RogerBW's Blog

Why I'm Not Joining the Car Wars Kickstarter 30 November 2019

The Kickstarter for Car Wars 6th edition started yesterday and runs until 6 January. I'm not going to be joining it. Why not?

After all, I do a moderate amount of work for Steve Jackson Games, and I loved Car Wars back in the day (that being the 1980s and early 1990s). And I think the game looks good; I haven't managed to play a prototype, but what I've read and watched about it seems positive. It's a modern, fast-moving game in the very broad mould of X-Wing or Gaslands: template-based movement, quick combat resolution, go fast and blow stuff up, then skid out of control and pile into a wall. Great stuff.

But, well. I already have quite a bit of the kit for X-Wing and I've hardly played that since the second edition came out. I have a copy of Gaslands, which didn't even start getting designed until after Steve Jackson Games had committed to publishing a new edition of Car Wars, and I've barely played that either. New Car Wars may be good, but will it be better? Will it be better enough than those other games to get played here…?

…and better enough to justify a $100 base box ($75 on the Kickstarter and including extra stuff, but then add postage and customs fees) with six (perhaps eight, but only enough bases and dashboards to play with four of them at a time, and certainly unpainted) cars in it, that focuses strictly on arena combat, with no races, no support for road duels, no bikes, no pedestrians? All that's being kept back for possible expansions. (Indeed, even dropped weapons will be a separate retail release, though they're available to higher-tier Kickstarter backers.)

Miniatures push up the price, and the game's size. X-Wing miniatures come pre-painted (granted, by Chinese slave labour) and look good out of the box; these are great lumps of grey plastic. Or so I must assume; the campaign shows no pictures of them unpainted.

Yeah, X-Wing was more expensive, but I've already spent the money for that and it's in my house right now. Sunk costs are sunk. I could sell the X-Wing stuff, I suppose, and buy Car Wars instead, which would save some space overall, but… well, I'm not excited about this new game. Again, to sell to me (bearing in mind I'm not at all a typical customer) it has to be convincingly better than what I already own.

Also, they're not abiding by one of my absolute requirements for backing a Kickstarter: they haven't posted the rulebook, and aren't intending to do so until next year some time. [Edited to add: they're now saying they hope to get the rulebook up before the end of the campaign.] (So for example are they doing anything to solve the near-universal problem of all-against-all games, the way a player in third place can often choose which of players 1 and 2 ends up winning? We don't know.) (They're also not abiding by my other absolute Kickstarter requirement and doing customs-friendly shipping. Indeed, deliveries outside the USA are expected to be three months after the American ones, in February 2021.)

I'm a little worried about this box's long-term viability in retail too (though this is based on the biased sample of people I know who like games, and I assume the SJGames crew have done their research – Phil Reed was also in charge of the much-disliked 5th edition of Car Wars in 2002). It includes a 24-page (US Letter-sized) rulebook, which is more complexity than most modern games even before the expansions come in, even if some of it is going to be example cars and scenarios. $100 is five times the cost of the 64-page (weirdly intermediate sized) Gaslands rulebook (which is similarly car-only and focused on racing, but, you know, one-fifth the price and lower expectations) plus some dollar/pound-store toy cars, which may not have guns on them (3d printer!) but do come pre-painted. There are people who pay that sort of money for their games, like that level of rules complexity, and enjoy painting miniatures, but they're already playing Games Workshop or other miniature wargames – or indeed playing Gaslands while rejoicing in how much money they've saved – and they're a much smaller market than the people who might be into a fast-moving tactical car combat game.

I expect the Kickstarter will do well with old-timers like me who have nostalgia for the old game, though I'm not seeing much effort being made to play on that: all the pre-launch publicity has been about how this is a modern game design which just happens to share the Car Wars name, company and elevator pitch ("cars with guns"). Is Uncle Al going to have a place in this new game? The AADA? EDSEL? Probably, but we just don't know; the background has barely been mentioned except as catch-phrases ("Uncle Al's Upgrade Pack"). (I can see that talking a lot about the history of a game that was first published in 1980 could put off newcomers.)

But I hope it works; I especially hope that it produces an income stream that lets the company get away from its reliance on Munchkin, which I've seen cause people to avoid more interesting games because they're from "that Munchkin company".

If I didn't own X-Wing and Gaslands, and if I had more storage space, and money, and gaming time, and any level of competence at painting miniatures, then sure, I'd be all over this; and I do still slightly regret not getting involved. But apparently I'm a grown-up now. Damn.


  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 11:47pm on 30 November 2019

    I was never that interested in this to start with, but no customs friendly shipping is the final nail in the coffin for me. Put some effort in chaps!

    I get the feeling SJ Games have basically retreated to the US as a market and don't give a damn about anywhere else any more. Rather than try to resolve the problems of expensive shipping and foreign markets, they've persuaded themselves they don't need the rest of the wold. The GURPS print on demand stuff appears to be the only exception to this.

    I remember when SJ Games was a GURPS company with 3rd Edition releases so frequent I couldn't keep up. I too hope Car Wars helps release the vice like grip Munchkin has on the company, but I don't see it happening.

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