Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Car Wars in 2013: What do you play with a ten year old?

My  son is ten years old now– about the same age I was when I first picked up a copy of Car Wars in a black pocket box. Off and on the past few years I tried running the fifth edition rules with him, but I wasn’t really satisfied with the way it ran. I’ve let the vehicular combat thing lie fallow for a good while, though we’ve played many games of Settlers, Carcassonne, Ingenious, Incan Gold, and Revolution! in the mean time. But now it’s time to drive and shoot again! I took a good long look at Mini Car Wars to see if it could work for us… but frankly, it just isn’t an introduction to the Car Wars that I love. It uses a wonky sort of chartless phased movement, it assumes that you don’t have a turning key, and it omits incendiary rules. Heresy, I know! Looking at all the options, I finally figured that “real” Car Wars was the way to go.

I got out my copies of the AADA Vehicle Guide, the Combat Showcase, and the AADA Vehicle Guide Volume II. I’d hoped my son would see something that he’d like in there, but the deluge of stats and vehicle types was just pure confusion to him. Finally he picked out the Vesuvius from the Combat Showcase, but mostly because of the name. He suggested I try the Challenger from the same book, but looking at it… it would have ended up being a game about him trying to shoot my tires off, probably. I vetoed that suggestion and went with a Combatant from the first guide. I added explosive spikes, body armor, and an SMG with seven shots.

I mulled over the scenario for a while and finally went with the classic Road Duel scenario. This one didn’t get played as much back in the day due to my generation’s mania for epic arena duels and battle royales. But most people cut their teeth on this scenario in the earliest days of the game because road sections were the only thing a lot of new players would have had at first! And I realized that all my previous games dog fighting in the arena were just a little bit beyond him. The simplification afforded by recasting the game onto the freeways would be a better fit, I thought. Plus… the tactics involved were new to me as well, so he’d have a further balancing factor in his favor.

One thing I really wanted to do was to have all the rules be from one edition or incarnation of the game. I took a good hard look at my battered copy of Compendium Second edition and pondered whether or not I could roll with just that book. I found it easy enough to let go of some of my longstanding house rules… but as critical as I am of 5th Edition, I simply could not pass on the new fire rules from that take on the game. They’re are insanely fun, fix several problems with the previous iterations of that subsystem, and bring incendiary effects more in line with the shooting and ramming elements of the game.

So the time for play finally arrived. We threw dice for the lead position and the distance– it was me in front with a seven inch lead. My son accelerated to 65 while I slowed down to 40. (And I’ll note here that it’s probably a better idea to use acceleration 10 vehicle designs if you can get them– it just keeps the game from grinding to a stop as much. That’s another thing 5th Edition was on the right track with, though I don’t know that I’d retool the entire design system to give everyone better acceleration by default!) I dropped some spikes on the road and I helped my son maneuver around them with a couple of D1 bends. He fired his incendiary rocket launcher at me, but missed.

On the second turn, my son decided to continue to accelerate. I realized then how much I had sacrificed the initiative by slowing down, so I sped up as best as I could. (I’d done it because I was worried about my HC 2 being a problem.) My son closed in to just outside of point blank range and we tried to exchange fire, but we both missed again.

Now if I had been smart, I would have ended the turn turning away from him in order to deny the T-bone. I didn’t, though. He went first at the top of turn three, he moved two full inches (just like the movement chart says) and he executed a pitch perfect T-bone. If he’d weighed even thirty pounds more, it would have been the end of me. After resolving the hazards, the ram damage, and conforming movement, neither of us had any armor on our facing positions. But my son absolutely loved it when I placed some debris and a red car door obstacle onto the map! My driver was injured– just one more point would have ended the game in his favor right then…! I tried to pull away as best as I could, but due to the angles of his approach, my son was able to execute a second ram. (I guess I should have moved such that our vehicles stayed in contact to prevent that?) This turned out to be suicidal, but with his speed down and his front weapons gone after I got a successful recoilless shot off, my son was not in a position to do much more anyway. He was too slow to get his flame cloud ejector into position and he didn’t have anything else to hurt me with. We called it a draw and shook hands.

Total elapsed game time was twenty-five minutes. My son was stoked: “That was the best game we ever played!” (I’m not sure if it really was the best game ever or it was the best Car Wars game ever. Either way, I was happy.) I’m racking my brains trying to figure out what the appeal is to him, but I conjecture that the vague, gamey simulation-ish nature of everything is just awesome to him. It’s very relatable fantasy, just like the introduction to Deluxe Car Wars says. But the visual component of the game where pedestrian counters, debris markers, obstacles, and fire markers come out… this is just really cool to him. (He doesn’t play video games beyond watching his mom play Candy Crush, so maybe your electronics-addled spawn will be less impressed than my son was by the same sort of thing.)

