It's time to dip into another gamebook series that I, perhaps unwisely, acquired in full without taking the time to find out whether or not I actually like it. On this occasion it's the Car Wars Adventure Gamebooks, which took me around a decade to collect, so I had plenty of time in which to try one, and will only have myself to blame for any misery caused by playing the later ones, should the series prove not to my liking.
The first book is Battle Road, by Steve Jackson. The one who wrote Scorpion Swamp, not the author of House of Hell, in case you were wondering. It was the first of the series that I acquired, during a period when my saved searches on eBay were bearing little fruit, so I tried looking for 'gamebook', and in the midst of all the listings that duplicated books I owned, were not actually gamebooks, cost unreasonable amounts or just didn't appeal, I found this one. And during the time between my making the purchase and receiving the book, some other interest came to prominence for a while, and the book just went on the shelf. Well, its day has finally come.
The instructions open with the revelation that the Car Wars books are set in 2036, 50 years on from the date of publication. By now we're more than half way through those 50 years. I feel old.
No dice are involved in character generation. I have 5 personal stats, and 10 points to allocate to them, with a minimum requirement of 1 for each. While I could just go for straight 2s across the board, I'm going to try a little prioritising, and hope not to be seriously challenged on the characteristics for which I take a lower score. The title suggests an emphasis on combat and driving, so I'm going with:
Driving skill 3
Gunnery skill 3
Mechanic skill 2
I'm sure I'll find out whether or not that's a wise choice before long.
My character is a professional duellist, who has been summoned to the Republic of Texas by the Undersecretary of Energy for an important and secret mission. President Jordan and his daughter are being held prisoner in Oklahoma by the politically ambitious John Twoeagles, and even if Louisiana's People's Militia were powerful enough to take on the Oklahoman military and Twoeagles' own private army, the whole affair would become public knowledge, undermining Jordan's authority enough to potentially bring down his government. I'm not sufficiently clued-up on politics in the world of Car Wars to know whether or not that government is worth preserving, but thwarting Twoeagles is worth doing if for no other reason than that he intends to strengthen his position by forcing Angela Jordan to marry him. Ugh.
The wedding is scheduled to take place in exactly 24 hours, so I need to hit the road promptly. Mind you, I have been given a down payment on the reward for rescuing Angela, so it might be worth investing in some extra hardware for the car first. I make a stop at the local branch of Uncle Albert's Auto Stop and Gunnery Shop and invest in some Improved Body Armour, a couple of limpet mines and four grenades. That's one hour already gone, but as some of the upgrades I passed up would have at least doubled the wait, I'm guessing that time isn't that tight, so I'll also see what intel I can gather before setting off.
Being a member of the American Autoduel Association, I visit the local branch to ask about road conditions between here and Oklahoma. When asked about the purpose of my journey, I make up something about a routine courier job, as making a big deal about the confidential nature of my mission would only draw unwelcome attention. The report I receive warns of bad weather and possible flooding, a massive price hike on mechanic and recharge fees (owing to the scarcity of gasoline, cars are electric these days) in Waco, and a gang of murderous looters in the vicinity of a place called Ross. Waco and Ross are the first two locations marked on my route map, so if that information is going to be of any use, the journey is liable to be eventful from the outset.
It is, but the first trouble I encounter is not what I expected. It's hay. Numerous bales of the stuff scattered on the Highway, and their placement in the illustration suggests that they've been placed there with malicious intent rather than falling from a truck with an inadequately secured load. Whoever is responsible probably hopes I'll slow down or go off-road, so instead I'll see if I put enough points into Driving to enable me to weave around the obstacles without coming to grief. I did. Just enough, in fact, that I can't actually fail the roll.
Beyond the bales, I see their source: a farm truck on its side, with one front wheel blown away and the other still spinning. This strikes me as highly suspicious, and I opt to pass by without stopping or opening fire, just in case someone's booby-trapped the wreck.
After two hours' driving time I reach Waco. Not having sustained any damage on my way there, I have no need to stop for repairs, and just keep going. I could get an overpriced recharge, but there are apparently many cheaper truck stops between here and Dallas. One fewer than there should be, thanks to those looters, but many minus one still comes to significantly more than zero, so I should be okay.
A few miles further north I see a sign for the truck stop I know to have been destroyed by that gang. Another sign proclaims it to still be in business and offering free charge-ups, so either I was misinformed about everyone there having been killed or this is a trap. My mission is not to check the accuracy of AADA reports, so I ignore the turning.
Not long after I pass through Ross, the threatened rain starts to fall. So far it's not a problem, so I just turn on the wipers and headlights. An hour later I draw near to the town of Hillsboro, and encounter my first time check. That visit to Uncle Albert's has put me outside the earliest bracket, but I'm still comfortably short of the latest. Which turns out to be all the worse for me, as it means I arrive while the highway is barricaded for the annual April Fool Marathon. If I survive the mission, I shall be complaining to the AADA about their failure to mention this road closure.
The road circumventing the town is purportedly in an abysmal state - that's why the highway now runs through the town - so unless I want to risk driving on that mess or attempt to smash through the blockade, I'm going to have to wait for two hours. I don't suppose there are any recharge points this side of the barrier...? Apparently not. I'm not injured, so there's no point in going to the nearby ambulance, which only leaves working on my car or having a few drinks with the cops on the barricade. Have drink driving laws been abolished? The car doesn't need any work done on it, but I don't want to risk having my keys confiscated overnight, so I'm going to have to do a load of unnecessary tinkering under the bonnet. At least the rules don't allow for a critical bodge that could leave the car in a worse condition than it was when I got here.
