Archive for the 'Blacktop Slip' Category

Keep Both Hands on the Wheel

2008 May 14

I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, but many of the things I’ve been thinking about for Blacktop Slip make it a glorified Agon-hack, probably because I’ve been playing a fair bit of Agon at SGBoston lately. I’m definitely thinking about the positioning rules and the range strip when I imagine cars struggling to outmaneuver each other during a race or chase scene.

I’m also thinking about the evocative way Agon ties the hands of the players to the hands of their characters, having attack dice rolled in your sword hand and defense dice rolled in your shield hand. Clearly this works well for car chases too.

– You can drive with both hands, maximizing your control.
– You can drive with one hand and shift gears with the other.
– You can drive with one hand and shoot a gun with the other.
– You can take both hands off the wheel and shift while shooting.
– You can take both hands off the wheel and shoot with both hands.

Likewise, you also have one foot (assuming you’re the driver).

– You can maintain speed.
– You can slow down slightly.
– You can slow down a lot.
– You can increase speed slightly.
– You can increase speed a lot.

Ideally, there’d be optimum speeds to keep your car at while in certain gears, similar to the optimum range for weapons in Agon. If optimum for Third Gear is 25-50 mph, if you’re going 70 (or 15) in Third Gear, you’ll definitely be facing penalties to driving or possibly even suffer damage to your car.

I was also thinking that gear may determine how many cards a vehicle moves forward in a single turn (since, as the last post described, tracks are measured in playing cards), but that movement happens at the end of a turn, after all the things happening in a turn have been determined. This way, when all cars are moved, players can describe what happens to them, including them rolling over and exploding, or how they pulled an amazing drift around a sharp turn, etc.

Building the Track

2008 May 14

I was playing with my Hot Wheels cars a bit this morning and I noticed that playing cards, when laid horizontally, are the perfect width to represent a 2-lane highway relative to the size of the cars. Bingo, now we have a way of creating tracks, laying down cards beside each other and angling them to create curves and overpasses and whatnot. And cards also provide a way to measure positioning. A car can either be on the same card as another car (racing side by side) or a number of cards ahead or behind it.

I also just discovered an old French card game about racing called Mille Bornes, which has neat mechanics for encountering obstacles. Hmm…

Dammit, now I actually have to go see Speed Racer.

Car Chase Stories, Part 1

2008 May 4

A while back I talked about telling the story of a fight and how we’re really bad at it. We don’t really know how to narrate fights without making them into competitive, strategic battles between different players. Movie fights aren’t competitive; instead, the people involved (director, actors, choreographer, cinematographer) are collaborating to tell the story of a fight. I think we should be able to do this too, but I wanted to try it out first on something a bit more simpler than a martial arts fight.

So I just bought some Hot Wheels cars.

Elements of Good Car Chases

1. The cars are perceived to be traveling really fast, but can always accelerate further or slam on the brakes, changing speed significantly.

2. There are constant near fatalities and close calls, but the cars (and their passengers) can get seriously banged up and will still keep going, generally until the cars fall apart or (more commonly) explode.

3. The cars are maneuvering a lot, not just traveling in a straight line. There are obstacles and complications in the route, which are overcome in exciting, unusual, and clever ways.

4. The protagonists’ car will never crash for a lame or predictable reason, such as driving in the oncoming lane (the other cars will swerve around them), but pursuers may be gradually eliminated in this fashion, since a lame death sometimes suits a lame antagonist. Cooler antagonists will have to be eliminated in an appropriately badass fashion.

5. The audience always has a sense of the relative positioning of both a) the cars involved in the chase and b) potential obstacles, including the cars of innocent bystanders. In this way, what happens should make “sense,” though the exact rules of reality and timing are often bent or broken.

6. There is ultimately some form of resolution; generally, the pursuers are left behind, the pursuers can no longer continue pursuit (they’ve crashed bad), or the protagonists have left the vehicle (perhaps after crashing themselves) and the drama continues on foot.

