Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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On the Table: Car Wars Compendium Second Edition

I love this game.

It’s easily among the best values in gaming history and one of the greatest “everything you need in one book” games of all time. It was played to death and then revised… played to death again, revised again… and then played to death some more only to be tempered into one of the great achievements of gaming history.

There are many editions and variations of this game. I have tinkered with the rules a great deal myself and chased after many attempts to simplify what people tend to think of as a moderately overcomplicated game. But this weekend I decided to come back to my old flame and revisit the game that I originally fell in love with a long, long time ago. Not as it was in the small black pocket box edition that was the very first hobby games purchase I had ever made. But rather, as the end all be all, supercharged Second Edition Compendium release that was, perhaps, the last thing I would ever be excited to receive on a Christmas day.

That means playing with the “Advanced Collision” system that was first released as part of the referee screen– and the variant fire rules (“All Fired Up”) and a development of the “Advanced Maneuver System” from the pages of Autoduel Quarterly. Further, it meant going back to the original rules for ramplates– the days before some line editor decided to nerf the most efficient means in the game for converting a hot rod into piles of debris and obstacles. Finally, it meant embracing the Compendium’s speed modifiers as well!

How did it go…? Well, I’ll tell you.

I selected for our first scenario a Challenge Night event where two hot headed amateur duelists would get a chance to kill each other in the Dumbarton Slalom arena with sponsor-supplied Scorcher compacts. These have two flamethrowers in the back and a ramplate on the front. The idea was to get to a decisive and dramatic ending fairly quickly. The session did not disappoint!

The opening started straightforward enough. I managed to edge ahead by a quarter of an inch in the opening moves before we sped into the part of the drum where we’d gain the ability to fire. I cut right and let loose with my two flame throwers, but because my target was speeding across my back arc I had to eat serious enough speed modifiers that this shot was pretty well wasted. (Granted, a lucky hit could win the game if I set my opponent on fire– neither of us had fire extinguishers!)

My opponent then kicked it up to 60 mph while I dropped down to 40. His additional speed gave him a great deal of initiative. If he got to move at just the right moment, I was dead. But then… just as he was arcing toward me for a potential kill… he lost control and started to skid!

We exchanged shots and I put enough burn modifiers on him that he was in danger of catching fire. He then lost control again and skidded into the arena walls. His driver bailed out of the flaming vehicle and I ran the guy down before he could make it to a safe zone.

At this point I proposed changing up either the arena or the vehicle design or both, but this was evidently an intriguing enough match-up that it was worth another go. This one saw my opponent skid into the wall yet again even though he had slowed down a notch this time. I then accelerated and came in for the ram. He scored multiple flamethrower hits on me as I closed, but the ram completely destroyed his car. My driver was able to bail out of the flaming vehicle and escape before it had exploded.

Now… this was pretty exciting for me. I love love LOVE having a continuing Car Wars character that has earned all his wealth by defying certain death in the arena. My guy “Duncan Idaho” had a brand new Scorcher that had had only 2 shots fired from each flamethrower and was merely nicked on the back with four points of damage there. Compendium Second Edition is pretty generous with the “general” skill point awards, so while he didn’t gain any salvage from this event, he did gain enough skill points to go to Driver-1. This would give him a better chance for starting an event with improved reflexes and help him recover better than normal handling status at the end of each turn!

Going into the third and final event of the weekend, I had to ask… should I set this guy aside so what we could have a fair match where everyone was started the game with equal amounts of skill? My opponent didn’t think that was a problem. I mean hey, if you have a cool continuing character in a Car Wars campaign, you should get to use him. If he comes out of his third Amateur Night event with enough salvage that he actually stands a chance on the freeways, so much the better.

We did agree to change up the vehicle design and keep the same arena layout. Here’s our all-new low end vehicle we whipped up:

S’most — Medium Reverse Trike, x-hvy chassis, hvy. suspension, large cycle plant, platinum catalysts, 3 PR tires, driver, FT left linked to FT right, fire extinguisher, targeting computer. Armor: F 20, R 15, L 15, B 20, T 4, U 4. Accel. 5, HC 3, 2,518 lbs., $7,986.

