Car Wars

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Be Safe. Drive Offensively!

Car Wars was originally published by Steve Jackson Games in 1980. In this game, you typically play the role of an 'autoduellist', a futuristic sportsman who drove in autoduelling events. What's autoduelling, you say? Vehicular Combat as a future sport, of course.

The game was set Twenty Minutes Into the Future ... OK, well, 40–50 years. A number of crises have beset the North American continent, including a famine, a (minor) nuclear exchange, and a re-fighting of the Civil War. It's After the End, although it's not all the way at the end—in fact, truck stops are explicitly compared to medieval (or at least fantasy RPG) inns. Good thing, since there's bandits out there. The sport of autoduelling grew in this environment, what with people treating guns like adventurers might treat swords/axes/bows in fantasy settings. That, and 'Crazy Joe' Harshman winning a demolition derby by More Dakka. (Well, any dakka is more if you're the only one with it, right?)

Originally, the rules supported normal vehicles—cars and bikes. Naturally, a game system that lets you weaponise anything that's got an engine will expand, and sooner or later someone will wonder what the military will have once civilians are allowed rocket launchers, leaving room for Splatbooks to describe just that. The only vehicles that ended up unsupported were outright submarines and spacecraft when support stopped in the mid to late 1990s. Those who want to dive in best hit auctions.

Steve Jackson Games tried a reboot in the early 2000s with Car Wars 5.0, but the system never took off—it was sold as various prebuilt cars in two-packs with each having a copy of the rules, and gamers who thirsted for the construction rules never got them. It didn't fare that well.

A spinoff was a card game with similar ideas, although some concepts are noticeably different. This was given an expansion pack, Battle Cattle, which features ... well, guess. A second was a computer game, Autoduel, from Origin Systems. There was also a tabletop RPG, using Steve Jackson's GURPS system and the Autoduel name.

Tropes used in Car Wars include:
  • Ace Pilot: You wish you were one. Uses the old airplane definition, too; if you double this, you're a Double Ace.
  • Acme Products: Uncle Al's Auto Stop and Gunnery Shop.
  • BFG: The tank gun, an army-surplus 105mm cannon only mountable on the likes of trucks and buses (and even then only to the front or rear).
  • Body Backup Drive: A duelist can arrange to have Gold Cross grow a clone from his cells and store a copy of his mind. If he dies, his mind is downloaded into the clone and the player continues to use the character.
  • Blood Sport and Deadly Game: Autoduelling is noted as coming from demolition derby, just a little more thorough and long-ranged. Note that while you can gun down someone who surrenders without legal ramification, you're bound to lose points with the fans (assuming the referee pays attention).
  • Bottomless Magazines: Nope, none here. You gotta pay for ammo, unless you use lasers—in which case, you use up your FUEL.
  • Car Fu: Inevitable in this setting, but more fun when you buy a ramplate. Comment in-universe was that this was developed for cars after someone started using machine guns.
  • Character Customization: Originally simple (driving and weapon skills), later editions tried to go into Role-Playing Game territory with available skills. And of course you can customise your cars.
  • Chunky Salsa Rule: The confetti rules. If your car gets hit with a lot of damage all at once, the referee grabs some random debris markers and drops them around where your car used to be.
  • Church Militant: Four. Louisiana becomes one, Utah Deseret tries, and there's cults in Chicago and Australia who'd do it if they could.
  • Continuing Is Painful: You have to pay Gold Cross $5,000 to create a clone for Death Insurance, and of course you lose your car.
  • Cool Car: What you want to make. Or Cool Bike, Cool Trike, Cool Hovercraft (Full of Eels optional) ...
  • Divided States of America: Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana break off. A second Civil War erupts; it ends when the Texans go nuclear. Quebec also makes a break from Canada.
  • Everything Is Big in Texas: Relatively well-off, considering the USA isn't too forgiving, and Louisiana and Oklahoma aren't all that friendly either. To be expected, given that Steve Jackson is based in Austin.
  • Just Between You and Me: Autoduel Quarterly magazine Volume 7 #2, adventure "Mutant Zone". If the PCs are captured they're taken to Blob, the mutants' leader, who explains his plans to them.
  • Kill It with Fire: Flamethrowers and incendiary ammunition let you do this. Fireproof armour and fire extinguishers help you not get this.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Lasers are rare and expensive, although they're not treated as odd. One sourcebook mentions that the military doesn't use weapon lasers, due to anti-laser armour.
  • Magnetic Weapons: The gauss gun, a flechette-ammunition coilgun that in later versions consumed battery power as well as ammunition.
  • Oil Slick: Available for your purchase. There's also a flaming variant, which by the vehicle-description rules could not be distinguished from the normal kind until the oil slick lights up.
  • Point Build System: How you bought skills, and effectively how you built vehicles (every chassis had a certain number of "spaces" and a weight limit, and for arena-use vehicles you had to pick a price bracket to compete in).
  • Rules Lawyer: A joke item available for use in Uncle Al's Catalog from Hell. Negates the equally fictional Rule Bender, a device used to settle arguments on judgment calls in your favour.
  • Scary Scorpions: A giant mutant scorpion in the Autoduel Quarterly magazine Vol. 7 #2 adventure "Mutant Zone".
  • Sentry Gun: The Anti Vehicular Security Stations in the Autoduel Quarterly Volume 1 #4 adventure "Maniac".
  • Spiked Wheels: Available for car or motorcycle, natch.
  • Universal Driver's License: Averted. Separate skills for each type of vehicle, with nice penalties if you're lacking it.
  • Vehicular Combat: The entire point of the thing, although you were allowed some weapons to defend yourself if you left your car for some reason (damage, safety, bathroom run).
  • Weaponized Car: The whole point.
  • Weapon of Choice: It can be fun to build a car with a particular theme. 'Hotshot', for example, mounts flamethrowers.
  • World War III: In-universe averted by anti-ballistic missile systems.
  • You Have Been Warned: Don't. Get. Out. Of. The. Car.