My early gaming years consisted of a number of well-known titles from a wide variety of publishers, but a good majority of them came from one source — Steve Jackson Games. I still have a large collection of those small black plastic boxes that were so inexpensive and easy to carry in a backpack — Illuminati (and two expansions) was always fun to play, but I don’t think I played any game more during my 9th and 10th grade years than Car Wars. I had a small group of friends who enjoyed it just as much as I did, and while I can’t speak to their dedication I can say that I probably spent way too much time ignoring my teachers’ lectures as I tinkered with various weight and prices to find the right balance of firepower, armor, and speed. That first edition of Car Wars was so simple to play, too. At first, there were no expansions (no 18-wheelers or arena style scenarios)… it was just strips of road with oil slicks and debris presenting hazards to your vehicle as you raced down the road, chasing and sometimes being chased, trying to keep your car and driver alive while trying to eliminate the other players.
Recently Steve Jackson Games had an amazing Kickstarter project that raised almost a million dollars to fund a special edition of one of their classic games, OGRE. It was during the fundraising for this game that SJG announced that if funding reached a certain level they would do a similar special edition release of Car Wars. This was a huge announcement that fans of Car Wars loved to hear, but there was only one problem — the Car Wars Designer Edition wouldn’t happen until 2013. Late 2013 if memory serves. I’m a patient guy, but I want some vehicle combat now!
I don’t have a reliable gaming group these days as I did in high school, and I certainly don’t have anyone nearby who is familiar with the rules of Car Wars. After numerous expansions, a number of Uncle Albert weapons catalog resources, and a few revisions to the rules, Car Wars is most definitely in need of (and deserving) of a special edition. There’s already been some discussion about what the special edition might contain, and not everyone seems to agree. For me, I’d like to see it re-released in a simpler format, without all the extra stuff such as boats and helicopters and gasoline-powered vehicles that made the game a bit bloated for my tastes. I just want a return to what made the original Car Wars so fun… configure your vehicle, line up some road strips, sprinkle it with some hazards and burned-out vehicles, and let the combat begin. It remains to be seen how the Car Wars Designer Edition will develop, but in the meantime… I’ve found something that’s got just the right amount of vehicle combat mixed with some simplified game mechanics. It’s called Outrider, and it’s pretty darn cool.
Outrider is from Dice Fest Games, and it’s a digital game that you buy and print yourself. All the game components come in PDF files that can be printed out in black and white, but the components look best printed in full color. For my test of the games I printed them on standard printer paper, but after a few games I realized that card stock is definitely the way to go — it’ll last longer and won’t slide off the table so easily. I will probably have some of the components laminated soon, but I do expect to reprint some of the components on card stock just for durability purposes. That said, the game is for 2 to 6 players, but the more players you expect to play will increase the printing costs. Expect to drop between $20 and $30 on color printing for just 2 players. Each additional player (who will require a number of game components that aren’t shared) will probably add between $5 and $10 to the cost. Finally, the game comes with a number of large scenarios that will require a number of road and building board pieces, so expect to drop between $5 and $20 for a good variety of four-way, three-way, straight, and curved road board pieces. There are elements on many of the pieces that are color-coded, but a few components can be printed in black and white… but not many. Still, for about $40 worth of card stock printing (this price includes the 20 page manual), you’ll end up with a nice little game that can give up to 4 players a good 45-60 minute game.
And speaking of the game… the game does incorporate a mix of luck and skill. Each player will need four dice — one 6d, one 8d, one 10d, and one 12d. The game has a very interesting way of providing balance to gameplay by having each player assign one of each type of die to four different Vehicle Cards. These four cards make up the Dashboard of your vehicle — they track things like armor, skill points, and damage. But they also are used for customizing your vehicle. Want the fastest car on the table? Assign the 12d to the Engine category and get 600HP and the maximum number of Action Points for each turn. But you’ve still got to configure the Driver, Armor, and Weapons for your car. Put some major damage-dealing weapons on your vehicle by assigning Weapons the 10d. Now it’s a tough decision for the 6d and 8d allocation — do you assign the 6d to the Driver slot and give your driver only 6 Skill Points that can be used to tweak the maneuvers you can perform… or give it to the Armor and have the lowest amount of coverage in the game? It’s a fast and fair way to provide variation in the game while not giving any one player the fastest, most dangerous, and best armored vehicle on the road.
