Burning Rubber

Incendiary Tactics in Car Wars

by Roland M. Boshnack

One of the most exciting changes in the newest edition of Car Wars are the new Fire and Explosion rules. The old system of Fire Modifiers and Burn Durations is gone, replaced by a much simpler process. As a quick recap, after an incendiary weapon hits a target or a flammable internal component has been hit, the attacking player rolls 3d and tries to get under the amount of damage done. If he succeeds, a Fire Marker is placed right on the vehicle's counter. Thereafter, at the end of each turn, the burning vehicle rolls to see if the fire is put out. If this roll fails, the vehicle takes damage. If the fire spreads into the interior and damages any explosive items inside, then there is a good chance that the vehicle will explode, instantly destroying it.

This article focuses in turn on each side of the Fire equation. First we'll look at how to get your opponent roasting like a weenie, then we'll give you some tips on putting the fire out.

Burn, Baby, Burn!

Incendiary attacks are fairly far and few between. The most common are the humble Machine Gun with Incendiary ammunition and the Flamethrower; harder to find are Lasers. Let's look at each of these in turn.

Machine Gun with Incendiary Ammunition

Your basic Machine Gun is the single most common weapon in Car Wars -- always was, always will be. When loaded with Incendiary Ammo, this weapon becomes somewhat more fearsome. Incendiary Ammo isn't cheap -- it's about 50% more expensive than normal solid rounds -- but it turns the MG's attacks into Incendiary. Even better, the weapon itself does not become Flammable nor Explosive, so you don't need to worry about enemy attacks causing it to explode.

The downside, of course, is that the weapon still only does 1d of damage, meaning that on an average damage roll (resulting in 3-4 points of damage) you have less than a 2% chance to start a fire. Linking, however, increases these chances incredibly. Two Incendiary MGs do, on average, 7 points of damage, giving an over 15% chance of starting a fire. Three linked MGs (average total damage 10-11) will place a fire marker over 50% of the time, and can do this up to 20 times a combat with normal ammo loadouts. Of course, if you can hit the opponent's engine, gas tank, or flamethrower with an Incendiary MG the amount of damage becomes moot -- he's on fire no matter what.


Not only are Flamethrowers incendiary attacks, but they roll to start fires at double the amount of damage done. This means that even a single FT (average damage 3.5, doubled to 7) has a 16% chance of starting a fire. Linked FTs are even nastier. Two FTs (average damage 7, doubled to 14) will light the target up over 90% of the time! However, note that linking three or more FTs is overkill in regards to fires, as there is a fixed maximum of 15 or less on the roll (which is still 95.4%). As usual, if you can get a flamer attack past the opponent's armor and hit a flammable component, he's burning regardless.

On the other hand, Flamethrowers have some horrible drawbacks. The first is range. They are the only weapon so far detailed for Car Wars Fifth Edition with a maximum range (24 inches) which can really hurt on large maps. Plus, FTs are not only flammable, they're explosive. So, if an enemy lights you up, each FT has a 1-in-6 chance of exploding and destroying your car each turn that it takes damage from fire. This is a very bad thing, and can turn almost certain victory into flaming defeat instantly. Finally, FTs only carry 10 shots each; however, this is not as bad as it sounds. They have an excellent to-hit chance, and combined with the short ranges that they are used at this means that most shots fired from them will hit.


The Laser is the king of weapons. It is very accurate, has unlimited ammunition, and inflicts incendiary damage without being flammable or explosive itself. Medium Lasers can be thought of as linked Incendiary MGs as far as fire goes, as they have the same chances of placing a fire marker.

There is a cost, however. Literally. Lasers are extremely expensive (Medium Lasers cost more than an entire Division 5 car!) and are fairly fragile (only 2 DP for Medium versus 6 DP total for twin-linked Machine Guns).

So now you know what weapons will start fires. How do you use this to your advantage? First off, always link incendiary weapons together. Linked Flamethrowers or Medium Lasers are almost guaranteed to place a fire marker if they hit, and even Incendiary ammo-equipped Machine Guns have a decent chance. Note that it isn't enough to hit the target with multiple incendiary attacks (though this is still a good idea); only linked weapons add their damage together when rolling to start a fire.

