A long time ago I bought Steve Jackson Games' Car Wars(1st ed., 1983 release) in pocket box format(like the article image).1 Here's what you can read at the back:

Drive Offensively!

He triggered the rear guns once more. A direct hit! The blue car skidded as the driver lost control - then flipped and caught fire. That would teach HIM not to tailgate...

CAR WARS is a game of the freeways of the future - where the right of way goes to the biggest guns. Players choose their vehicules - complete with weapons, armor, power plants, suspension, and even body style. Then they take them out on the road - to come home "aces", or to crash and burn. A highly realistic grid system controls movement. If a player character survives, his abilities improve, and he can accumulate money to buy bigger and better cars. Advanced rules let players design their own cars (and trucks and cycles).

Playing time 30 minutes and up. Any number can play.

Sadly I've played the game only once when it was introduced to me in grade school2. Now I'm reading in the Car Wars Compendium, 2nd Edition (1990-1991), in the getting started section:

[...]The game can be played solo, but is more fun with an opponent. It is probably best with 4 to 6 players. A game with over 8 players can take a very long time.

So how would you go about playing this solo? Is there some material/scenario which focuses on solo play? If there is no prescribed way of playing this solo, how would you repurpose the game so that I could play it solo? enter image description here

1. Note this is not about GURPS Autoduel. It predates it and is a standalone product which is not standardized for the system.

2. I remember very fondly choosing parts for the car and making sure there wasn't too much weight for the body/suspension. From what I remember we had this mission of getting hold a an important piece of machinery/engine in a city setting and being attacked by a helicopter(!)(thanks to Serge with the kite suspended at the ceiling older buddy of my childhood and his inspiring mastery of Knuckle Joe - Seibu Kaihatsu, 1985, for introducing me to the game).

  • I remember much debate about this. Some people consider it role-playing, or did back when I played it. I consider it a board game.
    – Longspeak
    Aug 15, 2014 at 19:21
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    I'm pretty firmly of the opinion that Car Wars is a tactical tabletop game in the same category as Warmachine, or even Warhammer, except designed around cardboard chits instead of volumetric miniatures. Migrate this to boardgames!
    – gomad
    Aug 15, 2014 at 19:30
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    Yeah, this falls on the same fuzzy line that Castle Ravenloft does. As usual, the deciding factor is where the experts are—which is likely BG&C.SE, especially since this question has no RPGish elements. Aug 15, 2014 at 19:34
  • I've run Car Wars more as an RPG than as a board game. It's a hybrid design - it straddles the boundary. But it also has a HUGE raft of GM'd adventure scenarios in ADQ, and a few standalone ones were printed.
    – aramis
    Aug 15, 2014 at 19:37

1 Answer 1


In my experience....

Solo play of Car Wars breaks down into 4 discrete activities:

  1. Vehicle Design
  2. movement practice
  3. play of automatic opponent scenarios
  4. playing multiple sides
  5. play of paragraph driven scenarios
  6. TurboFire play

Vehicle Design as Solo Play

For me, this was the number one way to waste time with Car Wars. I designed about 50x more vehicles than I ever used in play. And I used a LOT of vehicles in play.

Movement Practice

My friends and I would often draw an obstacle course on a single sheet of paper - usually letter or legal, sometimes 11x17". And then see how fast we could get a vehicle through. We'd each do this on our own time, and later compare.

I did a lot of this when I first got Boat Wars - the Hovercraft rules needed to be better written. I also did a bunch of this when I first got Truck Stop.

Automated Opponent Scenarios

A few scenarios from Autoduel Quarterly were one vehicle against a prepared course with automated firing rules for the emplaced defenses. (Maniac, in ADQ 1-4, was one of the best.)

Playing Multiple Sides

It was (and still is) a classic wargaming trope to test play games by playing both sides. In a deterministic game, like chess or checkers, it's pointless, but once you add randomization, you can have a very good time playing both sides of a game.

Note that for car wars, this is a prerequisite for solo play of certain modules.

Paragraph Driven Scenarios

There have been several paragraph-driven scenarios released for Car Wars. These are very much in the same mode as the ones for Tunnels and Trolls or The Fantasy Trip; they actually work best when there is a second player, but they work well enough solo, and the intended mode is solo-play.

The best known is Convoy, an SJG product, which was adapted from a GM'd adventure.

Second best, released by Task Force Games, was Hell On Wheels. Far less well known are the two other solo modules from TFG, The Gauntlet and Street Fighter. These three were part of a line called "AutoVentures."

All four of these presume the player will play both sides in the actual combats, but they also specify the general tactics of the encounters.

The 3 from TFG also include an alternate "Quick Combat System" which made them quite playable without setting up the map and counters. (It also works for some of the encounters in Convoy.)


TurboFire was one of two GM-adventures for Car Wars in the AutoVentures line. It lacked a paragraph mode, but included an abstraction for racing. In and of itself, it was not intended for solo-play... but since it abstracted out thousands of choices into a few die-rolls, it allowed race-dueling to become a solo-play opportunity.

In TurboFire, the players are using the TurboFire racing rules to generate a series of encounters, which then get played out per the restrictions within the module. These generally are short battles, given the harsh restrictions in that module's setting. This combination means that it's pretty easy and quick to resolve each one, and one can fairly easily play both sides, since the tactics are obvious.

I've used this mode with Cars, Big Rigs, and Microplanes.

  • Thank you this is really a wonderful wonderful answer which I will take time to analyze. Vehicle design is indeed fun and engaging. So is thouroughly reading the manuals filled with old school drawing/art. This will be a blast, thanks again!
    – illuminÉ
    Aug 15, 2014 at 20:53
  • Here is a good place to keep track and explore the material for the game. I'm surprised they focused so early on on solo play with such exciting and rich content. I'm catching up, cheers!
    – user8301
    Aug 16, 2014 at 5:57

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