Car Wars – A Trip Down The Memory Fast Lane, Part 6
The long and winding retrospective on Car Wars continues ~
Michael Eckenfels, 18 November 2016
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THE BEST OF AUTODUEL QUARTERLY, VOLUME 1
Released in 1986, and packed with 48 pages of goodness, this little book republished the best articles as per the demands of Car Wars fans everywhere. The hard part, the editors state on the inside cover, is how to pare down the list and include the actual best stuff. So, they decided to not republish stuff that had already been released on its own, like Uncle Albert and the Convoy module. Instead, you have a book that is loaded with some good stuff that’s not easily found elsewhere, all in one place.
Three articles (Vehicle Design Strategy, Anti-Cyclist Tactics, and The Random Arena), two scenarios (Nightstrike and my personal favorite, Maniac), and a bit of history (History of Autoduelling, History of the Power Plant, and Mexico/Texas Relations – that last one important to me, as I grew up in San Antonio) round out the contents of this particular volume. I will talk briefly about each of them.
The first article, Car Wars Designer’s Notes, was originally written by Chad Irby. If you don’t know, Irby is the guy responsible for Car Wars being a thing in the first place. In fact, he starts off the article by saying how the game got its start – because of a little old lady in a Cadillac pulling out in front of him, while he was driving his motorcycle. “For a brief moment,” he wrote, “I reamed of raking the old bat with a burst of machine-gun fire…”
The article continues to discuss the development of Car Wars in detail, from the moment he saw Steve Jackson a few minutes after this moment to discuss the idea, and Irby came up with a very basic rule set, which ended up being very unplayable. Steve Jackson apparently took it from there, churning out a ton of notes for Irby to help polish up the game, and Car Wars was born.
Irby goes on to discuss various playtest experiences with groups of players, which is a great read, before ending the article by talking about other inspirations. He acknowledges that the game has roots in various fiction novels and movies, such as “Why Johnny Can’t Speed” and Damnation Alley, respectively. Other movies mentioned include Death Race 2000 (a classic!) and even Condorman (which I had totally forgotten about until I read his article to write this bit about it – I actually saw Condorman in the movie theater). Overall, it’s a too-short article filled with some great anecdotes, giving the reader a good impression of how Car Wars came to be over the years.
Next is “Newswatch,” which details the ‘headlines’ in the Car Wars universe, from the root causes to the current day. Starting in 2000, the one-page article highlights the important events up to the year 2036, when this ‘Best Of’ book was published (in the Car Wars universe, anyway).
Just for the record, 2016 was not a good year in said universe: “The Food Riots. ‘Fortress’ towns develop. National government fails to keep order throughout most of the U.S.” I dunno – replace a word or two and it might actually mirror our real universe.
“Vehicle Design Strategy” comes next, a four-page article that discusses the varied, finer points to constructing a futuristic death machine made from paper, pencil, and perhaps cardboard (or minis if you’re that guy). The topics include:
- Money, which gives the reader a general idea of how much to spend on each vehicle class (e.g., motorcycle, subcompact, compact, and so on).
- Weight, which suggests ways to help keep your design choice within limits and not turn your vehicle into a “stationary gun emplacement.”
- Space, which gives the reader advice on how to pack everything in the confined spaces of your Death Race 2000 wannabe.
- Efficiencies, which ranks different weapons overall based on cost, spaces taken, hit probability, and average damage. There are three tables – Weapons Efficiency versus Space, versus Weight, and versus Cost.
Next comes “Weapon Information,” which describes eleven weapon systems, from the veritable machine gun to the heavy rocket, and several others in between.
Finally, a “Design Guide” section rounds out the article, describing the various car sizes (subcompact, luxury, pickup truck, etc.) and briefly gives the benefits and drawbacks to each type.
An ad for a “Lymestwold Grenadier” appears below the end of the previous article. This kind of thing adds character and flavor to the publication; it also proves to be an addition to the Car Wars universe, as it describes what turns out to be the Hulk version of an airport shuttle. With two pairs of linked grenade launchers and rearward-dispensing tear gas, plus a decent amount of armor, this thing can transport what the advertisement gleefully describes as “four passengers” (because four of anything in a Car Wars vehicle is pushing the limit, pretty much) “passing through the less-than-desirable parts of town.”
I don’t know…the armor is only 15 everywhere, except for up top (10) and even less underneath (5). Seems to me that a determined bunch of pedestrians could fill this thing full of holes (as well as its passengers) pretty quickly. Regardless, it’s a neat addition to the book.