Game turns are broken into three sequences — Initiative, Action, and End. The Initiative and End phases are fast and easy to deal with, leaving the Action stage where the, uh… action happens. This is where you, as the driver, make decisions about your car’s maneuvers, where it’s firing, and what it might be ramming or impacting. Once again, the system of four dice is used to control various aspects of each player’s turn. Each player has a series of cards that have various types of maneuvers on them — a Hard Right, an Easy Left, a Punch It!, and many more. Each maneuver has a certain level of risk, and your engine gives you a certain number of Action Points (AP) that you can use to select a number of maneuver cards to place in front of your vehicle to plan the car’s movement. Your driver, with a die assigned for his skill level, must roll equal to or higher than the total of any maneuver cards (and added hazards) to successfully complete a movement. Fail the roll, and the rules easily tell you where along the planned path your car is in trouble… and whether the outcome is a slight skid or a loss of control (and loss of your turn).
Included in the game’s PDF files are a number of vehicle cards with characteristics that affect various rolls. Each type of car has four characteristics that can affect the roll of the dice — Acceleration, Handling, Defense, and Firepower. So it’s possible to select a car type (such as The Interceptor or The Linebacker) with bonuses for defense or firepower and either buff them up by adding the 10d or 12d to the appropriate Dashboard cards or balance out weaknesses in a vehicle by buffing those weaknesses with the higher powered dice.
Combat is handled using a very simple Combat Ruler — it’s a small paper template that helps players determine both distance and accuracy of fired weapons and whether or not a hit can be expected. The Vehicle Cards have certain areas specified on them that indicate where a Primary or Secondary weapon has its field of fire — some have them facing the same direction while others have them pointing in completely opposite directions (rear mounted weaponry – cool!). The Vehicle Cards can be printed in black and white because Primary and Secondary weapon firing arcs are represented by solid and striped indicators, but the cars look so cool in color you probably won’t want to skimp on printing them in color. But another consideration is printing them in black and white and using 3D cars such as Hot Wheels or Matchbox — the game is designed for 1/64 scale, so go crazy adding some turrets and machine guns to your kids’ toy cars!
Included in the game are a number of scenarios for 2 and 6 players. Along with a short story explaining the setup, you’ll also find setup instructions, a full-color top-down map showing the proper placement of the various road and building tiles, and victory conditions. I was only able to play 2-player games, but I’m really wanting to play some of the 5 and 6 player games that look amazing — of course, we’ll have to play on a very large table or the floor as most of the 6 player scenarios are easily 3′ x 6′ in size.
The quality of the game’s elements is top notch. The colors are well done, the graphic elements on the Dashboard cards, for example, are eye-catching and fun, and the road tiles are nicely done and blend well together. I like the top-down view of the four types of vehicles, but if you find yourself wanting more types of vehicles you’ll find a number of free add-ons (including some blanks for creating your own cars) as well as some rule variants. A scroll down the Bolt-Ons page will also show you that some terrain expansions are in the works, as well. (Someone has also created an online car creator for Outrider here.)
You can find everything you need to know about Outrider on the Dice Fest Games website, and while you’re there be sure to check out some of the other games they’ve got in the works. I’m especially curious about the Engage! game of starship combat — given how much thought and good design has gone into the Outrider game mechanics, I think this is one I’ll certainly keep my eye on and will let you know if I have a chance to try it out.
I’d like to thank Gregg at Dice Fest Games for offering me a chance to test drive a review copy of Outrider. I enjoyed the games I played very much and it absolutely did take me back to those early days at the kitchen table taking shots at my friends’ cars and trying not to lose control during those crazy lane changes. If you’re a fan of Car Wars, you really should check this one out — I think you’ll find it not only unique in its gameplay but enjoyable as a vehicle combat simulation.