So before we get heavy into this review, it’s important to know something about me. I love Car Wars. I own every book produced for the game, the card game and various boardgame knock offs. I have a box of old Micro Machines just to play Car Wars. It was the first non-historical wargame I played (even before Battletech) and I have enough gamer stories about the game to fill the better part of an afternoon.
And I don’t think I ever need to play it again because of Gaslands.
Gaslands is a car-based wargame by Mike Hutchinson published by Osprey Games. The book is $19 in print, but you can get it on Kindle for less than $8. Like most of the Osprey wargame series, Gaslands does not have a line of attached miniatures. Instead, players are encouraged to bring their own. In this case, any Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars you happen to have (or you can splurge like I did and pick up 10 cars for $10 at your local pharmacy…).
Gaslands is set in a desperate future where Earth has become a bit of a wasteland. The rich have evacuated to Mars which has been terraformed into a paradise (or that’s what the corporates are telling people anyway). One legal way for the lower classes to make it to Mars is to appear, survive and win on the super popular Gaslands television show – a sports/reality TV program of vehicular mayhem!
Before I tell you why you should buy this book (and seriously, at that price point, why
haven’t you already?), let’s talk about the mechanics. Gaslands has a very clear turn breakdown with players alternating activations starting with the player with “pole position” (pole position is determined differently in the various scenarios) during each gear phase. A gear phase is a sub-turn that corresponds to the various gears (i.e. speed) that cars can be in. So, the higher the gear, the more activations a car will have during a turn. Activations look something like:
- Select a movement template – Gaslands uses a series of movement templates (think X-Wing, but with lots more choices) that are available based on the car’s current gear (although some maneuvers may provide shifts or harzards based on the current gear – more on these below).
- The car has the option of making a drift check – A drift check is a roll of the car’s current handling using custom six siders (there’s a mapping between the custom dice and regular old six-siders, but I recommend ordering a set of dice from Mike or one of the various Etsy sellers). This drift check can provide the car with the ability to change gears, remove hazards (these two happen when you roll a shift result), gain a hazard, slide or spin before their move is completed.
- Move the car – Once the car moves (since it’s final position may have changed because of slide or spin results), you start checking for collisions with other cars and any obstacles on the course. You also need to check and see if you’ve wiped out – too many hazards and on a die roll, your car flips out of control and goes back to 1st gear.
- Shoot! – Assuming you’ve not run into anything or wiped out, you can fire any of the myriad weapons attached to your death machine. Gaslands has all the options you want – from rocket launchers to flame throwers to oil slicks. You just need a crew member in the car who can activate the weapon and roll standard D6s for the attack. 4+ is a hit, but your victim has the ability to evade, rolling a number of D6s equal to their current gear – but you need a 6 to cancel a hit. Combat in this game definitely favors the aggressor. One note about weapons: each weapon has a mount that determines what direction it fires from. There’s good variety here as well, but it costs you in terms of “cans” (the unit of measure used to build cars in Gaslands).
Gaslands has seven scenarios in the rulebook, but for my money, the standard Death Race scenario is the best by far. Players are attempting to complete a race by crossing a number of checkpoints on the board – while attempting to survive the other players.
There are lots of vehicle construction options that I haven’t really covered here including different vehicle types (motorcycles, buggies, performance cars, trucks, etc), sponsorships, driver and vehicle perks and lots more weapon options. There’s part of me that really wants Mike to release even more for the game, but I’ve barely scratched the surface so far, so it’s fair to say that’s just greed on my part.
There’s a pretty active community for the game at the main Gaslands website. Beyond that, there’s a very active community of Etsy retailers selling templates, tokens and dice for the game (as does Mike on the main website) though this isn’t required to play the game (regular D6s can be used and there’s a printable page of templates in the back of the rulebook). And then there’s the modder community. There are so many blogs dedicated to some amazing vehicle conversions. And that’s before you start looking into retailers providing mod kits (I personally just use bits from the bit box – 40K stuff works particularly well).
So why has this replaced Car Wars for me? Simplicity. Car Wars scoffs at the very thought of abstracting real world physis. So much so that the games rules are routinely butchered by all but the most seasoned players. And don’t even get me started on teaching the game. Gaslands fixes these issues by relying on simple abstractions to take care of situations that can be cumbersome ot work through in a simulationist way (collisions are a great example – if you start your turn following a collision, you can simply ignore the item in front of you; not super realistic, but it moves the game along). I can generally get someone functional in the game in less than 15 minutes, covering special situations as they come up during play. And then there’s play time. With only one exception (the Saturday Nigh Live scenario – which I think has some structural problems and I’ll be avoiding), every game has wrapped up a bit after the 1 hour mark.
In short, I’m a fan. I’ve introduced games of many different stripes to Gaslands and everyone has had a blast with it (I’ve had at least two buy their own copy of the rules). It’s not my favorite miniature game of the year, but it’s definitely one of the highlights.