My review of the latest iteration of the Car Wars franchise was billed as being EPICALLY COMPREHENSIVE over on the Castalia House Twitter feed, but it was lacking something absolutely critical: an account of what it’s like to play the game just with what’s included in the new box set. Hopefully this post will rectify this glaring omission, though admittedly there are about half a dozen different use cases that deserve to be tested here. This is just one way to play and is not necessarily representative… still, if you’re new to the game, this will hopefully give you an idea of the sort of thing you can get into with it.
In this case, I put my son into the driver’s seat of any car from the stock vehicle list included in the rule book. He chose a Mauler and agreed to take a hi-res targeting computer as an option. (Note: the hi-res single weapon computer is omitted from this edition’s equipment list, so this was the full on $4,000 model!) He expressly turned down the option to take turreted model with the laser. I set him up in the unnamed arena included with this edition. (Nitpick warning: The lack of background information and Autoduel America local color is kind of disappointing and not at all consistent with the many other arenas that were previously published. Hey, I actually care what state this takes place in as it impacts the roleplaying options!) I don’t tend to care for one-on-one duels as much in Car Wars (Star Fleet Battles is better for that sort of thing in my opinion), so I put my son at a randomly selected starting gate and placed a stock Shogun 200 motorcycle at each of the others. This is a border-lined “monster” battle and not really intended to be a quick one, but by eliminating hand weapons from the mix, I’d hoped to finish well before my son’s attention span expired.
Setting up the game, I skipped making record sheets for each vehicle. If I have them on hand, I tend to use them… but this time I just wanted to get playing a soon as possible. Shuffling through a stack of papers for my cycles would have ended up being kind of a hassle anyway. The only thing I used that was from another edition was a Movement Chart reference sheet. You can’t really run a game without one! When I went to put the requisite markers for the game on it, I noticed another significant error with this set: the cycle counters are not numbered! It’s not a showstopper, but still… it’s kind of irritating. It makes it that much harder to keep up with things. (Nitpick warning: if you really wanted to make things easier on harried referees, you’d whip up a larger movement chart and use a second set of vehicle markers to make it easy to see at a glance who is scheduled next to move.)
Here you can see the initial action. My son had scored two consecutive hits on a his first target, sending its wreck careening into one of the barriers. The other cycles were not in position to concentrate their fire and two couldn’t really even get into play at all at first. These opening moments were positively demoralizing for me and I didn’t see any what that I could possibly even the score.
The intricate ballet of destruction came to an end when my son came to a stop after a ram. Normally this would have just slowed him down a little, but he was eager to train his autocannon on the annoying motorcyclists.
He blurped my green cycle with his flaming oil jet and my green cyclist panicked and backed off. This split my cyclists’ fire between two different sides; not very effective! By then though, my pink cycle had managed to finally get around the wall that was keeping him out of the fray. My son whipped his car around and fired at the blue cycle several times, but bad die rolls meant my son’s luck had finally turned against him. I think he missed two shots in a row when he really needed to be eliminating another cycle right then.
Thanks to the ram damage he had sustained along with a great many rounds of machine-gun fire, my son was suddenly in serious trouble. His front armor was finally gone and his autocannon was taken out shortly thereafter. (Eh, it was out of ammo then anyway, but I didn’t tell my son that. Didn’t want to poop his party there.) This twelve seconds (game time) of autodueling had taken about two hours to play out.
I asked my son if there was anything he’d have done differently and he said he would take the turreted laser if he could do it over again. I completely forgot to give him the full benefits of his spoiler and airdam during the game– that extra maneuverability would have allowed him to zip around the arena at much higher speeds. The other big thing I did incorrectly was I probably ruled way too much damage on him as a consequence of the ram. (I think it should have been one third of the maximum number of hits the cycle could actually take; I didn’t think of that and one third of the dice total. Oops!) That bum ruling stands as far as the campaign is concerned. (Sorry, but I will not live in a world were every single referee call can be undone in a post-game rules analysis. I won’t have it! We can get it right next time….)
