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Tabletop Game / Car Wars

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"Be Safe. Drive Offensively!"

"The right of way goes to the biggest guns."

Car Wars was originally published by Steve Jackson Games in 1980. In this game, you typically play the role of an 'autoduellist', a futuristic sportsman who drove in autoduelling events. What's autoduelling, you say? Vehicular Combat as a future sport, of course.

The game was set 20 Minutes into the Future ... OK, well, 40-50 years. A number of crises have beset the North American continent, including a famine, a (minor) nuclear exchange, and a refighting of the Civil War. It's After the End, although it's not all the way at the end — in fact, truck stops are explicitly compared to medieval (or at least fantasy RPG) inns. Good thing, since there's bandits out there. The sport of autoduelling grew in this environment, what with people treating guns like adventurers might treat swords/axes/bows in fantasy settings. That, and 'Crazy Joe' Harshman winning a demolition derby by More Dakka. (Well, any dakka is more if you're the only one with it, right?)

Originally, the rules supported normal vehicles—cars and bikes. Naturally, a game system that lets you weaponise anything that's got an engine will expand, and sooner or later someone will wonder what the military will have once civilians are allowed rocket launchers, leaving room for Splatbooks to describe just that. The only vehicles that ended up unsupported were outright submarines and spacecraft note  when support stopped in the mid to late 1990s.

The game was supported by a wide range of expansions and supplemental rulebooks, a quarterly magazine that ran for 10 years, third-party supplements, a video game called Autoduel by Origin Systems, two different card games, a GURPS roleplaying setting, three novels and even a series of adventure books that mixed a Gamebooks format with actual game mechanics. The game hit its peak popularity in 1982 when Steve Jackson Games introduced their "pocket box" format and packaging, which included robust and complex games packaged in tiny, plastic cases (similar to DVD cases) that were both easy and practical to carry just about anywhere and affordable (at the time, a typical pocket box game cost around six US dollars). Car Wars, along with three roleplaying supplements (Truck Stop, Sunday Drivers and Boat Wars) received pocket box releases, while a near countless number of supplements continued to see release as books or bagged expansions - even after the pocket box format was discontinued in 1988.

Jackson tried a reboot the core game in the early 2000s with Car Wars 5.0, but the system never took off—it was sold as various prebuilt cars in two-packs with each having a copy of the rules, and gamers who thirsted for the construction rules never got them. It didn't fare that well.

Steve Jackson Games' 2017 The Fantasy Trip kickstarter revived the pocket box format - Melee and Wizard were added as a "what if" stretch goal which included both rules inside a redesigned plastic pocket box. After the immensely successful revival of TFT, Steve Jackson Games announced a Pocket Box Games of the Eighties kickstarter that reprinted the first edition of Car Wars in the pocket box format, spread across four boxed bundles that included a whopping twenty-two supplements. Other games that were a part of this were Ogre, Illuminati, and some of their more obscure legacy games like Raid On Iran and The Awful Green Things From Outer Space.

Items that weren't available in the Kickstarter, such as the Compendium (rules omnibus), Uncle Al's Catalog from Hell, and rules for planes and tanks, are generally available in PDF format from Warehouse 23. In addition, Uncle Al's is available in print-on-demand.

After the success of their Kickstarter for a new version of Ogre (another classic wargame) Jackson announced that they would be doing a similar Kickstarter for Car Wars at the end of 2019, after absorbing the lessons from the previous fundraiser. The new Sixth Edition has been released, and includes large (Hot Wheels size) paintable miniatures, custom dice, and a new card-based build system. It also moves the timeline by 35 years, so that (for example) the Food Riots happen in 2051 instead of 2016, and "Crazy Joe" brought a .50-cal to a demolition derby in 2058 instead of 2023.

