Game Design and Aesthetic
Gaslands is very much a Do-It-Yourself game. Author Mike Hutchinson recently wrote on his blog about the nature (and joys) of kitbashing Hot Wheels and other toys for a post-apocalyptic wasteland. He provides only the rules. It is up to the players (or community) to paint cars, create the play aids, build terrain, and customize their set up... OR to just dump their kid's toy box on the table, pick out some cars and random obstacles, and go to town! You can see some of the amazing community creations with a simple Google search.
are available on Etsy for reasonable prices.
Car Wars, on the other hand, is being produced by Steve Jackson Games which has a long and storied history producing quality board games and RPGs. Their design goal is to provide a slick, out-of-the-box board game experience for the retail consumer. From their standpoint, if Car Wars can make it onto the shelf next to Munchkin and Star Wars X-Wing at a Barnes & Noble or Target, that's a huge win. As such, their box will include a small selection of unpainted cars, rules that will fit in a relatively small number of pages, a maneuver stick, specialized dice, and possibly an arena board or play mat of some variety.
The exact contents are not fully known, but they want to make it as retail friendly as possible. Recognizing that the existing Car Wars community would also like to kitbash cars, they recently made the decision to move from HO scale to 1/64 (Hot Wheel) scale and they will be providing empty vehicle bases for customization. There is little doubt in my mind the growing Gaslands community has had an impact on these decision.
What surprised me most may be how quickly the new Car Wars plays. As much as I like the simulation aspect of phased movement, the new system puts you right into the action immediately. The rules are also simple enough to be quickly taught. The learning curve was much smaller than I anticipated. Gaslands rules are also fairly light, but need a little bit of polish here and there (which I expect to see in the new revision coming this month).
Movement in Gaslands occurs in 6 phases per turn. You may activate one of your vehicles in each phases as long as that vehicle is in an equal or higher gear to the phase. For example, in phase 4 of the turn, you will only be able to activate (move and fire) if you are in gear 4 or higher. After phase six, it resets back to one for the next turn, so everyone in lower gears will be able to move again.
|Gaslands templates by Thomas Wynn Studio|
Getting stuck in a low gear is terrible as that vehicle will not be able to activate (move or fire) on any higher phase. This is especially bad if your are not playing multiple cars per player. In a single vehicle-per-player game, you might sit and watch everyone else play for several phases while you do nothing. This forces the players to roll the skid dice in a "press your luck" manner. Collision also generally result in your vehicle stuck back in 1st gear.
|The new Car Wars maneuver stick|
After each maneuver, you must make a control roll using dice equal to your speed and maneuver difficulty. With a poor dice roll, you can end up "out of control". In this case, speed really does kill as you are not able to defend yourself with any combat dice if you are out of control.
Unlike prior editions, movement order is determined by a first-player token rather than movement phases. This puts a lot of power in the first player's hands, but you can plan your strategy on when your turn as first player is coming up. This is a little more board-gamey and less simulationist than past editions. Players who love the 5-phase movement of prior editions may need to adjust, but it does keep the game moving.
|Both games use customized d6's |
for manuvering and combat.
Car Wars, on the other hand, did feel a lot more strategic in the choice of maneuvers. However, luck does play nearly as large of a role. Multiple maneuvers in a single turn means a lot of dice will be thrown on that turn making it much more likely to lose control. This would be understandable if the maneuvers contained hard turns and swerves, but even mild maneuvers can become dangerous at higher speeds. On the whole, though, I felt more in control (pun intended) of the maneuvering strategy. I could play it safe, or push my luck if I wanted, rather than how the mechanics dictate.
Combat in Car Wars 6e is probably the greatest improvement they have made to the game. It's fast, feels tense, and still gives some of that simulation feel of older editions. Like X-Wing, it's attack dice versus defense dice, with different colored dice having different damage potential.
|Car Wars damage cards describe the order |
in which internal components take damage.
The best part is the armor penetration. In the old Car Wars, damage would travel in a predictable manner from one side of a vehicle to the other. First the armor, then the weapon(s) on that side, then the power plant or occupants. Car Wars 6e uses a much more fun internal damage spray system.
When you have no armor on a side, the damage bounces around internally in a semi-random order determined by damage cards. To me, this felt cinematic, but also realistic. Bullets bounce around and may miss the occupants completely, but take out weapons or other systems. Or vice versa. One could lose all armor on a side and still have functional weapons for a couple more turns. This was my favorite new mechanic by far.
Combat is in Gaslands is similar. The attacker rolls attack dice and the defender roll a defense die for each gear. Damage is more abstract than in Car Wars. Your vehicle has a number of hull points, so there are no armor facings and no vehicle components to take damage. When your hull points are gone, your vehicle is dead and may explode. It is a more simplified system at the cost of some simulation. Gaslands tries to keep the rules as light as possible while still feeling cinematic.
|The Car Wars "dashboard" shows the current vehicle status|
alongside the weapon and upgrade cards.
Vehicle design in Gaslands is super simple. Each vehicle type cost a number of "cans" to purchase and generally only have 2 weapon slots unless it is a large vehicle such as a van or truck. Building a vehicle takes less than 5 minutes. Building a "50 can" team of vehicles might take 15 minutes. It's very simple.
The Car Wars vehicle design rules have not been teased, but the basics are apparent from the prototype components. Like with X-Wing, vehicles have a point cost. Weapon systems and skilled drivers or gunners are detailed on small cards and will cost additional points. Building a vehicle will be as simple as picking its model and adding several points worth of cards to the build.
I expect this to be even simpler than X-Wing. What I don't know is if certain card upgrades will only be available with certain vehicle expansions, like with X-Wing. I'm hoping Steve Jackson Games does not lean too heavily on the "collectible" business model. That is a potential down side.
Honestly, I love both of these games. I've already pre-ordered the new Gaslands Refuelled rule book and there is no doubt that I will immediately back the Car Wars Kickstarter when it drops. While I do have some nit-picky annoyances about the fire and movement in both games, they both scratch the jump-in-and-blow-things-up itch. I would give a slight edge to the combat in Car Wars, but only by a smidge. Both of these games are a blast and turns move quickly once all the players are familiar with the basic rules.