This article originally appeared in Shadis #45

Super-Scale Car Wars

by Loren Dean

Ever since the late 70s, Steve Jackson's Car Wars has been one of the ol' faithfuls of the gaming industry. Nearly everybody's played it, and nearly everybody whose played it has thoroughly enjoyed it. The game's a survivor, and even in today's card-glutted market, it's going strong.

One of the things that characterizes a group of gamers I know is their love of the third dimension. Whatever game was being played, they'd run out and buy every figure they could afford, so that big brawls and such looked really cool. Let's face it, there's nothing like pushing figures around a tabletop, and then getting down for a "figure's eye view" of the action, to make a scene come alive.

This group of gamers (of which I was a part, though I've since moved away), renewed their interest in Car Wars in exactly this fashion -- taking it to the third dimension. Sure, we loved Car Wars. For us, it's peculiar brand of large-caliber vehicular violence was unbeatable. However, we had to have that third dimension -- the little counters just didn't cut it anymore.

Accordingly, we seized on an idea, and quickly implemented it. We each bought a 1:24 scale model car, assembled it, and then went through our spare figure parts boxes for weapon-looking stuff to tack onto them. Super-Scale Car Wars (for us at least) was born.

If the notion of playing Car Wars in 1:24 scale appeals to you, great. I've written this article with you in mind, and will explain as best I can how to get started. We'll jump right in.

The Car

The first thing you're going to want is some model cars (well, the first thing you'll need is a copy of the rules, but I'm skipping that step). Even if there isn't a very big game shop in your town, there's bound to be someplace that deals in plastic models (Wal-Mart, if nowhere else). When purchasing a model, keep a couple of things in mind. First, try and stay with cars. The way the rules of the game are set up, cars tend to be more efficient to build and play. Therefore, pickups and vans, while having the potential to look really cool, ought to be avoided at first.

Selecting a car model can be tricky. There's a good chance that everybody is going to want sports cars. That's great, but I'd encourage variety. A field full of Ferarris and Porsches, no matter how they're tricked out, is going to look too uniform. In addition to the sports cars, I would recommend older cars (stuff from the 50's through the 70's -- big old boats and lean muscle cars). These look mean, and have lots of flat surfaces on them for turrets, weapon pods, etc. Additionally, stock car models can look really good (they've got all the roll cage stuff inside, and there's already only one seat), as do concept car models (the Stingray III, GT-90, and others). Concept cars are not readily identifiable by anyone walking by your game. They also look futuristic, reflecting the game's setting. Several model companies, including Monogram, also make, or have made, a line of weird show car designs that look nothing like any other car (the driver's seat is centered, the car isn't symmetrical, or whatever). These are great, if you can find them. Don't rule out the little cars either. There's little more satisfying then taking out a Cadillac with an upgunned Miata, and compacts add variety to the field. Above all, when selecting your car, be original.

The kits themselves don't have to be super detailed. Many buyers of plastic model kits are looking for detail, and that's what the companies cater to, but it's not necessarily what you should be looking for in a Car Wars model. Ease of assembly should be a high priority. There are a lot of good snap-together model kits out there, which brings us to our next point.

I've even seen players skip the kit step entirely, and buy a die-cast car from a toy store. Such cars are available at most toys stores, and many are 1:24 scale. This is also the only way to get 1:24 scale motorcycles that I've ever seen.

Assembly and Accessorizing

When assembling your model, be aware that you will be handling it often. Some kits have opening hoods, trunks, and even doors, and I suggest gluing those down so they don't flap around in transit or during the game. Gluing it all down also makes painting the body easier -- you can spray the whole thing at once rather than painting the individual pieces and then trying to put them together without getting glue all over the stuff you've already painted.

Speaking of glue, avoid the classic Testors glue in the orange or blue tube. It takes a long time to dry, which can be a hassle, and the bond it creates breaks down relatively quickly. I suggest a good CA (that's cyanoacrylate) glue. Good model stores will carry it, sometimes in the radio-controlled airplane section; just ask. CA glue dries quickly and bonds for a long time. It can sometimes get brittle, but if you handle your models carefully it shouldn't be a problem at all.

When assembling the model, feel free to skip steps. If you're gluing the hood down, you needn't feel obligated to assemble the engine -- you're never going to see it, after all. In most cases, the engine is not critical to the structural integrity of the model (I recall a persnickety Lotus Esprit model that had no place to mount the back wheels unless the engine was present -- though this is the exception rather than the rule). Additionally, the engine pieces can be used later when putting weapon mounts on your car -- cylinder heads especially make neat dropped weapon dispensers. The engine isn't the only thing you can skip. Most vehicles for Car Wars have only one crewman, and no room for any others, so leave out the passenger seat. If you are going to tack extra pieces of sheet plastic over the windows, don't bother putting the clear plastic ones in. The same is true for ramplates -- if you're planning to put a big piece of sheet plastic over the front end, don't worry about putting the grille on. Be creative, and let your creativity save you assembly time.

