CAR WARS was originally marketed as a role-playing game. By modern standards, it could be considered an extremely a lean, rules-light affair… but the more-or-less yearly adventure scenarios in ADQ (Convoy, Badlands Run, Grand Theft Autoduel, etc.) were pretty good even if they were somewhat linear. The more recent 5th edition of the game is currently classified by Steve Jackson Games as a board game and you’ll find both incarnations of the game on Board Game Geek and not RPG-Geek. It is really more of a set of miniatures rules tuned for TV action violence.
The kind of games you play in CAR WARS are not as workable in other role-playing systems partly because CAR WARS sets a compact car with a machine-gun as the baseline rather than a man with a sword. (The thing that is CAR WARS ceases to exist quickly as realism and detail levels begin to be cranked up.) Historically, the most common format for play is a three-hour long free-for-all battle between five to seven players that have designed their own cars.
In the final analysis, CAR WARS is a light role-playing game, a light miniatures rule set, and a fiddly sort of board game. It is a rare game that straddles all the classifications…. Its genesis was (just as with Star Fleet Battles) in the micro-game concept of the seventies, though it quickly exploded into a monster game. CAR WARS was a really good value for cash-strapped teens in the early eighties while meeting a demand for a particular type of game that computers would not be able to emulate until well into the nineties.
This blog was originally started when 5th edition was released– mostly because the Steve Jackson Games forums were only open to Pyramid subscribers back then. My primary goal soon became to represent the Old School approach to CAR WARS by running it in the role-playing rags-to-riches campaign that was outlined in the original
pocket box zip-loc baggie edition.
I had heard of older, wiser gamers playing in kind of a Road Warrior salvage-your-kills style and really wanted to experience the game in a way that was more closely aligned with the spirit of the Space Gamer magazine readership. I was aided in my goals when a long time gaming buddy bequeathed to me his CAR WARS collection (including a near-complete run of ADQ) when he went expat… and my life long gaming dreams came true when I met Earlburt, who would go on to play about fifty games with me in three separate campaigns. Michael P. Owen has provided me with a great deal of support in the form of rare autodueling items, and MattV even drove down to North Carolina from Maine to join the 2029 campaign in one of our most memorable sessions.
Today, CAR WARS is remembered fondly by most people who did any sort of gaming during the eighties. It is my hope that this blog could preserve many forgotten aspects of this classic game while contributing to the state of the art in table-top vehicular mayhem.
I really enjoy your blog; especially the Car Wars stuff. I grew up with that game and really would like to see SJG do an awesome kickstarter like they did for Ogre. I have heard it IS coming so that’s very cool. Out of curiosity, have you seen the stuff at http://axlesalloys2.blogspot.com/2012/06/at-kublacon.html. It hasn’t been updated in a while but it should be of interest to any Car Wars fan.
I’ve been following you since around the time you rolled out the Morlocks and it’s brought me a great deal of enjoyment and nostalgia since then. I’ve followed other folks by following your links, so I guess I have you to thank for Sean Punch and Douglas Cole, too!
The DF actual play posts provided by you and your gaming buddies have even inspired me to play GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. This is no mean feat–folks round here don’t take kindly to 1-second turns, but I managed to get around that by playing with my kids.
Thanks, man. Keep up the good work.
Sean and Doug are a class act. I can definitely get behind playing rpgs with kids, too. Thanks for reading… and have fun!
We’d like you to check out our new rpg/dice/strategy game D24 Wrestling at http://www.d24wrestling.com Keep up the great work! Nice site!
I used to love Car Wars (and have everything up to the 2nd Compendium). I guess I still do, I just don’t have any other Car Wars fans around me (that I know of) so I no longer play. Funny thing is, my favorite aspect of the game has always been the roleplaying (even though most would say that’s its weakest piece).
The yearly role playing adventures published in the early days of ADQ were quite good– a very nice change of pace from grinding away in the arena…!
Your game development articles have been quite enjoyable. You seem like you might be able to help point me in the right direction. i am writing the rules for a table top miniature and am having issues writing an equation that can take the stats and special abilities and produce a unit cost. Please email me if you are interested in helping or know someone who might be.
There were unit cost calculators worked up for Ogre detailed in Space Gamer… tonnage was never a good measure in BattleTech so equations like you describe were developed for that game, cost was very workable under Car Wars… and Star Fleet Battles has always had an arbitrary “unit value” approach understood only by the designer.
Hope this helps!
One of the most popular sites, Game-Oldies.com, is on the verge of being non-functional. Many of it’s most popular games, including many top NES games are gone or non-functional. Game-Oldies was one of the most popular and enjoyed old school game sites on the net, but it’s owner (who no one seems to know) has let the site crumble with it’s fans left to kick their keyboards. It would be interesting to do a story on the website and how it’s lose affects old school online gamers.
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And from one of your last posts on the sjgames car wars forum: “And with that, I will leave you all in peace.”
That was June 2015. What happened?
Man, I can’t remember now. I was really upset at one point that they changed the name of Harshman Memorial to something stupid. I just wanted to yell at them about it as pocket box Car Wars is my favorite game ever. Some people got defensive over there and that just made me madder. So yeah, I stormed away to go write a best selling book about the literary history of D&D. You know how it is!
it seemed like a “last straw” sort of thing, and I wondered if there was a larger backstory I was missing. did some web searches, and ended up here.
congrats on the book, although I feel like I need to plough through the actual Gygax appendix N reading list to get the context. :)
Appendix N would be great in audio! Drop me a line if you are interested.
My name’s Peter, I’m one of the people behind the upcoming digital adaptation of Ogre. I was wondering if you’d be keen on taking a look for your blog? If so, drop me a line on peter at aurochdigital dot com
Very keen for this. Email sent!
Hello, Jeffro. There doesn’t seem to be a way to contact you other than these posts, so I was hoping you would see this and reply. You inspired me to go back to Appendix N-literature and rethink how and what I write in my books. I’ve linked to your site on my own blog, and I wonder if you would be willing to answer a couple of questions through email for privacy purposes. If so, please reply to me at gcsprigg at gmail dot com.
Earlier today I read your twitter post of Oct. 7: twitter com/JohnsonJeffro/status/1313604748856229889 “one game day” = “one real day.”
I’ve been a DM for 25 years and I thought that was possibly the most nonsense I had ever seen, but it was intriguing enough to read the tweets around it, immediately before and immediately after. And then the tweets around those.
And you know what? I think actually 1=1 might be exactly what I need to overcome some challenges my open-table campaign are facing.
Hi there, totally unrelated to the post but I have a question.
I found your blog and was reading because I too like Car Wars. I live in Japan and noticed that one of your players in an older post gave you a Japanese expansion of Car Wars. his Name is Matt V. I knew a gamer called Matt V. from the US that was living in Tokyo and was into Car Wars. I was wondering if he is the same person. We played many times and we where about to play Car Wars when he moved back to the US. if it is the same person and you are still in contact please tell him Giovanni from Tokyo says hello.