Gaslands Refueled is a miniature car combat game inspired by Death Race and Mad Max, in which Matchbox cars packed with deadly arsenals tear around tabletop race tracks.
We first talked about it back in Season 1, Episode 20, when David played it with his family.vMore than a year later, I got to play the game by playtesting it with a friend, and then running it at MEPACon, my local game convention.
At the convention, everyone at the table was new to the game and – like me – many of the players picked up the game during the pandemic, but never had a chance to actually play it.
So we played. And damn, did we have fun. In fact, that session of Gaslands Refueled is probably one of my top 10 convention experiences … and heck, all I did was coordinate the game!
My friend Nate and I planned to co-run Gaslands Refueled at the convention, and we pitched it as a novice game. To that end, we kept things simple:
- Each player got two vehicles, a lightweight buggy and a mediumweight car.
- Each vehicle was armed with forward-facing machine guns. Each passenger had a handgun.
- We ran a modified version of the Death Race scenario (Gaslands Refueled, p. 124), with a starting gate, two additional gates that players needed to manuever through, and an finish gate.
- We didn’t include any barriers or obstacles aside from the gates themselves.
- Per the scenario, weapons didn’t arm until a player’s car passed through the first gate.
We planned to run with up to six players ( 12 vehicles). We ended up with five players ( 10 vehicles). The game was scheduled to run two hours (1-3 p.m. on a Saturday)
Nate, who’s only slightly more experienced than I am at Gaslands (having played it twice to my once) went all in on the Gaslands gear. He got plastic templates representing the various maneuvers the cars can execute as well as specialized game dice (you can use standard d6s; the game-specific dice make it easier to quickly understand your results). He also got tokens representing hazards and ammo (though ammo didn’t come into play because we had no weapons that required it).
Gaslands is one of those games whose rules are straightforward, but you don’t truly understand them – and the strategies they enable – until you play the game.
The game is divided into rounds. Each round is divided into six “gear” phases. Each player starts the race in Gear 1, but can “shift” into higher gears when they activate their cars. The key concept (and the part that takes people some time to understand) is that vehicles activate on any gear up to and including the one they’re currently in.
For example, if your buggy is in Gear 3, you get to activate it on Gear 1, Gear 2, and Gear 3. Because higher gears mean more actions (a car stuck in Gear 1 is only going to activate in one gear out of six), players have incentives to shift into higher gears, and thus, go faster.
In each Gear, there are different maneuvers, represented by templates, that you can perform. These include hairpin, gentle, standard, and hard turns, swerves, and veers, as well as the standard short, medium, and long movements (in which your car just goes straight ahead).
What gear you’re in controls which maneuvers you can do For example, you can make hairpin and hard turns (which have a tighter turning radius) in Gears 1 through 3. In Gear 1, a hard turn is trivial – you can do it for free without rolling any dice. In Gear 3, it’s a hazardous maneuver, meaning you take a risk doing it. In Gears 4 through 6, you can’t even make that maneuver because you’re moving too fast.
So, higher gears mean you cover more ground and get more actions … but you may not be able to dodge that pile of debris in the middle of the road … or a competitor’s vehicle that just flipped and landed in your path.
Where things really get fun is the dice. Each vehicle has a handling score, which indicates how many dice you get to role. Each die has the following possible results:
- Hazard – accumulate 6 of these, and you wipe out … which can be bad.
- Slide – generates a hazard, but also gives your car a special “slide” maneuver that’s added onto your existing maneuver. This can be good for avoiding things; it can also be bad when you the thing you’re trying to avoid required you not to slide into it.
- Spin – generates a hazard, and your car rotates up to 90 degrees. This is good for getting pointed in the right direction
- Shift – Lets you increase or decrease a gear, cancel out an existing hazard that you already gained (very important) or negate a slide, spin, or hazard die that you just rolled.
When you activate your car, you can choose to roll dice upto your Handling score. You can also chose not to do roll anything; in that case you can do a trivial maneuver and get a free “shift” result. It’s the safe bet … but who wants to play it safe?
After moving, you get to shoot at your fellow racers – for our con game, we kept things simple with machine guns, but the game has options for things like smoke screens, caltrops, heavy machine guns, rockets, and even more advanced weaponry.