Division 10 option — Make tires and armor fireproof and add heavy duty brakes. Equip driver with body armor and a grenade. $9,997.

We played without the Division 10 options, hoping for another short and decisive event. Rolling in, I took a stray flame thrower hit early on and caught fire. My fire extinguisher failed to put it out until the next turn– everything on my car had taken one hit of damage! Things did not look good for my awesome continuing character, but on the next pass, my opponent found himself in the exact same shoes. Suddenly, every single die roll we made began to matter a whole lot!

I admit, my opponent had done much better than me in terms of dishing out the damage in this round. I was the better driver and cruised around the arena with no chance of losing control. Meanwhile, my target veered away from me toward the arena wall and the damage that I had done was just enough to make this hazardous. He made one control roll after another… then needed to make just one more. His luck ran out, though, and he crashed into the wall for the third game in a row!

Now things were serious. My opponent has just gone into a skid and so was at -6 to-hit for that until the end of the turn. I had continuous fire bonuses and could control exactly how the pass played out. I managed to get my hit against the stationary target. Time to check for fire one last time. I needed 8 or less on two dice to light him up. I got it! My opponent needed 4 or less on two dice. Not likely! But then… he got it anyway. Doh!

Now to check for fire extinguishers…. My opponent made his roll of 3 or less on one die and his vehicular fire went out. Me? I failed… and my car went up in flames along with my continuing character!

Absolutely brutal!

Now my opponent’s character “Borf” is the guy with a promising future. He has two skill points in Driver and six in Gunner. He has a very beat up reverse trike with two points of damage to each of the tires, one point of damage to each internal component, 7 points of damage front, 8 points of damage left, 7 points of damage right, one point of damage top, and 1 point of damage to the underbody. (Whew!) Though if it was up to me, I’d rule that the event sponsors would totally give him a brand new division 10 model of that vehicle to drive home him.

The game play for this round was much more random due to the loss of the ramplates. In order improve this design in terms of how it plays fighting itself, here are the changes I would make:

S’most II — Add bumper spikes and upgrade fire extinguisher to IFE. Armor: F 18, R 13, L 13, B 14, T 4, U 4. 2520 lbs., $8,402.

(We did get to one rules question game. Obviously, the fire modifiers stack up as are explained in the rules. What we wanted to know was what happened to the fire mods when a fire extinguisher puts out the fire. Do they disappear or do they stick, continuing to set fires on later turns again and again…? We went back and forth on this until we agreed that it would be more fun to have the FE wipe them all out when the moment a fire extinguisher puts out a fire. Your mileage may vary!)

But how do things set in the aftermath of three quick playing duels…? “Borf” now respects the control table enough to slow down a little but… but not enough to persuade him to put extra skill points into driver skill. He is eager to get back into the arena for a chance at nabbing enough salvage that he could pimp out his ride in a substantial manner. He is liable to want to fireproof everything if he has any say in how the next cars are designed.

But most importantly… he can’t imagine playing Car Wars any other way than with the Super Advanced™ rules accretions that 1980’s gaming addicts laid down in order to strike just the right balance between simulation-feel and smooth game-play.

If you’re in the camp of those that think they want simpler rules in order to open the game up to more casual play, think again! Everything you need in order to speed things up can be addressed by playing with identical makes and models a la Amateur Night events, restricting dueling vehicles to driver only, outlawing pedestrian equipment, and greatly increasing the ratio of weaponry to defense in the vehicle designs.

Drive offensively!

13 responses to “On the Table: Car Wars Compendium Second Edition

  1. Jerry McDonnell (@jdmcdonnell) October 27, 2019 at 10:09 pm

    Good one. Although, in truth I never cared for the matter of driver skill. It’s kind of like, the skill is an actual thing that belongs to the player. It is your ability to play Car Wars. Giving people a bonus for an imaginary driver is like giving a perk to the one person at the table who doesn’t need it.

