Monday, May 2, 2011

REVIEW: The Space Gamer

Much as I might say that blogs, forums, and personal websites have taken over the roles once filled by fanzines and periodicals, there's a big part of me that misses the days when print media were the primary means that the gamers shared and communicated with one another outside of attending conventions. Magazines like Dragon, Different Worlds, and Ares were a big part of my formative years in the hobby and I am certain my regular reading of them had a profound impact on me, often in ways I least suspect. I lament their disappearance from the scene, along with the disappearance of many other magazines, most of which I read only irregularly, if at all.

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.

13 comments:

  1. 3 bucks an issue? I'll pass. Infinite goods need to be priced accordingly.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had two articles in that Traveller issue. Back when I was young ...

    Steve

    ReplyDelete
  3. Never read the Space Gamer much. It was rarely available where I lived. As for the PDFs, I prefer the feel and smell of aging paper. I buy the real thing!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I edited Space Gamer during its last year at SJG, under Editor-in-Chief Warren Spector. It wore me out, trying to produce the best magazine I could and then having to start all over again the next month. I'm glad those issues are available again, and I understand the nostalgia factor. But the web today produces as much good material in three days, if not three hours, as Space Gamer or any other game magazine could produce in a month.

    ReplyDelete
  5. They also have the first six issues of Fantasy Gamer, too.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The Space Gamer was the first publication I ever thought of as "mine." I never missed an issue from roughly mid-1980 to mid-1984, and I did my best to keep them in a nice, orderly stack -- even if the rest of my room looked like some Navy SEALs had just conducted a strenuous training exercise in it.

    Still got 'em, too. Complete run from #20 on (but nothing after SJG sold it; the new publisher didn't do anything for me). And they're bagged-and-boarded now ... ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. A sci-fi games magazine i got hooked to (and recommend if you can find it) was Challenge Magazine, of the late GDW.
    Altough it gives most of its focus to the company games (Traveller mostly, and then Twilight:2000, etc), it covered many others like Cyberpunk, Star Trek, High Colonies, Cthulhu, Shadowrun, etc. Even Warhammer40K got some articles and scenarios!

    ReplyDelete
  9. TSG was hard to find when and where I grew up, and I never owned an issue. One magasine that I did really like was Different Worlds. It was small, but the articles were often very thoughtful and of high quality.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Both Space Gamer and Fantasy Gamer available as PDFs? Not sure I can justify the expense, but I'd almost like to purchase the entire run and then sell off the originals in my collection. Don't get me wrong, I would vastly prefer to keep the real thing, but I do not have unlimited space. In any case, I can always hang on to the earlier issues.

    An historical aside: originally, when SJ took over TSG from Metagaming, the latter had what was to be a regular column in TSG. But when Howard Thompson, the Whack Job, decided to launch his vendetta against SJ, that naturally went away. However, even Thompson finally realized that Metagaming needed a magazine, and so Interplay was born...

    ReplyDelete
  11. Best gaming magazine EVER. And older than The Dragon (though maybe not older than The Strategic Review). I'm not sure that Allen Varney is correct that the internet provides as much good material... where can you find GLOBBO on the internet?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Awesome! I've been picking up copies of Ares here and there. Glad to know that there's another gaming mag from way back--and even better that it's available in PDF.

    Say James, can I ask you to tag this post with "sci-fi" (or whatever tag you have for that)? I find myself digging through Grognardia on occasion for sci-fi resources on occasion. :)

    Thanks again for posting about this!

    ReplyDelete
  13. For a sci-fi games magazine, i got hooked (and recommend if you can find it) to Challenge Magazine, of the late GDW.

    I loved Challenge dearly and my earliest paid writing credits are in that magazine.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.