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Category: Real Life

Car Wars: A Retrospective Review (with Heroscape!)

In the 1980s, while I was in school (what do you mean by “old”? That was only 20 years ago!), my friends and I became interested in tabletop games. I think it all kind of started with Milton Bradley’s Axis & Allies. That led, over time, to more and more complex and involving games, from Squad Leader to Battletech to Star Fleet Battles. And then one day, one friend brought a little box called “Car Wars.” Sure, that sounded fun. So we tried it out.

In virtually no time, we were searching out everything related to Car Wars we could find – expansions to the base game, role-playing supplements, even a video game (Autoduel). We spent hours and hours making car designs and… what? Oh. The game itself.

Put simply, Car Wars is exactly what you would expect from the name. Players have cars, with weapons and armor strapped on them, and have wars. Simple concept, borrowing from things like Mad Max and other post apocalyptic and sci-fi concepts. Cars could range from something as simple as a subcompact with a little bit of armor and a machine gun on the front to fully decked-out 18-wheelers with multiple turreted lasers, advanced electronics, concealed mine droppers, and so much more. Each game depended on what you wanted to play: a chase through the streets of a small town? A freeway encounter with a sinister biker gang? Or, the most common, an arena duel to gain fame and money? Lots of dice were thrown, lots of charts were consulted, and hours and hours ticked by…

We grew older. Tabletop gaming changed. We changed. The days of checking various charts for everything became… old hat. Newer games, inspired by designers from that other continent across the ocean there, became big hits. We wanted games that played faster, with more streamlined and elegant rules.

In 2004, I ran across an odd game at Toys R Us. It caught my attention, because, at the time, TRU never had any interesting games (Monopoly Variants R Us!). The game was called Heroscape, and promised all sorts of mayhem with dozens of different units and… lots of dice. I decided to give it a try… and got sucked in. It swiftly became (and still is) one of my all-time favorite games. It satisfied a desire from my Car Wars days: “designing” something (in this case, selecting various unit cards to combine together) and then moving about on a map and rolling dice for combat.

Both games, Car Wars and Heroscape, also offered huge arenas for my writer’s imagination to play within. I wrote stories set in both universes at different times in my life. With Car Wars, we even role-played, to some extent, developing our drivers over a succession of duels, etc.

And now… now we have a new edition of Car Wars. The original makers, Steve Jackson Games, have spent many, many years trying to take the best of 1980s Car Wars and bring it to today’s tabletop gamers, who demand something much different in a game. The result is a new edition (technically the 6th, because of how things get counted. No, I don’t get it, either.) with sculpted miniatures, streamlined rules, and… lots of dice.

Car Wars 6th Edition takes virtually everything I loved about the 1980s game and puts it all together in an attractive and exciting package. Forget the charts. Forget the pencil-and-paper checklists. Everything here is spelled out simply on cards. How much damage does that machine gun do? Check the chart!—No! It’s written right there on the card. You roll these particular dice to find out. Can I make a 90-degree turn so my front-facing flamethrower can hit that other guy’s car? Sure, you can try, by using this turning key (a great concept from the old game brought into the new). How do I know if I succeeded without losing control? Check the chart on page—No! You roll dice, which are designated right there on the turning key itself. Simple. Fast. Fun.

In the old days, we would design cars by calculating how much weight the chassis could bear, what kind of suspension the car needed, how much money we had to spend, and then balance out what we wanted in armor, weapons, and accessories. This required a lot of math, and a lot of scribbling on paper. Today, we can agree on “build points” like, say, 12, and then choose cards that add up to that number. It still allows for tons of variation (if you combine all of the cards from all of the expansions right now, I think the total is 330), but is so much simpler.

And yet it preserves what we all loved about Car Wars. The “feel” is there, for lack of a better word. But more than that, it feels like Heroscape! In both games, we choose cards adding up to a certain point value. We “build” the map we want to use. And then we move our playing pieces, roll attack dice, and roll defense dice. (Plus a myriad of special abilities!)

Many Euro gamers will probably still sneer at a “dice chucker.” But you know what? Some will try it out and discover… it’s fun! And regardless of what some people will say, that’s the most important factor for a game (to me, anyway). It is fun. Lots and lots of fun.

In short, Car Wars 6th Edition takes my most beloved game from the 1980s and combines it with my most beloved game from the early 2000s… to create what may very well become my most beloved game from the 2020s. Only time and the dice will tell.

This Friday, it’s about the Children

I’m honored to support a great organization working to rescue children from sex trafficking worldwide. All proceeds from my book sales this Friday, July 31, 2020 go to Operation Underground Railroad.

In the past six years of existence, O.U.R. has rescued 3,800 victims and assisted in the arrests of more than 2,100 traffickers around the world. The partners they are empowering have collectively helped rescue the lives of more than 10,000 survivors who were enslaved, exploited or at risk.

By buying my books or any of the other books on the Authors for Freedom list, you will be donating to Operation Underground Railroad and helping to rescue children being held captive around the world.

But you don’t have to stop there! O.U.R. offers free training on recognizing and reporting sex trafficking here.

Here are some downloadable resources and factsYouTube channel, and volunteer website.

I am honored to take part in this initiative and hope you all will join with me in supporting this great organization!

