First, a little history, both personal and about the hobby.
Long ago, there was a game company called Simulations Publications, Inc., or SPI for short. Though primarily a wargames company, SPI also produced several roleplaying games, such as DragonQuest and Universe. It also published, starting in March 1980, a bimonthly periodical called Ares, "the magazine of science fiction and fantasy simulation." Like its "big brother," Strategy & Tactics, Ares included a new game with every issue, complete with maps and counters. SPI ran into financial difficulties and went bankrupt in 1982, at that time being acquired by TSR. That's a sad moment in the history of the hobby, one with wide-ranging consequences better described elsewhere. For a brief time after TSR's acquisition Ares survived as an independent periodical, but it was eventually folded into Dragon as "The Ares Section," which many gamers remember fondly for Jeff Grubb's "Marvel-Phile" column for Marvel Super Heroes.
Me, I remember it mostly for its SF gaming articles, including a neat multi-issue series devoted to describing the Moon in a variety of science fiction RPGs. One of these, entitled "Luna, the Empire, and the Stars" was written by Niall C. Shapero and concerned itself with a game I'd seen ads for in previous issues of Dragon, Other Suns. Since it was a SF RPG published by FGU, I'd always assumed that Other Suns was basically Space Opera 2.0. I'd never actually seen a copy of the game, let alone read one, so all I had to go on were those ads and this article written by the game's designer. The article presented a sci-fi setting in which humanity's first forays into the stars were under the direction of an empire descended from a US/Soviet military dictatorship straight out of Jerry Pournelle's "CoDominium" stories. Just as interesting was that the article used H. Beam Piper's "Atomic Era" dating system, which took 1945 as the starting point of a new calendar. Based on what I'd read, I had every reason to believe that my initial assumption was correct and that this 1983 RPG was simply a different iteration of Space Opera -- hopefully with better organization!
It wouldn't be until a decade later that I finally got my hands on a copy of Other Suns and discovered that it wasn't quite like I had imagined. In terms of its game system, there were some vague similarities with Space Opera, mostly in terms of its complexity. Characters had twelve randomly determined characteristics (including Length, Build, and Size), in addition to twelve more derived characteristics. There are no character classes, as in Space Opera, only a wide selection of skills, including psionics. Personal combat -- though not starship combat, strangely -- and world creation are both lengthy affairs, with many tables, one of which I reproduce below just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:
Even more bizarre was a table of military ranks, with 263 grades! That's a level of detail that even Space Opera never felt necessary. Still, like Space Opera, Other Suns was a very complete game, covering just about everything you'd want in a SF RPG of that era. It was written in a very dry, almost academic tone and employed the wargames-descended case system (i.e. 1.1, 1.1.1, 1.1.2, etc.) for organization, making the book somewhat off-putting to readers familiar with other styles. Had that been the full story of Other Suns, I doubt I'd have even bothered writing this retrospective, since, truth be told, its rules are pretty unremarkable examples of their time and the default setting, which had so intrigued me in that Ares Section article, is only lightly described in the two volumes of the boxed set.
But that's not the full story of Other Suns. To fully appreciate the shock and surprise I experienced when, a decade after its release I first got hold of a copy of this half-remembered game from my youth, you need to see this:
Those are the alien species found in Other Suns. That's right: it's a furries game. Now, you have to remember that Other Suns came out in 1983, years before I'd (thankfully) ever heard the term. As I understand it, the game predates most of the major milestones in the development of this peculiar fandom, though someone better versed in such things could probably provide more details (better yet: don't). I have no idea what, if any, relationship Niall Shapero has to furry fandom. I can only assume that he was an "old school" fan rather than someone who jumped on the bandwagon after it had become more mainstream.
Regardless, I had not expected to see illustrations like the one above. Those ads in Dragon gave no evidence that Other Suns included anthropomorphic animals as its alien species. The article I read made no mention of them. For all I knew, Other Suns was yet another undistinguished military SF RPG that liberally borrowed from classic science fiction, as Space Opera had done before it. I expected a game that drew on Piper and Pournelle, not a game where you could play a telepathic fox-man. What makes Other Suns unique, though, is that it's both. It's a military SF game in the classic mold that just happens to include furries for its aliens.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.