Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Articles of Space Gamer: The EM-50

This is an interesting article for a lot of reasons. First, it’s the first real supporting piece for CAR WARS– there wasn’t even any iconic Pocket Boxes on store shelves at the time it was written! Second… it’s by Chad Irby. Chad’s the guy that gets part of the credit for designing the game… and we really don’t hear much from him beyond that. (From the designer’s notes in issue 45, we learn that Carkill was his idea… that the first draft only dealt with  freeway combat… and that Steve Jackson’s response after the first playtest was to create arena combat, role-playing, and maneuver rules out of whole cloth.) But really… what Car Wars campaign would be complete without an urban assault vehicle?

The EM-50 would be the first oversized vehicle for the game. The big rigs were already on Steve Jackson’s mind, though, because he was getting ready to run “Convoy” at Texcon 1982 that year. Here is a list of some of the differences between the EM-50’s rules and what would later become “official”:

  • The “killer Winnebago” counter is one and three quarters inches long. Its body type is treated as a really large van
  • It uses standard 12 DP solid tires– oversized tires weren’t developed, yet!
  • The RV has a -2 penalty to handling class, but “heavy suspension” here puts its handling ability in line with Truck Stop’s buses. (Under the first edition rules, handling status reset each turn… so this wasn’t too onerous, either.)
  • Its acceleration is 2.5. Truck Stop would bump oversized vehicle acceleration up to 5 at speeds of 25 or more.
  • There were no turning keys at the time of this article, so the author takes pains to illustrate two maneuvers on the grid. The hard swerve, for instance, has the RV moving forward one inch and then pivoting on a back corner until the front corner moves two squares over.
  • The fastidious use of the “vehicle planning sheet” is pleasantly retro, but for a vehicle that breaks so many rules, it’s really useful for reverse engineering the design.

As a young gamer playing in the mid-to-late eighties, I’d never seen a copy of Space Gamer. Even without this article, we knew what to do. A friend of mine carefully made a version of the EM-50 with the rules from the Deluxe Edition and… thanks to Chad Irby… we had every single piece of equipment necessary for this already built into the game. Those were good times…. But as much as we liked making designs of oversize vehicles like that, I’d have to say that Division 30 dueling on the AADA circuit got infinitely more mileage with us. The Truck Stop map was more often used as an arena… and the scenarios in that supplement were pretty much ignored as they were just upsized versions of the original “Road Duel” and “Pack Attack.” The scenario suggestions here for the EM-50 seem to be pretty good, though. While I’m not sure if people would want to put their continuing characters up against this thing, the chance to use one in a Q-ship assignment should be fun all around.

Way back in The Space Gamer #67, Steve Jackson noted that Chad Irby had managed “to hit us with an idea that looks like it was more fun than anything we’re working on.” Looking back at the initial line up of Steve Jackson Games products which included stuff like One Page Bulge and Raid on Iran, it’s pretty clear that he had a creative spark that was sorely needed at the fledgling company. I think this short article on the EM-50 demonstrates that the knack that Chad Irby had for knowing what would be fun at the game table wasn’t just a one-time thing. Too bad he dropped off the radar after this….

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2 responses to “The Articles of Space Gamer: The EM-50

  1. Jim V June 26, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Jeff, that last paragraph sounds like you don’t think too highly of “Raid on Iran”? I thought the terrain movement rules and the semi-random Iranian placement were pretty innovative.

    • jeffro June 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      No disrespect meant to the design of Raid on Iran– I’ve never even seen a copy! But it’s clearly not on the same par as mega-hits like CAR WARS, Illuminati, and GURPS. Steve Jackson wouldn’t publish many straight ahead war games after 1980– and you’ve got to admit… it’s controversial enough that you have to be careful mentioning the game in mixed company. It’s not as weird as Kung Fu 2100, but it is a very unusual game nonetheless.

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