1984 A.D:Battlecar-Warriors of the Lost Wasteland

by on Aug.01, 2011, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from The Haunted Closet | Go to Original Post

The year was 1984, A.D., towards the end of the Videotape Format War, and after the fall of Kajagoogoo. Three powerful forces were about to converge that would transform my world. (It wasn’t quite the Great Conjunction from The Dark Crystal, but like that universe-changing triple-solar eclipse foretold by village elders, it could not have been mere coincidence.)

It was the year when the following happened:

1. I finally saw the film The Road Warrior (1981), broadcast on network television.
2. I discovered a game called Car Wars.
3. My parents purchased our first VCR.

The Road Warrior (1981) was a film I had first heard about when Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert reviewed it on their PBS show Sneak Previews (this duo also gets credit for scaring the crap out of me showing clips from John Carpenter‘s Halloween while I was home alone waiting for school to start.)

Most of the future-focused films I had seen to this point presented a fantastic (and mostly optimistic) vision of space-travel, robots, and laser guns. But here was a future in which the final frontier was a white-lined asphalt road, and wars were fought not with high-tech weaponry, but with the internal combustion engine, Molotov cocktails and crossbows. I was intrigued.

Of course, being rated R, I wasn’t allowed to see the film in theaters, and had to wait for the slightly sanitized TV version to finally set my eyes on this apocalyptic masterpiece. The film struck me at the time as a little bit Planet of the Apes (ruined future where man is living an almost subhuman existence), Star Wars (I detected a hint of the Death Star trench run in the final big-rig race to freedom) and Clint Eastwood‘s Man With No Name films (A Fistful of Gasoline?)

Around this same time, I discovered a game called Car Wars. Produced by Steve Jackson Games (not to be confused with UK game designer Steve Jackson, who wrote some of the Fighting Fantasy interactive fiction books), Car Wars was a hybrid board-game/role-playing game that occurs in a violent, dystopian future (set roughly 50 years from publication day, so in the 2030s) where “autodueling”, a death-sport with weaponized cars armed with everything from flamethrowers to land mines, is the popular form of entertainment (and the preferred method for settling disputes on the open road).

To happen upon this little game shortly after becoming enraptured with vehicular homicide via The Road Warrior was like having been blessed by the Gaming Gods.

I called Car Wars a “little game”, because it was physically small compared to most RPG games of the day, the rulebook being a tight 24 pages, accompanied by tokens and gameboard (a few stretches of paper road) packed in a plastic 7″x4″ snapcase.

But this “little” game grew in scope thanks to countless add-ons and expansion packs available for separate purchase.

Sunday Drivers (later reissued under the title “Crash City”) introduced urban warfare to the Car Wars universe, as well as a back-story for various motorcycle gangs and militia groups.

Truck Stop established rules for big-rigs (critical for playing out those Road Warrior scenarios).

Many hours were clocked designing custom vehicles, setting up scenarios and playing them out in turns representing 1/10th a second of real-time. Needless to say, with all these little cardboard tokens scattered all over the place, the greatest danger to your vehicle wasn’t the rocket launcher or anti-tank gun, but the breeze from a ceiling fan.

Eventually rules for trikes, helicopters, jet aircraft, boats, and even superhuman powers (Autoduel Champions) would flesh out the Car Wars universe even further. Car Wars even had its own regularly published fan magazine (Autoduel Quarterly) complete with in-universe ads. Before long, I had a foot locker of this junk.

Now, we introduce the third point in my Carmaggedon Triangle: my parents finally purchased our first VCR. We were a little late joining the home video revolution (many of my friends already owned machines), but finally, and for the first time, the possibility of selecting a movie and watching it at my convenience… not at the mercy of the networks and TV Guide… was a reality.

Now we hadn’t achieved TOTAL video independence. We were still beholden to the local VHS rental shop, Video+ (located in the mini-mall, next to SuperX Drugs) and all the weirdness that early 80s VHS rental entailed. In those days, you had to pay a deposit when joining a rental service (around $100, enough to cover that copy of Poltergeist if you didn’t bring it back). And at Video+, the shelves were stocked with empty boxes. You had to ask the guy behind the counter for your film by its assigned ID number (not by its title! For God’s sake, why???) and hope it wasn’t already rented out. This cumbersome process became quite irritating on busy Friday and Saturday nights.

Annoyances like that aside, I suddenly found myself with access to a treasure trove of films, new and old, and with The Road Warrior and Car Wars dominating my brain, immediately set out to rent every post-apocalyptic movie with an exploding car on the front cover that I could find, a mission I would continue for years to come.

My first stop was the The Road Warrior prequel, Mad Max. Set “a few years from now”, Mad Max presents a crumbling, but still mostly civilized, society very much like the world I envisioned for my Car Wars campaigns. (Roving gangs may have taken over the highways, but there’s still a functioning police force, restaurants, hospitals, mail delivery, and regularly updated road-fatality advisory billboards.)

Next came Roger Corman‘s cult classic Death Race 2000 (1975), although at the time, Roger Corman held zero name recognition for me. But hey–that guy from Kung-Fu is in it!

In Warrior of the Lost World (1983), “radiation wars and the collapse of nations” leads to a corporatocracy ruled by The Omega, which can only be brought down by a lone rider on a computerized “supersonic speedcycle”. Even Donald Pleasence and Fred Williamson couldn’t save this turkey from becoming MST3K fodder years later, but at least the poster was cool.

After “The Oil Wars”, the last outpost of civilization must defend itself from attack by the mighty wheeled fortress that is Battletruck (aka Warlords of the 21st Century) (1982).

Condemned criminals fight for their lives in the post-Neutron Wars wasteland of Deathsport (1978).

When cars are outlawed, only outlaws will drive cars in Firebird 2015 A.D. (1981), where gas is rationed by the Department of Vehicular Control (DVC), and those who break the law are called “burners”. The film opens with a corny theme-song (with lyrics like “DVC, DVC, you won’t catch a rabbit and you won’t catch me…”) and goes downhill from there.

2019: After The Fall of New York (1983), a mercenary races to reach the last fertile woman in post-nuclear New York.

In The New Barbarians a.k.a. Warriors of the Wastleland (1983), Fred Williamson returns for more post-apocalyptic tribal warfare.

In an unspecified future where natural resources are depleted and all private transportation has been outlawed, former professional driver Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man) breaks his racecar out of storage for a cross-country shot at freedom in The Last Chase (1981).

Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983). Mutants. Motorcycles. Meh.

I have no memory of having seen either 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) or Land of Doom (1986), which isn’t a good sign, because I’m pretty sure I saw them both.

THX-1138 (1971) doesn’t really belong in this list, but it is set in a dystopian future where some environmental disaster has sent society underground, and ends with a high-speed chase between motorcycles and a futuristic jet-car, so here it is anyway.

Megaforce (1982) borrowed some elements from our post-apocalyptic friends (desert warfare, weaponized vehicles) and put them in the hands of law and order for this kid-friendly romp where the good guys always win (even in the ’80s!)

Brother Bill satisfies all his gaming needs at The Game Keeper in the 1980s iteration of Metrocenter Mall, Phoenix. Unfortunately, The Game Keeper is long gone, and Metrocenter has since deteriorated into a depressing shadow of its former self (kind of like that bad alternate-1985 from Back To The Future II). But you can get a glimpse of Metrocenter in its glory days in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (it stood in for the non-existent San Dimas Mall)…

Unfortunately there’s no glimpse of The Game Keeper in that film, but you can see it’s Glendale, California location in the film Cloak & Dagger (1984), including the store’s trademark playing-card motif door.

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