Friday, August 30, 2019

Car Wars 6e and Gaslands: First Impressions

Car Wars Classic cover
Caveat: This post is based on a couple of plays of each Gaslands and Car Wars 6th edition at Origins 2019. This article isn't a review or about which game is better... It is more of a first impression of the new games from a long time Car Wars buff. Honestly, if miniature car combat is your thing, you'll want both of these games. Gaslands Refuelled is the new, cleaned up hardback revision coming mid September and Car Wars 6e will be on Kickstarter any day now (literally 7 years in the waiting...).

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.

Gaslands Refuelled
Gaslands will take a small amount of pre-preparation by someone in the group. At minimum, you will need to print out the movement and weapon templates on card stock paper. You don't technically need special dice; a standard set of d6's will do. However, you will have to look up the results on a chart rather than quickly scan the dice for the special icons. Custom dice and movement templates 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.

Gaslands arena with oil slick
Lore wise, Gaslands portrays the grim, dirty Mad Max style post apocalypse. Car Wars is portraying the more slick arena racing and death sport side of the game, rather than the gritty apocalyptic highways (at least at first). The Car Wars Kickstarter will only include car rules. Trucks, motorcycles, and other vehicles will likely have to wait for expansions or potential stretch goals, but the SJ team has been somewhat tight-lipped.

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


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
Gaslands templates by Thomas Wynn Studio
Maneuvering will feel somewhat familiar for those who have played games like Star Wars X-Wing in that you select straight or turn templates based on your current gear. The faster you are going, the less you are able to make hard turns without "wiping out". When maneuvering, you usually must roll a certain number of "skid dice" in order to shift to higher gears or potentially lose control.

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.

Car Wars maneuver stick
The new Car Wars maneuver stick
Car Wars players will recognize parts of movement and maneuvering from earlier iterations. While there is no longer a turning key, the maneuvering stick fulfills the same function more elegantly. You move your vehicle one car length forward, and then may turn from 10 to 90 degrees. Your speed determines how often you can do this. A speed of 4 means you will move 4 car lengths with the opportunity to maneuver after each car length.

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.

Gaslands dice
Both games use customized d6's
for manuvering and combat.
I've already noted my perceived issue with Gaslands movement. Getting stuck in a low gear is no fun, but accelerating to a higher gear requires more dice rolling, which can result in hazards which will still put you back into 1st gear. To me, it feels like dice luck plays a larger role than strategic maneuvering choices. It may be that more experience with the game will lessen this perception. A multiple vehicle per player format also means this may not be as big of an issue... but it does exist heavily in the single vehicle scenario.

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


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 card
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. 

Vehicle Design


Car Wars "dashboard"
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.

Final Thoughts


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.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the reviews. I was looking for some info on each of these games.

    I think I will be a bit disappointed in the new CW though. I used to be an AADA member back in the 1980s. I loved the game. It was crunchy.

    I can see why, in the era of short attention spans and casual games, they are designing for more speed and instant gratification. It's sort of the inevitable choice of the millenial+ part of our real world timeline.

    What's lost is some of the greatest creativity the original game: Seeing people build different card designs and so many were possible. I once saw someone built a ram car and make it look like a hammerhead (his sketch was awesome). I won a tournament once with a turreted MG with HD ammo and a composite ram plate with bumper triggered heavy rockets (my first ram blew right through the other vehicle thanks to the HRs).

    Picking a car model isn't kit bashing. Even in X-Wing, I make my own ship cards and pilot cards. I've come up with lots of reasonably balanced powers not seen in the published X-Wing.

    I really used to also love the off-road racing on mud-tracks and battles in wooded areas. Boat wars was amusing too. It'll be a long time, if ever, before they do those again. And Chassis and Crossbow (low tech Mad Max stuff) was supported as of Dueltrack and onwards.

    I do like the idea of damage cards for variability and I do think you could cut down the phase table easily and reduce some modifiers, etc. to streamline the old game.

    To me, they want a 60 minute, fast fight, low customization game that will draw in new players and give a collector aspect (as drivers and vehicles come with cards from their collectible product).

    What I want is a 120 minute game with medium-fast fighting/driving, with customization and lots of design options (and thus tactical choices). I also don't want a collectible style of game.

    I may get the new one, but I can do my own streamlined version of the original (or something similar homebrew) that will run faster.

    Custom dice are good too as is the hotwheels scale, though it makes highway duels and convoy scenarios harder (less 'in scale' space on a table vs. the smaller original CW scale).

    I appreciate you taking the time to describe these products.

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  2. I want to make sure I'm clear on a couple points.

    1) You are right in that it will be less crunchy and they are aiming to make it come out on the table in 1 to 2 hours. That's where the board and miniature game industry is right now. Nobody plays 4+ hour games anymore.

    2) AFAICT, I don't believe it will be "collectible" any more than X-Wing is. I.E. - the vehicles, drivers, and upgrades will not be random, but I do see it is likely to be somewhat like X-Wing, but instead of individual ships, there may be "car pack" expansions. This is hugely speculative on my part. We will need to wait and see how the Kickstarter shapes up.

    3) You will be able to put together your own vehicle designs with the cards, like one does with X-Wing. You will not be able to tweak it down to the last little pound of weight and space like the older editions, but I think there will be a good amount of flexibility. I'm ok with that. Vehicle design was a huge pain in the ass before that guy put out the "combat garage" website where one could build CW cars online.

    You will likely still be able to build your turreted MGs with a ram plate vehicle. I don't know how much ammo customization they will have at the start.

    4) I don't think off-road rules will be hard to simulate in CW6. I mean, it's basically a trade-off of buying suspension and tires vs. a handling deficit. Should be easy to approximate. Even if they don't come out with equipment cards for those right away, someone will undoubtedly come up with house rules that will cover those. I'm hoping for a robust community like Gaslands has.

    It will be different that playing 1980's Car Wars, but I think in mostly positive ways. To be honest, my "traditional" Car Wars versions have come to the table only twice in about 10 years. I'd like to see a version that can hit the table once a month with a group of local players.

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