Combat involves rolling traditional six sided dice – how many you roll depends on the weapon you’re using, or – if you’re purposefully crashing into another car – the circumstances of the crash (big car vs. smaller car, relative speeds,orientation of the crash, etc.).
Once combat’s resolved, you go to the Wipe Out phase. If your car – or anyone else’s – accumulated six hazards, you have to roll a handling check. Fail it, and your car takes damage, flips uncontrollably, and drops to Gear 1. Succeed, and you don’t take damage or flip, but you still drop to Gear 1.
That’s Gaslands at a high level. There’s obviously more to it than that, and additional fiddly bits you can add in with special car and team abilities, but at it’s core the game’s easy to play, easy to result, and nicely unpredictable. You can come up with a plan … but exactly how that plan goes off its up to the dice.
The Convention Game
Unfortunately, a few days before the con my co-game master and his family got colds, and couldn’t come to the convention. I ended up running it solo and I’ll admit, I was nervous. You often don’t know who your going to get at a convention game, and some people are more gracious than others when it comes to learning new rules … and dealing with the setbacks that come from everyone – GM included – trying to understand the game.
Thankfully, I had a great table. Everyone was enthusiastic and eager to play. Some folks had read the book, and that helped us keep things moving. We also didn’t get bogged down by what we didn’t know; if we didn’t know a thing, we hand-waved things until we had time to figure out the right answer.
The result was a fun game that more or less followed the Gaslands rules. The rules are pretty fast once you know them, and the tempo of the game picked up as we moved through the rounds. Those first few rounds were slow though, and in hindsight, I should have made it a 4-hour session with breaks (or a simpler, drag race-style format).
In the two hours we played, only one car made it to the first gate and thus, was able to activate its weapons (it subsequently spun out, and we ran out of time before it could shoot at anyone on the next round). One car was destroyed after multiple collisions; the rest of the vehicles ended up in a chaotic cluster of ramming, dodging, and speeding vehicles.
That may seem disappointing – two hours and only one person got through a gate? But we had a ton of fun playing the game, and folks loved how unpredictable the dice made the game. It’s not like they completely negate player intentions – you can certainly have a plan, and you’ll probably go in the general direction that you want. But it’s also possible that you’ll wrack up too many hazards and spin out, get crashed into by some other car, or the dice will completely fail you and you’ll end up with a shift and spin that sends you off the table.
As we played, we had questions. A few days later, I have some answers.
How do you determine initiative?
How you determine the first player (aka Pole Position) varies based on the scenario. For “Death Race”, we rolled for initiative, with the highest result getting Pole Position. But how do you know who goes after that? We ended up going in descending order based on die roll.
The right answer? Starting with the Pole Position player, you rotate clockwise around the table with each player activating one eligible vehicle. (“Gear Phases”, Gaslands Refueled p 19)
How do you avoid an initial pile up?
One of our early problems was the vehicles piling up (or threatening to pile up) at the starting gate. One mistake was was lining up vehicles two-cars wide instead of following the actual “Death Race scenario” rules which state:
- The starting line should be a “Long Straight Wide”
- The starting grid (just behind the starting line) is supposed to be as wide as the number of players (in our case, five)
- Starting with pole position, players take turns placing cars anywhere in the first row, then move to the second row when needed
During the game, we realized that a two-car wide line was too narrow, and switched it to a three-car wide line. Even with that change, the cars still piled up; it’s easy to see how much smoother things would have run with a five-vehicle wide starting line.
Another factor was people not understanding (because I didn’t explain it well enough) that you could use trivial maneuvers to get a free shift without rolling any dice. This would allow people to start moving and be able to shift into Gear 2, which would give them even more options.
Are there special maneuvers or options?
The templated maneuvers are easy to use and can result in unexpected movement/collisions/wipe outs when combined with dice rolls. However, folks wanted to know if there were other options we could use in a more advanced game to add variety to the race.
The answer is … sort of. While there aren’t additional maneuvers, there are elements you can add to the game to give you more options.
