Gaslands First Play & Review

Gaslands is a vehicular combat game set in a dystopian future (more Death Race than Mad Max) and primarily design for Matchbox / Hot Wheels or 1/72 scale vehicles.  It was released by Osprey Publishing at the end of 2017 in their familiar ‘pocket money’ priced 64 page softback format.  The game is well supported via it’s own dedicated website which includes free supplementary material, videos, forum, downloads and online store.  There’s an official online vehicle designer application and several other unofficial tools available.  The game does require some special templates, dice and other accessories which can be bought from the official website, via a global network of manufacturers or you can do what I did, and 3D print your own.

After listening to very favourable review on the Meeples & Miniatures podcast #235, I ordered a copy as soon as they came out.  I’ve had a stash of converted toy cars for years but initially didn’t have an opponents so the project was shelved for a while.  I was therefore delighted when Paul mentioned he had been playing at his club (The Monday Knights) and would run an introductory game for myself and Rohan.

The rules include a number of scenarios and Paul suggested “Death Race” as a good starting point as we were both new players.  In this scenario vehicles navigate a course of three gates – sounds simple but the layout of the gates involve some doubling back and there were plenty of obstacles over the course.  Vehicles can ram each other as soon as they cross the start line but other weapons (including small arms fire) are not permitted until that vehicle has crossed the first gate, which does mean that lead cars are weapons hot while the trailing ones cannot return fire!

The in-game currency is “cans” and 50 cans will generally get you a couple of car-sized vehicles with some weapons and upgrades.  You could equally blow 50 cans on a single large vehicle such as a war rig or bus or a highly tricked out vehicle with multiple turreted weapon systems and other upgrades.  At the other end of the spectrum, bikes and buggies are the cheapest options, giving you the possibility to swarm your opposition.  The game includes optional rules for team sponsors which provide unique special rules and team building options but in order to keep things simple, Paul provided three pre-generated teams for us to choose from.

The main rulebook allows you to choose from a number of vehicle types – bike, buggy, car, performance car, pickup truck, monster truck, gyrocopter, helicopter, bus, war rig & tank.  Free to download expansions have since added a couple more.  Each vehicle type has a Handling score of between 2 and 5 reflecting the manoeuvrability of the vehicle; a Hull score of between 4 and 20 to indicate the amount of damage the vehicle can take; a Crew capacity of between 1 and 8 which measures the ability to fire weapons; a Maximum Gear of between 3 and 6 (described later); a Weight class of light / middle / heavy for resolving collisions and finally a number of Build Slots for mounting weapons and upgrades.  Some upgrades modify a vehicle’s scores and there are some constraints as to which upgrades can be applied to which vehicle types.

Vehicles can be equipped with a variety of weapons which themselves have a stat line of Type (Shooting / Dropped / Smash); number of Attack Dice from 1d6 to 8d6; Range; Special Effects; Build Slots required and a cost in Cans.  Unless purchased as a turret (at triple the normal points cost), shooting weapons are fixed, firing in one direction.

The movement and handling mechanics are very elegant.  Vehicles are always in a gear between 1 and 6 (although some vehicle types are restricted to lower gears) and all movement is by template.  There are three straight movement templates (short, medium and long), four turning templates (gentle, turn, hard and hairpin) and two other manoeuvres, (veer and swerve).  The gear you are currently in constrains your choice of template as essentially the higher gear you are in, the further you must travel and the more abrupt manoeuvres are not possible.  Your vehicle accumulates hazard tokens by changing gears, performing manoeuvres in higher gears, being involved in collisions, driving over rough terrain, etc.

At the start of each activation you may roll special dice in an attempt to remove hazards and performing safer manoeuvres (such as driving straight in low or mid range gears) can also reduce your number of hazard tokens.  At certain points in your activation, if you have six hazard tokens your vehicle will wipe out, crashing and returning to 1st gear.  The turn sequence is that all vehicles currently in first gear activate in sequence, then those currently in second gear, etc.  At the start of each turn, it’s therefore critical to shift up a few times if you don’t want to get left behind while other vehicles get additional activations later in the turn.  This presents one of the key dilemmas in the game as rapidly shifting up gears will generate hazards and you might wipe out but staying in a low gear will mean other vehicles will get to activate more often.

Different vehicle types really do handle differently with performance cars being much easier to get into higher gears quickly but being a lot more fragile than sturdier vehicles so there isn’t a single vehicle type which is superior than the others and you’ll need to learn when you need to push your luck with a risky manoeuvre or dice roll!

For our game, Paul selected a Rutherford team of a up-armoured pickup with a rocket launcher machine gun and a car with a turret mounted heavy machine gun and a stash of grenades.  Rohan picked the Idris team of two performance cars both kitted out with heavy machine guns, smoke droppers and nitros boosters.  Finally, I selected the Slime team of an up-armoured pickup with ram, HMG and molotov cocktails and a car with a front mounted mini-gun and side mounted mortar.  We set up in two rows on the start line and were ready to race!

Rohan’s first car was off to a flying start shifting up cleanly while Paul and I both started to take hazards on our lead vehicles just to get them going.  You must select a manoeuvre template (which can be placed either way up) before laying it on the table so you need to make a judgement call as to which template is going to be the correct one to clear an obstacle – or to bring you into contact with another vehicle if that’s your intention!  Unfortunately Rohan failed in his template selection rather spectacularly when it came to moving his rear vehicle and he managed to turn straight into the start post, taking collision damage as a result!

There were a lot of bumps, skids and spins as raced towards the first gate and my mortar equipped car crossed the line first and went weapons hot but then promptly crashed into a large rock behind the gate as I was in too high a gear to turn out of the way.  Rohan then crossed the gate and couldn’t resist T-boning my stricken vehicle for good measure.  As we turned and raced for the second gate, Paul fired rockets and took out my pickup at point blank range.  I was still carrying a full load of Molotov cocktails so the wreck exploded and took out Paul’s own vehicle in the blast!

Meanwhile my car was mobile again and firing mortar rounds into Rohan’s performance cars, wrecking one and badly damaging another.  Rohan’s surviving car was the first through the second gate, shifted up and took the scenic route to the finish line, safely out of range of our guns.  Rohan lined up with the finish line, hit the nitros and left us in his dust.  There’s no prizes for second place in Gaslands so that was the end of the game.

Gaslands is not a quick game to play but there is a lot of depth and I can see myself playing this more regularly as it should flow a lot better with a group of experienced players.  I don’t think it would scale particularly well beyond more than two or three vehicles each for three or four players without having a fair bit of downtime between moving your vehicles.  I can see that you really need to base your vehicles in order to stop them accidentally moving around and to make it easier to use the measuring tools.  With the sponsors, perks, campaigns, other scenarios, audience votes, exotic vehicle types, free online content, etc. there is a going to be a lot to hold interest in the long term.  The cost of the rulebook and the fact that you only really need a couple of beaten up Matchbox cars and some plastic guns from your bits box make the entry point extremely reasonable but beware – collecting and converting vehicles can be habit forming!  Highly recommended.

This game was played at home on 6th October 2018.


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