The “Newswatch” bits keep coming in; on the next page is a half-page summary of the ‘Development of the Auto Engine/Power Plant.’ Somehow, 1990 turns out to be the turning point for “laser-power storage technology,” and “the electric car business booms.” Better early and in an alternative universe than never, I suppose.
Further down the page (not pictured here) is an even shorter article called “50 Years Ago Today – Why They’re Called ‘Suicide Jockeys,’” which describes “civilian warriors, trained to kill or be killed in the defense of their deadly cargoes.” They’re basically truck drivers, but are specially-rated couriers that require certification in weapons and driving tests every three months. Their employer happens to be the U.S. Department of Energy (Transportation Safeguards Division), and the article makes it sound like some kind of uber-secretive group that abides by the rules of the road, drives in eighteen-wheelers that are designed to look like everyday trucks and not ultra-powered rig-tanks, and carries top-secret cargoes wherever they may be needed.
While there’s no actual game-related information in this three-paragraph article, it does provide a nugget for a possible campaign for enterprising players to try to flesh out.
The first mega-article is the next one in the book, entitled “Nightstrike.” This is a scenario built for two groups of players, one a cycle gang that’s taken a TV personality and the crew hostage in the hopes of getting a rich ransom, and the other playing their autoduelist rescuers. It has the look and feel of a tournament scenario, actually. The reward for rescuing the TV personality is $100,000, while each of the crew will fetch an additional $10,000 if they make it out safe (I guess it’s good to be the king). There’s also a bonus of 10 Prestige, which can be significant to ongoing characters, as the network that hires them will make them big stars if they’re successful.
The rules allow for up to 12 characters with a total of 480 skill points between them, with each needing at least 30 points. The referee also gets to determine how much money the autoduellists get for vehicles, though the game limits them to four vehicles total.
The game also spells out the composition of the gang, which is somewhat reduced as most of their brethren are out raiding or setting up Ponzi schemes or whatever it is cycle gangs do in the future. The referee gets to flesh all of this out.
The scenario takes place in an old autoduelling arena; pictured here is the top half of the map, similar to the bottom half. A bunch of buildings cluster up the center of the map, while there’s open spaces on the outside. The gang has a lot of motorcycles to choose from, as well as one heavily-armed RV and a four-wheeled vehicle to reinforce their weaker two-wheeled cousins.
Overall, it looks like a good time can be had on this map. I never played this one in particular that I can remember, unfortunately, so I can’t speak to it, but it looks like the scenario is more in favor of the autoduellists than the gang – though that could just mean more of a challenge for the gang, and putting more experienced players in those roles.
The “History of Mexico/Texas Relations” reads as another abbreviated timeline and can be used as the bare bones for creating Campaigns for creative gamers. Overall, the article talks about Mexico being ‘invaded’ by cycle gangs from the year 2000 on. Slowly, however, the Mexican towns and estates build defenses and begin to fight back, eventually organizing and becoming more efficient, as well as just as well-armed as the invading cyclists. Eventually they push the cyclists out, then begin their own raids into Texas, which pretty much starts a shooting war between the two (remember, the federal government has collapsed). Peace breaks out between the two lands by 2020, but Mexican-based groups still raid the rest of the American Southwest.
Like the other short articles, there’s really not much ‘meat’ here to dig in to; it’s meant to serve as a kick-start idea, I think, to enterprising Car Wars players looking for something new to do.
Following this is “The Random Arena,” showing a plethora of tables for players to randomly generate a Car Wars dueling arena. The single-page article has seven tables to roll on, from types of vehicles allowed to maximum budget, for players to create something quickly. Or, if they’re bored, or lazy, or just have been doing this for so bloody long they just need some kind of random, fresh approach to their Car Wars game.
So far, if you’ve never heard of Car Wars, you’re probably wondering what the fetish is for motorcycles. I don’t think there’s really so much of a fetish for them as there is just a general assumption that they are widespread because they’re somewhat easier to maintain and more efficient overall than larger vehicles, even if they don’t pack the same combat power. Cycles are, indeed, not very effective individually, but in packs they can be dangerous. And so we come to the next article, “Anti-Cyclist Tactics: Breaking the Bikers in Car Wars.”
There’s not much to the article, though it spans almost four full pages. It discusses, in great detail, three of the more common ambushes/traps that are used to deal with large cycle gangs.
The Trench Foot Opening: dig a ditch, cover it up, set up a sound system further away, wait for bikers to hit the ditch, start playing loud sounds of battle over speakers. Bikers usually (a) run back from whence they came, (b) recover and go around the ditch, continuing on their merry raiding way, or (c) charge and attack. The first two are apparently optimal, while the third is not; however, the third has provisions for escaping. I guess one could set up a true ambush and actually shoot the surprised bikers – now there’s an idea.
