Saturday, November 2, 2013

Tales from the "good ole days".

The following is a post I made on a message board back in the late 90's. It sums up my gaming experience in general and my Car Wars experience specifically. As I've gotten older I've moved to simpler systems, but still enjoy mixing role-playing and strategy gaming.


I first discovered wargames in 1979.  Browsing the magazine section of a hobby shop in Boise, Wargamers Digest caught my eye.  Collecting military miniatures was already a hobby of mine and now I had a chance to use these models to recreate battles.  Oh joy!  Oh rapture! 

The year after that a new kid in school found out I played wargames and asked if I had ever role played.  I was intrigued, and soon my hundreds of dollars worth of WW II miniatures was collecting dust as I embarked on a much more personal experience.

I became the game master for the numerous games we played.  I liked the level of detail players could experience by role playing an individual character or even 2 or 3, but the grand scope of play was missing.  There were no good rules to run an organization, kingdom, or army.  Some games would mention it in passing, but their rules were never clear or complete enough to work.  I fooled with my own ideas, but didn't develop anything beyond the play testing stage.

Somewhere in these early years I discovered micro games.  These were cheap enough for a high schooler to afford and some of them were pretty good.  (I thought Hell Tank was a way better game than Ogre.)  When Car Wars showed up in my hobby shop I thought it was a joke.  A spoof game based on Star Wars that wasn’t worth a second glance.  Yet, I did continue to glance.  And read reviews. And read the back of the game again, and again, and again.  Finally I decided to plunk down the $3 (or was it $4) and take a chance.

The rules were a dream come true.  This was the first set of rules that actually tried to model vehicle maneuver as well as combat, and even let you design your own cars.  Oooh joy!  Oooh Rapture!  Of course I was confused by a few things.  Were the power plants gas engines?  What did they use for fuel and how much was needed?  The list goes on.

This did not stop me from playing, and I soon created a small arena and ran a duel.  We dueled in the arena about 4 times and on the road twice.  Then got bored and went back to Villains and Vigilantes.  I tried to design my own city streets, but the scale was all wrong.

The Convoy scenario was what really put the spark back in the game for me.  I ran it solo.  I ran it for my group.  I ran it for several groups when I went to college.  I ran it and the one where the players must get the Mormon leader down to California into the ground.
To me this was what Car Wars was all about.  Missions in the wastelands, living in a campaign world that went way beyond the arena.  The challenges would come from new situations, not bigger and more deadly weapons or equipment.

I then proceeded to try to run a campaign or 2 outside the arena, but the lack of concrete rules left me writing homemade rules more than writing adventures.  A lot of people were willing to play the game, but the work was too much.  Especially when there were other RPG’s with campaign rules already fleshed out.

Sure there were the AADA survival guides coming out around this time, but they were to disjointed, vague, and disappointing to be of much use.  Steve Jackson Games also put out numerous arenas and vehicle designs, but these were only met with yawns.  Without a comprehensive campaign to fit these into they lost most peoples interests after only 1 try. 

The first successful Car Wars campaign that was ran was one created and ran by my roommate.  Myself and one other guy played rival warlords.  We had a map of our territory, and were given some skill points and money to buy characters and equipment.  We used a lot of homemade rules and began spying on each other.  Shortly after the campaign began, aliens landed right between us and began to shoot up both sides with anti-grav vehicles and lasers.  We proceeded to fight the aliens, but never joined forces and the aliens were able to complete their nefarious experiments and win.  We actually had to start this campaign over once because we had too many troops and vehicles  to play the large scale battles out successfully.

Next I tried a campaign based on rival trucking companies trying to make a profit.  It flopped, because the rules I had written were too sparse and the campaign not that exciting.  However, with everything I had learned Car Wars campaigns now took on a new meaning, and it was all I would play.

My last few years in college (I was on the 6.5 year party plan) were a time of few classes and fewer responsibilities.  Thus I could devote more time to a game that had become my favorite.  Car Wars.  I wrote campaign rules late into the night and refereed it all day.  We would have up to 8 people playing at one time, and not an arena was ever touched.  In fact after my first 4 arena plays in high school I only played in one other arena.  It was a duel track designed by my friend, and was only a back drop to a story of murder and betrayal on an Indian reservation in the Southwest.

Since college I have ran campaigns involving individuals as well as organizations.  Most of my games are set in a post apocalyptic earth with magic and alien technology.  My players go on small party quests, lead company size armies into battles, and even rule small kingdoms.  The diversity I am able to achieve using Car Wars as the base set of rules is incredible.   

The biggest factor in making my games a success was the set of campaign rules I made up over the last 18 years of play.  These rules allow characters to interact with and explore a post apocalyptic landscape using the Car Wars rules as the base reference.  I am particularly proud of my rules for running organizations and hope to have them ready to be printed in CWIN by the year 2000.

Car Wars helped set the frame work for a set of rules that allows me to combine the best of role playing, character interaction and development, with wargamings grand maneuvers and leadership.

I want to applaud all the hard core Car Wars fans who have kept the game alive all these years.  There are a lot of good campaigns out there and I encourage those of you who still use Car Wars as just a set of rules for arena combat to take a look at some other avenues of play.  All the people I ever got interested in the game wanted to play in campaigns where they could command a group of warriors to do their bidding.  Even at game conventions where one shot adventures are the king, people would rather make up a character and go explore a cave or get in a wargame and command hundreds of troops than to play out an arena combat.

In order to attract and keep new players, the focus must switch from arenas to campaign worlds.  There is a reason that interest in Car Wars has dropped off while games like Battletech continue to thrive.  Some will say, “It’s the complicated rules.”  But thousands who already took the time to learn the rules are no longer playing.  Other say, “It’s lack of Steve Jackson Games support.”  But SJG turned out numerous arenas, counters, and vehicle rules and designs.  Steve Jackson pumped out plenty of supplements but after a while nobody bought them.  Battletech, AD & D, and several other successful games also pump out supplement after supplement, that get bought off the shelves as soon as they hit the store.  Why are these other games still selling while Car Wars is not?  Because they have campaign rules and worlds.  They have a place where the exploits of the character mean something in a bigger picture.  Where the challenge and enjoyment comes not just from bigger guys with bigger guns, but also in the exploration and conquering of lands, the interaction with NPC’s, and the immersion  of the player characters in a living environment. 

New players might come for the vehicle combat and arena duels, but they’ll stay for the campaign environment.

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