- Terrain: We played on flat, even terrain that didn’t impact the cars. However, the game has options for “road” (discard a hazard at the end of a movement step if you end up on this terrain), “rough” (gain a hazard if you end on it) and “treacherous” (gain two hazards if you end on it)
- Obstacles: provide players something to dodge (and maybe force other people to crash into).
- Perks: Enhancements that you can add to individual cars to give them special abilities. For example, the “Bullet Time” per lets a vehicle select one weapon as “turret mounted” (able to fire 360 degrees) for the rest of the activation when it gets a Slide result.
- Corporate sponsors: These provide access to different classes of perks, as well as company-specific perks. (e.g. the IDRIS team has N2O Addict, which lets them purchase Nitro upgrades for half the listed price).
- Special weapons: Wrecking balls that attack every vehicle near you. Gravity guns that increase or decrease the weight of a car. Lightning guns that blast a vehicle … and any vehicles near it. Caltrops and smoke screens to harrass those following to close. The weapons are a huge part of the game, and add lots of possibilities.
- Special vehicles: Ambulances, gyrocopters, ice cream trucks, tanks, monster trucks and war wagons all provide additional options (and more mayhem) for the game.
There are plenty of other enhancements that can be added to the game to increase your tactical choices. After my first two games, I’d focus on adding terrain and obstacles, and save the perks, special weapons, and other enhancements for games with experienced players.
How do audience votes impact the game?
We knew there was an audience voting mechanic which allows for special actions in the game, but we purposefully avoided using that subsystem because we didn’t want to complicate things. In short, audience votes give players an opportunity to catch up. Awarded when someone wrecks or when someone doesn’t have a vehicle to activate, audience votes can be spent to make a car go faster, remove hazards, add hazards, reload ammo, move pole position, and even respawn a destroyed vehicle.
They provide opportunities for players at the back of the pack to stay involved in the game, and I can see how they’d keep folks engaged throughout a 4-hour slug fest (especially if you’re the poor gamer who’s cars got taken out early in the game). That said, we were right to keep them out of our introductory game; it’s a nice mechanic, but we had enough to keep track of without them.
Everyone enjoyed the game, and would happily have played it for another two hours. There’s interest in playing it again the next MEPACon and I’ve got some ideas on how to improve the convention experience.
Some background on the convention: MEPACon is a small convention traditionally held in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania, but recently moved to the Lehigh Valley, located to the south of the Poconos but still in PA (it’s the Allentown / Bethlehem / Easton corridor). I’m not sure how many people attend, but it’s probably 150-200. The con offers a mix of role-playing games, tabletop games (board, card, etc.), and war games. It’s held Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday until the afternoon.
- Run an intro game on Friday night: Run an intro game Friday night (and maybe Saturday morning?) to give people a chance to learn the game. Organize these sessions as drag race style games, racing from one side of the table to the other with a few obstacles in the way so they have to manuever. To emphasize speed, I’d give each player one vehicle (typically, people get two or three vehicles) but include a mechanic for getting people back into the race if they’re knocked out. Running quick hit games helps prime the pump for longer, more compelling games.
- Run a full 4-hour slot game on Saturday: Run an experience-required (which the intro game would satisfy) 4-hour session on Saturday that incorporates a more complex scenario (e.g. Death Race) and more vehicles (two per player). Since we (and our players) are still learning the game, I’d keep it to an “advanced beginner” style of play. Over time though, I could see this building into a biannual tradition
- Reserve a sizeable table/space: We played in a hotel conference room with a large, long table. It was ideal for Gaslands, and I’ll be sure to ask for a space like that again at the next con.
- Research vehicle stat sheets holders: There are a variety of templates for 3D printing holders for the vehicle stat sheets. In addition to looking cool and giving players a place to put the die that tracks their current gear, they help keep things organized.
- Mods, mods, mods! I’d love to take the time to come up with more thematic vehicles and props. There are 3D templates for weapons, battering rams, and other enhancements to give your Matchbox cars more of a post-apocalyptic sort of feel.
- Design a race track: It’d be great to come up with a nice looking, post-apocolyptic race track with interesting terrain and challenging obstacles. A plain conference room table is fine, but having a themed battle field would add to everyone’s emersion and excitement.