PRELUDE TO CHAOSI remember vividly going to see my first R-rated movie in a theater at age 12. It was 1982, and I had convinced my dad that because I was a devoted reader and collector of the Conan the Barbarian comic book and Howard's short stories, I had to see the first-ever cinematic adaptation of the pulp hero. My parents knew that I had always been impressionable and more sensitive than your average kid. Filmic images seemed to have an express route straight to my amygdala, undoubtedly fostered by growing up in a home of cinephiles (though they weren't the kind that would have known to describe themselves as such).
It didn't take much wheedling to convince my dad to let me go, but he definitely wanted to accompany me. My parents weren't heavy-handedly strict in my media consumption, but they were responsible parents and very much believed that certain images, themes, and subject matter were and weren't age appropriate. (For example, when one of my closest pal's mom was taking him to see John Carpenter's The Thing, my parents put the kibosh on me joining them. Smart call...though it eventually became a favorite horror film, it still scared the hell out of me years later when I saw it on HBO.)
So...one Saturday afternoon my dad took me and my school pal and fellow "D&Der" Casey Dean to see Conan at the Salem Mall in Dayton, Ohio, letting us sit huddled together with our popcorn a couple of rows ahead of him. I was excited but a little apprehensive. I couldn't help but wonder what my first "R" theater-going experience was going to be like.
The stage was set with the first preview: A gang of wild mad men went roaring in ramshackle death-mobiles across the screen against the backdrop of an apocalyptic wasteland unlike anything I had ever seen. It was a nightmarish hi-octane rock-'n'-roll vision of the future that both thrilled and scared the hell out of me. I was gobsmacked. "Holy shit..." I remember thinking. "Is this what R-rated movies are going to be like?!?"
Between the brutal and beautiful vision of Howard's Conan as depicted by John Milius and that fever-dream trailer for the Road Warrior, it was akin to letting a 12-year-old try his hand at freebasing.
I've watched both movies countless times since that afternoon, for years on worn-thin VHS tapes as a teenager chasing the dragon of that first taste, and later as an adult, admiring the immense amount of craft and artistry that went into their making. It's a little odd decades later recalling how as a teenager I spent far too much time on the outside of moving vehicles, scrambling around on the hoods of cars driven by friends, trying to recreate the thrill of the insane grappling depicted in Road Warrior. I remember a winter evening convincing a tough, sweet girl I was in love with (but too afraid to tell her) to drive me and Casey up and down an ice covered Dayton street while we clutched the back bumper and tried to stay on our feet as she picked up speed. YouTube is now littered with the shit you do when you think you're invincible and have yet to be seriously injured in your life. Being an under-stimulated kid with an imagination in the Midwest only fueled such foolishness.
GASLANDSMy desire to hang out the window of moving vehicles throwing water balloons at buddies in other cars while barreling down old Route 4 on the outskirts of town has fortunately waned. But the idea of tearing across a post-apocalyptic desert blowing up other cars, especially when you can do it in the comfort and safety of your dining room, has an undeniable appeal. Last Saturday night, the game Gaslands scratched that dormant itch.
I had picked up the rules a few months ago, and was hoping to get a chance to try them, but I have so many games in the queue that it's hard to ever know what is destined to hit the table next. But when fellow Scrum Clubber John S. said he was working up a few cars to introduce Gaslands to a buddy of his, the game vaulted to the front of our club's queue.
The game has some sort of rudimentary backstory about a war in the 1990s between Earth and a Mars colony that smacks of a bad 1980s Stallone movie. Frankly, I couldn't care less about the storyline, and skimmed right past it. Just fill the tank, throw me the keys, and get the fuck out of the way!
I'm not going to recount our game blow-by-blow; fellow Scrummer Walt O. did that on his blog, if you want that kinda vicarious kick. But I will say that the game is very easy to pick up, despite a rule book that could be clearer. I've come to realize that editing rules is a whole special subset of editorial expertise, and I wish game publishers would find and employee the ones who know how to do it. A simple copyedit is not sufficient for a rules manual.
Probably what I appreciate most is that Gaslands is far less "fiddly" than a classic like Steve Jackson's Car Wars, which I loved as a teenager when I had infinite wells of time to learn complicated rules and was content to push around little chits on a paper map. But like so many of us, one of the allures of this oddly absorbing hobby of miniatures gaming is the crafting that's involved, whether it's painting your little combatants, figuring out how to make appealing terrain, or, in this case, pimping out your rolling death machines. Little cardboard chits from a Steve Jackson "Pocket Game" just don't cut it as a satisfying game experience at this point in my life.
