DriveThruRPG for the original version that can, with some tweaking, be used with the new version.
So like the song says, let's start at the very beginning.
Space: 1889 was originally released in 1988 by Game Designer's Workshop. I am reviewing my old GDW hardcover from the time and the new PDF by Heliograph, Inc.. The are identical in most respects, save for copyright information.
The book is 225 pages with covers, ads and maps. The maps are also really nice featuring the three faces of Mars and of Venus.
The book lacks proper chapter numbers, but instead goes with titles.
The Introduction covers the basics of what Space: 1889 is all about. This includes a brief history of the last few years and some of the events of the modern day of 1889.
Characters covers basic character creation. Today a point-buy system is the defacto means of character generation for most games, but in 1988 it was a new-ish idea. Characters have six attributes, Physical attributes of Strength (Str), Agility (Agl), and Endurance (End). Psychological attributes are Intellect (Int), Charisma (Chr), and Social Level (Soc). Like Ubiquity and Unisystem these are ranked 1 to 6. Characters are given a total of 21 points to distribute among these attributes.
Characters also have 24 skills they can train in either via Careers or training aka purchasing extra skills. Also detailed is Wealth, which is a function of Social level and what career you may or may not have.
A few guideline careers are offered with suggestions on what attributes they should have.
Up next is the Victorian Age. While I didn't get to play this game much back in the day, I devoured this chapter. It is the Victorian age, but not exactly like the one we know from history. Afterall the British were not fighting on Mars back then.
The chapter is largely Anglocentric, which is to be expected really. There is not a lot here we have not seen before...except that this is one of the first Victorian Sci-Fantasy games on the market. Even Masque of the Red Death would be another year off and Cthulhu by Gaslight was still not everywhere yet.
Note: Those three games, Masque, Cthulhu by Gaslight, and Space: 1889 made up a sort of holy trinity for me back in the late 80s and early 90s. So much I wanted to do with them all as one campaign. College though got in the way...
The Referee section covers basic rules, NPCs, adventures and experience. The system is largely a Attribute/Skill Dice pool vs a Target Number. Not too difficult really, and in fact still playable by today's standards.
Equipment is predictably a large chapter. More so than the Characters and Referee chapters combined. But it also has nice illustrations of various equipment including weapons. Heck it is worth looking just for the picture of the rail gun! This is also one of the chapters that has utility for other games. I have not compared the prices or other stats of the weapons with other versions of the game, but they seem consistent. Indeed, the prices and stats (range, rate of fire) are useful for plenty of other games too. I have not run down the lists in all the games, but it looks like there are more weapons in this version. The PDF and the hardcover includes the original color inserts. I love the designs of the Martian ships. Wery cool.
The follows right into the Science chapter. This one is of course just fun. Flying through the ether and other weird science. This covers building your own equipment and inventions.
Combat covers... well combat. All sorts of conditions are covered, ground, aerial, missile, melee, and heavy weapons. There are even sections on explosives and animal combat. Color inserts here too.
The next two chapters cover Travel. The first is Travel and Exploration and Space Travel. Personally the meat of these two chapters is the Space Travel. Several points of interest in the Solar System are discussed, mostly the inner planets and the asteroid belt.
The next chapters cover the various locations in the Solar System. Luna, Mars and Venus. Each deals with the unique flora and fauna of the planets. The most detail goes to Mars of course.
We end with some useful charts.
The art throughout the book is a mixed lot. Very much a part of the times of the late 1980s. Though I noticed some good Jim Holloway and Jeff Dee illustrations. Judging it by today's standards though isn't really fair.
The game is still surprisingly playable today. Though in my heart the newer Ubiquity version has eclipsed it.
I have not come up with a conversion between this and the Ubiquity one yet, but it looks like it would be pretty easy to be honest. They are roughly scaled the same, skills might be a problem but for the most part it seems pretty easy. The nice thing is reading this version (again) I can take adventures and supplements designed for it and use them with Ubiquity easy...or rather, easier.