Cardboard Children: THUNDER ROAD

Hello youse.

It’s been a while since I did a free-wheelin’ freestyle board game column. What I’m saying is that this column will be a train of thought type thing, where I just stumble through the paragraphs flailing wildly for some kind of solid through-line. There will probably be bits of poetry, and links to music videos, but there will also be some incredibly insightful comments about board games, and that’s what you’re all here for.

Jim has to put a title on this thing, though. So let’s say that this one is about THUNDER ROAD. And let’s drive!


Thunder Road is perfect. The song, yeah. But the game too.

I’m serious. It’s a perfect board game. Everyone loves it. It plays quick and easy. It’s never an anti-climax. It has one of the coolest covers of all time. I mean, look at that cover.

You would put that bad boy on the wall above your bed and bring supermodels home with pride. The supermodels would say “Wow. Mad Max. My dad was into that film.” And you would say “No, not Mad Max. A board game by MB.” And they would say “The guys who made Ker-Plunk?” And you would have to say “Yes.”

Do you remember how it plays? Four players, each with three cars and a helicopter. I say three cars, but there’s only one car. The other two are a buggy and a truck. Look, I don’t drive, so maybe those things ARE cars too. I dunno. I can only tell real life cars apart by colour, for fuck’s sake. The board is in two segments, laid out like a road. When a car moves off the end of the second board, the first board gets moved in front and everything that was on it gets dumped. So that’s one way to win the game. Go FAST and leave your opponents behind. The other way to win the game is to ram or shoot the living shit out of everybody.

Look at how happy those four little pantywaists are playing this game! And look at the back board being dumped! How much do you want to bet some poor dad steps on one of those hard plastic cars in his bare feet later tonight?

Back to the car combat. You roll a dice for movement. Move up behind a rival car and you can roll to try to shoot it out. Or move right into the space it’s on, and try to ram it off the road. Oh, and you can fly your helicopter up alongside a rival car and try to hit it with a rocket launcher. The fights are so easy to execute. Each car has a rank, and to hit a Rank 5 car you need to roll a 5 or more on one die. You learn every rule in the game in ten minutes and then it’s all just the squealing of tyres and the screams of your enemies.

Man, this game. Thunder Road isn’t like those other old games you pull out for “a laugh” and end up putting away five minutes later for “your sanity”. It hasn’t aged a day in the 25 years it’s been hanging around people’s attics. You pull it out, set it up, position your cars and start rolling. You have choices right away – do you send one car blasting ahead, or do you stack your cars up around your rivals, so that you can maximise attack potential? Do you try to blast on through a wrecked car to make up ground, or do you navigate carefully and risk being left in your rival’s dust?

Every player has the same abilities. There are no cards with special powers, no levelling up, no mess, no fuss. Just some toy cars, a road to run them on, and some dice. It’s perfect. Wherever it is right now, whether it is in your attic or in your parents house, you better go running and get that game. If it is lying in a crazy ex-boyfriend’s house, under a pile of your burned clothes, you go running and fetch it. If it is in some hole in the sand in Afghanistan, under a cache of Taliban weapons, you tool up and go fetch that game. If it is in Dundee, maybe just order it from eBay.

When I play Thunder Road it doesn’t make me think of Mad Max. It makes me think of the Fighting Fantasy game book Freeway Fighter. That’s what “post-apocalyptic car combat” is to me. Except in Thunder Road you aren’t running out of gas all the time. I mean, you ran out of gas ALL THE TIME in Freeway Fighter.

In Freeway Fighter.

In the Fighting Fantasy game book Freeway Fighter.


“Turn to 300”
With trembling fingers
You flick past universes
To 300
A number, a mystery
Pencil and eraser by your side
In bed, with
Monster Munch
Paisley pattern pyjamas
A bald penis
And school tomorrow
But for now?
You flick
Possibilities fly through your fingers
Opportunities whisper by
Is this what life is?
“You are DEAD”


And beautifully resolved.

Do you remember I told you about how two companies, Fantasy Flight and Stronghold Games, both thought they had the rights to produce a new version of the classic Merchant of Venus? And there was a dispute and confusion? It’s all fixed, and in a manner that makes everybody look great. Honestly, it’s as if everybody involved just loves board games or something. You can read about HOW they resolved it here.

It’s nice when people settle disputes peacefully.





You might remember that I recommended this game to all of you. And you might remember that in an ongoing war against my girlfriend I had gone 4-1 down. You might remember me having a tantrum in front of you.

Well, I hauled it back to 4-4, and my girlfriend was so disgusted she said she had to “take a break” for a bit. For me, that is the mark of a great game. When your opponent is so broken down, so defeated and destroyed, that they have to TAKE A BREAK TO RECOVER – that is a great game right there.

