On Developing a Tabletop Game Openly

Posted by on August 27, 2009

This is a tough one to explain.

A few days ago, the Chatty DM tweeted about the need for a revival of Car Wars. If you\’re not familiar with it, Car Wars is a tabletop car duelling game from the 1980\’s, in which you drive a gun-laden car around a post-apocalyptic arena or road, blowing up other cars. It\’s Mad Max as a free-form board game.

I thoroughly agreed with him; as it happened, the same thought had crossed my mind a few days earlier, but I\’d never gotten around to tweeting about it. Car Wars was a fun, gritty, action-oriented game with an easy-to-grasp world. You get to play a smelly, unkempt survivor in a post-apocalyptic world, driving around a turbocharged Camaro with a built-in flamethrower. What could be more fun than that?

So, yes, this struck me as a fun game to revive. Turns out Car Wars was developed by Steve Jackson Games, and the last revision was released 7 years ago to mediocre reviews.

Time for a revival. What next, then? I was tempted to write a blog post about how cool Car Wars is. I was tempted to write Steve Jackson Games and suggest an update.

Then I realized: Why not do it myself?

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So I created a wiki page called AutoWar, and wrote up a simple game system.

You choose your car\’s frame, armor, tires, weapons, etc. During each turn, everyone moves simultaneously, then everyone fires their weapons. The game uses standard 6-sided dice for its mechanics, so to attack you roll 3 dice and subtract distance and relative speed, hoping to roll higher than 3.

Then I tweeted about it. Within a day, several folks had jumped in and fleshed out several sections of the page.

Which inspired me to create graphics, and playtest the system. I worked up a simple scenario: one basic car versus two light cars on a highway. However, this step worried me. I threw the system together on a whim; would it work at all? I\’m no experienced game designer.

To my great relief, I had a lot of fun playtesting it. The mechanics needed quite a bit of work, but the action moved quickly and felt exciting.

So I updated the page again. The game\’s improving. It\’s fun. It works. Now it needs some playtesting.

The most interesting thing about this game is that I\’m leaving it open. Anyone can change it. I\’ve posted it under a Creative Commons Attributeion ShareAlike license, so anyone can publish it. It\’s a bit scary, but feels right somehow.

Check it out, fix whatever needs fixing, and try it out. Heck, tell me what you\’d want available so you can playtest it.

Please! Play my game! :-)

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