Friday, October 23, 2009

Shot to Death by Canon

And no, that's not a typo.

By canon, of course, I mean the sheer amount of baggage that any game or game system gathers as it grows. And they do tend to grow, don't they?

Sure, lots of disgruntled fanboys like to say that the company is out to gouge them for all they're worth, and that's why they keep putting out supplements and magazines and things like that. And there may be some of that.

But I think it's far more likely that when people find a game they really like, they play it to death. And their experience soon outstrips the possibilities of the basic version of the game, so they add to it. (Some people do this before they even start playing, but they are exceptions. I hope.)

And, as a result, you end up with tons of additional material. Any given piece of it, surely, is just one addition and won't change things much (if at all). It's like a pinch of salt in your soup: It enhances the flavor but doesn't change it.

Add fifteen, twenty years of additional "salt" and you have an inedible mess, only of any use to the hardcore gamer who stuck with it forever. Hard for a new guy to get involved in this, ain't it?

And all of that stuff becomes canon. And once something is canon, it cannot ever be changed (although possibly retconned, which is a whole other rant). It must be debated and/or argued, but never changed and never ignored. Hey, just ask the die-hard Traveller cognoscenti.

You might think (with some justification) that I'm talking about D&D/AD&D/WOTC's 3 & 4e. I could be, but I'm not.

I'm talking about Car Wars.

One of the niftiest games ever, the original edition of the game is a classic of compact design and mind-expanding possibilities. And the whole game is a textbook case of a game spiraling out of control and growing exponentially, until the point of the basic game is nearly obscured.

See, originally it was about fighting, car to car. You get in your car and I get in mine, and we go out on the road (or into the arena, whatever) and we duke it out.

But that was only the half of it! The bulk of the time people spend on the game as a rule is in the vehicle design part of the game. Only today, with the fifth edition, you don't even have a design system! (Hmm -- that may be why the Rules Compendium (aka 4th edition) is now available on Steve Jackson's pdf store, e23. But it's not for beginners...)

But there's just too much of it. I went along buying the games and some of the supplements, right up until the original Deluxe Edition. And that's where I stopped. I didn't need gasoline engines, or freakin' Boat Wars for crying out loud. (Truth to tell, I had almost had enough of the really tiny pedestrian counters -- but that's a subject for another post...)

So I took a cue from the Old School Renaissance. I decided to get back to basics, to reboot 2031 if you will. So I got on eBay and got a copy of the old pocket box (actually the third edition, but in the grand scheme of things it's considered the third printing of the first edition, if you take my meaning). It's not enough, though; I subsequently found a copy of the FIRST first edition (the ziplock bag edition that came out before the pocket box; it's on it's way to me from Noble Knight Games).

And I designed my own area, which debuted tonight.

It was the first game ever for my wife, and my first game in probably 20 years. The arena is a figure 8, so there's an intersection. The levels don't change, so everybody crosses right there. Well, Herself wanted to see what happened if she swerved in front of me. What happened was a collision, with a closing speed of 65mph. That means 8 dice of damage -- to my front armor but her side armor (and, as it turns out, her power plant and driver as well, fatally for the driver).

So, we didn't even make a complete circuit. But the arena now has a name: Crash Crossing. You can see the whole thing is the out-of-focus long shot; the final position (mine was the green car) in the other shot. (As usual click to embiggen.)

(For the curious, we each had a stock Joseph Special, with no modifications whatsoever.)


Neil Ford said...

WoW! Does that bring back some happy memories.

I still have all my original Car Wars stuff in a box in storage. Haven't looked at it in an age though.

Was actually thinking about it recently when I say some toy cars which were almost the correct scale. Maybe now I'll have to go back and check them out again.

Thanks for bring one of the great games of it's time back in to my thoughts.

- Neil.

Will Douglas said...

Glad you enjoyed it!

I was somewhat surprised after posting this, because as I continued surfing I wandered over Wil Wheaton's blog -- where he mentioned (in passing) having played Car Wars! There's some kind of synchronicity going on around here!

Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

Nice track. So simple, but, something about it makes me want to push little cardboard cars around. Maybe it's that sexy ass "Britsh racing green" table cloth.

I few years ago I bought a bunch of matchbox cars from ebay and used them to run a arena duel for a bunch of friends. It was a hoot.

Aaron E. Steele said...

I have a ton of micro-games, but I never replaced my Steve Jackson Games microgames. I recently posted a picture of my micro-game collection on my blog.

Car Wars was a great game. Micro-game design forced the designers to come up with interestin games with simple, elegant rules. Original Car Wars is a perfect example of micro-game success.

If you like the idea of simple elegant rules, and like science fiction, you should check out the original Starfire game (you can get it cheaply and second hand, in box form).

Car Wars. Awesome!

Word verification - pansies

Will Douglas said...

I had a copy of Starfire II, once upon a time, back in the day (gee, can I slap any more cliches on this? It's a comment, not a Risus character!)

I never got a chance to play it, though. The group I was in was much more interested in Star Fleet Battles (the Commander's edition, back then), and would never go for something as "simple" as that. But I did like the look of it.

Aaron E. Steele said...

That's a shame, as Starfire was IMHO better, though I was happy to play either.

christian said...

Sweet mercy I love Car Wars. Our duels used to get so heated. Table-flipping rage.