A Hazardous Wind: Gaslands Impressions
Ah, who else remembers the good ol' days of snake shaped racing cars that could unleash explosive barrages and hit ramps with enough speed to jump and successfully land hundreds of feet away with the driver's spine still intact only to live and fight another day?
Fine summer afternoons spent with automotive carnage (;D) and juiceboxes.
Well the decades have come and gone, and once more I find myself playing with toy hotwheels! I venture forth in to: Gaslands!
While the name might also conjure up uncomfortable fast food memories, the theme of the game is really an homage to the vehicular battles represented in classic movies such as Death Race 2000, or Mad Max.
The richest of humans have left Earth behind, living on Mars. Earth itself, has begun it's descent in to a scarce resource wasteland. The people there barely scrape by, but those Martians really like their entertainment. So they set up a show...they use these desperate Earthers to participate in vehicular combat matches, where fame and destruction are all that matters!
This book, was a recent release in Osprey's blue book series. Osprey has been really killing it with these releases. They're a fantastic way to make use of all kinds of miniatures you had laying around the house...and now they've introduced something that makes use out of old hot wheels cars. As a note, you CAN scale this game up to 28mm very easily. They tell you to increase the template sizes by 130% and it should work out great. However, hot wheels are so cheap and easy to come by that Osprey likely has set a new standard for ease of entry!
In terms of buy-in, we're talking the rulebook, a few terrain pieces, and 2-4 cars per player. This is, quite probably, the cheapest minis game I've ever dabbled in.
So, how does it play?
It uses a template maneuvering mechanism. Much like X-wing miniatures, there are 9 movement templates involving straight runs, curves, a veer and a swerve. They're realistic car maneuvers and scale wise, on a board with a decent amount of open road, they're pretty flexible.
Perhaps the most clever part of the game though, is the gear management. Each car can be in one of six gears. A game turn consists of running through each of the six gear phases, and only cars that are in that current gear or higher may activate. For instance, in gear 3, a car may activate in gear phase 1, 2 AND 3, but not 4, 5, or 6.
"Well, why not just push it up to gear 6 all the time? You'll get to activate more."
That's the other part of this game that is really impressive. The higher gear you are in, the faster you're essentially moving...which means some of those 9 maneuver templates are no longer possible! You can't realistically do hairpin turns at such high speeds. And even minor turns start to become hazardous.
Speaking of hazards, that's a resource you must manage as you play each phase. Many things build up hazard tokens...upshifting gears, downshifting, turning at higher gears, collisions. If your car ever accumulates 6 hazard tokens on it by the end of it's activation for that gear phase, it wipes out, and runs the risk of flipping, doing damage, and potentially other consequences.
This makes for a very thematic, almost board game like racing game. It's pulled off really well, and gives a real layer of strategy to how you move based on risk assessment.
Vehicles can also be equipped with guns during the team building. You have quite a few generic templates for cars, trucks, bikes, buggies, even a gyrocopter, all with different hull points (ie: damage boxes), handling, build points and crew. You must state a facing for the guns built on the car, and they can be fired in that particular arc. If you have multiple crew they can each fire a weapon. (By default, each crew member has a pistol or hand weapon that they're assumed to be firing out of the windows. It's straight up chaos out in the gaslands!) Weapons use the same movement templates for range. No room for uni-taskers here!
The handling stat, is another interesting idea in terms of risk management. Every time you maneuver, you may roll six sided dice up to your handling stat. The results of these dice allow you to upshift/downshift, gain hazard tokens, or potentially spin and slide along your template path. The shift results can be used not only to shift, but to cut down on your hazards to prevent wiping out. Again, you really have to ponder what you want to risk and when. It's clever.
Cars may collide with obstacles and other cars. Size of the vehicle becomes important, as larger/heavier vehicle types will smash those puny sedans or bikes. The angle of impact is important...a head on collision is good for nobody (except the viewers!), tbones, sideswipes, tailgates all have differing damage potential.
The scenarios included in the game are racing, deathmatches, a "zombie" scenario (ie: the pc game Carmageddon's retheme...haha), and a few others. We played a deathmatch arena, which had turrets places on the field. They were destructible, but if you ended your movement within a certain range if them, they would fire at you.
There are further rules included for more of a campaign style game where you can earn points to build on to your vehicles and driver perks, but I haven't explored those much.
What do I think of it so far? I'm certainly impressed! It's an easy to grasp ruleset, without a billion extensive charts. It has a cleverly designed gear/hazard management system that I really enjoy. It's not super terrain heavy, works with cheap toys you can find in bargain bins, and it captures the theme well.
Downsides? A few unclear rules; like flipping during a wipeout avoids obstacles? But a big rock is an obstacle...so I flipped over it? O.o Some of the special weapons have unique rules, so there is some referencing of those. There might also be a bit of downtime if you have too many players with too many cars each. We played 3 ppl with 3 cars each and it was a little slow. I've heard 6 players with 1 car each is fun, and I can imagine even 4 players with 2 each might be some entertaining savagery.
Really, though, those don't impact the potential fun factor this game has much. This is the kind of game I would bring around my board gamer friends or my nephews and expect them to grasp it instantly. There are no tape measures, you don't really need any special tools, and chances are we all have a snake shaped hotwheels or two laying around.
The Martians would applaud you, Gaslands. Great show. *let loose the slow, white gloved clap of aristocrats*
(Also, check out some of the mods people do for post apocalyptic hot wheels online! Great stuff! I need to get on that myself.)