Gaslands is a car combat game from Osprey Games, and it’s quite the little delight, if you delight in chasing cars around and firing big bazookas at each other. To play the game, all you need is a little rule book. Then, you can make your own dice and print out your own movement templates and - ready for this? - make your own combat cars by modifying Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars you bought from a charity shop for 50p a pop.
Ah, yes. Gaslands. A wee book, nothing more, and yet a universe of Mad Maxian possibilities. Fundamentally, this is a miniatures combat game. Each player assembles a team of cars, making note of how many crew members are in each vehicle, and making note of the kind of weapons those crew members are carrying. Once the teams are assembled, the game can be played out in various ways. There are death races, obviously. And demolition derbies. But the game also comes with mad scenarios like the Carmageddon-influenced Zombie Smash, and a brilliant mode where your cars are playing up to an audience to score points, called Saturday Night Live.
How does it play? Well, beautifully. To move a car you choose a movement template - little templates shaped like straights and turns, only some of which will be legal depending on which gear your car is in. Then you place the template and make a roll on special dice to see if your car should spin or slide. You manipulate those dice to change gear, or avoid skids, but ultimately you’ll find out if your car safely makes the move or not. Then you move your car along the template to its final position. Easy. Of course, you could be using your movement to smash into an opponent or plow through some zombies. There’s that too. And after moving you can lean out of the window of your wee car that you bought from Oxfam and blow someone’s head off with a shotgun.
Gaslands is a brilliant design. The racing is thrilling - speed feels risky, caution makes you feel like a loser, and you’re only ever a couple of bad decisions and a crappy roll or two away from absolute disaster. It’s a cinematic design, too. It’s as if Mike Hutchinson, the designer, was constantly asking himself - “Now , what would be the coolest way to do this?” A car can wipe out and explode, taking out other cars. There are rules for using monster trucks. If you drive a buggy or a motorbike you can do wild stunts over obstacles other cars will smash into. Helicopters can fly over the race track, dropping bombs. It’s just all so amazingly cool.
The game is brilliant for little one-off sessions, but it can also be played as a season, with your team of cars returning for revenge matches emblazoned with sponsor logos. And your chosen sponsor will tailor how you play, too. Team Miyazaki, for example, won’t put up with you driving out in a disgusting old bus or pick-up truck. You need something sophisticated and cool. And if you drive cool, too, the audience will reward your team in spades. Team Warden, however, specialises in doomed prison cars with prisoners welded inside - and it’s a team that scores extra audience points if its cars meet a fiery, explosive end.
I think the best aspect of the game, though, is that it encourages you to seek out knackered old Hot Wheels cars in charity shops, so that you can turn them into machines of hot death. Little toy cars, once handled by angelic toddlers, become metal coffins that spit lead upon your tabletop, or floor, or garden, or wherever you decide to play. (And hey, kids can still play too. The rules are easy enough, and kids love painting up the old cars to look more like Gaslands badasses.)
I can’t recommend this game enough. It’s on Amazon right now for less than a tenner. Don’t say I’m not good to you.