Of course, if you can't hit the other guy you can't burn him. Targeting Computers, good Gunners, and short ranges all help in this aspect. More importantly, resist the urge to go for tire shots when trying to start fires. You want to penetrate his armor, and wheels do not take fire damage if the target is moving. If the target is stationary, though, let him have it. A few good hits and he'll be one crispy critter.

There is also a chance that a vehicle will catch fire if it spends an entire turn touching a burning wreck or building. You can't count on this, but if you get the chance to ram an opponent into such an item then go for it. Every little bit counts!

Fire In The Hole!

So much for starting fires. What do you do when you discover that your opponent is a pyromaniac? Well, there are several tactics you can use.

First off, speed rules. This goes for everything in the new edition of Car Wars (except maybe avoiding rolls on the Crash Table), but it is particularly important once you've been lit up. At 100 mph you have a -3 to the Extinguishing Fires table, which means that on average you'll remove at least one fire marker (and you have a 50% chance of putting all fires out automatically), and the fire will never spread. Not all cars are capable of such high speeds and it can take several turns to get up there in any case, but make sure you're going at least 60 mph (which give a -1 and removes the chance of the fire spreading).

If you can't out-run the flames, maneuver around a lot. Every D3 or harder maneuver taken during a turn -- even those completed before a fire marker is placed -- gives a -1 to the Extinguishing Fires roll. Frankly, this being Car Wars, you should be jinking all over the place to begin with. However, if your opponent does start you burning, a couple of hard drifts (D3 each) will give a -2 to the Fire table. This means that at least you don't have to worry about the flames spreading, and you have a good (about 50%) chance of removing at least one fire marker. At up to 40 mph a Handling Status of -5 is either completely safe or avoids a crash on a 5 or less (83% chance), so make those turns and drifts. But be warned -- it appears that only successful maneuvers can put out fires, so try to avoid rolling on the Crash Table at all costs.

If you are lit on fire, dump any explosive ammo you have immediately before it can eat through your armor and blow your car up. Don't waste it, of course, but try for those shots that you've been husbanding the rounds for. Even if you only get one or two good hits before the fire gets inside, it's still better than losing the game because the ammo exploded.

It is possible to design a fireproof vehicle. Fireproof Armor, a built-in Fire Extinguisher, and an extra crewman with a hand-held Fire Extinguisher give a -6 to the Extinguishing Fires table, automatically putting out any fires before they can do damage. This is overkill, however; instead, go with either a built-in Fire Extinguisher or Fireproof Armor and an extra guy on the pumps. This gives a net -3 to the Extinquishing Fires table, which should be enough to put out most of the flames, especially when combined with high speeds and a few good maneuvers. You're better off spending that money (and using the internal space) for items which will win you matches instead -- such as Flamethrowers . . .

House Rules

Here are some unofficial variants to deal with unexpected situations.

Cook-Off Rule

Consider damage done by the Oven Rule (if a vehicle already has three fire markers, a roll of 6 on the Fire Table does 1 point of damage to each internal component) to be Fire damage. Therefore, Fireproof Suits protect crew and passengers, and explosive items have a chance to blow up. This is realistic; during the Soviet invasion of Finland at the start of World War II the Finns used the famous Molotov Cocktails (aka Russian Martinis) to destroy Soviet tanks in just this fashion.

Fire vs. Incendiary Damage

This isn't really a house rule, but it's useful to spell out anyway. Incendiary is a type of attack that has a chance to start a fire. It will not explode items on its own, and Fire-Resistant and Fireproof items have no particular resistance against it. Fire is a type of damage caused by Incendiary attacks (among other things), and can cause explosive items to detonate. It can be nullified by Fireproof Suits, and Fire-Resistant and Fireproof armor help protect against it.

Fire and Rolled Vehicles

If a car has rolled onto its side or top, whichever side is facing down takes no damage from the fire (it is treated like the Underside on an upright vehicle). The Underside does take damage, however. Since the vehicle is stationary (by definition) the tires burn as well . . . This would be a good time for the crew to bail out and take their chances on foot.

Fire and Spinning Vehicles

When a car is spinning, each time it ends up with a spin of 45° or more counts as a D3 maneuver for the purposes of putting fires out. This is realistic, as such extreme and rapid movement would have a good chance of extinguishing the flames.

Article publication date: January 17, 2003

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