The Barbed Wire Howdy: Create barbed-wire net, duct-tape rocks and grenades to it, drop it off of an overpass as bikers approach. Bikers get caught up in it, biker leader in front gets pissed and demands help to be freed, so other bikers go up to help. Grenades go off. Hilarity ensues (for the ambushers, I imagine, not so much the bikers).
The Kamikaze Oops: This is an odd one. Build barricade, man it with dummies armed with toy weapons, put ramp over barricade. Ambush bad guys further down, run away towards your barricade. As bad guys approach barricade, they see ramp, then remember all the bad 80s movies and TV shows they saw, and think it will be dramatic to jump said barricade via the ramp. Unfortunately for them, the area past the ramp is thick with land mines.
Ever wanted to drive a taxi in Car Wars? Well, this ad for “Galleria Taxi” gives you just enough information to plant the seeds of an exciting campaign based on taking fares and dealing with low-lifes through the magic of tear gas and anti-personnel grenades. This taxi isn’t exactly a combat vehicle; the anti-personnel grenades are along the outside of the taxi (as an “anti-theft” deterrent – and how), but that’s the extent of its damaging power. Inside, the passenger compartment (which can hold two passengers) has two tear gas grenades that can be set off by the driver (nice!). The armor is pretty good, with 20-30 points all around (except underneath, where it’s 15), and there’s even 2 points of armor between the driver and passengers. And it’s cheap – only $11,800. Though I can totally see how this could be yet another campaign hook…an imaginative referee could make a series of adventures for a taxi-cab, ex-autoduellist. (Just imagine all the ‘Taxicab Confessions’ you’ve seen before, and add tear gas. Imagine the fun.)
Ever walk through a mall and just suddenly have a sociopathic thought like, “Gee, these hallways are wide. I bet I could drive a car through here.” And then, you saw that scene from The Blues Brothers where the cops chase them through a mall?
If you don’t know what The Blues Brothers is, shame on you.
The next article, “Maniac,” is pretty much that, but imagine (1) that it is one car, (2nd) that the car is armed, and (c) that some of the pedestrians are armed. Oh, and (IV), the guy in the car is out for revenge.
I know…in this day and age, with mass shootings (especially ones at malls), this isn’t exactly a kosher subject, but you have to remember that this was released back in 1986. And it’s not just a one-sided contest, either; there are significant challenges as the ‘mall’ fights back (this is, after all, a world where vehicular gangs like to do anti-social things like rob and randomly off passersby). And one other thing you have to remember – this is just a game, it’s not real.
“Maniac” is a solo adventure in the Car Wars universe. You play as “Ed,” an arena autoduellist – well, scratch that, EX-arena autoduellist, expunged for breaking the AADA’s arena rules – whom, in a drunken haze, is wandering around town in his “Eliminator 300,” blaming everyone and everything except for himself for his woes and troubles. Not to make Ed sound like a jerk, but he was basically busted for doing something everyone does, though nobody is supposed to, and he just happened to be caught at it, so the AADA (American AutoDuel Association) decided to make an example of Ed and ban him for life from ever competing in any arena duels for the rest of his life.
So, Ed starts driving around one day, after a breakfast of booze and a lunch of booze, getting angrier and angrier at the unfairness of life in general, while mulling over his options. The backstory specifically says he has no desire to become a “highwayman” since their life expectancy is a lot lower than arena autoduellists, and he doesn’t “feel like being on every bounty hunter’s list from here to Canada.” This is a setup for irony, just to let you in on a little secret.
Anyway, good old Ed is driving around, having a pity party in his Eliminator 300, getting sad and good and pissed off with his buddy Jack Daniels coursing through his veins. It’s about at the point where he feels the most sorry for himself when he passes by the Elm Grove Mall, which just happens to hold the headquarters for the AADA. Gee…what do YOU think happens next?
