Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: CAR WARS

The Secret to a Successful Car Wars Campaign

From the comments on a stray Grognardia post comes this particularly intriguing testimony of the beforetimes:

We shifted to AD&D early, so Moldvay is barely a blip in my gaming career. Car Wars, OTOH – we played it to pieces, literally, and then bough more copies and ran it as a homebrew campaign/light RPG thing for six or seven years before college scattering finally led to it fading out. Wasn’t even mostly an autoduelist game for us – our characters ran a convoy protection business that turned into a general purpose “troubleshooters on wheels” thing, fighting marauding cycle gangs, corrupt local police, corporate assassins, a small fleet of AI-driven cars, and weirder stuff. And that was all before GURPS Autoduel came along.

One of my fondest memories from my late teens, and it probably made up a good 10% of the total number of game session I’ve played in my entire lifetime. Never found another group that used Car Wars like that, closest I’ve seen were a few CW/Supers crossovers with Autoduel Champions.

Dick McGee

Like a lot of people back in the day, I was so concerned with picking through the latest Uncle Albert’s catalog to find a way to beat my friends in the next arena battle, we never got much further than playing through Grand Theft Autoduel or Midwest Passage. The roleplaying elements of the game were so cursory, so rudimentary I would have wondered then how anyone could have turned it into a full-fledged campaign of this other sort.

Of course, today I wonder if this particular campaign was so successful and so long-running precisely because the game’s roleplaying elements were so minimal and the background information for the “official” setting was so sparse.

Dumbarton Arena: APFSDS Ammo vs. Flaming Oil!

Time for some more Car Wars!

My opponent’s character “Borf” had achieved Gunner-1. My character Egon had one kill and a couple of expensive cars he could salvage. Winning this game would be huge. “Borf” would probably shift to Driver-1 and Gunner-1. “Egon” would maybe jump to Gunner-1.

Now… technically it’s “not fair” for my guy to be going up against a more skilled driver. Some people would object to this. In our games, it takes maybe two or three games to level up a character. If you make it that far, you’re probably lucky… and your luck is liable to have run out. We figure it’s more fun to be able to enjoy being awesome while you can. The glory of beating a superior character more than makes up for the lack of “fairness.” The fun of having continuing characters more than makes up for any potential game balance issues– it’s all just part of the game.

We made some changes to the previous game’s car to make for a more fun event. Gone are the heavy duty anti-lock brakes, PFE, IBA, AVR, flaming oil dischargers, wheel guards, and armored wheel hubs. In their place we got stuff that would make everything more awesome: a HRSWC and HD shocks!

Gothmog II — Luxury, x-hvy chassis, hvy suspension, sport power plant with superconductors, 4 solid tires, driver,  2 linked ATGs with APFSDS ammo front, HFOJ back, spoiler, airdam, heavy duty shocks, HRSWC. Armor: F 55, R 25, L 25, B 25, T 0, U 0, 10-points CA on plant, 10-points CA on driver. Accel 10, top speed 120 mph, HC 3, 6,570 lbs, $29,900.

In the opening moves my opponent let me accelerate out in front of him in the hopes that I would turn away out of the gate so that he could shoot me up at his leisure. Instead I cut towards him, fired my guns, and t-boned him. I did enough damage to injure his driver but not take him out. So close! This dropped my handling status way low but I managed to maintain control. Taking a fire modifier from the flaming oil was dangerous. A second hit of from the HFOJ could very well take me out of the game. A nail-biting parity ensued that would continue through the rest of the game!

Getting that second flaming oil hit was not trivial, though. Having to maneuver while on the unlit oil proved to be about as dangerous, though!

Both of us took steadied on a bit to try to get back in control. My opponent then cut left to force me onto one more flaming oil slick. He lost control and went into a spin-out. This should have been my game! He made a right angle turn as he spun around. I fired my ATGs, killing his driver… a spun around again laying flaming oil in his own path of travel… and then slammed into the wall, coming to rest on his own flaming oil slick!

All I had to do was stay in control and not catch on fire and I would win the game! Sitting on top of a flaming oil slick, it would be crazy to maneuver. I opted to hit the obstacle counter that had dropped when I took out my opponent. I lost control, fish-tailed, and then spun out… coming to rest on the same flaming oil slick that was burning up my opponent’s car!

My driver jumped out of the car to try to get away before the vehicles exploded. I wasn’t fast enough and my awesome continuing character died a horrible death in an explosion.

