It should come as no surprise that the question I get asked more than any other regarding Apocalypse Road is, “What are the cars like?” or “Can we design our own cars?” I guess I should answer the second question first, and you may not like it. No, the cars that come with Apocalypse Road have been designed by Carla and myself and will be the same for each team. As for what are they like…
Each car is rated for three factors. Weapon, Weapon Mount, and Armor. The mix of those determines the base speed of the car. Cars are can be unarmored and rated at a 1 defense, lightly armored (2), or heavily armored (3). The less armor a car has the faster its base speed but the more susceptible it is to being damaged when fired at. Cars are assigned one of the possible weapon types; machine gun, auto-cannon, missile launcher or electro-pulse gun. Each of these has unique damage capabilities and weight. Again, the heaver the weapon, the more speed it shaves off the car’s base speed. Finally, each weapon has a mount. In the base game it is simple. Mounts are front fire, rear fire or turret. A turret is heavier so that has an effect on the car’s speed. Every car is eliminated from the race the instant it takes its 6th damage token. Every team has a mix of two speedsters, two tanks and four medium speed / medium firepower cars. With only 4 or 5 on the track at a time, the players can determine what they have on the track and the style of race they want to run.
Now let’s move to the big letdown and see what I can do to help everyone survive the anguish.
Carla and I have a simple outlook on games, especially when we are creating a new or first game in a line. The driving principle is that it has to be accessible by the largest number of players possible. Specifically for Apocalypse Road, we wanted people to be able to move the cars easily (marginally easier than in Thunder Alley or Grand Prix) since movement was only half of the game unlike the other two. We also wanted the combat to be easy to resolve, but not simple and unfulfilling. To meet those criteria, we pared back to the four types of weapons listed above and physical collisions. We also tightened up the armor possibilities into a 3-level system where speed was sacrificed for damage absorption. That’s it, that’s the list. It is a heck of a good time, but it allows anyone that wants to play the ability to step in and play without being too far behind the learning curve. This is supremely important to us. People should be able to play this game and not be held back by small and less-important masteries of weapon to armor interactions, ammo tracking and rates of fire. Not to mention all of those other wargame mechanics that most of you can quote every bit as much as I can. Out of the box Apocalypse Road can be played by anyone and enjoyed by everyone and let’s face it, we want to play the games, not lament that we can’t find opponents.
The key factor in this decision was balance. When new people want to play, (and in the beginning you will all be new to a degree depending on your previous experience in the Thunderverse) play balance is essential. It becomes imperative that the game provides everyone with an equal chance to compete right from the start. That demands that we create cars for you since you have almost no idea how they interact at the start. Everyone has the same advantages, the same disadvantages, and the same firepower. Given that necessity, we could not have included a full base set of cars and team cards while also providing the tools to create your own teams. Many people would have jumped right to the DIY teams and missed the experience of a balanced game. At this point you may feel free to gnash your teeth and insult my lineage, but the truth is, I am one of you. I would have maybe run one game with the base cars, maybe. Then I would have created my own personalized team. But I, and possibly you, are alpha gamers and we seek every advantage we can glean and mastery of every trick in the book. There are plenty of tricks to learn in Apocalypse Road without throwing in a car creation system and that my friends, will become clear in the play.
What it boils down to is experience versus inexperience. We believe that experience in the other areas of the Thunderverse is important in Apocalypse Road. Having experience in Apocalypse Road immediately puts you a step ahead of new players. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact we are happy when our games reveal that there is a learning curve. But the key is to keep that curve as small as is reasonable. A steep learning curve can have a seriously detrimental effect in today’s gaming market where we as consumers are being swamped in a rush of games. Twenty years ago there was an ability to introduce a game and allow people to tinker with it and get the lay of it and eventually figure it out with your group. Today there are 10 games waiting in a pile beside the table and if the game on the table seems at all wonky, it’s out and the next game is in. We are making conscious efforts to make Apocalypse Road playable, balanced, and fun out of the box. The goal is to give it every chance to get played by everyone possible. As mentioned above, I am one of the detail junkies but as the hobby expands I am playing games with fewer and fewer people like me and more games with players like Carla. Out of the box, Apocalypse Road’s cars (and lack of car creation) fills that bill.
Another drawback to car creation in casual play is the time it takes to do it. Perhaps there is a quick and dirty way to do it, but to me that feels worse than using well thought-out cars created by the designers. The owner of the game could make pre-gens, but really, what if he did not have the experience to make good cars yet? Taking 30 minutes at a table to create a team of cars to race with? Did you not read the paragraph above? In 10 minutes a new game would be on the table. No, car creation, when done right is actually a time-consuming and thoughtful enterprise. I spent three days doing nothing else on the game to design the eight cars each player gets. And that was with very few variables and options. I still had to fix something on every car at least once during testing. To me, for car creation to be worth it, it needs to be an advanced option or an expansion that veteran players of the system can use to show their skill once it is mastered.
So yes, I do feel that there needs to be a car creation expansion for Apocalypse Road. I have known from early on that there would be a demand for it. I knew that it would bloat the base game components and therefore, the price tag to include it. I knew that not everyone would want or need it. But it is obvious that of all the things that Apocalypse Road could be, in the end it will eventually need a car creation system for those that want it (and I am betting there is a goodly percentage out there to make it worthwhile). It is my belief and experience talking that seems to tell me that a detailed and fulfilling car creation system will need some serious effort to make it compatible with the base game’s combat system. I could have simply provided you the formula I used and probably a couple of months after the game comes out I will post a pdf with those details so you can play around but that will leave most of you (and me) unfulfilled. A full expansion with completely customizable cars, that is really going to require something new and different and literally a full expansion or handbook to get right.
If you want to get your hands on the playtest kits feel free to contact me at any of the following: