(originally published on Geek Ireland)
It’s time to get your old Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars out of the attic because they’re about to get a new lease of life thanks to Gaslands. Created by Mike Hutchinson, Gaslands is an apocalyptic vehicular combat miniatures game that channels the energy of such franchises as Mad Max or Death Race onto the table top. Available through Osprey (as a physical book or via PDF download), the game offers a lot of bang for very little buck.
One of the great appeals of Gaslands is that it allows you to delve back into your childhood and get out your old model cars all over again. With simple yet intuitive rules, the game can be played very easily with the vehicles as is. For those at home in the world of tabletop miniature war games however, the game also allows for the customisation of said vehicles into weapons of death and destruction. Cars are divided into a number of classes, defining how fast they can move or how many implements of destruction you can strap to them. While you’ll be unable to stick a missile launcher to a motorbike, it should easily outrun something the size of a truck allowing it to get out of range of the latter’s weapons before annihilation is visited upon it. Like most wargames, players will have to build their team within the constraints of a points system (referred to in game as cans), with each vehicle and weapon varying in value and usefulness.
Once your cars are ready, you’ll be able to jump into the action with Gaslands’ easy to learn rules set. Each ‘race’ takes place over a number of turns, with each turn involving a number of activations. Each car begins the race in 1st gear (though certain advanced perks may alter this for some races) and, as a result, can only make manoeuvres that could be done in first gear. In order to do so, they select an applicable movement template (these can be photocopied from the rule book or bought separately from the game’s website) and place it at the front of the activating car. They then role a number of game specific dice (again these can be bought online, though the rules do offer a table for converting a standard d6) to determine how successful the manoeuvre is. Once all the dice outcomes have been resolved, the car can be moved to its final position and make available attacks on other vehicles.
Such attacks vary in nature depending on how vehicles come into combat. Should the moving vehicle be in range to bring one or more of its weapons to bear, it can assign one of its crew members to that weapon and activate it. Each weapon may be used by one crew member (unless specified) and the active player rolls a weapon specific number of dice to determine how much damage is sustained by the target. The target then rolls a number of dice, determined by the gear they are currently in, with each ‘6’ result removing one point of damage from the attack. Once the final damage total is calculated, the player receiving the hits removes hull points from their vehicle to reflect what damage has been done. If a vehicle removes its last hull point, it becomes wrecked and may explode in spectacular fashion, potentially taking other cars out with it.
Of course, vehicles can be difficult to control and players might find that their chosen movement template will bring them into contact with another vehicle, resulting in a smash. In this case, a number of things need to be determined; firstly in what direction is the smash occurring? The rules allow for three types of smash; HEAD ON where the vehicles meet bonnet to bonnet, T-BONE where the activating vehicle hits a car on either side, and TAILGATE where the activating vehicle hits a car from behind. A second consideration for determining the dice pool for the smash is the speeds of the two cars while the weight class of each vehicle also has a bearing on proceedings. Once all values have been determined, and the appropriate dice pool is built the combat proceeds in much the same manner as that outlined above for weapon combat. The only difference that may arise are situations where the ‘defending’ vehicle might wish to visit damage back upon the ‘attacker’ rather rather than trying to evade the damage.
During all this movement and combat, vehicles will be receiving hazard tokens to show just how difficult driving under these conditions will be. Players will be able to remove these tokens in a number of ways, but should a vehicle ever have six hazard tokens on it at one time, the driver will lose control and potentially flip their vehicle. It’s a very interesting addition to the rules and provides a bit of tension, even when a vehicle seems out of reach and on its way to victory. On one occasion, during my own playing of the game, one of my vehicles (a Dodge Charger equipped with a missile launcher) lost control in fifth gear, while well out in front and flipped, resulting in it finishing up trapped between two buildings and a wall and being effectively out of the race as a challenger.
As I mentioned above, each car begins the race in first gear, but as the game progresses their dice rolls will allow them to move up and down through the gears, allowing them to make more activations per game turn. Once all vehicles in first gear or higher have been activated, the game turn moves to its second gear phase and all vehicles in second gear or higher get to activate again. This continues for a third, fourth, fifth and sixth gear phase until the turn is over. As a result, vehicles can potentially activate up to six times per turn, though being in higher gears will mean that certain tighter turns or shorter straight advances will become unavailable to them making it more difficult to control their cars’ movement.
What is really exciting about Gaslands is that it’s highly customisable. I’ve already mentioned about that you can customise your vehicles in any manner you want within the games’ rules but there is also a great deal that can be done with the ‘races’ themselves. The setting for Gaslands, as per the rules, is a post-apocalyptic Earth that is being used as a TV showgrounds by the rich, now living on Mars. As a result, the core game offers a number of suggestions as to how you might play the game, from straight out Death Races that see cars aiming to race through gates on their way to the finish line to Destruction Derby style events that see the vehicles enter an arena with the ultimate goal of being the last one standing. There’s even an obligatory Zombie mode that sees combatants trying to run over (or ‘collect’) as many zombies as possible, with the winner being the person to collect the most zombies by the time the last zombie has been ‘collected.’ The Gaslands rules however, are so open to customisation that should the post-apocalyptic setting not be to your tastes then you can apply them to one of your own. The games’ fledgling community has already suggested the use of the rules to recreate a number of different pop culture races from Mario Kart and Wipeout to Star Wars‘ Pod Racing, so there’s plenty to work with for those willing to try it out.
Overall, Gaslands is an amazingly entertaining gaming experience. Personally, it’s resulted in my going out and buying some new die-cast vehicles which I haven’t done in the best part of two decades or more. As enjoyable as it has been to modify my new toys however, the game itself has been where the true enjoyment has come. I’ll admit that my first foray into Gaslands was a rather tentative Death Race scenario but once we got going, and upped the number of participants (the game recommends 3-10 combatants) things really stepped up. The fact that the game goes against the standard 1v1 template of table top miniature wargaming should be enough to warrant it getting some attention, but it is its robust and fun rule set that really make Gaslands worth checking out.