Three Things I Like About: Car Wars

Car Wars - Deluxe Edition contents

Back to the Three Things series, done in conjunction with my recently released book, Games’ Most Wanted.

Car Wars, developed and produced by Steve Jackson Games, was a favorite of my high school gaming group. (Yes, all four of us.) We picked up the Deluxe Edition one day during a comic book run; epic city demolition derbys became a common weekend pick-up gaming alternative.

In Car Wars, you took control of a car or other powered vehicle, from motorcycles to semis to tanks and even aircraft. Custom designs allowed you to tweak armor, chassis, weapons, and other equipment so you could survive your opponents’ attacks and dish it right back to them.

Counters, Maps, and Movement

Back in those halcyon days of gaming, cardstock counters were a common sight, rather than precisely detailed metal miniatures. City maps and roads used a grid system; when combined with the Third Edition’s “turning key,” precise maneuvers could be accomplished. Successfully executing a Smuggler’s Turn at 30 mph and then gutting your pursuer with your hidden heavy caliber cannon was hard to pull off but very satisfying.

Later editions adjusted the scale from the 1″=15′ (1:180) to 1″=5′ (1:60), so you could use Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars along with S-gauge scenery.

What my group really liked were ‘chase’ scenarios using the game’s generic highway tiles. Endless ribbons of asphalt allowed a Mad Max style ‘run to the death’ game that was a common staple for us on Saturday afternoons.

Gameplay was relatively simple and ended up being one of my gateways into more hardcore wargaming. Car Wars used a combination of measurements for movement and range, line of sight for weapons fire, and simple dice rolls for resolution. I think getting a grasp on these three basics of tabletop wargaming helped prep me for my college and post-college gaming days. A balance had to be struck using the right number of maneuvers; the harder they were and the more you did, the more difficult the movement and possible success in the result. Failure led to epic crashes…which in all honesty, was half of the fun.

Car Wars: Rouge Arena

Cars, Cars, Cars

The addition of customized rules allowed you to build whatever vehicle suited your style. (My favorites were reverse-trike escorts for a heavily armored semi-truck and trailer combination.) The basic rules built from the standard car chassis and eventual expansions spread the game out to cover virtually every type of vehicle built by man.

You could buy a cardstock version of the counters that were in black and white, giving you the ability to create custom paint jobs for your vehicles.

A typical game was the simple arena-style demolition derby, using a defined area that included buildings, debris, or even an oval track. Tournaments — though I never actually participated in one — were more ladder-style games. These allowed players to upgrade their cars between each round using accumulated in-game cash winnings. The games I saw played at Origins used a detailed scale model set and custom-built car models.

Mad Max

The setting is what initially appealed to my group. Influenced by the Road Warrior movie in the Mad Max series, Car Wars described a post-apocalyptic America suffering from resource shortages and a second Civil War. A new sport called autodueling – armed demolition derbies – arose. Human cloning made driver death irrelevant.

The role-playing aspect of the game had potential but my group never got involved beyond having a few favored drivers and their rides. Our RPG tastes were sated elsewhere, though on occasion I do remember writing short blurbs that summarized some of our arena games, just for fun and amusement.

So there it is. Car Wars, a game predominately from my adolescent years, still holds the nostalgic factor in my game closet. I have a battered copy of the Deluxe Edition I bought two decades ago and it remains in a place of honor on my gaming shelf.

BattleTech: A Strategic and Tactical Primer (Pt. 6)

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Part 6 of the Strategy and Tactics Guide from the cancelled Clan Box Set. Errors are my own, as this is straight from a first draft.

BATTLETECH FORCES

Not every ‘Mech is appropriate for every type of scenario, so match the machine to the mission when choosing BattleMechs. This section will help you do that by providing a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of the various units available in BattleTech. This information is particularly helpful when you get to choose the ‘Mechs you will use for a scenario, but it also can help you make the best use of your forces when you are assigned a particular mix of ‘Mechs, all of which are not necessarily ideal for the task at hand. The best commanders make the most of what they have and expertly fit square pegs into round holes.

