Miscellaneous thought: A Car Wars oddity

Know what was odd about the old Car Wars game? As its weapon-laden autos blasted away at each other with rockets and worse, just about everything would get damaged and damaged good: vehicular armor, engines, weapons, trailer hitches, you name it. Tires got shredded, buildings breached, drivers and pedestrians blown to bits. Everything…

…except the vehicles. There were no hit points or the like for a vehicle itself, and no way to directly hurt it. Sure, with its engine or tires or driver shot to shrapnel, a car was “killed” for purposes of combat. And in one specific exception, an explosion caused by fire did invoke a special “vehicle completely destroyed” rule.

But otherwise: The motorbike with its engine blown up by a tank round? The helicopter with nearly every component shot out by rocket launchers? The car that lost its tires, underbody armor, and driver to mines before slamming a wall at 200 mph? Clear out the bodies and the broken parts, install new components, and the vehicles were as good as new. (“That’ll buff out” is clearly the Car Wars motto.)

Very odd, that was. (But darned fun all the same.)

Hmm, here’s something a bit sad: Steve Jackson Games’ Car Wars web site has seen exactly two posts since the end of 2003. (Even this site posts more frequently than that.) Ye gods, does no one play this fine game any more?


  • Paper_and_Plastic

    I have a boxed set waiting in the closet that I’m eager to put in good use, but it seems that games complex as Car Wars are just for the uber-nerds these days. Damn’ Carcassonne!

    • tbone

      The big boxed set may have lots of vehicles and components to offer, but pared down to just cars and basic choices of weapons and parts, I think Car Wars is a simple game – quick to learn and to play. (After all, it doesn’t even have rules for damaging the actual cars! : ) But, yes, that still may leave it more complex than a “gateway” board game like Carcassonne. (FYI, I didn’t know that game and had to look it up. Sounds fun!)

      BTW, I took a look at your blog. Lots of reviews and info there on games I don’t know; still lots I need to learn. Good work!

  • Tyler

    Oh, people play it, for sure. The most public instances seem to be those keeping to older editions. Car Wars 5th didn’t catch on like the publisher might have hoped, so the property’s languished since.

    • tbone

      I’ve never played 5th edition. I’ve read that it doesn’t even allow for designing vehicles, which (if true) is certainly a surprise!

  • Jeffr0

    I still play! 🙂

    Keep in mind that any vehicle that takes power plant damage has a two-in-six chance of catching fire. This results in a *lot* of burned up vehicles in those amateur night cars that don’t have fire extinguishers. (The original game was tuned to model television style vehicular action, of course.)

    In our campaign, we calculate the cost it would take to repair or replace all the vehicle’s components. There is a cut-off point were a “shell” is no longer worth the trouble. Money and vehicles are so hard to come by in a straight rags-to-riches game, you really try to go for a clean kill on the driver with a side shot so that you can at least strip the weapons off later….

    • tbone

      Yes, I recall that the repair and salvage rules were simple and fun. All the more reason to go for the crew…

      Just out of curiosity, I wonder whether rules hackers have created systems for vehicle frame damage. The suggestion that immediately comes to mind is some HP score for the frame, with appropriate effects for damage – say, worsening HC and top speed penalties as HP is lost; no movement at HP 0; car completely falls apart at -HP. (Some random problems as the result of low HP could be fun: car can only turn one direction or not at all; car loses backward movement; etc.)

      How would damage be taken? I suppose “frame” could be a random or targeted hit location, like a component. However, collisions should automatically deal some frame damage (in fact, collisions should probably deal mostly frame damage up to some point, before going on to damage armor and components). Weapons with blast effects might also damage the frame somewhat, even when directly damaging other components.

      There are also interesting design possibilities in lighter or heavier frames, modifying frame HP along with weight and cost.

      Could be interesting – but if it started to involve lots of extra rolls or complex ways of divvying up damage, that wouldn’t fit the Car Wars experience.

      Just brainstorming…

      • Jeffr0

        (Whoops; sorry about the multiple posts there– I didn’t think they were going through!

        Most rags-to-riches characters sink their starting points into Driver and Gunner (and in later editions … Handgunner.) Remember that you’d technically have to pay someone a lot of money to do all this work. Even if you were a mechanic yourself, you’re probably having to use someone else’s repair bay at $50 an hour.

        We play that Amateur Night stars get free mechanic work… and if they are right on the edge, they use the pitiful money they get from “cashing in their hulks” to fix up the best car they’ve got. This results in dudes running in packs of Stingers with custom armor targeting computers… or maybe Joseph Specials with all machine-guns for weapons.

        I think Twilight 2000 had really elaborate rules for wear, tear, and jury-rigging. CAR WARS vehicles have such short life expectancies, though…!

        • tbone

          Stinger… Joseph Special… Brings back some fun memories!

          Sure would be nice to see Car Wars brought back to life as a modern computer game. A game that allowed tabletop-style turn-based combat, or top-down realtime combat, or first-person driver-POV combat, or your choice of those, would be awesome. Post-combat salvage, repair, vehicle design, etc., and multi-vehicle open road or urban scenarios, would make for a great multi-player online game…

          Well, I expect that’s the sort of thing people discuss on the forums. I should head over there if I want to play with ideas.

  • Jeffr0

    I still play! 🙂

    Keep in mind, though, that any power plant damage has a 2-in-6 chance of setting your car on fire. This results in a lot of cars going up in smoke in the amateur night duels where the cars don’t have fire extinguishers.

    Also… the cost to install all that new equipment will cost more than buying a brand new car, so there is a limit there that gets worse depending on how you interpret the retrofitting rules.

    Also also… if people are playing for salvage, the really try to go for a clean kill. So the sillyness you point out doesn’t come up as much as you’d think.

    Also also also… if people are playing new designs every time (for a corporate style campaign) you won’t want to reuse old designs as much or you ruin the guessing game.

    But yeah… it is a weird rule… but the design and repair systems in CAR WARS get used a lot more than their counterparts in other rpg’s.

    • tbone

      You’re right, power plant fires and subsequent explosions can and do happen a lot. I only point out the oddity of a vehicle’s frame (i.e., chassis and body) being otherwise immune to the effects of heavy rockets, high-speed collisions, falling off of cliffs, etc.

      All other points are well taken too. Just one I’d quibble with:

      Jeffr0 wrote:
      Also also… if people are playing for salvage, the really try to go for a clean kill. So the sillyness you point out doesn’t come up as much as you’d think.

      The oddity is this: Other than taking care not to start a fire (so as to prevent explosion), people shooting up a car don’t have to worry about leaving the vehicle itself salvageable. They can’t not leave it unharmed. There is no way to hurt the actual vehicle frame, even if they wanted to!

      But, I agree: for reasons you point out, it isn’t a big concern, and certainly doesn’t wreck the game. Just an odd quirk.

    • tbone

      You are correct, there is an active discussion going on.

      Good games never die! At least not in the awesome age of the Internet.

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