Thursday, 4 November 2021

Re-Binding a Classic

Lately, I have been revisiting some of the great games of my youth. The games that were alive and kicking in the late 1980s and 1990s. While my love for this era of gaming is primarily driven by nostalgia, there are a couple of specific aspects to the games that I love. Frist-and-foremost, is the ‘do it yourself’ attitude that most of them took. These games generally accepted that they weren’t perfect, or complete, and that players were expected to modify them, house-rule them, and add to them. This worked hand-in-hand with another aspect I really enjoyed – they were truly pencil and paper games. You were constantly writing things down, ticking things off, or just doodling in the margins as you played. I honestly believe this helps drive player creativity. Finally, I think the thing that attracts me most to many of the games of the era is that they were part of a grand exploration of what gaming could be. Now days, we tend to try and rigidly define games as a ‘board game’ or ‘war game’ or ‘role-playing game’, but those were often not-at-all clear cut back in those days.

Take for example, one of my all-time favourites, Car Wars, from Steve Jackson Games. At its heart, Car Wars is an extremely crunchy, technical game, where you literally keep track of every shot you fire. You can spend hours with the book in hand, constructing your perfect death-machine, choosing its engine, weapons, tires, chassis, and what armour goes where. You can spend hours playing a game that lasts less than 30 seconds of 'game time'. And, frankly, none of those hours would probably be ill-spent. But at the same time, many people took a very role-playing approach to the game. There are rules for making characters and giving them skills for use both inside and outside of the car, and improving those skills over the course of a campaign. There is a huge amount of documentation on the world in which the games takes place, and different aspects that can be explored. The magazines at the time included numerous, narratively-driven scenarios. There were even a couple of solo adventures you could play.

As part of my exploration, I picked up a copy of the Car Wars Compendium, which contained most of the rules that were produced for the first incarnation of the game. Unfortunately, the only copy I could obtain was falling apart. At first, I was a bit down about this, but then I viewed it as an opportunity. I took it down to my local art shop and got them to wire-bind it, with a clear protective cover. Not only does the book look fantastic like this, but it’s actually much, much easier to use, as I can leave it open flat on the table, or even folded it over completely to photocopy pages.

The biggest issue with wire binding is the awkwardness of storing it on a shelf. Thankfully, the book will live inside my Car Wars Deluxe Edition box, so that’s not an issue.

Anyway, I plan on digging a lot deeper into the game over the coming months.


  1. Boy, does this bring back memories. I remember watching Gary Thomas Washington creating the interior art pieces for this book. He created what he called 'the Killer Yugo', a cheap car with a big gun. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Wonderful reflections! My young mind was enthralled by the open nature of that era of games - Start Frontiers and its companion Alpha Dawn we're vehicles for my own early creative gaming. Thanks for bringing back those memories!