For the sake of discussion, we have divided the ‘Mechs available in the BattleTech into seven broad categories: duelists, scouts, strikers, skirmishers, brawlers, snipers, fire support and juggernauts.

The ‘Mechs assigned to each category are deployed in a similar fashion by virtue of their movement capabilities and weapons complements. Each category description provides a discussion of the characteristics of ‘Mechs included in that category and their use in game play, followed by brief comments on each specific ‘Mech. If players purchase any of the various technical readouts that include many other BattleMech designs, they only need to compare each design’s relative characteristics to those found here to find in which category they belong.

The Clan names that appear in parentheses after each ‘Mech description indicate both an Invader Clan and a Homeworld Clan that most commonly uses the ‘Mech.

Military Organization

Within the BattleTech universe, the smallest organization of a Clan force is the Star, which consists of five units – one for each point of a star. A Clan Star can be comprised solely of BattleMechs, battle armor, or a mix of both. One ‘point’ of battle armor is comprised of five troopers, so if you have a Star of battle armor, you have five points of five troopers, or twenty-five battle armor suits [5 x 5 = 25]. A mixed Star can contain any variation of ‘Mechs and battle armor, such as three ‘Mechs and two battle armor points (ten total troopers), or four ‘Mechs and one point of battle armor (five total troopers).

Generally speaking, Stars carry a name that is equal to their combat purpose, usually based off of what units comprise the Star. For example, a unit containing nothing but Strikers (see below) would usually be referred to as a “Striker Star,” while a Star of Scouts would be referred to as a “Scout Star.”

In parenthesis next to each of the eight category definitions in this section, one or more Star names are provided. Once again, note that these are not hard and fast rules but instead are general category names that players can use to help organize forces as they start building and fielding their own lances.

Battle Armor

Referred to by the Inner Sphere as “Toads” and called Elementals in Clanspace, battle armor troopers are the pinnacle of infantry-style combat. These power armor suits can be carried across battlefields by Clan OmniMechs and dropped off for close-quarters combat and additional support. (All the ‘Mechs in this box set are OmniMechs and can carry Toads.) These Toads move as a group, jumping up to 3 hexes a turn, which gives them great mobility across most terrain. Unlike ‘Mechs, they have no facing and can fire in any direction. In addition, they carry two shots of SRM 2 missiles apiece; a full salvo can severely damage a light ‘Mech and give much pause to medium and even heavy ‘Mechs.

Each Toad suit is also equipped with a small laser; while the range is small, they can be a welcome addition in a close-quarters battle. Additionally, because battle armor can conduct swarming and anti-‘Mech leg attacks, they can cripple an enemy unit unlucky enough to have them nearby.

DUELISTS

These ‘Mechs are normally not part of any strict Star formation – indeed, a Star made up primarily of duelists is more of a weakness than a strength, particularly because each ‘Mech is more geared towards the ritualized, individual combat between enemy warriors and not necessarily geared towards teamwork. Thus, you may find a duelist in nearly any type of Star, but not a Star comprised totally of duelists.

Designed and used primarily for personal combat, these ‘Mechs can compliment other Star members in a sniper, fire support or even a brawler role but excel mostly in single combat against an equal or greater foe. While challenging and beating a lesser opponent isn’t frowned upon, it does not confer as much honor to the warrior as defeating a greater opponent would.

