Autoduel QuarterlyVolume 2Issue 3

Upscaling Car Wars

or You've Got to Think Big

by the Peoria Piledrivers

Car Wars is currently one of the most playable roleplaying games. Nevertheless, we felt that a certain amount of playability had been sacrificed in the interest of portability and affordability. Maneuvering over map wrinkles can be a real problem, and even if you really flattened yours out, one good sneeze and a tornado has swept through Midville. While lead miniatures may be one answer, they look a little rough and are still of the same small size that makes maneuvering imprecise at best.

Our answer to these problems was to use larger scale maps and vehicles. Rather than using cars 1" x 1/2" we went to 3" x 1 1/2". Why that size? Virtually every Matchbox and Hot Wheels car fits these dimensions.

We have found tremendous advantages to using this scale. Movement and line of sight disagreements are much more clearly resolved. The use of turning templates is made a lot easier, and choosing neat-looking cars is a lot more fun and interesting. We considered using HO or N gauge railroad accessory cars, but the selection just wasn't wide enough, and the prices were outrageous. Some HO scale equipment can still be used, though (fig. 3).

It turns out that the garage doors on most HO scale buildings will allow most Matchbox-size cars to pass through. HO scale is about 1:72, and many plane and helicopter models are available in this scale. Although Matchbox cars are around 1:60 scale, most models of aircraft do not look terribly out of scale. In scale they are a little too dominating anyway.

We cannot emphasize how much more playable this innovation makes the game. While some portability is lost, and a larger area is needed in which to play, game mechanics are greatly simplified and enjoyment and satisfaction are greatly enhanced. This is not an empty claim based on theory. In addition to extensive playtesting by our regular gaming group of 9 players, the upscaled version has been taken to three different conventions for playtesting by experienced and inexperienced autoduellists. The reactions at all three conventions (WinterWar and Chambanacon at the University of Illinois; Gamefair in Peoria) were unbelievably favorable. Experienced autoduellists often changed their convention plans in order to enter more than one of our events. Many people who owned the game but did not play it regularly said that upscaling made all of the difference in the world. New playtesters and the many spectators said that they found the use of HotWheels and Matchbox cars made playing and watching very exciting, particularly when compared to the dryness of the other games they watched or played.

What follows is a technical description of how we upscaled the game. Our experiences should help anyone wanting to follow in our footsteps. Several of the individual innovations that we made do not rely on upscaling, especially the speed and handling boards. Even if you don't plan to upscale there is material here that you may be interested in.

Basic Upscaling Techniques

Upscaling Method #1

We have found several effective upscaling methods. Regardless of your autoduelling needs, we are sure that at least one will be right for you.

For those of you who want an arena of fixed dimensions on a solid surface, this first method is best. We went to several lumber and home improvement stores in an effort to find a backing material upon which we could fix the arena. We tried to find a compromise material that was inexpensive, strong, very flat and regular, as well as fairly light. We finally selected a 4' x 8' x 1/8" sheet of tempered masonite (also known as hardboard). The cost varied from $8 to $12 per sheet. The quality varied as well, so shop around a little. We discovered that the masonite found at lumber stores was tougher and more dense than that found at K-Mart. This size sheet is not particularly portable, and while it can be cut to any size, you really need a station wagon, pickup, or large hatchback to carry around a satisfactorily large playing surface.

You now need a grid to put on the masonite. The Car Wars maps have a heavy line every inch with a light line every quarter inch. For the upscaled version, we naturally needed a grid with a heavy line every three inches and light lines every three-quarters of an inch. We were completely unable to find pre-printed graph paper using these dimensions, so we drew the lines on paper ourselves.

At first we tried drawing our grid on a 8 1/2" x 15" piece of typing paper, photocopying it a bunch of times, trimming the odd edges with a paper cuter, and taping the trimmed copies to the masonite. This wall papering method was not particularly successful. Due to the nature of photocopies, the image is passed through a lens and the lines are distorted a little. Thus two photocopied grid sheets don't line up exactly when placed side by side. This left us with the unaesthetic dilemma of either having the lines be off a little bit every time we put two sheets together or lining them up as closely as possible each time. The cumulative errors produced by this second method really screwed things up three or four sheets down the road. The only alternative we were able to come up with was to get a big roll of white paper (we found a 48' x 15 yd. roll for $15 at an art store), a long straight edge (we used a 5' metal architect's T-Square), and draw in the lines ourselves. This involves a lot of very precise measuring, but the results can be spectacular. The best results were achieved with a heavy black felt tip (we used a Schwan STABILayout 38/46) for the 3" lines, and a thin red felt tip (we used a Sharpie) for the 3/4" lines. The red/black contrast is quite eyecatching, and it makes straight line movements, drifts, and line of sight questions all the more obvious.

