About a year ago, I pitched in on a Kickstarter that was near and dear to my heart… the reprint of a vast library of early-80’s games from Steve Jackson Games. Many of these games came in a specially designed “pocket box” that was more durable than a ziplock bag and were the perfect size to fit on paperback book racks in stores.
These little guys held the first copies I owned of Car Wars and its supplements as well as other titles like Ogre. The manuals were small, and inside were super-folded maps as well as thin sheets of game counters that you cut out yourself. Perhaps these weren’t the honkin’ miniature-heavy boxes you see nowadays, but it was amazing how 5 bucks could buy you in to a whole world back then.
So today a big ‘ol box showed up. It was bigger than I thought it would be, although I did recall pledging the mammoth $200 “Car Wars and seven more games” package as a tip of the hat for everything SJG gave me in 1983. While I bought nearly everything from the Car Wars line back in the day, a number of cross-country moves separated me from my collection, and only a precious few pieces remained… This was a chance to get them back into my grubby little hands.
The first thing that struck me when taking the first of the contents out was how chunky big these new pocket boxes are. They were streamlined to remove the now-unneeded clasps and hooks, but they’re also a lot thicker.
The first set is the classic boxes of Illuminati, along with some Illum-themed folders as a bonus. We’ve got Illuminati Deluxe, but it’s great to have the real deal.
Ogre and its sequels/spinoffs/addons! Yes! What classics, and I’d always wanted a copy of Battlesuit in particular. I love these folders as well.
I’ve certainly never owned a copy of Undead or Kung Fu 2100, and it’s been soooooo long since I’ve played Awful Green Things (I think literally since it debuted in Dragon Magazine?). These are some awesome treasures.
Finally get to compare a new Pocket Box with the old. I put an original copy of Ogre against the new one… It appears about double thickness.
Now I should say that all those other SJ games were great, but I was eager to hit the star attraction and crack open the vaults of Car Wars loot. Look at the size of these crates!
Opening box #1… With Convoy peeking out at me like a long-absent friend.
And so it begins… Car Wars, Truck Stop, a couple expansion sets, the arena book, Convoy, GURPS Autoduel and a spare pocket box to put the expansions in. It starts strong!
I’m so glad to have a printed copy of this version of GURPS Autoduel. I have no problem with Darryl Elliott’s cover for the 2nd edition, but Denis Loubet’s original cover is my absolute favorite Car Wars illustration ever.
Convoy was one of the best supplements, as sort of choose-your-own adventure with Car Wars battles along the way. Whenever I wanted to immerse myself in that world or think about Auto Fire, I’d page through a bit of this guy. The book was one of the hardest losses from the move (or whenever it disappeared), and the PDF was I think my very first purchase from Warehouse 23.
I cracked open the bonus pocket box for the first time and it feels nice and solid. Feels similar to a slightly-undersized clamshell VHS case (for those that know what those feel like).
Once again, comparing old (right) versus new (left).
Comparing the old with the new here (new on top), the inside was lovingly recreated with all the usual inserts, with some bonus surprises including a set of two d6’s (which conveniently fit in the larger boxes!).
The new edition (right) is pretty much a direct scan of the original books (aside from a small note in the header), so this is as close to 1983 as you can get. This does mean you should expect whatever typos and game-balance quirks existed at the time.
My old copy (left) has a promo for Sunday Drivers for $5, while this reprint advertises Crash City (Sunday Drivers’ revised name) for a slightly higher price. The reprint also promotes Car Wars Deluxe, which was released closer to the mid-80’s. Not sure of the exact year of each.
These tiny little bonus notebooks they tucked into each pocket box are delightful.
Keeping with absolute authenticity, there are uncut counter sheets included as the originals had, but there are also die-cut versions of every counter so you don’t have to crack out the scissors.
The die-cut counters have a bit of extra thickness to them, which is great: The original 1/2″ x 1/4″ counters in particular were so thin and light that they were very hard to handle, and don’t you dare sneeze…
Moving on to treasure trove #2!
Two more expansion sets, Crash City, an Autoduel Quarterly collection and one of the Uncle Albert’s Catalogs, along with Zombietown and another bonus pocket box. Zombietown USA for GURPS Autoduel is one I’ve never owned and am eager to dig into.
Opening Box #3!
There’s some beefy stuff in here: Autoduel Champions(!), Chopper Challenge, the vehicle counter expansion set, another Uncle Al’s, and the AADA Vehicle Guide. A couple bonus pocket boxes and two folders are also tucked in here…
This book is iconic to me, and I’m super-glad they reprinted it with the foil cover… It’s so pristine it feels locked in time. (The AADA stands for the American Autoduel Association, natch).
The vehicle counter expansion set is chock full of game pieces for all the vehicles in the AADA guide above. They’re double-sided so you can flip them when destroyed. You can see from comparing the cut-out to the die-cut sheets that it wasn’t just a quick job to transfer them, they had to completely revise the layout to switch over.
Comparing new with the old again… Autoduel Champions was a crazy supplement that added Champions-style superheroes to the game, although more importantly it was the only way to get helicopter rules at the time. Notably, it also served as a Champions supplement, providing autoduelling rules for that game. I had completely forgotten that it included giant vehicle and helicopter counters for play to match the larger Champions scale.
R.I.P. Aaron Allston.
While I loved all the color cover art, this piece by George “Speed” Webber was my favorite piece of interior art (Sorry Denis!). When I was a kid I must have recreated this drawing half a dozen times in varying media including pixel-plotting on my Apple II plus.
Finally to bundle #4!
Good ol’ Off Uncle Al’s maks a couple more appearances (so great to have all four together again!), another arena map expansion as well as the offroad duelling supplement. One of those cool bonus folders along with one last pocket box fill the gaps, and finally a copy of Boat Wars! That’s one of the few supplements I never owned, should be fun to check out.
The off-road expansion was lovingly crafted, with those cool trike counters and one of the very few color maps they printed. I also loved getting full-sized expansions because the maps didn’t have to be folded a dozen times over!
Looking back on all the Car Wars loot, I feel it’s money well-spent.
And with all those other games I think it might have been an alright deal for $200 even back in the 80’s… The platypus seems to agree.
One last peek at the rad little notebooks from the Car Wars packages…
…and a look at the bonus pocket boxes once I got stickers on them to hold my expansions. The stickers were extremely hard to peel from their backing, but I got them on okay. The stickers are a bit narrower than the boxes themselves, however, so I can’t say they’re particularly centered.
Anyway, feels good man. My collection is finally back to beefy.