when it was finished it wouldn’t be CAR WARS anymore, maybe….

    I find it very difficult to shift gears mentally. In some ways, 5th edition might have been a better fit for the guys I was gaming with here… but to actually go through the process of learning those rules cold for an event… and then finding out where the “gotchas” are. Meh. My feeling is… if any of these guys actually played enough that they “got” the game… then I’d like to have a system there that can accommodate serious tactical play in place once they get arrive at some basic level of mastery. Of course, serious play in any game system generally requires four or five plays just to get going, regardless of the the game system.

  5. Earlburt April 19, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    That 2e is cimploex and cumbersome for a ref and a bunch of newbies is in no way a testament of any kind to CW itself. It is, in large measure, a miniatures wargame. Those are always complex. There are no Euro miniatures wargames for a reason– it’s impossible to make them streamlined and accessible to non-gamers. It sounds like you did your best, and your best was as good as was possible. It also sounds like folks probably had a good time, which is what matters most. Once two or three of them become self-sufficient, you’ll be having more of an experience that you recognize.

    How are you handling character death with these guys? Have any chars DIED-died? Have you thought about having them use a small stable of chars like we did? Forcing them to “level up” three or four characters in rotation might seem tedious to them. On the other hand, they’ll feel cheated when their only character dies, and they are then facing others with +1 gunner characters.

    Discrepencies in character strength would matter less if you segued a bit into player vs. environment scenarios, where they can act as a team.

  6. jeffro April 19, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I got some pushback when I started to “kill” a young kid’s character. (He’d “died” due to a 22 point ram– that shoulda been “hose ’em outta the car” instant death by our house rules.) These games so far have all been flawed with people leaving midway or getting cut short. But everyone loves their skill points, so I keep track anyway.

    I think… if left to themselves… some of these players would run down fleeing pedestrians just for the fun of it. I wouldn’t put it past them to do that to the first person to make Gunner +1 and try to play it against them in an amateur event….

    (Note that… when not playing CAR WARS these guys are showing up for WWII miniatures games and so forth. Also… for a 4 to 7 game… that’s plenty of time even with the Lothario’s thick armor.)

    The players are bailing out of their cars when they get set on fire. I think it’s clear that there should certainly be a consequence for *not* doing that. Also… I’d like to penalize suicidal rams with “death” as well.

    >>Discrepencies in character strength would matter less if you segued a bit into player vs. environment scenarios, where they can act as a team.

    Yeah, I’m planning to do a cycle gang scenario sometime where the players without cars get to do the cyclists.

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