There’s a joke about driving in Boston. “Most places, driving is a Noncontact sport. Driving in Massachusetts is a Contact sport. Driving in Boston is a Combat Sport”. And that makes me very glad that we’re not living in the future envisioned in Autoduel. Because in the future, driving can be a DEATH sport.
The game’s box
Based off the Steve Jackson board/role playing game CAR WARS, Autoduel is in the Northeastern United States and is set in the grim future of 2030. The world was devastated by the Grain Plague, and an aborted nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. Several parts of America have broken away (the “Free Oil States” of Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, for example all seceded after dwindling oil reserves threatened national takeover). The land between fortress-like cities is generally wild, untamed, and full of enemy motorcycle gangs, who look to raid any interstate travelers. Everyone drives electric cars (amazing that the game predicted our electric engines 30 years ago), but it’s highly unusual for cars outside the Fortress cities to not have at least one defensive weapon on them, and usually more. The tag line for Autoduel describes traffic “laws” in this 2030 nightmare perfectly “In Autoduel, the right of way goes to the biggest guns!”
Drive offensively.. the life you save WILL be your own.
That leads to the new international sport of “autoduelling”. Cars are classified by cost, and battle it out in the arena until one participant is left in the arena. You don’t HAVE to kill the opposition to win.. but you have to be the last car driveable, and people outside their cars in the arena are fair game. Needless to say, it’s a world where life is cheap. That’s where you step in. You’re a driver in the autoduel world. You start off driving in cheap “Amateur Night” competitions where everyone drives similar vehicles, and then use the money you make (if you survive) to make a vehicle of your own. Then you use that vehicle, either in the arena in Divisional competitions (Cars costing $5,000 or less compete in Division 5, $10,000 or less, in Division 10, etcetera, all the way up to Division 30 and then the true moneybags division, the Unlimited Division.), or as a courier and a delivery operator between cities, braving attacks by cycle gangs and other motorists to deliver high value cargo.
New York City in the 2030’s. Again, this was an 8 bit game, so they just leave the key things there.
Not every city offers an arena. In fact, some of the smaller cities may not have anything more then a truck stop to repair your car and a bar. Each cities arena offers a different schedule (some arenas only have low-level competitions, while others may host the monthly divisional championships). And while losing your character means game over, there’s a way around it. Your character may buy a “clone” at Gold Cross. This clone is kept in storage, with all your skills at the time you made it, and should your character go to that great autoduelling arena in the sky, your clone is activated, and is for all rights and purposes (including in the game), is you.
A lot of the fun in Autoduel doesn’t even require the game’s plot. There’s so many decisions to make when building your car. Do you go for a vicious arena fighter, or a car that has cargo room to bring valuables from city to city? What kind of weapons do you use? Most weapons have a limited amount of shots (usually 10 or 20), but there are also single shot weapons like a Heavy Rocket, that do a ton of damage, but are fire and forget). There’s also lasers, but A) They are the most expensive weapons in the game, and B) Instead of ammo, they drain 1% of your car’s battery each time you fire. And especially for cars that travel from city to city, being caught out in the wilderness with a dead battery isn’t a “Call AAA for a jump”, it’s “Hope that you can save one pisol shot for yourself when the biker gangs come to strip your car”.
All this, trading off cost, speed, (the less weight on the car, the faster you will be able to accelerate), armor, and firepower is key to the enjoyment of Autoduel. There’s a saying “Fast, Cheap, Good: Pick 2”, but now there’s FOUR things to balance. And your character’s life depends on it.
The car builder part of Autoduel. There are so many things to balance here, that I spent hours just creating cars, trying to balance everything out to make the unbeatable car. You can’t.
One thing that I love about the older games is that since they didn’t have DVD’s full of space, or digital downloads for hour long quick time movies, they made up for it with the things they packed in the game.. like this map of the game’s area. I was 10 at the time this game came out (god, I’m old), but I remembered where all the cities were and where I needed to drive to get there.
Someone actually saved the map from Autoduel long enough to have it scanned in, 30 years later. I salute that person.
Games like this are one of the reasons I started writing “Blasts from the Past”. Most folks, especially those folks who have become inured to big budget these games, would play this for five minutes, and delete this. However, I can promise you, I had as much fun playing this when I was 10 (especially after I had to spend two months checking at the hobby store to see if the order had came in, there was no Steam, no Gamestop, no ANYTHING in those days), as people do today playing the big name games.
I’m hoping that the rumored Car Wars Sixth Edition kickstarter happens, and that somehow, someway, someone makes a new Autoduel game that is just as much fun someday. Till then, remember, DRIVE OFFENSIVELY!
(post Publishing update: It appears that an Autoduel remake MAY be happening. If so, can I play it, Please? For old time’s sake? — DY)