My friends and I have fond memories of playing the Car Wars miniatures game when were in our early teens. And we’re still in touch with each other, but now that most of my friends are grown-ups with children of their own, we tend to prefer less involved games that are fast, easy-to-learn, but still are thematically similar to the games we loved growing up. Car Wars: The Card Game was a big hit with our group, although it doesn’t have a tremendous amount of replay value.
Like the original miniatures game, the card game version of Car Wars is published by Steve Jackson Games in Austin, Texas. Like all Steve Jackson Games products, the production values are excellent. The cards are big, and the artwork looks great, without being so slick and super-realistic that it no longer feels like Car Wars.
Gameplay is simplicity itself, and it took almost no time to learn how to play. That’s a two-edged sword though, and it’s the game’s biggest weakness while also being the game’s biggest strength. Each player gets a car card, which is significantly larger than the playing cards. The cards in each player’s hand represent the various attacks and defenses that the player can play against the others. Combat resolution is a straightforward damage point versus armor point versus hit point type situation, which should be familiar to anyone interested in this type of game. (I can’t imagine that anyone playing Car Wars: The Card Game has never played a traditional pen and paper RPG.)
The scenario is a free-for-all, so the winner of a game is the last man standing. This adds a pretty significant element of luck to the game. If two of the players are rivals, you can count on them wearing each other out pretty fast, and a smart player can use this to his advantage. If one player at the table is especially disliked, it could be a lot of fun for all the players at the table to gang up on him first. But don’t expect him to want to play with you again after being on the receiving end of such an attack.
Steve Jackson Games also released a spinoff game called Battle Cattle, which plays exactly like the Car Wars card game, only with cows instead of cars. The two games can be played independently, but adventurous card game players might buy both sets and combine them for a bovine-automotive showdown that most people had never even imagined was possible.
Unfortunately, Car Wars: The Card Game is now out of print, and I don’t know if Steve Jackson has any plans to ever re-issue the game. Their Munchkin card game is such a mega-hit that it’s hard to imagine that anyone at Steve Jackson has time to work on anything else. Car Wars is especially fun to play with kids who are around 10 or 11 years old, especially if they’re good sports. Younger children, or kids who are sore losers, might find the game pretty frustrating. The game used to retail for $25, but it’s not that easy to find anymore. But copies turn up on eBay from time to time, so it might be worth checking out there.