Car Wars Next
“First, you turn the time circuits on. This readout tell you where you’re going, this one tells you where you are, this one tells you where you were.” — Dr. Emmet Brown
Before you go muck around with one of the greatest games of all time you really need to understand it before you change it. You need know what made it awesome before you start “fixing” things– even if you’re taking a different direction. So then:
- Classic CAR WARS was a role playing game. For people that started with the zip loc bag or the black plastic pocket box, road dueling was the default scenario. This is something that has really gotten lost over the years….
- Classic CAR WARS was the high water mark for the “design a thing” game. The sort of stuff that was done in the 80’s world championships was the crack cocaine of many teenage gaming groups. Division 30… no holds barred… tricked out loophole-loving death on wheels! The bluffing and counter-bluffing… the choosing of design strategies based on known tendencies of the other players… this was a big deal.
- It took a lot of freaking effort to sort out how to make the game work with all the new equipment that got added. Laser guidance link, ram plates, funky tire options, gas engines, speed modifiers, and top speeds…. I waited for each issue of ADQ to get the latest on all of this… and especially loved the variant rules for movement and fire. The final transition to Compendium Second Edition was a big deal.
- Classic CAR WARS hit a sweet spot on the simulation vs. playability scale. Easier to learn and faster to play out than Star Fleet Battles. More nuanced than Battletech. Arena combat was inherently more fun and and manageable than military type campaigns. And people really wanted to do the “every player in a different vehicle fighting in a great big free for all” game even with systems that didn’t make a lot of sense for that– but CAR WARS was absolutely perfect fit and owned that niche right up until the release of the Unreal Tournament (or Halo) type of first person shooter game.
How much of the above does 5th edition CAR WARS capture…? Not a whole lot. Yeah… times have changed… and you can’t go home again…. But assuming you were going to work from 5th edition towards something accessible, fun, and playable in today’s scene… this is what I’d try to address:
- Dropping down to 3-phases had a lot of unintended side effects. Combined with the sequence of play decisions, it made for a game that has some unrealistic/capricious artifacts when it comes down to determining who gets to execute the t-bone or the point-blank shot.
- Any game balance issues similar to those in #1 were historically addressed by in CAR WARS by letting individual duelists compensate for the issues within the context of the design system. (“Tires are too weak in our games? Okay… I’ll get steel belting, armored wheel hubs, and wheelguards!”) This is not a possible with 5th edition due to the lack of a design system.
- The issues in #1 are actually exacerbated by the stock designs included with 5th edition. The cars are over-armored, have wimpy weapons in a lot of cases, and have weak tires. This results in one-on-one duels that are pretty much determined before the first shot is fired and creates a game play that hinges mostly on tire shots and rams. 5th edition CAR WARS actually isn’t a game about driving and shooting! Even worse… it isn’t actually all that much simpler that Classic CAR WARS because the design imbalances force you to focus on the most complex and hard to adjudicate aspects of the game.
As I think about the design constraints for a new edition of the game, I find myself looking more towards the old Jumpstart rules, GURPS Autoduel first edition, Aaron Allston’s tri-stat Autoventures rules, and Outrider for inspiration. (Honestly, before Outrider, I would have said that a simplified CAR WARS game couldn’t work. Way to go Dice Fest Games!) For me personally… I really want something that my eight year old son can get into. Prep time needs to be zero and playing times need to clock in at the 20 to 30 minute range. The turning key needs to stay– it just wouldn’t be CAR WARS without it– but I think phased movement, handling status, and the concept of a turn break all have to go. In the basic game… I really think tires, pedestrians, and hand weapons have to be eliminated as well.
Hmm… I’m getting some ideas….