Many board games are light and fluffy fun. You win, or you lose, and you say “That’s nice, I managed to manufacture lots of cotton in that last turn.” You put the game away and you forget about it. But the BEST games stick with you. They stick a knife in you. You go to bed in a bad mood. You need to TAKE A BREAK.

So we took the break, and recently sat down to our ninth game. God, it was tense. The break had, if anything, made things worse. We had been needling each other about it for months. The build-up was at Ali-Foreman levels. Laying out the game was like some kind of ceremony – we made sure that all the wee men were pointing in the right direction and that all the cards were straight.

And then we played. As a dirty Lannister, I had to burn down lots of villages. The Starks had to somehow reach us in time to stop our onslaught. It looked, to me, like I had the upper hand in this scenario. I couldn’t see any way that I could lose, if I played things smart.

You will forgive me if I copy and past something from that previous article, for my own benefit.

“You see, in Battles of Westeros, luck is always going to play some part in things. But a smart player plays so that he isn’t ever depending on the dice. Do you get that now, Robert? A smart player makes it so that he isn’t rolling the dice with his heart in his throat because he’s SCREWED if they come up with less than optimal results, you dickhead.”

5-4 Starks. Totally SICKENED.

It’s not too late to get on board with this great game, you know.


It’s a photo special next week. After I talk about a new game, I want to show you some photographs of board games, to show you how beautiful they are. Sound good? Good. Until then, stay dicey. (Last time I use that. Cringing.)


  1. President Weasel says:

    We used to play Thunder Road in my friend Richard’s garage, back in the 80’s. I hadn’t thought about that guy in years, I wonder how he’s doing,
    I remain pleased that Cardboard Children is a thing again.

    • Lagwolf says:

      Thunder Road was a great beer & pretzels game. It was the game a few of us played when we couldn’t be bothered to play Car Wars. I still have Thunder Road in my basement with all its bits. It is brilliant in its simplicity. and does what it says on the tin.

      With Car Wars I adapted the rules to work with Matchbox/Hotwheels to play at a game shop. It worked really well & there was no more arguing over line of site issues. If you could see the other car you could hit (what you could see).

  2. Easy says:

    On a somewhat related note, I took the dust off my vintage Car Wars mini-set not too long ago. Played with a friend. It was very fiddly, kinda broke my unicorn-and-rainbow-filled memory I had of it. Sometimes things are better left untouched.

    • Baines says:

      Car Wars was more of a simulation war game than fast fun. While it didn’t have the insanity of an Avalon Hill game’s rule book, it was fairly complex and fiddly. Turns broken into fractions of a second, a chart for when you moved based on your speed, a chart for all driving actions including a basic drift, etc. Forget the actual shooting, the difficulty of the game was simply getting yourself in a position *to shoot*, and then managing to stay in control afterwards.

  3. c-Row says:

    Merchants Of Venus! Finally! Enjoyed this game at a friend’s who owns the original edition. Looking forward to Fall now… just have to make room for it. Anyone interested in the original Space Hulk and both expansions?

  4. Spacewalk says:

    Yeah I played this one, and read that book and watched that movie until the tape jammed and I had to send my VCR away to get fixed but it never did and I got credit at the repair shop because they botched the job but they went out of business before I could make use of that offer. If anything was begging for a hideous and glossy FF makeover than this is it.

  5. McDan says:

    Ah, one of the best cardboard children. Though you could say that about all of them really. You are a true inspiration in boardgames Mr Florence.

  6. serenader says:

    been lurking for months, but decided to register today just to comment on the bruce reference.
    even when i read the title i wasnt expecting the video and i felt goosebumps when i scrolled down the page.
    Thank you, Robert!!

  7. BooleanBob says:

    Many is the time that I’ve read an effusive description of a particular game mechanic, from a patently overexcited Quinns or Rab, that’s just left me scratching my head and muttering ‘eh?’. Sometimes it’s too convoluted to imagine without playing it through for myself. Other times the idea might seem neat, but has no obvious connection to the game’s ostensible theme. But this:

    “The board is in two segments, laid out like a road. When a car moves off the end of the second board, the first board gets moved in front and everything that was on it gets dumped.”

    Had me clutching my jaw, thinking HOLY SHIT, THAT’S AMAZING.

    • Baines says:

      A mechanic so simple that it was effectively used in videogames as well. Specifically, the Micro Machines racing games (and their derivatives, and other car games made by the same developers).

  8. Mooks says:

    I dont remember Thunder Road but I do remember a similar game that Games Workshop had out at that time. I cannot remember the name of it though? It was typical GW though with cars that you could build and paint.