We recommend that you make all of your measurements at once and draw the 3" lines in first, to reduce the errors in drawing from wrong mark to wrong mark. Depending on what you feel more comfortable with, it doesn't really make any difference whether you attach the paper to the masonite and then draw on it, or whether you draw the lines on the paper and then attach it to the masonite. If you put the paper on the masonite, first be sure not to attach it too permanently at this stage. You may want to rip it off and start again. Double stick cellophane tape is quite sufficient for fixing the grid to the masonite. Be generous with the tape, but be extremely careful when you put the grid-covered paper on the board. If you draw the lines on the paper first, be careful of the black felt tip. It can easily soak through the paper and mark whatever is underneath. We put a plastic drop cloth on top of the table that we marked on. When you do screw up, most errors can be remedied by the use of typing correction fluid.

[Figure 1]

At this point you have to decide whether you want a fixed arena with unchangeable curves, or a playing surface entirely covered with the grid that needs special layovers (to be discussed later) for curves and barriers. If you want a fixed arena or track, you should cut out the sections that you don't want the drivers driving on - like the infield(s) - with an X-acto knife or razor blade. It is tough to make the curves come out looking good if you don't plan ahead. Making the curves in 90-degree sections seems to be the most effective. Making curves will be discussed in more detail later.

With this type of arena, you might not want the grid to go all of the way to the edge of the masonite. This will give you a clearly defined shoulder or wall along the outer edge of the arena A 4' wide sheet of masonite can contain a maximum of 16 3" car lengths. If you make it 15 you then have a 1 1/2" border.

We would like to comment for a moment about range. With a 8' long piece of masonite, it is easy for cars to maneuver around without being in each other's range. Twenty inches in standard Car Wars scale is only five feet in our upscaled version. We were originally concerned that upscaling might require an unrealistically large playing area, in order to get a decent amount of fire at interesting ranges. This concern was largely unjustified. There is really plenty of room to drive around on a 4' x 5' board (our first upscaling effort). A few interestingly placed walls help even more. As we found out in more flexible later editions, larger areas are more fun but not at all necessary. If you feel that you are doing too much turning with low handling classes, you might want to consider designating some of the curves as banked curves. Any maneuver made into the turn is D1 easier, any made up the bank are d1 more difficult. Thus a 15-degree turn either does not affect handling classes (downhill), or is a D2 maneuver (uphill).

Regardless of whether you have covered your masonite with a solid grid or an arena, you should now cover the grid-covered paper and the masonite with clear contact paper. The advantages of covering these boards with clear contact paper are enormous. It protects your playing surface from spills and other messes, it gives the board a nice glossy look, and it lets you write on the board with watercolor felt tips. You can draw walls, smokescreens, minefields, or any special area right on the board, and remove them all with a damp paper towel. This illustrates another playability advantage to upscaling.

We used Contact brand contact paper, purchased at K-Mart for $2.12 a roll. While it is available on really large rolls from hardware stores, they invariably charge more per foot than you get with the 4 yd. x 18" roll from K-Mart. This stuff was surprisingly easy to work with, in that you could gently put it down and pull it back up if you weren't satisfied with how it was situated. Once you feel that you have it where you want it, work from one end smoothing it down with your hands (fig. 2). This is the point of no return. We have never been able to get the contact paper up neatly after it was firmly smoothed down. Careful smoothing will eliminate small bubbles or wrinkles that may form.

[Figure 2]

Overlap the contact paper by at least 1/2" over each edge of the board. As it does not stick too well to the rough side of the masonite, get clear packing tape from an office supply store, and tape the overlap of the contact paper to the rough side of the masonite. Be sure to stretch the contact paper around the edge of the masonite to get a nice smooth playing surface. The packing tape gives a good secure seal, and it sticks very well to the masonite. The contact paper will not cover the whole board in one strip, so be sure to have your sheets of contact paper overlap by at least 1/2".

