Given my fondness for the section back in those days, it wasn't hard to imagine that I'd seek out copies of its predecessor, the "magazine of science fiction and fantasy simulation" published by SPI between 1980 and 1982. I figured that, if one small section called Ares was so enjoyable, what would a whole magazine called Ares be like? Unfortunately, in Baltimore in the early '80s, finding copies of Ares magazine wasn't easy, at least in the circles in which I traveled. There were only a couple of places I frequented that carried many SPI titles and, even then, their selection was more limited than that of local favorite, Avalon Hill. Nevertheless, I did manage to obtain a few copies of Ares back in the day and have subsequently filled out my collection. For the next few months, I'm going to be looking briefly at each issue and highlighting those sections that make an impression on me.
Issue #1 appeared in March 1980, with a cover by comics legend Howard Chaykin. That's pretty awesome any way you slice it. The issue begins with an editorial by the late Redmond Simonsen, in which he explains why Ares was founded, noting that
Fantasy, science fiction, and simulation gaming share a common cord of connective tissue: the constructed world. To a greater degree than any so-called "mainstream" fiction, works of science fiction and fantasy imply or explain worlds much more dependent upon the product of the imagination -- worlds inherently more poetic or allusive thereby.Simonsen goes on to make a connection between Ares and SPI's other magazine, Strategy & Tactics, suggesting that, where S&T serves the historical side of things, Ares will serve the fantastical. It was definitely an ambitious vision and I can't help but wonder how well received it was by the larger gaming populace. As I said above, Ares wasn't widely known in my neck of the woods prior to its appearance in the pages of Dragon, but I have no idea if that was at all typical.
Next up is an Asian-themed fantasy short story called "Dragon ... Ghost" by M. Lucie Chin. Following that is a science article by John Boardman, Ph.D. entitled "No, You're Not Going to the Stars." The article discusses all the reasons why the ways space travel, as portrayed in science fiction, are impossible or unlikely. Boardman wrote many articles of this sort throughout Ares' run and, while fascinating, they all have a distinctly "party pooper" feel to them, like that annoying kid in school who enjoyed pointing out anachronisms in historical films and TV shows so as to ruin other kids' fun. Then there's another piece of fiction, "Gangsters," by Henrik Nordlie.
The main attraction of issue #1 is WorldKiller, a complete wargame "of planetary assault." Like Strategy & Tactics, every issue of Ares included a complete game of some sort, with rules, maps, and counters. Considering the cover price of $3.00, that was a pretty good deal. WorldKiller was designed by Simonsen and is fairly brief in terms of rules, though it's still written in the largely impenetrable (to me) SPI house style of using numbered cases to distinguish between sections (e.g. 1.1, 1.1.2, 126.96.36.199, etc.). The remainder of issue #1 consists of short, snarky reviews of books, movies, and games by the SPI staff. Interestingly, a significant number of the game reviews are of SPI products, though, perhaps inevitably, they are reviewed with less condescension and vitriol.