Uller Prime

The Uller is not as fast as other light ‘Mechs, nor is it as heavily armored. It does mount an array of weapons across its frame, however – a missile rack, lasers, and an autocannon – and all are smaller-scale damage weapons. Ideal for taking on a similarly-sized opponent, it does not last long against most other ‘Mechs due to its light armor load. If using an Uller Prime, squeeze as much MP as possible during its move. (Jade Falcon, Blood Spirit)

Fenris A

Lightly armed but incredibly fast, the Fenris A is a favorite of many Clan warriors for dueling. The armor protection will survive most initial large weapon attacks, enough to allow the pilot a second chance. Its LB 2-X gives it incredible range to strike from, but the small autocannon will take a long time to penetrate most ‘Mechs outside the light weight classes. It is important to utilize the Fenris A’s incredible speed and outmaneuver your opponent, rather than rely on sniping from long and medium ranges. (Wolf, Coyote)

Thor A

The Thor A only mounts three weapon systems but can use all of them every turn without turning up the Heat scale. Highly maneuverable with jumping 5 MP, the Thor mounts excellent armor coverage. It is an all-around solid design, capable of defensive and offensive tactics. The only weakness is its limited ammunition; make sure each Gauss rifle shot has a good chance to hit, as 8 rounds go very quickly in a fast-paced duel. (Jade Falcon, Steel Viper)

Gladiator A

Heavily armored, the Gladiator A is a decent dueling ‘Mech but can also be used in a brawling mode if necessary. The MASC gives it a bit of an edge in speed, which can open up opportunities to sneak in rear arc shots or allow you to close quickly into a developing skirmish. The large number of lasers on the Gladiator A can quickly drive the heat up on those players not careful; poor heat management can find this ‘Mech exploding due to the ton of machine gun ammo being carted around in the torso. (Ghost Bear, Coyote)

BattleTech: A Strategic and Tactical Primer(Pt. 5)

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Part 5 of the Strategy and Tactics Guide from the cancelled Clan Box Set. Errors are my own, as this is straight from a first draft.

PHYSICAL ATTACKS

Don’t overlook the chance to inflict a few extra points of damage by making physical attacks. Though Clan warriors tend to frown up such actions, it is not forbidden and in some Clans, actually encouraged against Inner Sphere foes. The main risk in making physical attacks is that you must be adjacent to your target to execute kicks, punches and other such attacks, which usually puts you at risk for physical attacks in return. Also, if you and/or your opponent decide to make a weapons attack at such close range, all the weapons are likely to hit – a potentially deadly situation.

While physical attacks are rare for Clan warriors to use, it is always wise to understand what these attacks may entail, since Inner Sphere opponents have no compunction in using them against Clan foes.

Punching

Punching attacks have numerous advantages. First, a punch is one of the few types of physical attack that does not cause damage to the attacking ‘Mech. But, perhaps more importantly, you roll the attack’s hit location on the Punch Hit Location Table, which offers a 1 in 6 chance to hit the target’s head. That means a punch is six times more likely to hit a ‘Mech’s head than a regular weapons shot!

Because you cannot make a punching attack with an arm that fired a weapon during the current turn, you must decide to punch before you declare your weapon attacks. A ‘Mech can punch once with each arm in a single turn.

When adjacent to other ‘Mechs, large BattleMechs should almost always punch rather than firing arm-mounted weapons with a minimum range. For example, the Gladiator Prime mounts a Gauss rifle in its left arm and two ER large lasers in its right. Firing both ER large lasers will do plenty of damage if both to-hit rolls are successful, so punching with the right arm is an option only if heat is a problem (the lasers each generate 10 points of heat). Firing the Gauss rifle will do 15 points of damage for 1 point of heat, but a Gauss rifle fired that close to a punchable target also gains a +2 to-hit penalty due to its minimum range. In this case, it may be preferable to not fire the Gauss for the easier punch attack with the left arm. Before slugging away, however, keep in mind that missing or damaged arm actuators adds a +1 to-hit modifier to punching attacks (see Intro Rulebook p.XX). In the example above, the Gladiator would have only a +1 modifier to its punch attack, as opposed to the +2 for the minimum range modifier for the Gauss rifle attack.

