I got this one in the mail direct from SWAT HQ‘s reconnaissance of the recently closed American Eagles hobby shop. (Thanks, Michael!) I’d seen some of these show up in ebay sales of CAR WARS items, but had no idea what they were. But now I know: Aaron Allston designed adventures for CAR WARS, David Martin covers, and (for the later ones) Denis Loubet interiors. For someone that’s a fan of old school CAR WARS, this is a major cache of fairly obscure material.
The down side of these supplements: they are designed for four separate car combat systems. It is annoying to read the same redundant text and commentary in each one every single time. Also… they are short. Finally… they are not quite up to the same standards of quality as Steve Jackson Games products. However… the upsides are compelling. There’s a lot of solitaire material in these supplements. There are some fantastic autodueling illustrations. And there is a wealth of material here for the pre-Compendium, pre-Dueltrack iteration of CAR WARS.
The Gauntlet is not one that you do for the story like the more usual “programmed” CAR WARS scenario. This is a straight up combat challenge designed to put your car and your skills to the ultimate test. Essentially, this is CAR WARS with Gary Gygax behind the wheel– a more-or-less unfair dungeon for you to try (repeatedly) to get through.
I’ve played once so far. I put the difficulty setting on “Lethal” and took in an $8,000 car designed only with pocket box equipment as the author suggested. I wiped out within three encounters and had only a disappointing score of 6 points at the end. Wah! (I think that normally, you can go through a maximum of seven scenarios and score about ten points on each one, usually– but I didn’t want to spoil the game with too much reading ahead, so this is just a guess.) This is not the time to develop a realistic duel car that fits a specific niche of your campaign. This is the time to pull every single munchkin trick you can come up with in order to thwart the machinations of an “evil Dungeon Master” incarnation of Aaron Allston.
Unlike earlier releases in the series, the counters in "The Gauntlet" are done in a single, bright color.
Two of the combats I played out just with pencil, paper and dice. The last one, I set up with the usual map and counters. In the past, I have been annoyed by having to do that– if there’s a story or an adventure in a solitaire game, I generally want to get on with it and I end up seeing the tactical combats as being a distraction from that. But playing it out was much more fun than I expected. (Note: I used all my usual house rules to play this.) I’ve been refereeing a lot lately and it was refreshing to actually get to drive and shoot again. I had one more example of myself making non-optimal decisions when in the clutch of a adrenaline pumping situation. Honestly, though… just getting out the turning key, slapping down debris counters, and checking for fire damage makes me happy.
The verdict: these supplements are like having an extra year or two of Autoduel Quarterly– somewhere between volumes one and two as far as style goes. If you like CAR WARS, they are certainly worth the shelf space. While I generally would prefer to spend my game session time with actual live opponent… and while I normarly spend the rest of my free time planning scenarios and writing session reports… this was more fun than I expected. If you’re at all unhappy with the frequency that CAR WARS is hitting your table, then I suggest trying one of these solitare scenarios out– and to actually play out the combats with the full CAR WARS rules, maps, and counters. You’ll stay in practice and learn things to help you make the most of when you do have a group of ravening duelists at your table!
Spoiler details about the Gauntlet scenario I played continue below– don’t read it if you want to know if you can fairly beat my score on your first play!
Hidden text below:
I chose to drive a simple car design featuring twin rocket launchers to the front. In the first encounter, my right-side armor was nearly blown away! There was not much I could do about it given the limitations of my design. (This wouldn’t have been nearly so bad had the difficulty not been set to “lethal.”) The second encounter was a chance to score some points without any chance of death– I would have scored better here had I had a more accurate weapon. In the third encounter, I faced a $30,000 remote control vehicle armed with a pair of turreted MG’s and two front-mounted FT’s. This was scary! My initial plan was to keep my speed up in order to avoid death via the 5th edition fire rules that I was playing by. I went towards my 20 mph opponent at about 30 and traded shots with him. He rolled through his own smoke screen and fired at me while I snaked around, hoping to go for a point-blank shot followed by a T-bone. I took a single fire marker that turn… and failed to get a shot off because my weapons were out of arc. My ram was at low speed and only did maybe 2d6 points of damage… but my speed was cut in half. From there on, I accelerated as best I could and got to 30 mph again… but the fire was steadily burning through my almost non-existent right side armor. I did several D3’s and lost control… skidding… which… cut my speed back again! I could not shed that fire marker no matter how hard I tried! Finally… I lept out of my car at the last moment…. Game over, man! Game over!
If I go back in, it will probably be with metal armor, a vehicular shotgun, an improved fire extinguisher, and maybe a mine flinger.