To recreate this game at home with the minimal amount of e23 products, you’ll want Car Wars Classic, some Deluxe Road Sections, and maybe one or more of the three vehicle guides that I mentioned above. I’ve found it useful to make my own super-sized movement chart that is marked with extra copies of the vehicle counters we use in play. Also, I tape the wreck counters to the bottom of their associated vehicles as well– this makes the counters easier to handle and makes them slightly more sneeze proof. (Note that the Armadillo Arena set included wrecks for all of the original counters… and East Midville included cars for the three original wrecks! East Midville is not on e23 at this time, but the combined Midville supplement is.)

Of course, if you can find a decent copy of the Deluxe Edition that includes the Compendium Second Edition, then you’ll be able to play the game without wrangling a printer and burning through an ink cartridge. But maybe those are getting rarer all the time now, I dunno. One thing to look out for: the best iteration of the turning key was in Boat Wars, so keep an eye out for that if the real thing is missing in whatever set up come across. (It’s usually pretty cheap.) Of course, the Car Wars Classic set on e23 should be sufficient to try out the game and see if you like it– you don’t need all the stuff I mention here by any means. These are just my most treasured bits.

One more thought on road dueling verses arena dueling… especially with new players. Road cars have to be good at two things in order to survive… while arena cars can get away with being one trick ponies. Also… a ram is pretty well unavoidable in the arena, but the lead car in a road duel can avoid rams if the driver keeps his speed up. If the designs do not encourage tire shooting, you’ve probably going to have more fun and look up less rules during play. The vehicle designs in 5th edition are pretty well the worst thing about it– the hodge podge of styles and concepts that appeared in the old guides are far superior to those, not least because they are most all of them road cars. Having a car that has multiple contrasting weapon systems is almost always going to be more interesting than a straight up bi-plane style design that has all its guns on the front– and that’s all too common in the arena. Dropped weapons are far more relevant on the road than in the arena, too… and those sorts of gimmicks are a fun and visually appealing aspect of the game.

I’m convinced that road dueling at the original scale is a much better start for both two player games and for new/young duelists. You don’t need as much space for the road sections and you don’t have to tape down any maps or deal with folds or creases. (The fact that road sections are actually less convenient under the supersized fifth edition scale is another strike against it as far as I am concerned.) As always, your mileage may vary– but regardless of your system of choice, don’t forget to drive offensively!

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10 responses to “Car Wars in 2013: What do you play with a ten year old?

  1. Jason Packer September 30, 2013 at 9:26 am

    I think I would concur with everything you say here about the game. As much as we favored arena duels as kids (we taped together nine pieces of graph paper and made our own eight-gate arena, if I recall correctly) the road duel was where dropped weapons could really sing. I have fond memories of finally getting to use the “right and left heavy flaming oil jets linked to the rear standard flaming oil jet” combination to create a truly difficult scenario for my pursuer.

    I definitely think a “biker gang vs trucker” scenario should be in your future as well.

  2. E P Donahue September 30, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Jeffro, this is a timely post because it sounds like I spent my Sunday afternoon doing the same thing. My sons 11 yrs. and i got a hankering to revisit car wars. Unfortunately, we got bogged down in vehicle design and never actually played. Hopefully, this weekend will be road rash mahem. I have the 1st ed. Compendium, but I try not to use it too much because the spine is a little weak. I was considering buying the Car Wars Classic pdf, but wasn’t sure what the quality would be like to print from and like you mentioned, the mini Car Wars just doesn’t capture what I remember. Wish I still had my pocket box version. To me, it was ideal.

    • jeffro October 1, 2013 at 6:33 am

      11 years old is probably a really good age for gaming!

      Car Wars Classic will give you all of the rules refinements and tweaks of the Compendium, but with the scope of your old pocket box. The PDF quality on e23 is generally very good. The only problems I have seen there resulted in either updates or else the product being taken down. Also: no watermarks or other gimmicks! (I do suggest going with the deluxe road sections and city blocks supplements instead of the scans of the paper maps, though– the former are just a much better fit for PDF.)

      Good luck getting your game together!

      PS Almost forgot; don’t forget to try out ammulder’s online design tool!

  3. Runeslinger October 7, 2013 at 7:50 am

    Great recap. This sounds like a lot of fun and a hint of more fun to come.

    I got into Car Wars with the 2nd Edition Compendium and used it for all sorts of things. I wish I had it here with me… Perhaps it is time to get the e-version.

    • jeffro October 7, 2013 at 8:15 am

      Although I swear by the first iteration of “Second Edition Compendium”, that e23 PDF of the final edition of that book is pretty much the same game. There are a couple of changes in it that I approve of, but it mostly just brings the presentation in line with the heyday of 3rd edition GURPS– the art is changed to be all-Smif just like GURPS Basic and the 3e GURPS Compendiums…!

      I’ve seen people with spiral bound printouts of the PDF at conventions and it warms my heart….

  4. Commsnake October 13, 2013 at 6:44 am

    Recently dug out my little black boxs of car wars, sunday drivers and the big box of for the planes thanks for posting this as I was looking at how to restart

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