Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ares Magazine: Issue #5

Issue #5 of Ares appeared in November 1980, with a cover by Barclay Shaw, a science fiction artist probably best known for the paperback covers to many of Harlan Ellison's books. Again, it's interesting to note that, in contrast to Dragon, which tended to use new or specifically gaming artists, Ares looked to established sci-fi and fantasy illustrators for their covers. Of immediate interest is Redmond Simonsen's editorial, where he notes that he is "preoccupied with realism rather than fantasy," which is why this issue sees the return of "another pessimistic Boardman piece on space travel." I must admit that I find it baffling that the editor of "the magazine of science fiction and fantasy simulation" admitted to preferring realism to fantasy, though it's hardly a surprise. I've commented before that the early issues of Ares almost express a disdain for anything but the hardest of the hard sci-fi, which probably limited its appeal. Goodness knows that I'd never have picked up Ares in 1980 if I'd have known about it because of this peculiar editorial quirk.

The issue begins with a "historical background" piece called "The Dark Tower of Loki Hellsson: A History of the Citadel of Blood" by Nick Karp. The article provides some details on the structure that forms the settings for issue #5's integral wargame. Following it is "Dark Stars and Dim Hopes," the aforementioned John Boardman piece about space travel and "why you're still not going to the stars!" Boardman continues to do what he does best: poking holes in hallowed science fiction ideas about how mankind might reach other worlds. In "Miniature Spaceships," Michael Willner offers a brief look at recent miniature releases for use with SF RPGs and wargames. Greg Costikyan reviews several books, most notably Glen Cook's pre-Black Company series, which Costikyan hails as "bright and original." There's also a very short piece of science fiction called "Bypass" by Edward Michaels, continuing the trend toward lessening the amount of original fiction appearing the magazine's pages.

Citadel of Blood takes up close to a third of the magazine. It's a wargame version of a dungeoncrawl by Nick Smith and Redmond Simonsen -- or, rather, a series of raids by "a mixed force of Free People," seeking to enter the eponymous fortress and lay claim to its treasures. Citadel of Blood is set in the same world as SPI's earlier fantasy game, Sword and Sorcery, about which I know little, so I can provide no comment on how well it fits into that context. I'll note only that, by the looks of it, the setting is a pretty standard vanilla fantasy, with humans, dwarves, elves, and orcs, but with occasional oddities, such as the "demi-cronk" race, whatever that is (an in-joke, I presume). The game looks very intriguing, I must admit, reminding me of either a much more complex version of games like Dungeon or of D&D itself boiled down to a tactical simulation.

Susan Schwartz provides more "Facts for Fantasy," tidbits from history, myth, and legend to inspire fantasy gaming. John Boardman reappears again with "Science for Science Fiction," which does something similar, only with an emphasis on real world science. A large ad announces an open call for submissions for a monster book to support the recently-released DragonQuest. So far as I know, such a book was never released, but my knowledge of DQ is admittedly sparse. "Film & Television" offers up reviews of movies and TV shows, including an inexplicably glowing one of the Roger Corman space oepra Battle Beyond the Stars. In "Games," Eric Goldberg reviews both Traveller and Space Opera. Though not without his criticisms (particularly of its science), Goldberg nevertheless calls Traveller "the finest commercially available role-playing game." I am hard pressed to disagree. Space Opera he also praises for the "serious attention" it pays to science, though he ultimately deems the game "unworkable." He concludes with the comment,
If only the attention paid to science fiction in Space Opera could be combined with the smoothness of the Traveller game, sf role-players would need not look any further.
Perhaps it's cynical of me to think so, but I suspect that comment is meant to lay the groundwork for the announcement of SPI's own science fiction RPG, Universe, in a future issue.

12 comments:

  1. You got to get your hands on Sword and Sorcery it is a awesome. It one of a trilogy of wargames (S&S, Freedom in the Galaxy, and War of the Ring) that combined traditional hex counter wargames with individual characters. Swords & Sorcery was the most approachable of all them and the Citadel of Blood was one of the main bad guys in the game's backstory.

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  2. I've allways dug that cover.

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  3. Did this Boardman fellow get off on being a wet blanket or something? Submitting anti-sci-fi articles to a sci-fi magazine seems like writing into Dragon to tell them Dragons aren't real.

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  4. Swords and Sorcery was totally awesome. I highly recommend it. To this day I still regularly pull some monsters out of that game to face the party. Kronks and the puglunks or Killer Penguins often just suit the party fine (and the latter tear them to shreds.)

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  5. "Demi-cronk"? I played another of SPI games, Deathmaze (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3625/deathmaze), a sort of dungeoncrawl where you could have in your party not only elves and such, but also demi-cronks... Though nowhere was it explained what the cronks were. I played this game in its semi-legal/pirated polish translation, so perhaps it was something they omitted to translate ;-)

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  6. Deathmaze and Citadel of Blood were both enjoyable ways to kill an afternoon, but Citadel was the clear winner between the two. You could play the games solo, with several players against the game, or with a GM. I enjoyed the heck out of 'em. 

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  7. Speaking of Traveller, did you see that Marc Miller has started a Kickstarter for Traveller 5th Edition?  He's got the money he wanted, now to see what the book looks like...

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  8.  Maybe he's the equivalent to people who like historical wargaming and can't see the point of fantasy wargaming. The fact that 'it could happen' is a big part of the fun.

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  9. Oy! "Battle Beyond the Stars" is a fine, fine ... yeah, okay, it's a feeble film with wooden acting, cookie-cutter plot, and rubbish special effects. It's still very lovable!

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  10. Here's a picture with a crank in it: Raman Cronkovitch.

    http://boardgamegeek.com/image/60170/swords-sorcery

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  11. Yes, exactly - the same character appears in Deathmaze, too...

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  12. I actually had Deathmaze (and SPI's Demon) before getting my Holmes Blue Box. A neighbor and classmate had turned me on to D&D earlier, and my Uncle had gifted me the two SPI boardgames. I played a lot of Deathmaze, and some roleplaying, but my Mom thankfully got me a Homes relatively shortly thereafter.

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