We played two games over the course of the evening and kept the scenarios simple: Slam down the gas and careen into combat. John provided the simple (if beautifully crafted) terrain bits we used and a couple of stellar vehicles, but we were greatly aided by the fact that Walt O. had caught the dueling-autos bug himself a few years ago, writing up his own rule set (White Line Fever, in preparation for publication in the Second Saturday Scrum Club's upcoming print fanzine). He compulsively spun his wheels for a while converting Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars into lil' engines of death until his mania burned itself out, leaving him with a fleet of about 60 vehicles. His favorite among them? The Raging Wiener, of which you'll see plenty in the photos below.
As usual, my wife Ellen took 90% of the photos of our game, capturing the carnage with her now expert combat photographer's eye. A few were snapped by John S. and you should just assume the worst of the lot were by my hand. (Click on any of them to enlarge.)
But first, a video of the fun, giving you a taste of our evening, replete with soundtrack (Supersucker's "Hot Rod Rally"). Part of the fun for me was spending a chunk of my Saturday morning in prep by cobbling together the soundtrack I thought I'd want to listen to while peeling rubber and dodging Molotov cocktails behind the wheel of a V8.
A rock 'em, sock 'em video of our game!
|This was an old 1960s Hot Wheels car I've had since I was a kid...|
|Nothing like accidentally sliding right into a big outcropping of rocks when an opponent has you in his sights...|
|Me and John (right)|
|Keeping track of your car's stats was mercifully easy. I used my 3D printer to create those hazard tokens and then slapped some mustard yellow paint on them the afternoon before we played.|
|Whatever Francesco just rolled, it had me and Walt (head of table) amused as hell...|
|One of John's vehicles. He re-purposed some unused 1/72 scale WWII soldiers for his vehicle.|
|Ammo tokens I had printed and painted that afternoon.|
|You might think that Francesco's car was doomed to crash into that rock, but what you can't see off camera is that my car is about to open up its machine guns and blow his to smithereens first. My personal favorite moment of the game.|
|From the look on my face, I'm pretty sure I was thinking something like "How the hell am I about to be killed by a wiener mobile?!?"|
|Cha-cha can hardly believe the carnage she is witnessing at the table...|
|Walt managed to get out of so many tight spots that we eventually re-dubbed his car The Slippery Wiener.|
|When you start out going one direction, and the dice gods say "No!"|
|John and Francesco|
|Mirthful chagrin: One of the more common experiences in this game and playing with my fellow Scrum Clubbers in general.|
|At least I got to use my smoke screen.|
|A bunch of templates I 3D printed for the game.|
|Oil slick, Mr. Bus Driver!|
|This isn't going to end well...|
|John and Ellen, the club's stalwart combat photographer.|
|Zach and Walt|
|Francesco and Zach (of Zenopus Archives)|
|Want to guess what happened to that motorcycle next turn?|
|This is how the night ended.|
|(left to right) Joe, Francesco, John, Zach, Walt, Jared|
Closing Thoughts and Parting Shots
I had such a good time that the next day I ordered custom dice and some 20mm motorcycles and pedestrians to add to a future game. I also have have been lugging around since childhood two Collector's Race Cases full of Hot Wheels cars that a much older cousin gave me as a kid when he outgrew them. I've meant to research their value and dump them on eBay for almost 20 years now, and am glad I haven't. They contain about 50 great funky cars from the late 1960s that I can't wait to start converting to hot rods of destruction.
One of the cool things about the game is how much of a community has already sprung up around it, with Thingiverse providing a wealth of downloadable files for printing 3D weapons, armor, game-specific scatter terrain, and playing aids like dashboards with little gear shifts for tracking the details of your cars. There's a lot of potential for extracurricular hobby time around this game, which is a mixed blessing because like many of us, I already have more projects underway or percolating in the brain pan than I have time to tackle. But the game is simple enough that you can scale the time investment quite easily and simply use a couple of beat up Hot Wheels and cut out some cardboard templates and still have a blast.
And I was really impressed at how easy it was to throw together a vehicle or two with it's clear point-based build system. In our first game we all just took simple buggies with forward facing machine guns into combat in order to grok the rules. But by the second game we were easily able to agree on a point ceiling and let everybody throw some custom cars together in less than 10 minutes, introducing everything from different size vehicles to smoke screens, oil slicks, and Molotov cocktails, none of which bogged the actual game play down.
I can see this game being a convenient standby anytime we're in a situation in which nobody has prepared something to play on a second Saturday. Time to table is fast, and the rules are intuitive. I know I'm looking forward to some more gas, guns, and twisted heaps of burning metal.
John's awesome car-making tutorial and thoughts on the game at 1,000 Foot General
Walt's after-action report, "A Raging Wiener in the Aftermath" at Third Point of Singularity