Car Wars – A Trip Down The Memory Fast Lane, Part 2

frontier wars 728x90 KS

Continuing his series on Car Wars, Michael rolls back through the memory banks again ~

Michael Eckenfels, 23 September 2016


This expansion, released the same year I bought the original Car Wars, added massive 18-wheelers and other large rigs to the Car Wars universe. It seemed only right, given the fact that tanker trucks were a lynchpin of the Mad Max universe. Besides, these things are righteously huge. Just imagine them armored up with large-caliber guns bristling everywhere, and one wonders how cars, much less cycles, would have a chance in Hades against them.

One could virtually feel the temptation to HULK SMASH and sledgehammer smaller opponents with tons of rolling steel death. (Hell…I have this feeling even to this day.) I had to have the expansion, and so I have owned it for 32 years now. The box has held up well in that time, and I probably haven’t opened it in some 30-odd years, to be honest. So this will be something of a time capsule.

This box is in surprisingly excellent condition. I hope the insides have aged well, too…

This box is in surprisingly excellent condition. I hope the insides have aged well, too…

The box art is impressive. I mean, what’s not to love about an armored 18-wheeler crushing a bike under its crushing weight, while a howitzer fires out of its cab and machine guns chatter? A flaming pile of wreckage in the background is indicative of another failed attempt to take down the truck, and the Porsche-looking thing right behind the big rig looks like it’s firing a gnat-like gun against its armored hide. Perhaps the driver is encouraged by the pock-marks of powerfully random machine gun impacts peppering the side; who knows. There’s a lot to love in this image that Dave Martin drew so many years ago.

Opening the box.

Opening the box.


I think if you’re like me, you saved EVERYTHING from your old games, even the unsent order forms. I never read Space Gamer magazine, and a quick Internet search finds that it stopped being published in the mid-80s. To my surprise, though, back issues can be found online (in PDF format – not sure about actual vintage copies), on SJG’s website and the magazine itself does, even to this day, maintain an online presence. It’s good to know that gaming history is still kept up to this day.

So far, it looks almost as it good 33 years ago…

So far, it looks almost as it good 33 years ago…


The rule book is 24 pages long, just like the first edition Car Wars rule book. Right off the bat, it introduces the player to a world where supplies still have to be delivered from city to city, and the solution in dealing with roving bandit gangs is to armor plate and weaponize every bloody surface on these big cargo-haulers.


This book also introduces a novel concept: characters. I’m not sure if this is the first instance of introducing actual RPG elements to the game or not. The original Car Wars game did give lip service to ongoing characters, but didn’t give much in the way of guidelines. If Autoduel Quarterly was being published at this time, I imagine there were additional rules loaded in there, or by somebody, somewhere. For me, though, this is the first time I saw something that expanded the character-creation Car Wars universe a bit more.


In the original Car Wars, you had Driver, Gunner, and Cyclist as skills. Truck Stop adds two more: Trucker and Mechanic. Each skill starts at nothing, which means of course they have no idea what they’re doing. If a character gains and spends 10 skill points, they can up that to Level 0, which Truck Stop says means an “average ability,” so one assumes some modicum of competence. When creating a new character, each of your skills start at nothing, but you have 30 Skill Points to assign wherever you want. This means you can get three skills at Level 0, one at Level 1 and another at Level 0, or one skill at Level 2 (and therefore apparently be some kind of post-apocalyptic savant).


Players can add more skill levels to their character at start by taking six months off (in game, of course) and spending $1,000 (of in game money, ditto) to get Level 0 in an additional skill. This can be done for all of the skills except for Mechanic, which takes longer than the other skills, but can pay for the work they do during this time.


After several pages of additional character notes, there’s a helpful chapter entitled “KEEPING YOUR CHARACTER ALIVE.” This gives you ideas to not just run one character, but perhaps a group of them, such as a trucking company, cycle gang, police department…just about anything you can imagine. There’s even a lengthy section on life insurance (“Gold Cross”).



The rest of the book is pretty much dedicated to how to build these awesomely large death machines, what kinds of weapons can be loaded, and how they move and fire in combat. There’s even sections on boarding vehicles, pay, and a section devoted to the truck stop map. More on that last one in a bit.



Moving on…ILLUMINATI. Among other things. This is a very, VERY thin piece of paper with various SJG games listed on it. OGRE, Toon, Necromancer, Raid on Iran, and many others populate this wafer-like page, which folds out. I’m surprised it didn’t fall apart. Many Car Wars products are listed, too, and I see that the boxed set cost $6.50 back in the day…as did Truck Stop, Crash City, and a few others.



This fold-out has trucker and CB slang terms listed on one side, and these templates on the other. One is for a big rig, while the other is for trailers/buses/RVs. These things can carry an arsenal, and be armored almost as much as the thick skin of most forum members. I’d forgotten how much fun it was just to build these things, let alone put them out on the Car Wars world and see what they can destroy.



A giant map is the last paper insert in the game box, and it’s huge. It is presented as a typical fortified truck stop in America, circa 2033.



It could take up an entire table, in fact. The inclusion of it is obviously done for actual battles, which would be interesting within a relatively confined space such as this. Or, it could serve as inspiration to make smaller versions, perhaps.



A men’s AND woman’s shower. I’m willing to bet “RR” (next to the woman’s shower) is where mirth has his happy place complete with plasma-screen HD technology peepholes and enough aveeno and Kleenex to lubricate all of the 18-wheelers, ever. (Note: you must be a forum dweller to understand this reference. Feel free to register for the forums right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait, it’s cool.)


ts_10A corner gun emplacement, indicating this isn’t exactly a welcoming place – if it so chooses not to be.



More detail from the truck stop map.



What’s left are a ton of multi-colored counters – 37 of them. And they’re pretty to look at. Hard to imagine these were all hand-drawn back in the day, which these were (and by none other than Denis Loubet, a long time game artist whom has worked on the likes of the Ultima series, Wing Commander, GURPS, HERO, and many others).



The quality remains excellent, though these counters are just as thin as the others from my Car Wars first edition box. The fact that they look untouched is interesting, though I recall not playing this nearly as much as the base game itself…my grubby fingers just didn’t touch them all that much, I guess.



The back of the game box, with all of its jaundiced glory. Not nearly as attractive as the front of the box, but the drawing of the 18-wheeler plowing through a car (again, by Loubet) is pretty awesome to look at.


Truck Stop is a great supplement to a great game, not just adding rules for larger vehicles, but also some character elements to make the game that much more engrossing.

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