The Arenas of the Apocalypse

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It should have been such a simple thing, the first test of Apocalypse Road. Carla & I were sure that it would work nicely on a Thunder Alley track and we chose Pullinger’s Pyramid as the first test track. This would be great, we could add four new tracks to the Thunderverse through Apocalypse Road and at the same time have 17 extra tracks already available or in production. They shoot, they score! Except…the Pyramid was really boring for this game. Of course, it needs to be more like Grand Prix, pull out one of those. Buzzzz, not much better. If the combat system is the most crucial and difficult challenge, then the track situation for Apocalypse Road was the most consistent and nagging.

It turns out Apocalypse Road tracks need to be different than the average Thunder Alley or Grand Prix track and they need to have keys terrain-wise for event cards. In addition, they need a starting grid that does not bump against the finish line and something we refer to as “The Chute”. We did some research and found that Racecross tracks seemed to fit all of our requirements, so we dove into those tracks and quickly the ‘terrain’ of Apocalypse Road was laid. All of this means that Apocalypse Road tracks do not have much in common with their predecessors except that at a distance they are identifiable as race tracks. Racing in Apocalypse Road will be a new experience even though it is governed by a familiar engine.

What sets them apart? Glad you asked.

Racing Into the Apocalypse

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Looking back into the annals of the lost timelines after the apocalypse, I can see that it has been almost exactly two years since Carla & I set out to create Apocalypse Road. Honestly, 3 months prior to that it was not even a blip on our radar. But the summer of 2015 opened our eyes to a major “want” put forth by the fans of Thunder Alley. They wanted to knock each other around and frequently that was followed up with “I want to shoot my opponents, you know like in Car Wars”. In fact it was such a refrain during that summer at Origins, Gencon and Buckeye Game fest that we decided it needed to be done and we were just the people to do it. At the time we were putting the finishing touches on Grand Prix so it got the lower priority of time in the beginning.

Apocalypse Road Development Update

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Carla and I are proud to announce that Apocalypse Road is in the tidying-up stage at this point. The game just went up on the P500 last month, so this is very fortunate. The idea for the game arose from the response we got from people at conventions where we demonstrated Thunder Alley. Invariably, someone would want to ram other cars. Often the discussion went to putting guns on the cars. We took their desires to heart and sat down even before we started working on Grand Prix and tried to envision what Thunder Alley with guns would look like.

The Wisdom of the Crew Chief

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Early last Fall, Thunder Alley designer Jeff Horger contacted me and indicated that there was a third-party-designed expansion set for Thunder Alley that he and Carla would like to publish through their new game company. Tony and I considered that for a bit, decided that a) we like Jeff and Carla a lot and would like to support them in their new venture, and b) having them print the expansion through their company would probably get the expansion to players sooner than if we did it ourselves, based on the size and quality of games that would be ahead of it in our P500 print queue. So, lest anyone wonder why we’re not printing this expansion ourselves, that’s basically the story – they asked, and we said “no problem.” For those of you who want more options in your Thunder Alley experience, I encourage you to support Jeff, Carla, and Nothing Now Games in their Kickstarter project. We have plenty more details below, in this article from Jeff. Enjoy! – Gene

When a game like Thunder Alley gets made, it invariably has endured numerous edits, revisions and cuts all of which hopefully create a much stronger game. A topic that is at once rich and layered like stock car racing provides voluminous background work and history from which to build. In addition everyone has their own insight, preferences, prejudices, and ideas on the topic. After all it’s not like an historic battle or 18th century politics where only a few have any real knowledge or interest in the topic. Anyone can turn on their television on most Sundays and find the good ole boys going at it. Some love it with a rabid fervor; others hate it with equal passion, and most run the range from mildly interested to totally ambivalent. Personally, I fall into place below obsessive fan but more interested in it than a casual observer. I have watched racing since the 70’s and a love of cars is the one interest I shared with my late father, Verghn Horger. But that love was not just stock cars, it encompassed Formula 1, Indy Cars back when the sport mattered, drag racing and most of all, hot rods & show cars. Dad loved car shows and classic cars and so do I. So while I don’t bleed for a particular driver or put stock car racing on a pedestal, I do respect and understand the sport and see more than “cars turning left” followed by a crash.

What’s New in Grand Prix?

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Thunder Alley did exactly what Carla & I had hoped it would do. It brought the feel of a stock car race to our table. No runaway leaders, frequent yellow flags and when there were no yellows, there was tension around the event cards with half the table hoping for a yellow to catch up and the other half hoping for a green to hold the lead. If played in the right spirit it is a game that begs you to keep your car in good enough shape to the last half lap when you can try to sprint to the finish and take the checkered flag.  I like the constant re-organizing of the pack that is an American stock car event. And if I like it, Carla loves it. No one is in complete control and no one is ever out until the cars start crossing the finish line.

However, that style is not for everybody. Most of the world does not see the weekly banging of metal and spinning tires that we see and have come to appreciate. When the rest of the world goes racing they witness a more strategic and consistent event. Cars get to the front and they stay there, daring those behind to find the right opportunity to challenge them. The back of the pack does not get bailed out by an accident and must claw their way out of the rear to get into the points. Carla & I took this as a challenge, to try and make a game that uses similar components, that can share tracks with its sister game Thunder Alley , and that feels more like a F1 road race than a NASCAR tri-oval.  In the end the changes are significant but the game-play is easy to pick up if you have any experience with Thunder Alley .

Closed Circuit: Thunder Alley, Grand Prix, and New Tracks

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Well, I am a dyed-in-the-wool wargamer, but I have to admit, with Thunder Alley, Jeff and Carla have hooked me (and my whole family!). I’ve now played a dozen or so games, with a mix of wargamers and eurogamers and never-before gamers, and all of them have been really fun. We have a group of twenty-somethings at our church now who aren’t big gamers but who ask us almost every time we see them “When can we come over again to play Thunder Alley?” So that’s been really cool, to have a game with GMT on the box that we can teach our non-gamer friends and have a great time with a group of 4-7. 

This is Jeff’s first article for InsideGMT, although many of you are familiar with him as the designer of Manoeuvre and as a very active online poster and promoter of games. If you’d like to hear more from Jeff, please check out his online presence, in the following venues:

Thunder Alley Facebook Page

Grand Prix Facebook Page

Jeff’s Twitter Feed

Enjoy the article! – Gene


thunder-alley-2-640x349Auto racing and GMT (known as a wargame company) are somewhat strange bedfellows, although to be fair sometimes the carnage invoked by a race can look pretty devastating. Races are also made up of hundreds of fights for position over the course of four or five hundred miles by numerous cars. They are quick and vicious skirmishes where a winner and a loser are clearly defined.

The design of Thunder Alley started many years ago and looked very different than it does today, except in one regard, the tracks. From the very beginning we selected four representative tracks that players could use to simulate a season of racing if they desired. There was the super speedway, the short track, the triangle track and a road course. All of these were modeled on existing known commodities that people were familiar with. We also assumed that the knowledge went further than the hardcore fan. There were shapes left out but we were pretty comfortable with our four tracks being all anyone would need.

We were wrong.