Clubbing

‘Mechs rarely use clubs to attack opponents, because players rarely fight scenarios in which suitable clubs are available. Other ‘Mech’s limbs make good clubs, for example, but few attacks result in a limb being blown off. ‘Mechs can uproot trees to use as clubs, but must spend a full turn doing so. Finally, a ‘Mech must use (and have functional) two hand actuators to wield a club. Obviously this attack offers few advantages over a punch attack.

Physical Weapons (Hatchets)

Though none of the ‘Mechs in the Clans come equipped with hatchets (or any other physical attack weapons), you may face an opponent using an Inner Sphere ‘Mech that does. These massive weapons function just like a club, except a ‘Mech can wield them with one hand.

Pushing

The best situation for using a pushing attack is against a ‘Mech standing at the top of a hill or on the edge of the map. Though some players would recommend a charging attack under these circumstances, a push can be just as effective and causes no damage to the attacking ‘Mech.

Most scenarios call for the “destruction” of any ‘Mechs that leave the map, either intentionally or accidentally. If an enemy ‘Mech is standing at the edge of the map, a push off the map can “kill” the ‘Mech for game purposes, causing no damage to your ‘Mech.

A successful push attack may also cause the target BattleMech to fall; this is a particularly effective attack if the target ‘Mech falls down a hill. Especially for a heavy ‘Mech, a fall down a hill can be more damaging than two punch attacks. It’s true – the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Kicking

Successful kick attacks can cause a lot of damage, often effectively crippling a ‘Mech. Kick attacks offer a good choice for additional attacks in a turn. (A ‘Mech cannot kick with a leg that fired a weapon in that turn, but few BattleMechs have leg-mounted weapons so this is not much of a restriction.) As an added bonus, a ‘Mech that is kicked successfully must make a successful Piloting Skill Roll or fall down.

On the down side, if you miss a kick, you must make a successful Piloting Skill Roll or your ‘Mech falls. This is a good reason for not making a kick attack if the attack requires a high to-hit number. If your MechWarrior has a poor Piloting Skill or the ‘Mech has suffered damage that affects Piloting Skill Rolls, you may prefer to make a punch attack rather than a kick attack.

Charging

A charging attack can be tremendously damaging to an opponent, especially when the attacking ‘Mech possesses a combination of speed and weight. Fast, heavy ‘Mechs such as Gladiators and Mad Cats make good charging attacks, as do Pumas  and Fenris on the light and medium weights. A charging ‘Mech cannot make any weapon attacks in the turn it charges, however, and so the player must weigh this disadvantage against the potential damage the charging attack might inflict.

In general, charging attacks have a low probability of success and cause damage to the charging ‘Mech as well as its target. Only if your ‘Mech is damaged or has lost its ranged weapons should you consider a charge, and then only if there is a good, clear path between your ‘Mech and the target.

Death From Above (DFA)

This attack is very difficult to pull off and decidedly rare. It can cause your ‘Mech serious damage. That being said, DFA is one of the most dramatic, enjoyable moves you can execute in BattleTech, and nearly always earns the admiration of your opponent and onlookers if it is successful. It is considered good form to yell out “Death from above, surat!” when attempting this bold maneuver. You may even get a round of applause!

In practice, you should only make a DFA as a last resort. Use it primarily when your jump-capable ‘Mech is severely damaged or in danger of being destroyed soon anyway. This attack allows you to go out with a bang, instead of a whimper.

BattleTech: A Strategic and Tactical Primer(Pt. 4)

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Part 4 of the Strategy and Tactics Guide from the cancelled Clan Box Set. Errors are my own, as this is straight from a first draft.

WEAPON ATTACKS

Generally, it’s best to always fire every weapon that has a chance of hitting the target, because one can never predict which weapon will mean the difference between victory and defeat. Players should also, hover, consider overheating problems and a ‘Mech’s ammunition supplies when making weapon attacks.

Heat

The main limit on a BattleMech’s overall firepower is heat. Nearly everything a ‘Mech does generates heat, and weapons fire is certainly no exception. When choosing which and how many weapons to fire, heat is usually the deciding factor.