Once the car is more or less together, go ahead and stick weapons on it. If you've been collecting tabletop wargaming figures (like the ones by Citadel or Heartbreaker), you probably have what's called a "bit box," wherein you stash all the stray parts and extra bits that come with those sorts of figures. Bit boxes are gold mines to the creative super-scale player. Anything can become a gun, and if not a gun, just a nifty looking accessory. Don't forget any spare parts that were left over from the model kit, and if you collected the old four-inch-high G.I. Joe action figures, their weapons and equipment are readily cannibalized. Again, be creative.

What's that? You don't play tabletop stuff, your mom thought G.I. Joe was a tool of Satan, and you bought one of those pesky Lotus Esprit models that require full assembly? Don't fret, help is available, it will just take a little longer. I mentioned good model and hobby stores earlier. They ought to carry a selection of plastic sheet and tube stock, from which weapons can be scratch-built. Certain model companies that specialize in military stuff, notably DML, make packs of weapons, some of which are ideal. You could also go in with your friends and buy a couple of tank models, from which you can cannibalize the weapons (not just the big cannon, either -- most tank models have several secondary machineguns and launchers which are a little more to scale).

Things to keep in mind when mounting weapons center mainly on a familiarity with the rules. I try to build models with a specific design in mind, and then try to stay true to the idea when designing the actual car. That way, everybody has some idea what everybody else has mounted on their car just by looking at the model. Ergo, I would counsel against turning your model into a rolling arsenal. Mount the number and type of guns you think you'd like the car to have, and then design it accordingly when its time to play.

Once the model is totally together, you'll need to mount it on a base, which brings us to the question of scale. Car Wars is played in an inch scale. The car counters that come with the game are one inch long and half an inch wide, and all movement is measured in one inch increments. It is easy to extrapolate other scales from that base. For the purposes of super-scale Car Wars, multiply all dimensions by eight -- that is, the base for super-scale cars will be eight inches long, and four inches wide. Bases can be made of anything as long as the material is good and stiff, and somewhat resistant to the elements. Plywood works well, though without power tools it can be difficult to get it cut straight. Illustration board (really thick cardboard with one nicely finished side) works very well, and is available at art or blueprint supply stores. Illustration board doesn't have the resilience of plywood, but it doesn't need to be painted (or sanded, for that matter), and can be easily cut with a hobby knife. Once you've decided what you want to mount your car on, and have a piece cut to the right size, center the car on the base and glue the tires down. Once dry, you have a model car ready for play.


We've already discussed weapon mounts for the models, but we need to address template weapons now. Most dropped weapons, and certain dischargers and the like, leave counters behind indicating a patch of oil, a pile of spikes, or whatever. The Car Wars rules come with several sheets of such counters, in all varieties, to be cut out and used when needed. You will need to make new counters in super-scale: they will measure either 4"x8" or 4"x4", depending on the weapon they are supposed to be dropped from. Counters can simply be cut out of posterboard and have the name of the counter written in big letters across it (SPIKES, MINES, OIL, SMOKE, etc.), or you can get creative. This is a visual game, after all, why not go all the way?

Oil counters can have a large black blotch colored on them in magic marker. Smoke could be a grey blotch. Mines and spikes can go one of two ways. Keeping them two-dimensional makes them easy to move models across, but taking them into 3-D makes them look more imposing. 2-D spikes can be represented by sticking several foil stars to each counter, while 3-D spikes can be done by getting several packs of cheap plastic jacks from the local bargain store, cutting off one arm so they lay flat on the counter, and gluing them down. Mines are best represented by washers glued in a random pattern on the counter. Hardware stores carry a vast array of the things. Some are flat and some are not. Go see what's available and decide for yourself what you think looks best. Whatever you decide to use, try not to put more than three or four stars, jacks, washers, or whatever on each counter so they don't get too cluttered. You should also write in small letters along one side of the counter what it represents, to avoid confusion.

There are two types of dropped weapon that deserve separate attention; flaming oil and ice. Ice is fairly easy. Your local craft store should carry sheets of adhesive-backed silvery prismatic stuff. This can be easily cut to the size of the counter and stuck down. Flaming oil can be a little tricky. The best way I've found to deal with it is to stick a little piece of adhesive magnet (the stuff they make refrigerator magnets out of -- available at the same craft store you bought the ice stuff from) in the center of each oil template. I also have a bunch of firebursts cut out of red posterboard with a little metal washer glued to the underside. If the oil is on fire, I stick the fireburst to the magnet. If not, no fireburst. That way, flaming oil is easy to distinguish from regular oil, and I don't have to make an entirely different set of counters for the two.

