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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Toybox Wars Playtest

by Ken Newquist / March 22, 2008

 Toybox WarsToybox Wars is a table-top miniatures game in which the inhabitants of your toybox rise up to fight each other to the death. The core mechanic is simple. Each toy -- be it a miniature car, squad of army men, teddybear -- is represented by 10 six-sided dice divided into one of three pools: Dodge Dice, Attack Dice, Floating Dice. At the start of every turn, players allocate their dice between the pools, depending on whether they want to focus on offense or defense, or hedge their bets with the floating dice, which can be used for both.

To use Attack or Dodge, players roll the dice and look for scores of three or better; successful attacks will hit their targets, successful dodges will soak incoming attacks. Rolled dice are put into a Spent Pool to be re-allocated the next round. If someone takes more hits then they have dodges, they take damage and lose dice equal to the number of hits; those dice are permanently removed from the game.

Larger characters, such as Godzilla, receive more dice, usually in multiples of ten. Movement is measured in terms of playing cards (for smaller figures) or sheets of paper (for larger ones). Range for weapons is line of sight.

Arrrh ... Here there be Car-nage!

Toybox Wars p2 For my playtest of Toybox Wars, I decided to go with a knock-off on Car Wars (inspired partly by Market Forces the capitalist Mad Max novel I'm reading as part of the Secret Lair book club). The game pitted four pirate-themed Matchbox cars battling each other through two laps around an oval racing course. Line of site was blocked across the map by a plateau in the center.

Because this was a racing game, I lifted some of the rules from an earlier incarnation of the game that Berin had posted, called Car Pool, which dealt entirely with car-vs-car combat. Specifically, I added a "Stunt Pool", which controlled how fast the cars could go -- each success on a die rolled as part of the stunt pool gave players an extra card's worth of movement.

The alpha rules didn't have an initiative system, so I decided to borrow the playing card mechanic from Savage Worlds, in which each player is dealt a card. High cards go first; ties are resolved in reverse alphabetical order based on suits (spaces to clubs). Jokers gave players an extra success of their choice (Dodge, Attack or Stunt) and allowed them to pick which initiative they'd go on.

My playtest team consisted of four players (three guys in their 30s, my 5-year-old daughter Jordan and myself (who referered and helped Jordan strategize).

Four on the Floor

Toybox Wars is very much an alpha release -- witness the lack of an initiative system -- but it was still very playable. The rules fit on a single sheet of paper with enough room for an oversized logo, and I was easily able to explain the rules in a couple of minutes. My players picked up the rules immediately, and even my five year old had a good graps of the game after a round or three.

The Dodge vs. Attack combat mechanic works well -- the math is limited to figuring out if you've hit a target number, and the ability to re-allocate dice pools each rounds means players don't have to lock themselves into a particular strategy. For a Mad Max-inspired autoduel, this mechanic made it easy to imagine drivers hastily trying to repair damage, shifting their attention from screaming around a curve to blasting away at their enemies, or hitting the afterburner to spring to the finish line.

Toybox Wars p1 The Stunt Pool nicely modelled the ability of drivers to speed up or slow down their cars based on that rounds objectives, but the mechanic really needs to be fleshed out to include some special maneuvers -- 180 turns, ramming, jumps -- as well as some negative consequences for failures, particularly critical failures. These existed in the earlier Car Pool draft, and Berin's already said he plans to incorporate Stunt rules back into Toybox Wars.

While I'm talking about vehicle-based stunts, I can easily see the game including some melee and ranged stunts that could be used for warring teddy bear tribes or pitched battles against Godzilla. Based on my playtest, I'd say the mechanic should work well in either of those scenarios, or just about anything else you can come up with.

My only complaint about the rules is that they're a little too solid, which is to say they didn't tend to spawn those great "holy crap!" moments where someone gets off a lucky shot and blows away someone else's car. There's something to be said for a game that keeps the vagrancies of the dice from knocking players out of the game on the first round, but at the same time, the game itself plays exceedingly fast. We ran through our session in 30-45 minutes, with three of four cars making it across the finish line. There's some wiggle room for chaos there, perhaps something like exploding dice where rolling a six yields you a success and let's you re-roll. That mechanic is part of what makes Savage Worlds such a blast to play, and I think it could be a good fit with Toybox Wars.

I also think this is a game that calls out for as interactive a playing field as you can make -- next time around I'm thinking of creating some water hazards, trenches, robot-controlled gun turrents, anything to make it more than just a mad dash around the track. That was certainly fun, but I think some hazards would kick things up a notch.

Imagination Required

The key thing to remember when playing it though, is that you need to bring your imagination. This isn't Car Wars or Warhammer or any other flavor of highly detailed tabletop war gaming. Toybox Wars is abstract, and you need to bring a certain elasticity and creativity to the game.

It doesn't delve into weapon ranges, defensive cover or any of the other intricacies that some grognards love to geek out over, and I think that's fine -- if you want to play something detailed, go pick up an Avalon Hill game, if you want to have your G.I. Joe figures battle to the death, then try out Toybox Wars.


First, thanks for playing my game and I'm glad you liked it.

There actually is an Initiative mechanic, which I probably didn't write down in the playtest doc (d'oh!): you roll your Dodge pool, and the person with the highest number of successes goes first, next highest second, etc. In a tie, the highest die or die total goes first. We used this at the Ides of Gaming playtest last weekend and it worked very well.

The "holy crap" moments will come as I expand the Stunt mechanics. And in fact I am looking at making Floating dice "explode", at the cost of having the failure rate higher. A 6 rerolls and adds an extra success; a 1 not only fails but removes another successful die. You can do awesome things, or fail in equally spectacular ways.

The next version will be TWICE as big, 4 pages as opposed to the current 2. Some of that will be a larger font, some will be examples and Stunts.

Love the pics and the header, by the way.

I figured you were cooking up some sort of Initiative system; having it based on Dodge makes sense; it lets players control their own destinies by spending more dice. Which I think is what folks liked most in the playtest -- the ability to shift dice around based on how things had gone the previous round.

The cards worked well (especially since they doubled as measuring sticks) but using the dice more is the way to go.

I like having Floating Dice explode; combined with an expanded Stunts mechanic, I think it could make for a very dynamic game. My thought after I wrote up the playtest is that this could become the Risus of tabletop games; a solid, playable core, with lots of easy-to-build expansions.

I'm curious to see how you incorporate characters/role-playing in to the mechanics into it (particularly experience/advancement). I could easily see running an ongoing Car Pool campaign before our D&D sessions.

The page is not found

Uncle Bear is down for extended maintenance right now; the site should be back up in about a week. When it comes back up, I'll update the link to Toybox Wars (assuming it's still available).

With UncleBear shifting from a personal blog to a full-fledged company, a lot of content got shifted around. Unfortunately, Toybox Wars is one of those casualties. There will be a new edition of Toybox Wars at some point -- as a free download, with art and actual production value. It will be available where fine RPG PDFs are sold. It will also be included with the Imagination's Toybox core rulebook, which will be available later this year.

Because Berin was generous enough to release Toybox Wars under a Creative Commons licence, I've hosted a copy of the TBW rules on my website for open games, the Year of Living Free:

It isn't nicely formatted like Berin's document, but hopefully it'll tide you over until UncleBear Media get a new edition released.

I'm glad to hear it -- clearly the game's generated a fair amount of interest here. :)