Friday, 21 March 2014

Machinas: First Look

A couple of days ago, I received the rules PDF for Machinas, the new post-apocalyptic racing game from Two Hour Wargames, which was recently successfully funded on Indigogo. The decks of cards and hardcopy of the rules should be back from the printer soon and ready for shipping, but in the meantime I was keen to give it a go using the counters provided in the PDF.

So what is it?
If you think 'Mad Max' you are pretty much there. Death races in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, with cars bashing and shooting each other, as well as vying for first place in the race. The rules cover organised races in an arena, a bit like Roman chariots, but also 'ungoverned' races in the wasteland.

Each car and driver is made up of 3 stats: Savvy (general racing ability), Tech (shooting and vehicle control) and Speed (which is pretty much what it says it is). Added to this are different weapons and equipment, the option for drawbacks which reduce the points value of your car and specific driver skills (or ineptitudes!). This all gives a good amount of customisation options. Although the information is in the rules, the game does come with a deck (or more depending on how you pledged), so you can layout all the information for the cars in front of you. You can also choose from a range of vehicles, from motorbikes all the way up to big rigs.

Rules PDF, printed cars, reference sheets. Let's race!

How does it play?
A unique aspect of this game, which I like very much, is the concept of the pack. Cars are tracked by cards, which show their relative positions in the pack. The pack itself is tracked with a marker to show where everyone is on the course. This means all the cars are in the thick of it at all times. At first I wasn't sure how I felt about this, but when I thought about it, I realised it was basically just like the kinds of films it could emulate. The cars are usually racing in a fairly tight group unless they are destroyed, in which case no one cares about them any more. Films don't concern themselves with inept stragglers, it is the skilled racers in the main pack who are of interest. And the game reflects this.

My test race in progress

The first phase in a typical turn is about positioning. Players decide if they will attempt to overtake or not. Chosing not to allows you to draft and gain a bonus die for future use. These dice are very useful as they add to what you are allowed to roll for skill checks. You start with a certain amount, usually 9, and managing this resource is an important part of the game.

Once the passing choices have been made, random events are diced for and can be good or bad depending on the result.

After events, the passing phase takes place. Cars involved roll a number of dice based on their Savvy skill, plus or minus modifiers for the type of vehicle, how many bonus dice are being used and a few other factors. If the winner is the car trying to overtake, they can either do so, or take the opportunity to shoot at or bash their opponent, which can result in damage or outright destruction!

Once all cars that wish to do so have tried to overtake, the pack marker is moved to the next section of the track and the process repeats itself.

Is there more to it than just the races?
Yes, there are also campaign rules where you can your make your way from low level races to the glory of the big arenas. This covers things like developing drivers, scrounging equipment from defeated opponents and making repairs to your vehicle. All of this is covered in rules which get the job done in a simple and effective way. There are also rules for chases and how to use the Machinas rules in other THW game systems. There are also some solid NPC rules so it is simple to set yourself up racing against the game system.

Are you going to be your usual pedantic self about the rules?
Yes, sorry. I just can't help it. By and large the rules are solid and make sense. The turn structure is simple and clearly described. On the other hand there are a few typos, most of which affect the reference sheet. Nothing too major. A couple of the rules could do with some clearer explanation, but nothing that a simple FAQ won't clear up. There are a couple of oddities in there. You need to successfully make a pass check before you decide to pass, shoot or ram. I imagine this represents the maneuvering required to bring your guns to bear, but the result is that a heavily weaponised big rig may not get a chance to even fire against a nippy sports car. Something else I noticed is that, due to a hefty negative modifier on the loss of control chart, the same big rig is more likely to flip and become a wreck. I'd have thought that part of the point of a massive, heavy vehicle, was that it just keeps on going no matter what. But more games need to be played to see how this kind of thing plays out. I'm not a great fan of house rules, but it would be a simple thing to correct if I felt it needed it.

Is this your new favourite racing game then?
It is a bit early to say. I don't feel I am doing it justice until a have played some more games and seen the decks of cards as well. Then I will be in a position to review it properly. My initial impression is that it is a fairly light game. There are some interesting decisions to be made about how you manage your pool of bonus dice and when you should try and pass other cards, but I personally would love more technical racing options and a greater choice in customising cars. But I'm the kind of guy who would really want at least twice the number of options presented in the rules, so that isn't a massive criticism by any means. I am sure if demand is high enough then more will be produced (or fans will come up with their own).

Okay, wind this up now... Do you like it?
Yes, I do. Despite some of the early observations above, I had good fun racing my car in the wastelands. I kept on wanting just one more turn and half way through the race I realised that yes, there was certainly some strategy involved and my neglect of that fact was why I was at the end of pack. Whoops! I'm looking forward to the decks arriving and will write about the 'whole package' once I have some more games under my belt to make a full and fair assessment.

Oh, and how did your race end?

Badly. I worked my way to the front of the pack and tried to overtake the sportscar in the lead, which promptly dumped a box of nails on me and caused me to lose control and wreck my car.

See, I said that management of the bonus dice pool for when you really need them is an important part of the game!

An inglorious end. But I'll be back for more.


  1. Interesting idea. I think I'd have liked more interaction with scenery, bystanders (watch for the sniper on the hill overlooking the course!) or widely-different vehicles (flying machines?) But maybe they could be included without much modification?

  2. Somewhere on the THW blog I think I read some rules for different types of courses. And in the wastelands you can come across wrecks to be avoided. Helicopters might have been fun, like in the old kids ThunderRoad game.

  3. Interesting sounding set of rules. Not my cup of tea but its interesting to read peoples matches and game reports about it. Shall look forward to seeing more when you get the printed rules.

    Have you seen the across the dead earth kickstarter? Its entering its final week and being run by some local chaps in Kings Heath :)

    1. Hi Simon, thanks for your comment. There should be more on this, so no worries there.

      Heh. Yeah, I've read some if your blog posts. Looks interesting, certainly. Can't really commit to yet another 28mm project though I'm afraid!

  4. Just a quick comment or two. Check the rules a bit more clsoely and you'll see the Big Rig does have a better chance of crashing on the losing control table, except, it is almost impossible to get it there as it must go through the Bash table - where it is king with a huge positive modifier.

    As for snipers, that would take place on the open road chase, which is used with ATH or other set of PA rules, not racing rules. As in a gang chases a target into a trap where sniper (using ATH or ATZ) tries and shoot the driver. I'll have an example of that on the current Bat Reps on the 2 hour blog.

    Thanks again,

    1. Hi Ed

      First up, thanks for taking the time to comment. I get where you are coming from about the big rig. I see now it is a tough beast to bash at, but if you manage that it is also tougher to bring back under control.

      That's why this is just initial impressions and not a full review!