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.)