This game provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: You wish you were one. Uses the old airplane definition, too; if you double this, you're a Double Ace.
  • Acme Products: Uncle Al's Auto Stop and Gunnery Shop.
  • Apocalypse How: Planetary Societal Disruption. A combination of the world's oil supply running out, the Grain Blight triggering the Food Riots, a second Civil War, and a few Russian and US cities being nuked, resulted in the deaths of tens of millions and a near complete breakdown of society for over a decade. Things have only recently gotten better, though many areas are still lawless.
  • Attack Reflector: The Space Gamer magazine #51 article "Magic in Car Wars". When an object is propelled through the air (including fire from flamethrowers) at someone protected by the spell "Reverse Missiles", the object doubles back and hits its source.
  • BFG: The tank gun, an army-surplus 105mm cannon only mountable on the likes of trucks and buses (and even then only to the front or rear).
  • Body Backup Drive: A duelist can arrange to have Gold Cross grow a clone from his cells and store a copy of his mind. If he dies, his mind is downloaded into the clone and the player continues to use the character.
  • Blood Brothers: All truck drivers belong to The Brotherhood. Fuck with one, you're fucking with all of them.
  • Blood Sport and Deadly Game: Autoduelling is noted as coming from demolition derby, just a little more thorough and long-ranged. Note that while you can gun down someone who surrenders without legal ramification, you're bound to lose points with the fans (assuming the referee pays attention).
  • Bottomless Magazines: Nope, none here. You gotta pay for ammo, unless you use lasers—in which case, you use up your FUEL.
  • Car Fu: Inevitable in this setting, but more fun when you buy a ramplate. Comment in-universe was that this was developed for cars AFTER someone started using machineguns.
  • Character Customization: Originally simple (driving and weapon skills), later editions tried to go into Role-Playing Game territory with available skills. And of course you can customise your cars.
  • Chunky Salsa Rule: The confetti rules. If your car gets hit with a LOT of damage all at once, the referee grabs some random debris markers and drops them around where your car used to be.
  • Church Militant: Four. Louisiana becomes one, Utah Deseret tries, and there's cults in Chicago and Australia who'd do it if they could.
  • Continuing is Painful: You have to pay Gold Cross $5,000 to create a clone for Death Insurance, and of course you lose your car.
  • Cool Car: What you want to make. Or Cool Bike, Cool Trike, Cool Hovercraft (Full of Eels optional) ...
  • Divided States of America: Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana break off, and Utah becomes the Deseret Autonomous Region. A second Civil War erupts; ending when the Texans hit US forces with a nuke. Quebec also makes a break from Canada.
  • Duel to the Death: Not just in the arena, either...
  • Everything Is Big in Texas: Relatively well-off, considering the USA isn't too forgiving, and Louisiana and Oklahoma aren't all that friendly either. To be expected, given that Steve Jackson is based in Austin.
  • The Famine: The Grain Blight was a possibly bioengineered virus that destroyed all grain crops around the world, except for barley. Tens of millions died between the times preserved foods ran out and algae farms took up the slack.
  • Flamethrower Backfire: A vehicle-mounted flamethrower could burst into flames and explode if hit by weapons fire.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Several in-world groups feature this, most notably:
    • The Eastern Driving Safety Enforcement League (EDSEL), the AADA's political opposition.
    • Anarchist Relief Front (ARF)
    • Big League Unlimited Dueling (BLUD), a dueling organization that eschews the AADA's safety rules.
    • Helicopter Emergency Rescue Organization (HERO) a mountain rescue operation.
    • Assassination, Sabotage, Protectionism (ASP) a Nebulous Evil Organization resembling a certain outfit from a popular 80's cartoon...
  • Honest John's Dealership: Uncle Al's Auto Stop and Gunnery Shop, Car War's fictional supplier of most of the new gear to be found in Autoduel Quarterly, certainly comes across as this in its ads. Subverted in that Uncle Al's is a national chain with a good reputation.
  • Just Between You and Me: Autoduel Quarterly magazine Volume 7 #2, adventure "Mutant Zone". If the PCs are captured they're taken to Blob, the mutants' leader, who explains his plans to them.
  • Kill It with Fire: Flamethrowers and incendiary ammunition let you do this. Fireproof armour and fire extinguishers help you not get this.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Lasers are rare and expensive, although they're not treated as odd. One sourcebook mentions that the military doesn't use weapon lasers, due to anti-laser armour.
    • When the rules for tanks were printed this was justified by demonstrating that most laser weapons were incapable of engaging tanks and causing meaningful damage, whereas a typical tank can completely shatter a dueling car in one shot.
  • Magnetic Weapons: The gauss gun, a flechette-ammunition coilgun that in later versions consumed battery power as well as ammunition.
  • Oil Slick: Available for your purchase. There's also a flaming variant, which by the vehicle-description rules could not be distinguished from the normal kind until the oil slick lights up.
  • Point Build System: How you bought skills, and effectively how you built vehicles (every chassis had a certain number of "spaces" and a weight limit, and for arena-use vehicles you had to pick a price bracket to compete in).
  • Pop the Tires: Some dueling arenas have rules against shooting at other cars' tires because it's too easy to disable them that way.
  • Retcon: A minor one. In Autoduel Quarterly Volume 2 #2, the "Badlands Run" adventure featured a pair of scorpions the size of semi's for the players to defeat. When the adventure was translated into a Gamebook, the scorpions were changed to holograms.
  • Rules Lawyer: A joke item available for use in Uncle Al's Catalog from Hell. Negates the equally fictional Rule Bender, a device used to settle arguments on judgment calls in your favour.
  • Scary Scorpions: A giant mutant scorpion in the Autoduel Quarterly magazine Vol. 7 #2 adventure "Mutant Zone".
  • Sentry Gun: The Anti Vehicular Security Stations in the Autoduel Quarterly Volume 1 #4 adventure "Maniac".
  • Show Within a Show: Al's Gals, a Charlie's Angels style detective/action show, with Al playing the role of Charlie.
  • Spiked Wheels: Available for car or motorcycle, natch.
  • Universal Driver's Licence: Averted. Separate skills for each type of vehicle, with nice penalties if you're lacking it.
  • Vehicular Combat: The entire point of the thing, although you were allowed some weapons to defend yourself if you left your car for some reason (damage, safety, bathroom run).
  • Weaponized Car: The whole point.
  • World War III: Mostly averted by anti-ballistic missile systems, though several US cities were destroyed, such as Poughkeepsie, NY
  • You All Meet in an Inn: You All Meet At A Truck Stop. The walled and heavily defended truck stops of this setting are meant to function as the equivalent of fantasy-RPG inns.