Laying the contact paper is at least a two-person job. One person can't handle a piece much larger than a foot. Even with two people it takes a little practice to get perfect results. We are covering just about all of our Car Wars materials with the waterproof, tear-resistant plastic. We highly recommend this process to people using regular Car Wars maps and materials, too.

As we have stated, this first method of upscaling gives you a choice of having a fixed track or arena, or just covering a large area with a grid and making temporary modifications later. The easiest way of making modifications to such a board is to draw on walls and obstacles with a watercolor marker. You should try the marker out on a scrap of contact paper before marking your boards. Some markers that claimed to be non-permanent could not be completely removed with a moist paper towel. Thus, a grid-covered board is more versatile than a board with a pre-defined track. After all, one could merely draw walls onto the grid-style board and duplicate the track. While it might seem that creating a set arena track is inferior to a more versatile solid grid, we seem to spend more time playing on the ready-to-go arena than on the grid. Having a ready, familiar track is a bonus that should not be too quickly dismissed.

While creating walls, buildings, obstacles and the like can be done with watercolor markers, we have extended our upscaling techniques to these areas for some rather striking results. Take colored paper, draw the grid on it, and cut and tape pieces of the paper together to make buildings, parks, sidewalks, etc. Color-coding the different areas is recommended with different colors for grass, 4-point walled buildings, sidewalks, overhead crosswalks, or whatever your imagination allows. Once you have cut, taped, and trimmed the buildings, cover both sides with contact paper. You now have completely mobile walls, bunkers, or mine tokens to rearrange with complete freedom.

Do not stick your buildings to your grid with cellophane tape. This sticks to the contact paper far too well, and is difficult to remove later. We recommend taking a small (say 1" x 1") piece of masking tape and reverse rolling it so that the sticky side is out. Though more expensive, double stick masking tape is available at some stores. Place a few of these in the center and at the corners of your building or obstacle, and place the building on the board. This keeps it from sliding around, and the masking tape comes right off later.

[Figure 3]

Upscaling Method #2

A more versatile arrangement that we have used very successfully is to use 2' x 2' squares of masonite, as opposed to a larger sheet. These blocks are then covered with a solid grid from edge to edge, or specialty highway grids. We have found 2' x 2' (eight 3" car lengths by eight 3" car lengths) squares are a nice compromise of size and portability vs. minimal set-up requirements. While larger squares would be less of a problem to put together, you start running into the portability problems inherent in larger playing surfaces. Anything smaller, and it would take a long time and a lot of fuss to get them all together into a playing surface.

This arrangement of squares gives you incredible versatility, and lets you do road combats easily. Just as in regular Car Wars, you can line up the upsealed 2' x 2' blocks in a row, and drive down the length of the row. As the cars approach the end of the row, just remove the last block from the beginning of the row, slide what remains of the row down, and place the removed block at the front of the row in the path of the oncoming vehicles. We have designed special highway squares just for road combat. As with the arena, they are less versatile than blocks completely covered with the grid, but they look a lot snazzier for highway combat.

As might be expected, we have also made several grid-covered 2' x 2' blocks. They are particularly nice for city combat or specialized arenas. You can lay the squares out in any desired pattern, and as the vehicles pass between the tacked-on buildings you can extend the blocks in any direction, scavenging blocks from any area already passed.

This also makes the movable buildings particularly useful. Careful city planning insures that you never have a building bridging two of the blocks. This could make scavenging passed blocks more difficult.

It is necessary to have the boards secured together so that they won't get out of alignment if jostled, and so that groups of them can be slid around as the cars move into different areas. After trying some incredibly elaborate methods, we found that a little masking tape connecting the undersides of the boards works fine.

Not only do the 2' x 2' squares give the drivers an effectively infinite area in which to move around, the boards are quite portable. While a bunch of them can be rather weighty, we made a denim bag that holds up to thirty of them. A nice wide shoulder strap makes the load quite bearable. This is the method we used to transport our upscaled version to both Chambanacon and WinterWar.

