So I break open my always-ready-to-go crates of Car Wars and set my rule book and movement chart on the table. The shelves of the room are full of games and expansions. There is nowhere else that I have ever been where there were so many.
“I don’t really think that Steve Jackson’s that big of a genius,” he says. “He’s a good business man, though.”
“Yeah,” I say, “of all the game companies that were around when he started out, his is one of the few that is still in existence and more or less recognizable as being remotely the same sort of company.” I give wide berth to the remark about Jackson’s game design prowess. (It’s no secret that Steve is my favorite designer…!) We both end up agreeing that he, at the very least, has a real knack for anticipating the whims of geek culture.
I lay out the map for the Dumbarton arena and start sketching up record sheets for the game. Flipping through the first vehicle guide I choose the Torch, the Combatant, and the Joseph Special. The Torch is a van that has PR Radial tires, a gunner, a front rocket launcher, side flamethrowers, and a rear heavy-duty flame thrower. The Combatant is a pick-up with solid tires, a turreted recoilless rifle with an extra magazine. The Joseph Special has poor handling, puncture resistant tires, an anti-tank gun front, a rocket launcher to the rear, and a side mounted paint sprayer.
So how does one set up Car Wars for someone that’s played just about everything…? Well…. I’m already avoiding the error of having too big of an arena– that results in people driving around for several turns not doing anything. I’m avoiding the situation where identical Stingers or Killer Karts face off in a biplane-like duel– if we only play once there’ll be no time to learn the tactics that are required to enjoy that sort of game. Instead I’m going for teams of diverse vehicles in a relatively confined space. The cars all have fairly light armor, so I’m aiming for chaos, carnage, and a relatively quick playing time. As far as rules go… I decide to ignore the speed modifiers altogether while using the 5th edition fire rules. This is a strict second edition Compendium game with old school vehicle designs.
The action began with two almost-separate situations:
- On the left section of the arena, my opponent’s blue Joseph Special teams up with his red Combatant to try to take down my grey Combatant. His pick-up lands a really lucky first-shot worth ten points of damage– the first debris counter gets pulled!
- In the right half of the arena, my opponent’s yellow Torch is tossing rockets. (The smoke counter is from his left flamethrower.) My black Torch is too far away to do more than just coast in while tossing a rocket. My green Joseph Special misses with his anti-tank gun.
- My grey Combatant tries to keep his damaged right side away from his two opponents.
- The yellow Torch spews out more flame while he attempts to safely pivot towards the other section. He manages to set my black Torch on fire, but my fire extinguisher successfully puts it out before I could take damage. (It was a 50/50 chance.)
- My grey Combatant takes a withering amount of damage and is also in handling trouble after rolling over some debris. If my opponent hadn’t missed a key shot, I’d have been dead!
- A point-blank shot with the green Joseph Special’s anti-tank gun took down the armor facing and set fire to the flamethrower while a good hit from the black Torch cleanly took out the crew. The first kill!
My opponent’s blue Joseph Special rammed my limping grey Combatant and put it out of his misery. He then pivoted back into the flames of my black Torch and caught fire. The endgame consisted of my two remaining cars combining their firepower against my opponent’s red Combatant.
My thoughts on the rules:
- I love laying debris. I forget to put down obstacle counters when someone breaches a side, though. I’ve gotta remember to do that! Similarly, I forgot to put down smoke counters for my flamethrower shots at the end of the session when we were quickly trying to wrap up the game.
- I think we both made all of our shots against side armor. We made heavy use of the -1 penalty for firing at an out-of-arc facing. I’m not sure how much I like that rule now as I think we really overdid it. It’s a key point that you should remember to lose your continuous fire bonus when you go from a standard shot (ie, against a facing side) to a specific shot (ie, any sort of called shot.)
- I kinda hate that I blew away all of his characters. Strictly by the rules, this was a clean sweep. They had to hose his characters out of what was left of the cars. Predictably, this does not tend to result in a “let’s do that again” sort of reaction!
Ah well, my goal here was to present a representative sample of the sort of cinematic vehicular violence that is typical with this game for someone that had owned a copy back in the day, but that had never gotten around to playing it. With all the flames, ramming, and debris, I think we succeeded. If I failed anywhere, it was in removing the speed modifiers. We both drove so slowly that I think I was the only one that ever had to make a control roll. (I think the game developers were right to encourage people to go fast, even if it does complicate play somewhat….)