Now to start playing around with my toy cars…

Game Title: Blacktop Slip

2008 Apr 22

“Blacktop” is obvious. A “slip road” is the British term for what Yanks call an “exit ramp.” For example, you have “on-slips” and “off-slips.” Of course, the only exit ramp in Blacktop Slip is getting your car up to 88 mph and soaring off into the sky, and that’s what the title refers to.

Order of Operations / Accelerate!

2008 Apr 21

On Blacktop, the order of operations goes like this:

1. Shooting: The Shotgun describes what any previously established pursuers are doing and declares their own violent intentions. Then, they roll for both themselves and the pursuers, to see what damage is inflicted on each side. Rolls for shooting are affected by the current speed and condition of your car and the cars of your pursuers.

2. Maneuvering: Next, the Backseat Driver describes the approaching terrain and any obstacles or problems it might contain. Then, they roll to try to overcome them, taking into account any damage the car sustained during the shooting phase. If there is a total failure to maneuver properly, i.e. a crash, that changes the nature of the next two operations — because the car is likely tumbling off the edge of the highway and about to land on some other part of Blacktop — but they still occur as normal, in order.

3. Shifting: Next, the Shifter can attempt to manipulate the Godstick in one of a number of ways: they can attempt to shift the car into a higher or lower gear, to make it easier to accelerate up or down; they can attempt a re-roll of either shooting or maneuvering, thanks to some crazy Godstick-assisted stunt; or they can attempt to ascend to the level immediately above them (Blacktop’s topside, if you are currently on Route 66, or up into the sky — winning the game — if you are currently on Blacktop).

4. Acceleration: Finally, the Driver can choose whether to press harder on the gas, slam on the brakes, or do nothing. Just like in a real car, maintaining the same speed involves giving it some gas; otherwise the car will gradually slow down (unless you’re on Route 66). Whatever the Driver ultimately decides to do, their roll is directly affected by the relative success and failure of all previous operations. It is very difficult for the Driver to accelerate effectively if the car is rolling over and catching fire from poor shooting and maneuvering rolls.


To determine the initial speed of your car, the Driver rolls two 4-sided dice of different colors. One die is the tens digit and the other die is the ones digit. So if a Driver rolled a 2 and a 1, the initial speed would be 21 mph.

On every subsequent acceleration roll, the Driver can choose to raise or lower the die representing the ones digit, from d4 to d6 to d8 to d10 to d12. Whatever the Driver chooses, they can re-roll one or both dice and your car accelerates up or down to the resulting speed. For example, if the Driver eventually rolls a 3 (d4) and an 11 (d12), the resulting speed is 41 mph. They might then choose to keep the 11 and re-roll the d4, hoping for a 4 that would give them 51 mph.

The only way the Driver can increase the tens digit die is if the Shifter manages to shift gears. When gears are shifted, the tens digit die goes up or down — from d4 to d6 to d8 — and the ones digit die returns to being a d4.

In order to break 88 mph and leave the surface of Blacktop, then, the car must be shifted into Third Gear (d8) and the Driver must succeed in at least three acceleration rolls to move from d8d4 to d8d6 to d8d8. Even then, the chance is not nearly as great as if the Driver can accelerate further to d8d10 or, best of all, d8d12.

If the Driver chooses to roll neither die in the acceleration phase, the tens digit die is manually lowered one step, and the car drops by 10 mph. Maintaining speed is best mimicked by re-rolling just the ones die.

Route 66

2008 Apr 21

If your car ever hits the forbidden speed of 66 mph, the highway in front of you turns into a Möbius strip, causing your crew to go careening down onto the underside of Blacktop, the hell known as Route 66.

On Route 66, everything works backwards. The demon-cars surrounding you travel exceedingly fast, but you have to slow down in order to safely take the exit that allows you to return topside. Taking that exit too fast means significant penalties to your maneuvering, potentially leading to a crash that could strand you in hell indefinitely. And, once the demons know you have the Godstick, you’ll have much worse pursuers than the police to worry about, even if you do make it topside.