    • jeffro October 28, 2019 at 5:54 am

      They are all going to die. Might as well let them be consumed with delusions of grandeur before the end. (None of my amateur night graduates ever seem to get enough cash for a clone.)

  2. Pete S/ SP October 28, 2019 at 6:07 am

    Great game report. Been a long time since I played it.



  3. jeffbernstein October 28, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    If I were to try picking up Car Wars on eBay what version do you recommend I look for?

    • jeffro October 28, 2019 at 4:39 pm

      For rules, I would look out for Car Wars Compendium 2nd edition rule book. The 4th edition Car Wars set that SJG reprinted a couple years ago is a great subset of that and all you need to play. If all you have is a rulebook, pretty well any “Deluxe Edition” out there will give you all the maps and counters you need to get going. (Note that there were some of those sets out there that included a Car Wars Compendium 2nd edition rule book.)

    • jeffro October 29, 2019 at 7:42 pm

      The rules in the black and green cover edition are fine, but the production values are godawful. It’s tacky, gauche, and just plain ugly. Car Wars Classic is better if you’re getting a PDF… also fewer pages to print out. (It’s just cars and cycles, though– but that’s all people really play anyway.)

  4. Pingback: On the Table: Combat Showcase | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

  5. Moravane November 11, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    I only own the 2nd Edition blue compendium and have often tried (and failed) to track down the “final” green version because apparently it was the final version of the rules. The errata page that SJG has up doesn’t seem to apply to my book – its all for the first edition and the listings for “second edition” seem to apply to the green book as its got errata for pages like 143, whereas the blue book ends at 112.

    I’ve compared some of the reprinted Classic rules with my blue Compendium, as I know that incorporated the final “build” of CW, and so far I found one difference: the targeting modifier for paint/smoke is -1 per half inch rather than a flat two.

    That doesn’t really change the game, but it it’s an interesting change. I wonder what else was changed? No one online seems to know, that I can find…

    • jeffro November 11, 2019 at 5:21 pm

      I have the green one. Man, it’s ugly!

      Yeah, there are definitely things that lit up ADQ that didn’t make it into the CWC. Component armor counting against the 1/3rd space rule for instance.

      All of the changes that were folded into CWC 2e are detailed in ADQ 8/2. The first pass at the Advanced Maneuvering System appeared in ADQ 5/1. Many of Scott Harings fixes to DWC and certain highly abused equipment appeared in ADQ 5/3.

      My knowledge of what happened to the game after the blue CWC 2e is pretty dim. The guy behind the Car Combat Central twitter account can tell you MORE than you’d want to know if you want to compare your rulings to those of the tournament scene of the 1990s.

      The ramplate rules were the biggest change to the green CWC 2e book that I know of. ADQ 10/1 is where that rule debuted. ADQ 9/3 and 9/4 have the Backfire letters that were the basis of it. (10/1 also addressed the jumping and jump jet rules which I tend to not use.)

      • Moravane November 11, 2019 at 10:55 pm

        Yeah, despite further refinements (if any) it might be best just to stop at the Blue CWC just for the fact that it looks so great and the green one does indeed look horrific. There’s a certain aesthetic that makes Car Wars tick that got lost right at the end. Incidentally, did you figure ask the Car Combat Central dude about your fire extinguisher question? Which mods were you stacking…the ones from the Vehicular Fire Table? I’m guessing you started a fire from multiple weapons…and I’d guess once you put that fire out with the extinguisher roll that you’d have to shoot with the exact combo again to get the same final modifier. But I’d have to know what exactly you added up…

    • jeffro November 12, 2019 at 8:22 pm

      Any line editor that let’s those kind of production values have a pass is incapable of managing the game!

      I ruled that the fire mods are wiped any time a fire extinguisher puts out a fire. I also ruled that you cannot manually trigger the fire extinguisher system to wipe the burn modifiers before a fire has started, which some tournaments evidently allowed.

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