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Car Wars

Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Board and counter Wargame (1981). Steve Jackson Games (SJG). Designed by Steve Jackson, Chad Irby.

Car Wars is a game of "autoduelling" – combat between armed and armoured cars, motorcycles and trucks. It is set in a fragmented future America, in which oil and food crises have caused the near collapse of civilization. The game's Future History exemplifies many of the social and ecological fears of the 1970s; in this world casual violence is common, and autoduelling is both a recognized national sport and a vital survival skill outside the fortified cities. Car Wars was very successful commercially; many players were attracted by the idea of acting out their road rage in a fantasy setting, especially as the game allows them to design their own vehicles and equip them with a carefully chosen selection of Weapons. The gameplay has a very cinematic feel, with rules for fishtailing, rapid swerving and a long list of combat options, though it can be quite slow to play.

The world of Car Wars is prefigured in many sf short stories, including Harlan Ellison's "Along the Scenic Route" (July 1969 in The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World; vt "Dogfight on 101" September 1969 Amazing) and Roger Zelazny's "Devil Car" (June 1965 Galaxy), as well as in such films as Death Race 2000 (1975) and Mad Max (1979). The game itself cites Alan Dean Foster's "Why Johnny Can't Speed" (September-October 1971 Galaxy) as an inspiration. Multiple editions of Car Wars have been released since the first in 1981: the second, Car Wars Deluxe, in 1985, the third in 1989, the fourth in 1990 and the fifth in 2002. The game has also had several successful spinoffs, notably Autoduel (1985 Origin Systems, AppleII, Atari8; 1986 C64; 1987 AtariST; 1988 Amiga, DOS, Mac) designed by Richard Garriott, a well crafted – if somewhat combat focused – Computer Role Playing Game which uses a plan view to depict its highly interactive world.

Related works: A large amount of Car Wars material was released throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including the introductory Mini Car Wars (1987 SJG) designed by Steve Jackson, Jim Gould, and Car Wars: The Card Game (1991 SJG; rev 2001) designed by Creede and Sharleen Lambard (see Card Games). GURPS Autoduel (1986 SJG; rev 1996) designed by Aaron Allston, Scott Haring is a Role Playing Game using the GURPS (1986) system, set in a more fully realized version of the wargame's world. Autoduel Champions (1983 SJG) designed by Aaron Allston contains rules for combining Car Wars with the Champions (1981) RPG.

Six well regarded Gamebooks set in the Car Wars milieu were released by Tactical Studies Rules: Battle Road (1986), by Steve Jackson; Fuel's Gold (1986), by Steve Jackson; Dueltrack (1987) by Scott Haring; Badlands Run (1987) by Creede Lambard and Sharleen Lambard; Green Circle Blues (1987) by Scott Haring and Mean Streets (1987) by W G Armintrout. Car Warriors (1991) is a four-issue Comics series associated with the game, written by Chuck Dixon. Three novels were also published under the Car Warriors name: The Square Deal (1992), by David A Drake, Double Jeopardy (1994), by Aaron Allston and Back From Hell (1999), by Mick Farren. [NT]


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