Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ares Magazine: Issue #11

Issue #11 (November 1981) is another tightly focused issue, with its integral game, Albion: Land of Faerie, forming the nexus around which everything else revolves. The issue kicks off with a "background" piece called "A History of the Third Fomorian War" by David J. Ritchie, which provides details on the setting of the aforementioned wargame. This setting is a fantastical one inspired by, but not bound by, the myths of the British Isles, particularly those of Ireland. It's not intended to be "true" to those myths so much as to borrow liberally from them for names, ideas, and situations. Author Diana Paxson provides a piece called "The Power Points of Albion" that talks about sites of mystical energy, which, while not strictly intended for use with the issue's game, nevertheless covers some of the same ground.

The issue also includes an Arthurian tale inspired by some lines from Chaucer's The Clerk's Tale. Entitled "Chichevache" and written by Ian McDowell, it involves an encounter with the eponymous creature whose diet consists only of good and noble wives and is thus, according to medieval legend, always hungry. Greg Costikyan ruminates on the design of solitaire games in "You Against the System." Costikyan also reviews several books, most notably Dream Park, which he likes a great deal. John Boardman and Susan Schwartz appear once more with their regular "Science for Science Fiction" and "Facts for Fantasy." Schwartz's entry focuses on matters Celtic, in keeping with the overarching theme of issue #11.

Christopher John reviews Heavy Metal rather critically, proclaiming it "an uneven, empty movie" that he found less engaging than Disney's The Fox and the Hound. I'm no fan of Heavy Metal myself, but that strikes me as both a harsh and ludicrous judgment. Eric Goldberg savages the SF RPG Star Patrol, calling it a "failure." Nevertheless, he also notes that it "displays flashes of brilliance," for which reason it might prove useful as "an accessory for Traveller, Space Opera, or Universe." He goes on to say that
Role-playing is an elastic enough genre to permit a game to fail at its stated goal and to succeed at something else.
I think there's some truth to that, which is why I now find myself ever more keen to track down a copy of Star Patrol for myself. Goldberg also looks at Arms Law and Spell Law, deeming both less than ideal, with his worst criticisms saved for Spell Law. I couldn't help but feel that some of his criticisms seemed to stem from the fact that ICE had clearly written its rules with D&D in mind, an affront in the eyes of the designers of SPI, who regularly take potshots at TSR and its products whenever possible -- future events will make this ever more ironic.

Gerry Klug pens this issue's "DragonNotes," and, with the help of Nick Karp, Klug also writes "Designer's Notes."

Albion: Land of Faerie is a lengthy wargame, taking up 16 pages, not including its map and counter sheets. The game depicts a battle between the Fomorians and the Faeries, whose conclusion ushers in the end of the age of magic and the rise of the age of Man. By my admittedly pathetic lights, Albion seems rather complex, with rules for weather, attrition, and refits, in addition to the expected rules for movement, command control, and combat. The game also treats magic items and enchantment, as one might expect. The game definitely looks intriguing, but it's also pretty intimidating to folks like me.

I didn't enjoy issue #11 as much as issue #10, perhaps because I'm not as enthusiastic about Celtic-inspired fantasy as I am about science fiction, but, even so, this was a well-done and presented issue and closer to the kind of thing I'd have liked to see in a gaming magazine back in the day.


  1. Upon first glance, Albion somehow reminds me of "The Broken Sword", however not rooted in norse, but in celtic myth.

  2. Nostalgia. Heavy Metal may not have been an "award winning" movie -- by any means -- but nostalgia keeps me going back.

    It was one of the first "cool movies" and had a "hot chick" as the "hero." ;)

  3. Albion has one of my favorite maps of all those that appeared in Ares. There was just something engaging about seeing England in hexes with the magical locations and whatnot. (I think I ended up get a 2nd copy just for said map.)

  4. I'd go so far as to say it's one of my favorite maps, ever. I had my copy laminated, and it's hung on my wall numerous times. Somewhere along the way I found a digital copy, too, though I have no idea where it came from.

  5. While at TSR, I proposed on several occasions turning Albion into an official D&D campaign setting. The lore is excellent and the backdrop of a war against the formorians has endless potential for adventures. It never happened (obviously), but I still think it would make a great campaign. I wonder who owns the rights these days?

  6. Found it.

  7. Surely this is the first and only time that the relative merits of "Heavy Metal" and "The Fox and the Hound" have been weighed against one another. Next up: "Fritz the Cat" vs. "101 Dalmatians."

  8. This was the first and only issue of Ares I owned. I agree that the magazine looked great. The game map, as others have said, was gorgeous. However, as a 13-year-old, I had trouble wrapping my head around the complex game rules. I could never find anyone willing to play it with me. I always associated SPI games with a steep learning curve and tended to avoid them.

    The magazine was a gift from my cousin, who brought it back from a game store, along with an issue of The Space Gamer. I ended up subscribing to TSG, since it covered a broader swath of games, unlike Ares, which was a "house organ". I never regretted the choice, since TSG had a great run.

  9. All I remember about "Heavy Metal" was spending the whole movie worrying about the heroines' obvious back problems and need for emergency breast reduction surgery. I only went to see it because it was supposed to be some kind of animation classic, but it was more like a movie I'm glad I'll never have to see again.

  10. It came out about the same time as RQ3 and I wanted to try out the rules (since my Glorantha game was still running RQ2), so I did actually use it as a basis for an RQ3 campaign. Worked very well - It is a very evocative background.

  11. That is an incredibly ugly rendering of the original map!

  12. Star Patrol was an expansion of the earlier Space Patrol (also by Gamescience), which was actually one of those curious hybrid wargame/RPGs like Superhero 2044 - essentially wargames rules with stats for individual characters.

    The spaceships and space combat system actually was lifted wholesale from an SF miniatures wargame called Star Command [IIRC - it was a thin A4 book with an ugly mustard yellow cover - but nowhere near as ugly as the purple cover for the actual Star Patrol book - unfortunately I have no idea where my copy is at the moment] which goes into more detail about the space technology and well worth getting if you can find a copy as it complements the game (it may also have formed the basis for Lou Zocchi's Alien Space as the review comments). I found it cleaner than the rule contained within Star Patrol.

    Land of Albion is actually one of my favourite* SPI games that was published in Ares. It's a great game hinging on the idea of attrition being a big danger; not unlike Dark Empire - it was very hazardous for mortals to enter or stay in the Faerie lands (and vice versa). Since it came out at the same time as RQ3 (give or take) and featured barbarian trolls, civilised elves and primitive humans I thought it was a perfect fit, and I ran a RQ3 campaign set in that world (the players were humans from the region of Giant's Dance (Salisbury Plains). [I also think it would be fun to run a high-level major character campaign of this game (where the players are the major characters in the game), although it would require something able to model the rivalries and enmities.]

    The Places and Powers and Magic Items are excellent fodder for any campaign. My favourite would have to be Finn's Rade (an elven wedding ceremony where kin murdered kin, and so the ghostly revel continues for eternity - and dooms any that get enticed to join it). [Ares #12 gives more background for a Dragonquest campaign using Albion.]