You will also need counters to represent pedestrians (in case a driver bails out of a flaming wreck), Debris (bits left behind when cars take damage), and Obstacles (lost wheels, large amounts of bits left behind when cars take lots of damage, etc). I haven't determined a decent way to do these -- 1:24 scale people are in short supply (though the G.I. Joe figures whose gear you cannibalized make passable pedestrians), and while you could glue engine blocks, stray doors, tires, or whatever to your debris and obstacle counters, I don't. The reason I don't is that they usually come into high demand (lots of cars lose lots of bits in a duel), and so I need a big stack of them. For these three types, I just write the name in big letters on the counters so they are easily identifiable.

When doing your counters remember one thing: Be creative, but don't spend a fortune. Make counters as you think you'll need them -- if no one in your group ever uses a minedropper, don't bother making the counters for it.

The Playing Field, and Moving On It

Each car is mounted on an eight-inch-long base, and eight inches becomes the standard measurement for movement. This can pose a problem when looking for a playing surface -- a super-scale car traveling at 50 mph will move 40 scale inches across the field in a turn (just over three feet). The minimum size playing area for SSCW is a square 20-25 feet across. 30 to 40 feet works better, as there's more maneuvering room, but the smaller one will work if there's absolutely nowhere else to play. Gym floors are ideal, with dorm hallways and common rooms coming in a close second, but the parking lot of your local game shop will work fine. Parking lots, outdoor basketball courts, and the like have the added advantage of chalkability -- you can draw dropped weapon counters with chalk rather than having to make them.

You will need some sort of marker to delineate the boundaries of the field. I got some bricks, painted them a friendly caution yellow, and use them to mark the corners. Bricks have worked well for me, as they are big enough to be seen, and heavy enough to not be "accidentally" nudged aside by a player whose car is on a collision course.

Movement in the Car Wars rules is given in inches, and this is easily converted into lengths. That is, 1 inch as listed in the rules becomes one 8-inch length in super-scale. The easiest way to work movement is with a ruler. Tape measures work for calculating ranges, but moving the cars is easier with a yardstick. I got a bunch of them (so each of my players could have one, and not fight over them) at a local school supply store, and marked them in eight inch increments. That way, the car can just be moved from mark to mark and has moved one length -- no counting or math is involved (that comes later).

You will also need to make at least one super-scale turn key. This is best done with thick cardstock, or the illustration board we mentioned earlier. One poster sized sheet will make one key, and you will need a protractor or other angle-measuring device to mark the turns correctly. Make each flat side measure 8 inches, mark it the same way the stock turn key is marked, and you're ready to go.

Targeting, Wrecks, and Other Mayhem

Earlier, I mentioned a tape measure. You will need one for SSCW, preferably one at least 25 feet long. You will use it to measure ranges from car to car when calculating targeting modifiers (remember to multiply the range bands listed in the book by eight).

When a car wipes out, be careful. It is tempting to go ahead and turn a car that has gone into a roll onto its top, and this does look cool, but it can knock things off the model, and keeping the models nice is the key to long-lasting enjoyment of the game. Estimate whether or not the car will be driveable, or even intact, when it finally comes out of its roll, spin, flip, or whatever, and if it is not likely to survive the crash, just remove the model from the field. Another option is to leave the model on the ground, move it as it would given the uncontrolled maneuver it is executing, and place a marker next to it indicating what is happening to it. Alternately (and this is my favorite) take one of your old car models (you know, the one you got for your birthday when you were ten, and that didn't get assembled very well), give it a good whack with a hammer, glue the wreckage to a 4x8 base, and make it the official "wipe-out" counter. Replace your model with the wipe-out counter as needed.

The Car Wars rules are pretty complete, but (as is the case with nearly all tabletop games) you will encounter situations that are barely glanced at in the rules, and some that are not addressed at all. In these situations, be calm. Without doubt, someone is going to get a raw deal as a result of the situation, and in such a case, everybody needs to take a deep breath, realize that the rules allow for some pretty amazing stuff (safe 90-degree turns at 80 mph), and roll with it.

The point of the game is to have fun, and that's what these conversion tips are all about. Everybody has had fun at one time or another crashing their Matchbox cars together, and super-scale Car Wars is just the next step. Good hunting.

Loren Dean is a long time gamer and plastic modeller living in northern Utah. He can be reached through the website of Critical Mass, the University of Utah's gaming club ( or directly via e-mail at

Article publication date: August 14, 1998

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