One word of warning: Cutting the masonite sheets exactly square is rather difficult, and variations of 1/8 inch or more are noticeable. As a rule, lumber stores will not be sufficiently precise. Lumber store personnel can also get quite testy if you have them make a cut, and then don't accept it because of inaccuracies. Either make the cuts yourself, or explain in painful detail the incredible need for precision that you have. Don't take anything second-rate or you will regret it.

The advantages of using a hard-backed surface are fairly obvious. Minor variations in the surface upon which you lay the board(s) are eliminated or greatly reduced, so you always have a firm, consistent playing surface.

Upscaling Method #3

For those of you with a smooth, large, consistent surface on which to play, we offer this final, and perhaps best, method of board construction. Eliminate the masonite altogether, and cover both sides of the grid paper with clear contact paper. We have made several 2' x 2' sheets as well as 2' x 4' sheets. They are tough, flexible, easy to roll and carry, and easy to put together. While they should not be folded (wrinkles tend to be permanent), they are the best thing yet for upscaled autoduelling. Laying the plastic on both sides of a sheet is a little more difficult than on just one side of a board, but the results are worth it. This is what we took to GameFair, and they were generous enough to provide us with an adequate number of equally tall tables. The sheets went together easily, and were much less cumbersome than the masonite boards. We were also able to make some speciality highway curve sheets that came out great.


As promised, we would now like to discuss the making of curves and other specialty grids. First, we have found that interstate-type highway fits nicely onto a 2' wide grid (eight 3' car lengths across). The first 3" block is shoulder, the second and third are highway, the fourth and fifth are center median, the sixth and seventh are the other lanes of the highway, and the eighth is shoulder. We actually extended the width of the highways by 1/4 inch on each side to represent a blacktop shoulder just before the grass. Going onto the blacktop shoulder is a D1, going onto the grass is an additional D1, making it a standard (if slightly wide) curb. We got some brown paper, and then placed very precisely cut sheets of white paper onto the brown paper. We then drew the grid over both pieces of paper. Double stick cellophane tape was quite adequate for the job. The same basic technique was used for cutting out the curves. The curves were carefully measured onto white paper, then they were placed onto brown paper that had pencil markings for the drawing of the red and black grid lines. With a bit of care in designing and marking both the brown and white paper, there will be no significant problems getting everything to line up,

We have designed our curved sheets to interface with these highway sheets. The same basic curve design instructions will, of course, apply to special arena designs. When making the curves, it is easiest to make them as though they were part of a perfect circle. Determine the mid-point of this circle. Take two pencils and attach a string to them so that the distance between the two pencils can be easily varied, but that the pencils are not likely to slip apart. Place one pencil on the mid-point, and the other on either end of your turn. Be sure you have marked where you want the pencil to start and finish. Keeping the string taut, gently draw a line between the two points. This may take several tries. The first time you try, make sure that the string is attached to the pencils at the bottom of the pencils. This gives greater stability. Be sure to keep the pencils straight up and down, or you will get an imperfect curve. This last suggestion should not be taken too rigidly. We occasionally tilted the top of the pencil towards or away from the midpoint of the circle. This allowed the line to end exactly on the desired point. If done in moderation, the curves still look very precise.

[Figure 4]

We've come up with an alternative to this method of fudging the curves. Although we have not yet tried it, it should be a little easier. As before, mark the mid-point of the circle, the beginning point of the curve, and the end point. Then draw a line front the beginning point to just a little more than half way around the curve. Now draw a line from the end point to where it intersects with the first line. With any luck at all, the two lines will intersect, or nearly intersect, with less fudging.

When making any of these sheets or buildings, we recommend that you trim the edge of the grid paper first, apply the contact paper, then trim the edge of the contact paper about 1/4" away from the edge of the trimmed grid paper. Thus you will end up with a 1/4" margin of contact paper all the way around your construction. This little bit of overlap waterproofs the construction. You can make it look a little neater by trimming the edges of the grid paper and the contact paper at the same time (not leaving any margin), but this will allow water that comes in contact with the edge of the construction to seep in and discolor the grid sheet between the sheets of contact paper. We learned this the hard way.

Upscaling Refinements

Contact paper can be used to protect a variety of useful items. We have used it to cover the usual mine, spike, and debris counters as well as an assortment of movement templates (fig. 4). While you can draw your own spike (mine, smoke, etc.) counters, the counters found in the middle of Autoduel Champions are almost large enough. If run through a photocopy enlarger, they are quite suitable. Cover the photocopied sheet on both sides with contact paper and cut out the markers. Stick them to the grids as you would a building, with a tiny piece of rolled masking tape (with the sticky side out, as we said). Or you can always just draw on the board with watercolor markers.

