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There are plenty of video games that simulate the white knuckle thrill of the high-speed chase, from Formula 1 to illegal street racing and from quirky Italian plumbers in souped-up go-carts to high tech cyberpunk chases through futuristic urban settings. But it has always been something that has been largely overlooked when it comes to the table-top RPG world. Until now.
Building on such early games as Steve Jackson’s Car Wars and Games Workshop’s Battlecars, as well as Mad Max (the first two films and the reboot, Tina Turner and a gang of Peter Pan like orphans didn’t really add anything did it?) and Sci-fi stories such as Alan Dean Foster’s Why Johnny Can’t Speed, Gaslands is a rules system with a lot to offer. And there are many reasons to start playing…today!
Value For Money
Whilst many RPG systems require major financial outlay on core rule books, miniatures, terrain and other peripherals before you can begin enjoying the game, Gaslands is great for those on a budget. The rule book is no more than £15 new and second-hand versions can be found at half the price. The cars you need are cheap and readily available, more of which below. Apart from a few specialised dice and movement templates (which are easily home-crafted if you prefer) and you are up and running with some change out of £25.
Availability of playing pieces
To make any RPG feel authentic, you often find that your only option is to pay full price via major manufacturers for miniatures that look just right. After all, as your D&D players burst into that final temple at the end of a long quest, if they are confronted by a troll that you have converted from a cereal box freebie, the bubble of believability is going to burst rather quickly. And even the most far flung fantasy needs to be believable.
Gaslands comes with a neat solution. The vehicles that you will be using as your playing pieces are from the Hot Wheels range. These have been manufactured since the late ’60s which means that even though you can pick them up for a pound or two brand new, you will find them in charity shops, garage sales and e-bay for pennies. They hardly seem to be the stuff of heroic, futuristic racing but this is where you come in.
Zen And The Art of Custom Car Maintenance
Most people who play table-top games, also have an interest in collecting miniatures, from a few pieces representing your favourite characters to whole armies of soldiers. Those people will also get a kick out of painting and adapting those pieces. Gaslands is great for that. You might start with a basic, street-legal Ford Mustang, but with a bit of imagination and a rummage through your modelling spares box (the gamers equivalent of that kitchen draw with all those spare light bulbs, an unused garlic press, the emergency candles and a device which might be for getting boy scouts out of horses hooves,) it can be transformed. A rocket launcher here, twin machine guns there and an imposing paint job and you are ready for the fight.
Eventually, you might want to spend out on terrain and playing mats, buildings and obstacles but again, you can start off very simply. A large off-cut of carpet or a sandy coloured tablecloth is all you need as a play area. And if you want some buildings to dot around the theatre of vehicular combat, then a few boxes stuck together, moulded bits of packaging and a few odd-shaped nick-nacks can be very convincing. Pringles tubes make great cooling towers for futuristic chemical works, by the way. Once you start building such terrain items, you will never look at your household rubbish the same way again.
Slowly Does It
This is a game that you can slowly immerse yourself in. The rule book may be 180+ pages but a lot of this is mainly reference and much of it can be mastered in stages. Once you are familiar with the first 30 pages or so, you are ready to rumble, or at least whizz around a small track causing chaos, taking shots at each other, ramming, denting, barging and bombing…imagine central London about 6pm, only with gas grenades and full-contact driving. Which isn’t very hard to do.
Once you have the hang of that you can add additional weapons, special abilities, advanced rules and team sponsorships as you see fit.
The Rule of Carnage
Gaslands is certainly a game guided by rules but it doesn’t have so many that you can’t hold most of the basic concepts in your head at any one time. This does mean that very occasionally there might be an incident that isn’t completely covered by the book. For those times, the game suggests the Rule of Carnage.
This rule states that when in doubt, “choose whichever option results in the most carnage for all concerned!” Gaslands is a spectator sport and when played to its fullest, the audience (it is set in a future version of earth where the races are televised) votes for the most spectacular blowout, craziest collision, most unexpected act of aggression. These votes make the teams more popular and thus gives them additional buying power.
Sometimes it is about losing the battle but winning the war and if you are going to lose the battle it is best to do so in style.
Once you get up to speed (pun intended) you will find that you can play a small and meaningful game in 2 – 4 hours. This means that each game session resolves itself, there is no waiting with bated breath, there is no stopping the flow of action just as you were about to take out the rival team leader with the old oil slick and flamethrower one-two. But…
The Never Ending Story
…each race is also a chapter in an ongoing team competition and each new race allows you to rebuild and rejig your team, possibly having learned the hard way exactly where your weakness lay. This means that each of your game sessions is part of a league where the most successful (or the most spectacular losers) gain in prowess, popularity and power to return to the fray refreshed, refitted and out for vengeance. A grudge match this most certainly is.
Two’s Company, Three’s a Bonus etc
Because Gaslands doesn’t require the referee/DM figure that more involved RPG’s do, you can play the game one-on-one and still have the same level of experience and fun as any multi-player game. If you are finding it tough to find opponents, one like-minded soul is enough. That said, it is easy to modify the size of your teams to accommodate three, four, five or even more players, either as a Battle Royale free-for-all or by forming team alliances. Then you will see the meaning of the word carnage!
Slow-Mo is The Way To Go
Of course, video games have the advantage that you can play a racing game in real-time. Gaslands’ more tactical and methodical nature means that you play the game as if watching the slow-motion replay of a race. But somehow, this seems to heighten the experience. You see every crash coming, you see the path of each bullet as it heads towards the cache of rockets stored on the back seat, you feel the car flip as you are forced off the track to career through the stack of oil cans which act as a marker. Not just every jolt and dent but every bullet hole and tailgating collision is something to be lived through.
More Than Just A Car Chase
Although inspired by the likes of Mad Max and its dystopian world, you can create whatever setting you like. The desert wastes of the Road Warrior, a more cyber-punk urban experience, even a slightly more aggressive take on the Fast and Furious franchise.
And it isn’t just about cars. The rules cover everything from bikes and buggies to tanks and battle buses, and you can even add in gyrocopters or have the players driving through the zombie apocalypse. There really is something to suit all tastes… providing that your taste runs to maximum mayhem in a futuristic arena of a diesel-powered death match. And who doesn’t like a bit of that?