Saturday, May 04, 2002

Car Wars Review

We finally got to play Car Wars last night due to our planned game being called off as I discovered that I have either thrown away my copy of Blue Max or lent it to a workmate who has since emigrated. Ah, well. Typically this discovery only came after four one us had built up lots of 1:72 aircraft for it.

Three of us turned up and we set up a 6' x 4' arena with two large solid obstacles, a gothic-style tower and a large WW2 gun emplacement thing. A bit odd I know, but the average UK wargames club doesn't really have terrain for a Car Wars arena battle in it's filing cabinets so we had to improvise!

I'd heard some talk on the web that ram cars totally dominate the new CW, especially when lightly-armoured Division 5 cars are in use. And we found this to be true. In fact in the first game a car was totalled after the third turn on the first ram of the game (which might have been the first damage inflicted as well!). Basically I had a ram car, my target Mike "von Mike" Drew didn't and couldn't get away from me. And that was on a 6' x 4', had we used the sample 4' x 2' arena from the rulebook he would have stood even less chance of getting away and using his recoilless rifle on me. So we set up again and game 2 also ended very quickly in a ram.

Not very impressed so far, we set up for a third game and this time all choose Division 5 cars that didn't have ramplates. This gave a much better game that lasted for about a hour. But we felt there were still two flaws.

Flaw #1 - Basically Car Wars cars are either OK or dead. In our findings, armour is whittled away with no effect on the car until the armour is gone, when the next hit will either destroy the engine or kill the driver. There seems to be no limping around with semi-crippled cars (such as in Axles and Alloys) . You have a damage 'soak' total and once exceeded you are out of the game, very much like D&D hit points or something. Compare that with A&A whereby a car has two thresholds the reaching of which can cause steering damage or brake loss or blow off weapons etc. and CW seems quite dull in this respect. Component losses are the 'jokers' of A&A that can turn a game around in a single dice throw and force players to accomodate for the fact that (for example) they can now only turn two clockfaces. CW lacks anything like this.

Flaw #2 - The Handling Class. To summarise in CW, you move 1" per 10mph, but you move three times within a turn. So if I do 60 mph I move 6" in phase one, then once everybody has moved I move another 6" in phase two and so on. Manouevres and driving over bits of dead car reduce my handling class to the point where they become harder, but the Handling Class is reset for each turn. So far so good.

However we found this to be awful in practise. In aborted Game #1 I rammed Mike by pulling off a 90 degree turn easily because it was the first phase and my Handling Class was at its highest (Mike's car was basically a couple of inches away to my right). This finished him. But...

Had it been at the start of the third phase and I had pulled off some fancy moves in phases one or two to get into that position then I might have had to roll a dice to do that 90 degree turn and failed due to the moves pulled off in phase one or two. This is the fundamental driving rule in the game. It seems wrong that it's much easier to do that turn at the start of the move than at the game although the idea of the car being unsettled by lots of manouevres is a good one. But...

What had I done in the third phase of the turn before? Doesn't matter. I could have spun through 720 degrees, on ice, with over-inflated bald tyres, with damaged bodywork dragging on the wheel, with a cracked shock absorber, and the throttle cable wedged open while mooning out of the window at passing dolly-birds and whistling Dixie. It doesnt matter because after that bit of Max Power boy racer McDonalds car park activity my Handling class is reset. But had I tried this in phase two then phase three would be a disaster for me!

I understand the idea of the handling class getting worse as the momentum of throwing the car around starts to tell. But it is the artifical way it resets inbetween turns and forgets what the car has been doing up to that point that goes wrong. A real life example might make this clear.

I'm speeding in my rear-wheel drive, prone to oversteer, TR7 and scream around a right-hander too fast. The car oversteers and pivots more clockwise than I would like. So I steer into the skid (wheel goes left) car pivots anti-clockwise (counter clockwise) but I've overcompensated so the car steers left too much. Snatch the wheel right again and this see-sawing of the rear axle disturbs the rear of the car and it loses traction. In CW terms I have spread manoeuvres out over the three phases and the number of them has caught up with me.

But if the game turns end in the middle of my frantic attempts to compensate, suddenly rough, choppy seas turn placid in an instant. All the sideways momentum is lost and normallity is returned. Should there be another phase though (game turn ends later) I might be in trouble and taking an impromtu trip through a hedge. Furthermore if I know exactly when that cosmic game turn ends then I can do whatever I bloody like - I won't be paying for it in the next phase.

What this means simply is that the way the game works is that turns in phase one are easy, turns in phase three might be difficult and as you don't worry about carrying a negative handling class across into a new turn you may as well do your big turns in phase three. Furthermore you can pull off a sharp turn in phase 1, travel straight in phase 2 and foul up another turn in phase 3 purely because of phase 1 even though logic would suggest that the car has been neated and controlled in phase 2 and sideways momentum has evaporated.

What would be better is for the Handling Class to only cover the last two phases, even if they are split over two consecutive turns.

This handling class thing spoilt the game for me. I was keen to play CW as it seemed to promise 'real' driving, unlike A&A but it didn't work in practise. Dave Orton commented that is seemed complicated for the sort of 'throwaway' genre it was and that he preferred A&A to this. We might play it again as it is the sort of game that can be put on a moments notice if the main planned game falls through (such as what happened yesterday) and all the rule books, counters and turning templates can be carried around in a single document wallet.

Disappointing is my verdict. 6/10, 7/10 if the handling class system worked better.

P.S. We used Hot Wheels cars, unconverted but glued to 3" x 1.5" balsa wood bases. Much nicer then the included car counters.