Two-Lane Blacktop

2008 Apr 21

Blacktop is a two lane road that extends forever because it is in fact a complicated loop. If you keep driving away from the crash site (the starting location), you’ll eventually end up back there. As such, it’s best to talk about Blacktop geography in the sense of stretches of road that the car goes through.

1. Speed Traps: where the speed limit drops suddenly and cops lurk.
2. Traffic Jams: where maneuvering and high speeds become difficult.
3. Roadwork: unending highway repair.
4. Rest Stops: the only time when you’re not on the highway.
5. Hills: good places to try to achieve escape velocity.
6. Crash Site: where this all began.

Each area has specific limitations and required rolls that must happen for your car to proceed safely through. Poor rolls may mean that the car loses speed, is damaged, is pursued by the police, etc. Over the course of play, then, there are a few conditions that should be kept track of:

1. Speed: How fast is the car going right now?
3. Gear: What gear is the car in? This provides a limit on the top speed.
2. Speed Limit: How fast can you go without the police getting involved?
4. Damage: Is the car smoking? Is it on fire? Have you lost one of the tires?
5. Pursuers: Are the police on your tail? How many? How close are they?

Now, leaving Blacktop for the heavens is a matter of putting together the right combination of elements. Think of it as crafting the world’s best cheeseburger.

1. Lettuce: achieving escape velocity.
2. Tomato: being on the right stretch of road.
3. Heinz 57: being in top gear.
4. French Fried Potato: being on fire.
5. Big Kosher Pickle: being chased by the cops.
6. Cold Draft Beer: pulling some crazy maneuver.
7. Good God Almighty: the Godstick being ready to leave.

You stand a fair chance of being able to soar into the heavens with more than half of these elements, but your best bet is to try to fulfill as many as possible, since, if you don’t rocket away into the sky, maintaining these conditions can be really dangerous and lead to monster crashes (which are also fun, but move you further away from victory).


2008 Apr 21

This car only seats four. When playing the game, players should arrange their seating as if they were actually seated in a car, taking the following roles and responsibilities.

1. The Driver makes all the rolls for acceleration, which is key since the goal of the game is to launch into the heavens by achieving the mythical speed of 88 mph. The driver can sit on the left or the right, depending on whether you are doing more Jerry Bruckheimer or Guy Richie.

2. Whoever calls Shotgun sits next to the Driver, facing forward. During play they can acquire, surprise, a shotgun and are responsible for making all rolls for shooting. Before they acquire a weapon, they simply make all rolls related to being pursued or shot at.

3. One person sits directly behind the Driver and is the Backseat Driver or BSD, responsible for making all rolls related to maneuvering (“Look out! Watch over there!” etc.) and, in the event of a failed maneuvering roll, crashing.

4. Finally, the person who holds the Godstick is called the Shifter, and it is their responsibility to make all rolls related to shifting gears. Normally, all cars on Blacktop are automatics that are only capable of a top speed of 45 mph, but the Godstick enables your car to break all the rules.

One for the Road

2008 Apr 20

I’m really not supposed to do Game Chef this year, but this art is calling to me…


Blacktop is a world of endless highway with no exits. Cars race endlessly, speeding to a destination that will never arrive. In the sky above, airplanes fly endlessly, tirelessly, never landing, never resting, never ceasing. At least, that was the case until…

A few hours ago, a plane made an emergency landing on Blacktop, crashing hard into the asphalt and clogging the endless highway with debris. Suddenly, everything slowed to a halt. For the first time, the people of Blacktop considered what they were doing. Suddenly, you and your friends knew what you had to do…

Within the wreckage of the airplane you discovered the device that enables planes to fly, the Godstick, a set of controls marked with a single eye. On Blacktop, when connected to a car, the Godstick enables vehicles to perform unnatural maneuvers, but it does not belong here. No, the Godstick must be returned to the sky. Which leaves only one choice…

You and your friends must do the impossible. Hot-wiring the Godstick to your dashboard, you have to drive faster than anyone has driven before, so fast that your car actually leaves the surface of Blacktop and hurtles out into the heavens. It’s up to you to take the Godstick home.