At last the stupid race is over and I can drive into town and get a recharge. The garage is also the local AADA office, so I decide to see if they can tell me anything useful about potential delays or hazards. There's another bad weather warning, and mention of cycle gang trouble north of Dallas. Do I have to go through Dallas? The map implies that it's possible to travel via Forth Worth instead.
Resuming my journey, I reach a fork in the road, offering just the choice I was hoping for. The Fort Worth route is normally the slower one, but in view of the cycle gang report, I'll take it. No need to go looking for trouble when I can expect more than my fair share once I hit Oklahoma.
Nothing bad happens on my chosen route, and while I could stop off in the city, I'm not sure it's worth the delay. As I continue on my way, the radio gives notice of impending thunderstorms, and by the time the two branches of the highway merge again, there is a heavy downpour. There's a truck stop close by, but I don't want to risk being stuck the wrong side of the expected floods, so I drive on. There's a chance of going off the road, but again the combination of my Driving skill and the car's Handling Class is sufficient to guarantee a successful roll.
Up ahead, I see a tornado heading in my direction. I don't fancy my chances if I drive straight at it or turn around and head back the way I came, so I shall look for a temporary detour. There's a turning close by, and again the roll to avoid an accident is a foregone conclusion. A momentary cessation in the sound of the rain alerts me to the fact that I'm driving through an underpass, so I stop there until the tornado has passed. Then I resume my drive, and risk maintaining my usual speed in spite of the debris left by the storm. A good choice, as there are no modifiers to the inevitable rolls, which means I still can't fail them.
I do have to slow down when my way is blocked by an overturned tanker truck, though. Rolling down my window, I smell no fumes. Good news, but no reason to loiter, so I don't. As I approach the Oklahoma border, there's another time check, but this time I'm in the earliest bracket. Which is not as good as I'd hoped, as the bridge over the Red River is flooded, and closed until at least the end of the first time bracket.
I had been wondering how the book would handle the need for sleep. The enforced wait provides me with an opportunity to get some rest, and while I wind up snoozing until over an hour after the projected reopening time for the bridge, that does at least mean I'm in with a chance of getting under way as soon as I'm awake, and don't have to worry about dozing off at the wheel or being forced to take a nap break once I'm in Oklahoma.
At the border I'm stopped by a uniformed trooper, who wants to search the car. There are a lot of uniformed people here, in a variety of different uniforms. Is this connected with Twoeagles' plans, or is there some other trouble afoot? I could try offering a bribe and asking what's up, but that might just raise suspicions, so I think I'll keep quiet and be patient. I still have a little over 10 hours.
While the trooper looks through my supplies, I look around, noting that some of the uniforms being worn bear the Twoeagles insignia, and that the different uniformed groups don't appear to be that happy about each other's presence here. My armaments are too mundane to attract undue attention, but there's a Prestige roll before I can leave, and I fail it. Still, the only consequence is a slight delay while a few jobsworths in other uniforms perform the same checks as the first trooper.
As I drive on, I listen to the radio, hearing a news story about the impending nuptials and a warning of further bad weather. A flash of lightning alerts me to the approach of another storm. I keep going, and a little way beyond the town of Ardmore I see flares around an 18-wheeled van. An attempt at contacting the driver on my CB comes to nothing, so I just drive past.
Offered the option of pushing my speed up a little, I trust in the stats that have served me well so far, and they continue to suffice, so I make it to Oklahoma City without any unpleasant incidents. There I need to get another recharge, and while I'm doing that, I call a number I was given for getting info on the Twoeagles ranch. Ominously, nobody picks up.
The option of shopping for new equipment turns up nothing of interest, but checking out the store keeps me in town until the AADA office opens, so I get an update on the roads. More bad weather, a recommendation to take the Turner Turnpike to New Tulsa in order to avoid bandits, and a warning that the militia of several oil companies seem to be gearing up for something.
There's quite a hefty toll for using the Turnpike, but I can afford it, so I do. Route 66 may be more celebrated in song, but if its bandits delay me or do any significant damage to the car, I'm likely to get stuck listening to a particularly unpleasant rendition of Here Comes the Bride. On the Turnpike I get the choice of three speeds, and on this occasion I go for the middling option. That still means a Control Roll, but unmodified, so I stay safe. 5 hours to go.
There's another time check in New Tulsa, and I'm in the earlier bracket, so I can spend an hour or two seeking information or interesting armaments and still get back on the road with time to spare. The AADA advise against travelling on US 75, and as Uncle Albert's is closed on account of the ongoing bad weather, there's nothing else to keep me here. I might have acquired a helpful local contact if I'd risked some encounter on my way here, but as it is, I'm on my own.
And it appears that US 75 is the only route from here to Bartlesville, the closest town to Twoeagles' ranch. I guess my conflict avoidance strategy is about to stop being workable. Yep, some machine-gun-toting nut on a trike takes an interest in me. Time for some defensive driving. This time there's a modifier to the Control Roll, but I should be okay as long as I don't get a 6.
I get a 6. My car skids, flips, bounces, and finally explodes. If all the potential conflicts I avoided on the way to New Tulsa were as hazardous as this one, and that helpful contact I missed turns out to be an essential encounter, this book is going to be tough.