- Ed stops and asks for a job application in the mall’s game store, right by the food court, earning minimum wage and getting big discounts on the latest games but having to deal with the retail reality of snot-nosed teenagers and diaper-rashed adults, eating from “Whey-To-Go” every day because he thinks the manager is attractive but he doesn’t have the guts to say anything and this is his life until he eventually dies of heart disease in his 50s from such a horrible diet and high stress from his retail job
- Ed continues driving past the mall, eventually going to Mexico, getting jumped by a local estate security force but proving his worth to the local jefe, offering his extensive autoduelling arena experience to them, building up an arena that ends up attracting autoduelling enthusiasts from many of the local towns, thereby becoming something of a legend to the locals, marrying a senorita and having lots of kids, eventually dying as a very old man surrounded by a huge and loving family
- Ed continues driving past the mall, suddenly having an epiphany, realizing he is being a child and that he needs to grow up and accept responsibility for himself and stop blaming others, turning into the small car dealership next to the mall where he is immediately hired thanks to his extensive experience, rising through the ranks to eventually own not just the dealership but an entire chain of them, becoming a productive and respected member of society, passing away at 95 and well-known as a local community leader, philanthropist, and overall good guy
- Ed gets an evil grin, turns the wheel, and crashes his car into the big, wide front doors of the Elm Grove Mall, intent on causing as much destruction as possible, running over hapless shoppers and shooting holes in every storefront possible, wantonly destroying the AADA Headquarters, and trying to escape, thereby of course not at all getting on the “bounty hunter list” of every two-bit bounty hunter from “here to Canada” (instead, the AADA puts him on every bounty hunter list from “freaking Argentina to Alaska”)
If you answered “D,” you pretty much now have the gist of what’s about to happen.
The game has a setup for the mall, but the rules state you can randomly create it if you want. You simply use normal road sections and intersections to represent the mall, but have to have various markers throughout to represent the kiosks, plants, horrid mall décor (I imagine this is something that never, ever changes), and unaware shoppers. (Maybe there’s even a Paul Blart on a rocket-armed Segway. That might be a nice addition to the scenario, especially if you paid money to see that first hot mess of a movie.) There’s a cardboard insert loaded with counters for exactly this purpose, and the designers explicitly give their blessing for you to make photocopies should you need more obstacles or things to destroy in the game.
“Wait,” you might be saying. “Even back in the 1980s, there were usually barriers outside of malls to stop cars from crashing in.” Good point, I say. Then you continue with, “So…this is what, the 2030s? Surely they have concrete-reinforced barriers with laser turrets to protect the entrances and deter shoplifting?” Another good point.
Just keep in mind, there is no “Maniac” scenario if the car can’t get into the mall in the first place. The game explains this by saying there IS a barrier, but it’s mainly aesthetic, so it only has 5 DP (basically, hit points). Using the ‘Advanced Collision System’ from any one of several Car Wars expansions (none of which I think I have), you can determine if the car makes it through. If it immobilizes your vehicle, the rules unceremoniously state “then the barrier held and the game ends,” which is not an optimal conclusion. I remember simply ignoring this entirely as it is most inconvenient to consider in the scheme of this scenario.
The rules give you $15,000 (a decent amount) to build a car for one driver (no gunners allowed). As you read, you’ll find certain weapons aren’t the greatest to use inside. For example, you might think flamethrowers are a great idea – just imagine the racks and racks of merchandise and shoppers being fricasseed – but the mall is outfitted with “a very good” fire extinguisher system which deters this damage, and adds additional hazards to driving across a wet floor.
So what is there to do? You’re driving along and shoppers start with the panicking and diving into stores. You might think it’s a simple matter to just rake the stores with gunfire or grenades and obliterate them, but that’s a wasted effort. First of all, your goal is to destroy the AADA Headquarters, not Abercrombie and Fitch (though one certainly wouldn’t blame you for trying in the case of the latter). Secondly, the rules state that pedestrians are safe if they duck into Abercrombie (or any store) because the racks of merchandise act as impenetrable armor. I could argue that point, as I doubt half-naked pictures of men offer much of a DP value to cowering pedestrians or low-paid mall workers, but whatever. It also states that a vehicle embedding itself into a store would have a very hard time getting out. Therefore, this is why just the wide halls are represented and not stores themselves – though that might be fun to build up the stores, too. Forum member nevermore – this would be awesome to see in miniature form (hint, hint). You can, however, fire on and destroy shop fronts if you want, because store guards and armed shoppers will sometimes duck inside and start taking shots at you.
Pedestrians start getting the hint when your car is eight inches from them (not ‘real’ inches, but eight inches on the game map), or if you hit something within five inches of them with gunfire. They immediately start running for a store. One in six of them are armed and will start firing on your car once they get inside a shop, and if they get killed, they “are treated as obstacles.” I’m not sure what the DP is on a dead body, but I don’t imagine it would do much damage to an autoduelling car.