And note here that while my son readily grasps the idea of winning with superior vehicle designs, he does not really grasp the concept of winning through superior driving. This is not uncommon with novices. You can beat people like that by outplaying them and they will still blame the hardware after a session. Granted, we were still kicking rust off this time and getting the hang of things, so this was not exactly a fair test. Nevertheless… this is something to watch out for in new players. They’ll have a blast souping up their cars and blowing people up… but it’s really hard for them to gain an appreciation of the tactical side of the game.
I really dig the continuing campaign aspects of Car Wars, so lets see how things shake out under a strict application the character rules with this set. Based on my reading of the earliest rules and supplements for the game and based on my general dislike of the way that hand weapons tend to bog down the gameplay, I’m going to have all of these characters start out with Driver-0, Gunner-0, and Cyclist-0. These are autoduelists, not MONDOs… and they could care less about being able to hit anything with a heavy pistol. (They take no penalties throwing grenades, however.)
“Gorm” was driving the stock Mauler. He earns one point in each of Driver and Gunner for entering combat. He earns three points in Driver and three points in Gunner for the three kills. (One of them was via a ram, but strictly according to the rules, this seems to count for improving Gunner skill anyway.) He earns one general skill point for surviving an arena event and naturally, he applies it to Gunner skill. A strict reading of the rules indicates that he comes out of the game with six Prestige points and zero cash. He’s got three kills, though, so watch out! (Looks like whooping up on cyclists is a quick path to becoming an ace here….) He’ll have to enter another arena event a week later in game time just to pay his living expenses. (It’s tough in 2039.)
Alonzo Iglesias was driving the pink cycle. He earns one point in each of Cyclist and Gunner for entering combat. He earns another point in each of Cyclist and Gunner for scoring the final hit that triggered the Mauler’s surrender. He earns five general skill points, which he saves back so that he can purchase a new skill later on. He has five Prestige points… less than the guy he beat! (Oops!) Finally, he has a fully functional Shogun 200 (6 MG shots fired and 6 points of damage front) and working Mauler (AC destroyed, 2 points of damage to power plant, no front armor, 22 points of damage left, 32 points of damage back.) He can sell the hi-res computer to repair either or both! This character is adventure-ready! He can go back into the arena for another amateur night game if he wants to take his chances there… or he can maybe take on a courier job and risk running into a cycle gang on the road.
Siddhartha Desai was driving the green cycle. He earns one point in each of Cyclist and Gunner for entering combat. He earns one general skill point which he saves back so he can purchase a brand new skill later on. He has one prestige point. He has a stock Shogun 200 with 9 shots left in its machine-gun. Its tires are scorched with flaming oil: the front one has three points of damage and the back one has two points of damage. (I’m trying to think how he might have snatched victory from Alonzo; probably not unless he had been almost suicidal. If he’d been played by another player, he might have tried. Still, being alive and having even modest wheels is no mean feat in this game.) This guy has to choose between entering another amateur night event and maybe joining the gang that goes after Alonzo!
I didn’t declare anything before the event, so we’ll assume the arena’s paramedic just has the skill at base level. (This is not the most popular place around.) Yellow was shot with autocannon fire and then skidded into a wall at forty miles an hour or so. That sounds like a -3 penalty to me. White was rammed at a combined speed of 90 miles per hour. Gosh, that’s got to be a good -4 penalty. Finally, Blue was shot with autocannon fire and then burned up in a fire that was started with the power plant. That’s gotta be the worst, coming in at a -5 penalty. So the rolls required here to get “revived” are 10+, 11+, and 12+ on 2d6. (Yeah, I’m winging all this. People will care about this when it’s their continuing character on the line later… so I might as well think through it now.) None of these guys make it. Cycles are dangerous! Death is good for ratings, though. Maybe the arena will be able to hire a better paramedic before long….
As far as gameplay goes, here are a few miscellaneous observations:
Okay, now that really is just about everything. I’ve confirmed that I’m fairly happy with the rules even if I flub things occasionally. Hopefully I’ve illustrated a little of what can be done if you choose to focus the time you’d spend on designing vehicles on the other stuff that’s in the game: the driving tactics and the continuing characters. Even as simple as this was, this session has moved this classic game to the top of my son’s “want to play” list. And yeah I do occasionally realize that he is about as old as I was when I first picked up my black pocket box edition of this. We’ve got some great game sessions to look forward to thanks to this set…!