Space: 1889 was always one of those games that I wanted to play, but never found the time or the group to play it. I remember picking up a copy back when I was in college and was...well odd to say the least, but still I loved the idea. It was very much Jules Verne meets H.G. Wells meets Nikolai Tesla meets Weird Science. The book sat on my shelf for years though unplayed.
Fast forward to Summer 2013 and there is a new Space: 1899 in the works, this time as a Ubiquity game. At the same time the makers of HEX are giving us a Ubiquity-based Mars game. Seemed like a good time really to jump onto the Ether-ship to Mars.
This review covers both the PDF and the hardcover book. The book is 260 full-color pages, with some black & white art. The hardcover comes with a ribbon bookmark.
It is a gorgeous book really and one that really captures the feel of the original GDW game. For the first time a Ubiquity book (this time published by Clockwork Publishing) breaks with tradition and gives us some of the background and setting first.
The first few pages, Prefaces, The World of Space: 1889 and Storytelling in Victorian Space, cover a bit of background and set the stage for what it to come.
Now. Let's be fair. While this is a science-fiction or science-fantasy game, a lot of real science is ignored to make it work. Just go with it. Think about this from the point of view of the Victorians. Many who thought electricity still had "divine" attributes.
Earth (there are no proper chapter numbers) covers Earth. In particular it covers the space exploration of the time and the Alt-Victorian timeline. If you are using League of Adventure with this, then you will need to figure out which alternate timeline you want to use. Or just make up your own. It also covers a little bit on adventuring on Earth. But with all this I am sure you are not going to stick around. Stats for various creatures are presented throughout.
Mars is next. This is not Barsoom but the Mars of Space: 1889. It has influences from various Sci-Fi stories, but this is all new to many. This chapter covers Martians, the lands, flora and fauna. I have toyed around with the idea of scraping this Mars in favor of a John Carter version of Mars, but that would really be wasting a lot of good material here.
Venus is our next chapter. This Venus is the lush, tropical jungle filled with dinosaurs. Not the planetary hellscape we know it is today. This I am inclined to keep as is. I read a lot of sci-fi from the 60s and 70s that still described Venus like this, complete with dinosaurs and too me that is just too much fun. Something like Jurassic Park meets King Kong only on a planetary scale. The day of Venus is modified to fit more Victorian understanding of science and is not the 117 day long days we know it to be now.
Mercury is not very long, but still a fun read.
The Ether might be the funnest, and most important, chapter in the book really. This deals not only with the mechanism of space travel, but also the medium. Here we really get into the Jules Verne-ieness of it all. This is fun chapter for me because I can see uses of this in other games. For it's also about having my cake and eating it too. I love RPGs, but my first love was and still is hard science. I think that is one of the reasons I have trouble finding a good Sci-Fi game but can play any fantasy game. The Ether is a way for me to hand wave all the scientific inaccuracies and just focus on the fun.
Next we get into the "rules" section of the book.
Characters covers character generation. This is pretty much the same as other Ubiquity games and that is a nice plus. I know my League of Adventure characters can now travel to the Moon or Mars.
Now the nice part of this chapter, and something that can be used in other Ubiquity games, is the "Variation on Starting Points". Your core-book standard is known as a "Promising Character" now. But you could also start as an "Unlucky Fellow" with almost half the starting points or as a "Veteran" with a few more points. This is something that the Unisystem game system does in all their games and it works out brilliantly. I expect it would work just as well here.
The Archetypes section includes a nice variety including a couple of Martians. There is no special Talent to buy to be a Martian. Nice change of pace really.
Rules covers rules. Combat, Damage, and Healing cover that as well. Again this is a Ubiquity game so these rules are not very different than other Ubiquity games I have read and played.
The main differences in these chapters is the focus on space travel and the planets characters can travel to.
The Equipment chapter should be noted for the shear number of new items this adds to the Ubiquity body of work.
One of the funnest chapters is the Inspiration one. This is no mere list of Victorian era sci-fi. Books of fiction and non-fiction alike are listed, with an accompanying paragraph on why they are inspiring. Even a handful of comics are discussed. TV shows and movies are just listed. This is afterall, a literary time.
The Glossary is rich and very useful. The Index covers topics and rules.
We end with one of the best looking Ubiquity character sheets I have seen.
In the hardcover the maps of Mars and Venus are on the liner pages. In the PDF they are seperate wide pages. In both cases the maps are gorgeous. They would look fantastic as framed art prints.
This game is a guilty pleasure and I wish I could play it more often.
I might spend some time this week discussing the other versions of this game.