    In other news, Sedition Wars did well! Nearly $1m. Just waiting for it to arrive in the post. Could be awhile though.

    • PheobeWolf says:

      That would be Dark Future, I remember those old copies of White Dwarf well. Too bad I read them almost a decade after the game had been out of print.

      • dog says:

        maybe battlecars? a simplified car wars… console-ised even

      • Rob Lang says:

        I still have my copy of Dark Future, saved for when my son is old enough. The track sections were much more interesting as it had curves. It didn’t have helicopters, though. I had a White Dwarf that had rules for articulated lorries too where you could do some Mad Max style stealing of fuel. I understand that there were campaign rules too but I never found those.

        Dark Future is a top game.

  9. randomnine says:

    You feature a game about cars and dice and you pass on the opportunity to sign off with “keep on rolling”? I’m appalled.

  10. Kefren says:

    Battlecars! Always preferred it to Car Wars. Played it all night once, mission after mission with a friend, making up plots and scenarios, sometimes co-op, sometimes head-to-head. We even came up with an XP system to grant bonuses, and I designed my own car on paper once with boxes for damage counters. The car was called the Tristad Corinthian. I still have it somewhere. One mission we made up was just like Thunder Road, replacing the sections as described, even though I’d never heard of Thunder Road. Obviously the Mad Max (and Mad Max 2) chases were an influence. Freeway Fighter was great too, my favourite FF books all tend to be numbers 1-14.

    • wodin says:

      I found Battlecars abit to basic compared to CW..though alot quicker to play.

  11. jackflash says:

    Eagerly awaiting your thoughts on Descent: 2E, Rab.

  12. malkav11 says:

    Since the closest my childhood came to the Fighting Fantasy books was the spinoff Sorcery! series (and only one of those), but I was in love with the Lone Wolf books, I at first thought you were talking about Lone Wolf author Joe Dever’s post-apocalyptic car combat series Freeway Warrior (first book playable here: link to

  13. Fameros says:

    I love Cardboard Children and eagerly anticipate every weekly fix. But I must confess that it is frustrating when the game of the week is an old one no longer available in retail.

    My wishlist of Rab’s reviews: Pandemic, Memoir 44, Core Worlds, Race for the Galaxy, Twilight Struggle, A Touch of Evil, Puerto Rico, Shadows Over Camelot.

  14. MadTinkerer says:

    On a semi-related note, it seems the Downtime Town weblog has been hacked, and all articles replaced with spamvertisements. FUCKERS. I really really hope there was a backup.

  15. sgt. grumbles says:

    Rab, your writing is so goddamn good. I mean, everyone on here is good, which is why partly why I’m here. But your past two stories are gold, PURE GOLD.

    Do you do any longer-form writing? If so, point me to it. And if not, stop being a dick and get to it.

  16. sgt. grumbles says:

    Another vote for Descent 2e.

    Although I should be honest with myself and realize I’d never, ever play it. Just like when I bought Mansions of Madness and proceeded to dutifully paint every single miniature in painstaking detail. I’m talking painting eyeballs using toothpicks under a magnifying glass. And I had never done this before.

    Finally, after like 3 weeks, it was ready. I gathered my few boardgame friends together and tried to quickly explain the rules while their patience and interest dwindled. We played one scenario, boxed it up, and it hasn’t been out since.

    “Never again!” — future me, after buying Descent 2e and painting every goddamn miniature.

  17. Jubaal says:

    Strangely I don’t recall Thunder Road at all, but after reading about it I think a little bit of wee came out! It looks like “Dark Future for 7 Years+”, so I’ve immediately bought an old copy online so I can play with my 8 year old.

    After reading your earlier article and buying Castle Panic I promised myself, no more board games for some time, but now I’ve just gone and paid £40 for a 25 year old game. I’m doing it for my kids though… aren’t I? You understand that right? Curse you Rab *shakes fist*

    I just hope to god I don’t find a copy of “Battling Gladiators” on ebay as I may have to sell a kidney!

  18. Harlander says:

    If it is in some hole in the sand in Afghanistan, under a cache of Taliban weapons, you tool up and go fetch that game.

    Guys, I just had a great idea for a FOLK mission..

  19. bill says:

    Don’t remember Thunder Road, but I remember Dark Future.

    Never played it though… but I always wanted to. Back then buying a new GW game involved a long time saving up pocket money. And that was back when their prices weren’t totally insane.

    Dark Future retrospective please?

    • bill says:

      Oh, and isn’t it a bit weird that Blood Bowl hasn’t featured on RPS’s board games column yet?

      • Guvornator says:

        I think they mainly play it online, so it falls under the video games section. Kieran did a diary of the league that is just super.