So after a nail-biting game that lasted an hour and a half, our continuing campaign fell prey to a de facto total party kill– an outcome made more hilarious by the fact that I would have won the game outright had I not fired my weapons producing an obstacle directly on my path of travel…!

What do you do when your entire campaign goes up in smoke…? Come up with something even more awesome, natch!

On the Table: Car Wars Expansion Set 5 Double Arena

We went nuts this game. Not the most brilliant scenario design on my part. It turned into a five hour long battle royale and we had a lot of fun, but it would have been a lot more fun if we had just changed ONE thing…!

Here is the car we were using:

Gothmog — Luxury, x-hvy chassis, hvy suspension, sport power plant with superconductors, 4 solid tires, driver with IBA, PFE, and AVR,  2 linked ATGs with APFSDS ammo front, HFOJ back, spoiler, airdam, anti-lock brakes, HD brakes, 3 linked FCD (right, left, and back). Armor: F 30, R 25, L 25, B 25, T 3, U 2, 2 10-pt wheel hubs front, 2 10-point wheel guards back, 10-points CA on plant, 10-points CA on driver. Accel 10, top speed 120 mph, HC 3, 6,595 lbs, $30,000.

The big mistake here was not putting the usual hi-res single weapon computer on this sucker. Not doing so meant there were very few hits at all and we usually needed 11+ to hit at all. This slowed the game waaaaaay down.

Car Wars managed to deliever anyway. We played three of these cars to a side at the Buffalo Municipal Arena. The opening conflagration lead to a couple of t-bone rams. The hazards from these combines with speeds of 80 mph led to one car on each side rolling and then catching fire. Portable fire extinguishers put out the flames and two pedestrians fled the wrecks to go up a TV bunker.

It was total chaos at this point. My car that rolled actually flew into the rear end of one of my other cars. I actually had to run it out a bit, which separated my other car and left him tailed by two opposing cars. One of them managed to score a ram and I pulled forward two inches from there. My opponent then failed a control roll for the hazard and executed a hard fishtail. At this point, I saw I was perfectly positioned to drop a supersized flaming oil counter.

My opponent was called to move half an inch the next phase– right onto the flaming oil. Then he was called to move an inch the phase after that and was STILL on the flaming oil counter. The next phase he didn’t move at all. Three full phases on the flaming oil. We ruled that it did damage and a fire modifier for each of those phases– which I see now is probably not the correct ruling. The guy was down to one DP on one front tire and 2 DP’s on the other… and then he caught fire and exploded.

This was awesomely fun. It should have been the turning point of the game, but then the guy’s wingman got a shot off through my breached right side armor. He rolled a natural twelve and completely blew away my continuing character that had just scored an awesome kill with flaming oil. (We had even agreed before the game that if that happened, the guy who did it would get a sponsorship from the makers of the flaming oil jet. Oh well!)

This guy’s car was completely undamaged. My surviving vehicle scored one hit on his front armor with the ATG. Then I peeled away, forcing the game to be settled by one last pass. We circled the outside of the arena and met on the other side. The first shot needed 11+ to hit… and I got lucky, blowing through what was left of his armor and taking out an ATG. A split second later, he hit with his one and I hit with both of mine at point blank range. That was the end of it!

We had one continuing character survive this event– Borf from the previous two games. Here’s his stats:

Borf: Four points in driver skill, ten points in gunner. Four prestige. One kill. Possesions: one S’most 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. Five FT shots fired.

My guy Norbert also made it out with no kills. That puts him with one point in driver, two points in gunner, and no prestige.

My guy Egon won the match. He gets two points in driver, five points in gunner, five prestige and one kill. His Gothmog has 3 ATG shots fired, one ATG destroyed, no front armor, and six points damage against the enging CA. Elon’s Gothmog which he killed has 7 ATG shots fired, one ATG destroyed, no front armor, no engine, and 9 points of damage against the driver’s CA.

Looking at these designs, I have to say… the Flame Cloud Dischargers were a waste. As a secondary weapon they are a complete bust. There was never a good time to use them and they get destroyed in rams, etc. We don’t remember to check if weapons fire kills them and even then it’s not worth keeping up with because they’re just not useful. (Linked point defense grenades on the sides are liable to see some use, though.)

The component armor really drug out the game and the wheel guards and wheel hubs were never a factor. (Our weapons were too inaccurate for that to matter.) Finally, the heavy duty anti-lock brakes were nowhere near as useful as a HRSWC or HD Shocks would have been. Really should have gotten rid of all that other stuff and picked those two things up instead!