A few ‘Mech designs, such as the Uller A or the Dragonfly Prime, can fire all their weapons and move at full speed in the same turn and never even think about overheating. These ‘Mechs are rare however, and usually lack much of a punch. Most BattleMechs, such as the Masakari Prime, suffer moderate heat problems if they fire all of their weapons at once. It’s fairly easy to manage the heat level on this units, however, because you will rarely need to fire the ‘Mech’s full weapons array simultaneously. With ‘Mechs like these, go ahead and overheat whenever you feel confident of a successful attack. On more difficult shots, simply hold off firing at least one weapon that requires ammunition. You’ll avoid overheating and conserve ammo at the same time.

Then there are ‘Mechs with real heat problems, such as the Black Hawk Prime. Fortunately, these ‘Mechs usually carry either two distinct types of weapons (short range and long range) or an overabundance of one (medium range). Rather than firing all your weapons every time you attack and hoping to hit something, only fire those weapons that have a good chance of hitting.

Finally, take a look at the Heat Scale in the lower right corner of the record sheet. Note that there are no adverse effects for a heat level of 1-4 points. This means you can exceed a ‘Mech’s heat sink capacity by 4 points before it has any effect on your ‘Mech at all.

Ammunition

Most ‘Mechs carry an ample supply of ammunition for an average BattleTech game (team teams of four ‘Mechs each, battling on two mapsheets). If your weapons carry less than ten shots, however, or if the game is played with significantly larger forces, you will have to conserve your ammunition.

The easiest way to conserve ammunition is to choose not to take shots with a to-hit number of 11 or 12. In general, if the to-hit number is 10, you must decide if the chance to score a hit is worth the ammunition you waste if the shot misses. Unless the target is heavily armored and the shot is unlikely to cause critical damage, it’s usually worth it.

As a secondary consideration, players may want to reduce their ammo loads to decrease the potential damage of ammo explosions. Some weapons, most notably machine guns and SRM 2s, carry large supplies of ammunition per critical space, which can inflict substantial damage if hit. If you feel inclined to reduce the risk of explosion at the expense of battlefield endurance and your opponent agrees, you can carry a “light load,” reducing the total amount of ammunition carried for any of your weapons. Write any such changes clearly on your record sheet so your opponent also knows exactly how much ammo you are carrying. Keep in mind that you can’t reverse your decision halfway through the scenario: once you hit the field, you’ve got only the ammunition indicated on your record sheet.

Clan Code of Honor

During their inception and throughout most of their history until their invasion of the Inner Sphere, Clan society developed a ritualized process of warfare that aligns with their “waste not, want not” mentality. Most Clan battles tend to utilize this code of battle, formally known as “zellbrigen.” In a nutshell, each Clan unit challenges one of his opponents, usually a ‘Mech that is of equal or greater power than itself. The aim of the pilot is to heap glory on him or herself by winning against an equal or greater foe.

The Clans attempted to use this type of ritualized combat when they faced Inner Sphere forces during the initial invasion; however, the militaries of the Great Houses and other factions found ways to manipulate such a rigid battle code against the Clans. As a consequence, most Clans refuse to use such an honored combat system with the Inner Sphere “barbarians” and tend to use the same tactics that the Inner Sphere utilizes in their warfare.

For more details on zellbrigen and the Clan Honor Code, please see Total Warfare, p. 273.

Concentrated Fire

A standard tactic of most Inner Sphere militaries, many Clans also use this tactic when their opponent is an Inner Sphere force.

A ‘Mech can take many hits before being destroyed, so concentrate your attacks on a single target whenever possible. By taking an entire ‘Mech out of action more quickly, you deny your opponent the use of that ‘Mech. If you spread your attacks across many targets, you may inflict damage on them all but you’re unlikely to destroy any of them. Even damaged ‘Mechs can continue to fire back, but a destroyed ‘Mech is no longer a threat. Therefore, concentrating fire against a single target is usually preferable even when easier targets present themselves.