We have had a lot of fun by creating pieces of debris out of old or disliked cars, bits of plastic and wire, or the remains of old plastic models. Using a vise was particularly enjoyable. This type of debris is a little hard to maneuver over, but is much more realistic and fun. Pulling out the debris bag has become a highlight of the game (Debris! Debris!).

Next we come to preparing the cars for play and maneuvering. Due to the irregularity of the size and shape of Matchbox cars, we have found that movement is simplified if the cars are attached to a 3" x 1 1/2" piece of thin cardboard. The kind of material that makes up shoe boxes or department store clothing boxes is just right. We cover the rectangles with contact paper, and attach the cars to the rectangles by using an inverted roll of masking tape, as we did with the buildings. Naturally, the roll must be somewhat bulkier to connect the underside of the car to the rectangle (fig. 1).

We use movement templates similar to the one provided in Expansion Set #2 for all movements not immediately obvious (like moving straight or drifting while perfectly centered in a grid). We made the templates out of the same material we used for the car rectangles. We have found these useful in the extreme. While templates for individual types of turns (such as 15- or 45-degree turns) might be a little hard to manage on the original scale, even original scale enthusiasts should consider making them.

Another innovation that we have made is not dependent on upscaling. We made speed and handling boards for every player (fig. 5). These have proven very helpful in improving playability. Instead of having to worry about little speed and handling die-cut tokens sliding around on a Vehicle Design Sheet, we use wooden blocks with golf tees. We took an old board and cut it up into 1' x 3' x 3/4" pieces. We painted the individual boards, then drilled holes that were snug for the golf tees. Obviously a few practice holes are recommended. Also, golf tees vary in width from brand to brand, so buy a bag of them (they are very inexpensive) to insure consistent size. This is one case where scrounging supplies from around the house is not recommended. In our experience, golfers tend to have a nice variety of golf tee styles in their bags.

While a drill press would have made things a lot simpler, we just put the blocks in a vise and drilled them as straight as we could. The golf tees don't always stand up perfectly straight, but that hasn't managed to affect playability.

[Figure 5]

As can he seen, we also created a Roadmaster board. This board has the incremental movement chart drawn on it, with holes at the top for each phase. To the left of the chart there are several holes for each mph increment. Thus the Roadmaster can assign numbers to each car (perhaps based on the daily reaction roll), write the numbers on the heads of golf tees, and more easily keep track of each car. Using appropriately numbered cars also helps. You always know which car moves in what phase.

There are two things that you might want to include that we did not. Try writing the ram damage dice for each speed on the Roadmaster board. Also, a turn counter of some sort (turns elapsed to he noted by golf tees) could be easily drilled into the board.

It is impossible to overstate how much easier these boards make things. They really free player and Roadmaster alike from the mechanics of the game. We highly recommend these boards to all players, regardless of whether they choose to upscale.

Final Comments

It is and was quite a project. While upscaling is obviously not for everyone, and though it does entail a lot of work and motivation, we really hope you give it a try. Putting it all together was fun, satisfying, and the resulting play was out of this world.

We have recently purchased some 1/72 scale helicopter models, and soon plan to introduce these to our duellists. Many model manufacturers make them, and most come with lots of neat weapons.

Re-reading the article, we are afraid that all of the technical directions we gave might seem too intimidating. It is really not as hard to do as it sounds. Just take things one step at a time, and think before you step. If you decide to upscale and have any questions, or if you just want to challenge the Piledrivers to a team competition, feel free to write David B. Ptasnik, c/o Autoduel Quarterly, Box 18957, Austin, TX 78760.

One final note: While we have suggested many materials and techniques that we found useful, don't feel bound by them. Just use whatever you've got around the house as much as possible. While we tried to keep expenses down, we spent over $50.00 on materials (not including a rather embarrassing buying binge of new Matchbox-size cars). Still, if you can scrape the wherewithal together, DO IT. You'll be very glad you did.


Issue 2/3 Index

Steve Jackson Games * Car Wars * ADQ Index