Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Timothy Zahn offers up a short story, "Damocles Mission," illustrated by Timothy Truman (who seems to have done a lot of work for the last few issues of Ares). The story takes place in the future world of 1988 and depicts an encounter between the space shuttle Discovery and an unknown object that has entered our solar system. Susan Schwartz and John Boardman continue to write their respective columns, "Facts for Fantasy" and "Science for Science Fiction." An additional -- and lengthy -- science fact article, "The Space Shuttle: Reaching Beyond," by Walter B. Hendrickson, is also included. David Spangler's "StarTrader Game Enhanced" provides option rules to the game from issue #12. There are reviews of various board and computer games, most notably GDW's Fufth Frontier War.
Damocles Mission is also the name of this issue's integral game. It's a simulation of an expedition sent to explore the mysterious spherical object headed toward Earth. The game consists of a number of tiles, which represent systems aboard the alien object, and counters, which represent astronauts, equipment, and conditions. As the astronauts explore the object, investigating its mysteries, hoping to understand its nature and how to control it so that it can be steered from its collision course with Earth. Designed by Redmond Simonsen and Gerry Klug, I personally think Damocles Mission is complex and confusing in its presentation, despite my interest in its subject matter.
John Butterfield answers questions about the Universe RPG in a regular feature called "Universe Commlink." Gerry Klug gets a similar feature for DragonQuest called "Questing." There's another new review section devoted solely to "RP Gaming," which is welcome. Greg Costikyan continues to review books, including The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, which Costikyan considers inferior to its predecessor but "still a very funny book." Gerry Klug reappears as the author of a "capsule adventure" for DragonQuest called "The Treasure of Socantri." It's actually a very interesting adventure with a delightfully swords-and-sorcery feel.
As I noted above, issue #13 marks a turning point for Ares, as TSR takes over and attempts to put its stamp on the magazine. While I know that SPI loyalists look on this change of ownership as a wholly bad thing, my own feeling, as an outsider, is that some of what TSR proposed to do with the journal was much needed. My biggest complaint about Ares is that it's such an unfocused, mixed bag of a periodical that it was hard to know what to expect with each issue. Likewise, the magazine regularly evinced an elitist, disdainful attitude toward so many things that reading it wasn't always a pleasure. TSR won't have many issues to show its plans for Ares before folding it up for good, but I have to say that I look forward to reading the next few issues to see what they do with it.