#AuthorsforFreedom #OUR #OperationUnderGroundRailroad #endhumantrafficking

The Quarantined Writer

Like most people, I’m sitting at home. Unlike most people, I’m used to it. I’ve been working from home (freelance) for ten years. Unfortunately, the virus has impacted the industries from which I get my work, so… like many people, I have more time on my (carefully washed) hands.

You’d think this would mean I’m getting more writing done. And I am making significant progress. When I’m not doing yard work, playing games with the kids, or any other of a myriad of things that just keep popping up.

At the moment, I have two scenes left to consider and re-write. And then… I think this book (Until All Bonds Are Broken) might be done. I still have to decide what else I’m including in this book – afterword, preview, etc. And I am hoping to hear from two other beta readers (I need to email them!). But, barring any other setbacks, this book should be ready to publish by the beginning of Summer. I think. Could be sooner. Could be later.

I’m working on another book. Brainstorming a couple more. Dreaming a few more.

If you’re bored right now, I suggest… reading a book. Just an idea.

Gotta Keep Trying

I had a very different plan for what I was going to post here today. Weird things happen.

In this case, my washing machine broke. Thanks to the internet (yay internet!), I figured out that the drain pump was clogged. This morning, I took it all apart, cleaned it up, and put it back together.

And then it happened. I dropped the very last screw down into an eight-inch deep, one-inch wide shaft. Ugh.

For the next hour, I felt like the kids in the movie The Sandlot. I tried scheme after scheme to get to that stupid screw. Nothing worked. Vacuum. Magnets. Wire. Sticky-tack. Hot glue.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

In some ways, I realized later today, that madness is not unlike what I’m going through in this editing process.

I know a particular scene can resonate. But it’s missing something. Let me try this… no, that doesn’t work… how about this… no, still doesn’t work… And on and on it goes. It may be just one word that solves everything in a particular scene. But I have to keep trying.

The good news is that eventually, I did solve the screw problem. I attached a narrow piece of PVC pipe to the vacuum cleaner with duct tape and sucked the screw out. But then I had to dig through the vacuum’s bag to find it. Pro Tip: if you’re vacuuming up a screw that you need, put in a fresh bag first.

And eventually, I’ll solve all these editing problems. It’s actually coming along quite well. I’m pleased with what I have, but I know there are still many things that could be better. I’ll be sending it to some alpha readers very, very soon for their feedback.

In related news, my continuing studies in writing have convinced me that I’m just not working hard enough. I’ve written out a four-year writing plan. If I stay motivated and do the work, I’ll have 5-6 books out by the end of this period. That’s good news for you if you actually like reading what I write.

If you’re stuck on something, keep trying. You never know when just one word – or a strip of duct tape – will solve the problem.

Update – Writing & Otherwise

I received my manuscript back from the editor. The good news is that she had high praise for the book overall. She also gave me quite a list of suggestions – revisions, editing, and so forth.

After carefully considering all of her suggestions, I made a revision plan consisting of eight steps. I’ve now completed four of those steps. Once I finish the rest, I’ll make a new printout and go over the entire thing page-by-page for the tiny details. At the same time, I’ll send it off to a final beta reader.

And then it’ll be done. Complete. Ready to move on to the publishing stage, in whatever form that now takes.

Unfortunately, I’m also now searching for a new job. It turns out that you can’t really make money before actual publication. What a shame. Anyway, this will undoubtedly take more time away from my writing until things settle down. At this point, everything is up in the air.

Harvey & Writing

trackingmap.jpgThis picture shows a magnetic hurricane tracking chart. One exactly like this used to hang in my grandparents’ home. Almost every time we were there, one or more of us would mess around with the little magnets on it. And invariably, we would make a dotted line leading directly to the Galveston/Houston area.
(In my parents’ home, we used the paper tracking charts that the news stations printed every year. No magnets to play with.)
If you didn’t grow up on the Gulf Coast, this is probably completely foreign to you. But tracking hurricanes was something that happened every year. Sometimes, those little magnets were vitally important. Sometimes, there were many of them, showing multiple hurricanes and storms moving throughout the Atlantic basin.
It was normal. It was the way we lived.
Today, with the internet, we can pull up the charts and tracks from the National Hurricane Center at any moment. We can see it on our weather apps. We’ve upgraded a little bit.
But the hurricanes are the same. They show up and cause devastation.
Harvey derailed most of our plans around here. We were extremely fortunate to be one of the homes in our town that did not flood (7,700 did!). But it’s played havoc with everything else in our lives. My business has taken a huge hit and may not recover. Hundreds of our friends lost part or all of their homes. We’ve all become experts at tearing out sheet rock and insulation.
I had a goal on my current novel writing to reach 50,000 words by September 9th. That didn’t happen. It still hasn’t happened. Harvey arrived two weeks before that day and everything changed. We lost tons of sleep, from which we haven’t fully recovered. We hurried out in the aftermath to help our family, our friends, our neighbors. Our church ran a shelter, organized work crews, and a distribution center. We have/had dozens of people from other states show up to help out. Writing, and many other things, got pushed to the background.
Normalcy, such as it is, is slowly peeking over the edge of reality, asking if it can come back. I don’t know. It might, but I think it’ll be changed. You don’t go through something like this without changing.
I’ve written a few hundred words in the past week or so. Starting to get back into my story. I thought I knew what was happening.
And then my protagonist did something totally stupid and almost got himself killed. That wasn’t in the outline.
Neither was Harvey. Huh. Art imitates life.

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