Monday, May 2, 2011
One magazine I didn't read often and wish I had was The Space Gamer. Originally published by Metagaming Concepts, which produced its first 26 issues, rights to it eventually passed to Steve Jackson Games in 1980. SJG continued to produce The Space Gamer until 1985. I don't think I ever saw a copy of the magazine before SJG acquired it and, even then, I only ever saw it intermittently, but, when I did see a copy, I'd pick it up, because, as its name suggests, The Space Gamer devoted a lot of its pagecount to sci-fi games, both RPGs and wargames. Fantasy games got plenty of coverage too, but, compared to, say, Dragon, The Space Gamer was a veritable cornucopia of science fiction goodness. Traveller in particular saw a lot of love and that made me a very happy young man.
The Space Gamer was always a lot more less polished than was Dragon, feeling a bit more like a cleaned up fanzine than a slick house organ. Of course, back then, Steve Jackson Games didn't have a RPG of its own (GURPS didn't come out until 1986), which probably helped keep The Space Gamer "neutral ground," even if there were games, like the aforementioned Traveller, that seemed to get a lot of regular support. Steve Jackson edited the magazine himself briefly, before turning over the reins to a succession of others, most notably Aaron Allston and Warren Spector, both of whom would go on to greater fame within the hobby.
Last year, SJG made available in PDF form the entirety of its run of The Space Gamer, from issue 27 to issue 76; each issue costs $2.99. I acquired copies of three issues -- 38, 40, and 41 -- both to see what I'd missed out on back in the day and whether these PDFs might be worth recommending to fans of old school gaming. I'm happy to say that, on both counts, I was more than satisfied. The electronic transfers are clear and easy to read, far better than those of many other older gaming materials offered for sale. Likewise, the content remains useful, particularly if, like me, you have an interest in the history of the hobby. Being able to read contemporary news, reviews, and interviews is worth the price of admission alone, but it's the articles, often written by game designers or people who would one day become game designers that is the real treat.
Like old school games themselves, the articles in The Space Gamer are often short and suggestive rather than being lengthy and exhaustive. They're great for inspiration but few are going to offer the final word on any topic. That's not necessarily a bad thing and, in many cases, I actually prefer it, but it's nonetheless important to bear in mind, lest anyone expect that an article entitled "Alternate Races for D&D" will do much more than provide a brief mechanical overview of how to create leprechaun player characters. In this respect, they're very much like the blog or forum posts to which I compared them at the beginning of this review. What differentiates them, though, is that they're the products of a different gaming culture, one temporally closer to the original publication of the games they support. They often offer perspectives and insights that are forgotten or absent from today's hobby.
For that reason, I am cheered by Steve Jackson Games's making The Space Gamer available again and encourage others with an interest in the hobby's past to pick up a copy or two to immerse themselves in that past.