Finally, the extremely large arena did not contribute to the play. The TV bunkers never had much of an impact on our maneuvers. A single map sheet is plenty for a game like this…!

Still kicking myself for not installing a targeting computer. I really underestimated how big of an impact those speed mods were going to have on play. Ah well…!

Two vehicles rolling and burning simultaneously. Speed kills!

On the Table: Combat Showcase

This little gem of a game supplement hails from the heyday of Car Wars, when the Deluxe Edition and Dueltrack were both out in all their upsized glory. This collection of designs marks the point where the game transitioned away from being a role-playing game about driving and shooting to being an arena combat game where the best vehicle designer one. Not everything in the book would hold up– the Variable Fire Rocket Pod which debuted here would later be nerfed into uselessness. But the concept of easily photocopied record sheets of dedicated fighting vehicles was still solid.

One of the neatest designs inside is the Challenger. It’s a metal armored vehicle with three linked rocket launchers, an explosive spike dropper, and loads of component armor. It’s fireproof– as long as you don’t penetrate the metal armor or target the tires. It can take a LOT of punishment– as long as you aren’t sporting big guns like the ATG or the blast canon. It can also dish out some serious firepower. The only downside is the heavy duty transmission. This thing has just plain horrible acceleration and top speed.

The main thing… it looked like something different from the other cars we’ve recently played. It also looked like the sort of vehicle that would be fun to put up against its doppelganger. So it got dropped into our Amateur Night campaign.

In the opening pass we got up to speeds in the 40 to 50 mph rang. We needed twelves to score a hit on the opening salvo and my opponent actually connected, even rolling a 6 on the damage dice. One point of metal armor gone and the first obstacle counter was laid down!

We cruised into point blank range and my opponent then failed a control roll while executing a D1 bend. Thanks to the opportune skid, I could position myself to tag him with a T-bone as he went by. Driving past, the hazard caused by the obstacle counters would put me into a fishtail that would result in a skid of my own. We both came to a stop simultaneously and then began the painstaking 2.5 mph acceleration to lurch back towards each other again.

Maneuver was no longer much a factor as we reached speeds between 5 and 10 mph. We burned through nearly all of our ammo. Obstacles littered the arena floor. Half my front armor was gone. I whittled away at my opponent’s right side and then his left. What little internal damage I scored mostly went to my opponents component armor surrounding his power plant. My opponent blew through the component armor on my rockets, damaged one with a single hit and took out another altogether.

I had maybe four or six rounds of ammo left at this point. My opponent was hoping to go past me and then maybe force me to waste those last couple shots on his back armor. Unfortunately, my pivot brought my two rocket launchers into position for a solid shot against his weakened side armor. I scored well on damage, penetrated both the metal armor and the power plant component armor and– incredibly– managed to set him on fire to boot.

This was a fairly lucky outcome for me as I could easily have missed, rolled a minuscule amount of damage that the armor could have ignored, hit the driver’s component armor instead, or even just rolled a 3-6 for the fire check. In a game where two’s and twelves had both been rolled, it was pretty exciting. And I have to say, we were both weirdly invested in the results of every single round of fire leading up to this.

My opponent bailed out of his car and began fleeing the scene. Continuing characters are rare enough in this game I opted to let him live for the rematch rather than run him down. He managed to escape before his car could explode, so autodueling fans were on the edge of their seats for the final finish. I think the networks got their money’s worth with these two cars!

Here are the stats for our two continuing duelists:

Borf: Three points in driver skill, eight points in gunner. Four prestige. One kill. Possesions: one S’most 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. Five FT shots fired.

Poindexter: Two points in driver skill. six points in gunner. Five prestige. One kill. Possessions: one Challenger with 6 hits to front armor, 2 hits to left, five hits to front left tire, 2 hits to front right, 2 hits to back left, and 4 hits to back right. Front component armor destroyed, 2 hits to driver CA, and 3 hits to power plant CA. One RL destroyed. One RL at 1 DP. Four RL shots remaining.

Whoever wins the next match will go up to Gunner-1 and will also have enough salvage money to repair whatever vehicle we end up driving for the third round. Though I think the networks should give you a brand new version of one of your best winning car for free and then let you keep the salvage value of everything else– at least in a series of these one-on-one games.

For the final match, we wanted something to create a different feel from the ram car, flamethrower trike, and metal armor slugfest. We decided that linked APFSDS ATG’s, HDFOJ, FT, IFE, spoiler, airdam, and acceleration 10 would do the trick. See you next time for the finale!


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!