There’s also policemen to deal with. These are basically better-armed pedestrians with body armor, offering a bit more of a challenge (and a larger dent in your car if you try to mow them down). They will also chase your car on foot if you pass them, which might be a problem if you get hung up further into the mall and they catch up to you.
Besides foot-mobile dangers, as minor as they may be to a heavily-armed and –armored car, there’s also Security Cycles. These are basically your upgunned Paul Blart, Mall Cops, riding light motorcycles with a bit of armor front and back and one machinegun on the front.
Sax solo (80s style) in 3…2…1…
The real challenge comes from an AVSS (Anti-Vehicle Security Station), which is an automatic, computer-controlled weapons mount with randomly-determined armament. This can be several things, from a single machine gun (not that big a deal) to a heavy laser (which can ruin anyone’s day). These are sprinkled throughout the mall.
Add to these defenses the random obstacles, such as vendor carts (the rules specifically state “Hot Dog/Pretzel Vendor Carts, “ but I imagine this could be anything you want), or “Bazaar Shops” which are like those highly annoying kiosks in the middle of the mall, trying to flag you down to buy some overpriced cheap piece of junk. Both types can be run over – just saying.
You might think that the presence of the AADA’s Headquarters would make the mall a veritable fortress, but this isn’t true. The rules state that mall management is lulled into a false sense of security due to the AADA’s presence, making them only deploy the minimal amount of security needed to keep the average mall running smoothly and five-finger-discount-free. The presence of AVSSs are usually due to the various stores in the mall not agreeing with the management’s idea of what “safe” really is.
The AADA Headquarters itself offers the greatest challenge. There is a detailed map on a full page in this article, showing how the Headquarters itself is recessed 1” (again, game map terms) from the hall, which would force any attacker to get right in front of it to do damage. This would mean needing to cross a line of mines on either side and a bit down from the Headquarters, on both sides. It would also mean the three AVSSs there (two with rocket launchers, one with a laser) that are right in front of the highly-armored store front of the Headquarters would be able to fire on any attacker.
To win, you have to breach this armored barrier (which is 10 DP) and do 100 points of damage to the interior of the offices. There are a random number of people inside, staff and visitors (equal to 4d6, so four to 24 people), all of whom will run out the back door once the action starts. Three of them are staffers, however, that remain behind to man the AVSSs. Yes, the turrets are computer-controlled, but these staffers have a Gunner bonus that helps them hit you. Destroying the Headquarters will possibly mean their elimination, and you get 10 more victory points for each one that goes to “Highway One.”
Yep, I mentioned ‘victory points,’ so there are measures of victory. Actually, the game suggests two methods to approaching the game – Purposeful and Berserk. When ‘Purposeful,’ you only get points for wrecking AADA Headquarters and escaping, and lose points for taking damage, not escaping, leaving your car, or getting killed. The ‘Berserk’ version is likely more in line for what you’re thinking, where you get points for destroying anything and everything.
As this is a solo scenario, there are rules for randomly generating what populates each section of the mall (as well as rules for randomly creating a mall, if you want to do a different setup than what’s offered).
On a final note regarding “Maniac:” there is a two-player version offered as well. Actually, two versions of it. One is where the second player controls the mall’s security forces, but that’s not very interesting for that player, since the rules already control what they do. A much more interesting version is where one player’s car is pursued by a much stronger vehicle (or more than one such vehicle), and the first car crashes into the mall, seeking cover.
All in all, this one article and scenario made the purchase of this book well worth it in and of itself, let alone everything else included within. Don’t worry, there’s still a couple of things to mention about this book.
The “History of Autoduelling” article is a one-page treatise on what you can read in the original Car Wars book, but has a bit more detail to it. Ranging from 2023 when an enterprising destruction derby driver put a .50 caliber machine gun on his hood (and somehow, assumedly, manages to avoid a mass murder charge) to 2036. The extra detail comes from mentioning Deluxe Car Wars and a few other things that flesh out the history since the original game hit the market a few years before this book.
Lastly, inside the back cover is this interesting Uncle Sam-ish advert that pimps the AADA. This happens to be a real-world offer, as $10 (in 1986 money) gets you a full year (four issues) of Autoduel Quarterly, an “opportunity” (whatever that means) to form your own official AADA chapter (which admittedly does sound cool; I wish there was more info on that), a chance to buy AADA merchandise (because being a nerd in 1986 wasn’t necessarily enough – you had to up your street cred by wearing a Car Wars t-shirt in public back then, you know), a membership card, and other ‘free benefits.’ Oh, “and more.” Not sure what those last two things encompass, but still, it wasn’t a bad offering if you were really heavy-duty into Car Wars back in the day.