If you were to ask me to name an aspect of the hobby's height that I miss most, there's a good chance I'd say micro-games. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, there were a large number of what might be called "mini-wargames." They all had brief rules and simple components and were generally playable over a couple of hours, if that. I was never a wargamer of any sort, but I wanted to be and micro-games allowed me to briefly indulge this fantasy.
Among my favorite micro-games were those produced by Steve Jackson Games. Car Wars was originally released in 1980, but the first version of the game I ever saw was the 1983 edition pictured here. This edition came in a small plastic "box" that contained its short rulebook, fold-out maps, and counters to cut out. As its name suggests, Car Wars is a game of vehicular combat, set in a near-future world where oil and food are scarce and battles between heavily armed and armored vehicles -- known as "autodueling" -- are a popular form of entertainment.
Of course, the game's thin background is little more than a framing mechanism for a fun little tactical combat game. Players begin the game with a small budget with which to purchase a car, pickup truck, van, or motorcycle and outfit it with as much offensive and defensive modifications as they can both afford and their vehicle can carry. Then they enter autoduel tournaments to test their mettle and win cash prizes with which to improve (and repair) their vehicles, or purchase new ones entirely. Car Wars is a very straightforward game with a tight focus, which made it quite easy for my friends and I to pick it up and enjoy it. Of course, its tight focus also made it somewhat limited, which is why designer Steve Jackson eventually came out with supplements to the game, the only two of which I ever owned were Sunday Drivers and Truck Stop. Truck Stop, as its name implies, included rules for tractor trailers and buses, while Sunday Drivers was the "roleplaying" supplement to the game, as it had rules for playing pedestrians and using buildings in the game.
Some friends of mine had a fold-up ping-pong table in their basement, which we used as our playing area for Car Wars. I think we kept the maps from the game perpetually taped to that table (to which we added others as we acquired the rules expansions) for many years. Whenever we'd gather to play one of our RPG campaigns, there was a good chance we'd start playing Car Wars either before or after we'd roleplay. For us, Car Wars was a great pick-up game: quick to play and not particularly mentally taxing -- just the kind of thing teenage boys like. As I recall, we didn't do very much autodueling in our games, preferring instead more larcenous scenarios, with the players generally taking on the roles of criminals and I (sometimes assisted by a friend) the police.
We had a lot of fun playing Car Wars. Indeed, some of my fondest memories from those days involve the game in some fashion or other, so much so that I was thinking of trying to get a copy of the game again. Unfortunately, Steve Jackson Games no longer produces Car Wars. There is a PDF version of a "rules compendium," but it's longer than I ever remember the rules being, which suggests that it includes lots more supplementary material than I'd probably want. Plus, I don't like PDF rulebooks. There is a card-based version of the game that I recall hearing about, but it's out of print and, even if it were in print, I'm not a huge fan of card games anyway. That pretty much leaves the secondary market and I'd be amazed if many playably intact copies of the game are still kicking around nearly 30 years later. I'd love to see SJG re-release the original games; I don't expect that to happen. but a guy can dream, can't he?