Like a lot of people out there my age or a little younger, we all have fond memories of Car Wars. After OGRE and GEV, this was Steve Jackson Games’ big hit and the intellectual property that kept the company going in those dark days before Munchkin anything.
Unlike back in 2011 when OGRE was coming out as a 100 dollar coffee table game (and I didn’t bite) or when the Fantasy Trip came home to SJG after being in legal limbo for decades (and yes, I bit), or when OGRE Miniatures got a second wind in 2017 by being cast in plastic (and I bit on that too), I have no mixed feelings on the Car Wars 6.0. I have often wondered how sustainable the strategy of relying on nostalgia to sell product that is essentially the same product lots of us bought when it was in the under ten dollar range.
The thing is, since the Car Wars days in the late 80s and early 90s, a lot of stuff has happened in the hobby. Game Design has improved, for one thing. That’s a problem I’m having with all these games from the 80s that I used to revere so much back then (and yes, SJG published quite a few of them). They were probably great back then because they were literally the only game in town. I don’t really know of another game of gigantic cybertanks fighting tiny ground effect units except, maybe Mechwarrior (kind of). So OGRE kind of holds up, even now. Yeah, I bought miniatures for it. However, other games that I liked, like Illuminati and Car Wars, well, they seem kind of slow, tedious and “charty” now. I don’t really have the requisite group of gamers to pull off those games any more. I don’t really know anyone who wants to dedicate that much time to playing an antique game design any more.
The problem I have with Car Wars is kind of the same problem I had with the Fantasy Trip. All the old problems will be there. This time, it’s not like there isn’t a game to compare it to now.. there’s Gaslands, which is a big hit and utilizes the Matchbox/Hot Wheels scale like a boss. There’s an assortment of home brew combat post-apocalyptic game designs out there, including my own (free!) White Line Fever. Even Gaslands isn’t all that expensive in the new deluxe, why-did-it-need-reprinting version by Osprey Games, and there’s tons of support for that game online. By contrast, SJG seems to be late to the party to compete in that niche.
What can SJG do to compete in such a crowded marketplace? I’m not certain. They have made some smart choices. The core Car Wars mechanics from 1981 worked then but they needed a significant tuneup now. I have viewed the “how to play” Youtube a few times and it really does look like they have put some effort into streamlining the endless micromanagement of decisions in the old design.
They are including a core set of six and a raft of upgrade miniatures with the basic set, and that’s really a good thing. They appear to require no assembly and no conversion, to that’s great. They don’t appear to be exactly compatible with 1:64 scale, and that’s not so great. Gaslands has kind of set the standard, and there a lot of people, me included, who have a ton of Post-Apocalyptic cars done as conversions already. Not so great.
So, yeah, are you going to get it anyway?
You know me so well. I wasn’t going to get the big OGRE, remember? That technically doesn’t count as I won it in a pay it forward for free. I was resistant to Fantasy Trip, and yet, I bought the entire package right up front. I don’t know what came over me. And yet, and yet… I’m thinking of giving this a hard pass. I already have a much simpler system that works just fine (mine, and Gaslands), is set in the same setting, and isn’t going to cost me about 130 minimum to get rules and miniatures. I might want to purchase the PDF by itself at some point, but the full up package? Nahh. The miniatures seem to be standalones for scale.. why would I want that? I’m curious what they have done to improve the pacing of Car Wars, so, yeah, I might get it digitally if they offer it up at some point in the future.