The only way to survive the fall of America is to build the most bad-ass car in the universe, and then roll out and destroy everybody else's cars. Mad Max and Death Race 2000 came to life at the roll of your six-sided dice in Car Wars, the classic 1980s strategy game. You would rack up "points" and use them to add armor, tank guns, fire-proof wheels, mini-engines inside the wheels and nitro-injectors, then you'd duel, either out on the open road or in an arena. Click through for the history of Car Wars.

In Car Wars, scarce resources lead the U.S. government to nationalize oil production, causing a second American Civil War. Three "Free Oil States" spring up with their own oil production — Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Famine and plagues also hit the world hard, and then the U.S. and the Soviet Union launch World War III. In the wasteland that remains, a bitchin car is a necessity for travel, but people also duel cars for sport. (And the game explains away that you can come back from being destroyed because of advances in cloning and memory "backups.")

The original Car Wars came in a ziploc bag full of rules and information, in 1981. You'd have a certain amount of "money" to spend on your car, and you could allocate it to armor, weapons, engine enhancements, and so on. Here's one fan's explanation of the problems with this points allocation system, which later banned tank guns.


(The game's maker, Steve Jackson Games, claims that a Swedish bus company's recent development of a bus with mini-electric engines in each wheel, fed by a central generator, may have been inspired by one of the enhancements you could add to your car, back in the early 1980s.)


Eventually Car Wars came out with a version for tanks and boats, and even allowed you to add airplanes to the mix. You roll dice to simulate combat, and each player gets to make ten moves per second, including moving, turning, and firing weapons. The more complicated your set of manoeuvres, the higher a score you'd have to roll on a six-sided die to pull off the whole shebang. You would need a rulebook (and a lot of brainpower) to figure out if someone sideswiped you or T-boned you, according to the game's FAQ. It could take hours to play out a few seconds of car-crashing action.

Depending on the size of the map you were playing on, you could use little game counters, Hot Wheels toys, or 1/25th scale miniatures to represent your super-cars.

The game spawned a lousy imitation, Batlecars, as well as a card game version and a computer game, Autoduel.


In the 2002 reissue of the game (which went nowhere), Steve Jackson reduced the amount of moves per second from ten to three, in an attempt to speed up the gameplay and make it less calculated. (And maybe a tad more realistic. Most people don't sit there and go, "Yeah, this second I'm going to honk my horn, and fire my rocket launcher, and turn 15 degrees to the left, and, uh...") The 2002 revision also tried to become quicker because you can only take four hits before your car is toast. But it was too late to bring people back to a dice-based game with mini-cars bashing the hell out of each other. Sadly.