Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ares Magazine: Issue #14

Issue #14 of Ares was published in the Spring of 1983. It was also, according to the opening editorial by Michael Cook, "the first issue ... done totally under the auspices of TSR Hobbies, Inc." Cook notes that he still has a backlog of submissions acquired from SPI, so that, for the time being, the content of the magazine will "remain much the same as in the past." Nevertheless, there will be a "general improvement" in all aspects of the magazine now that TSR is in charge. I'm no SPI partisan, but, in retrospect, it's not difficult to read Cook's editorial and see it as arrogance. I'm not certain it was intended as such, even if it comes off that way, with its implication that things would now be "improved" under the new management. It's little wonder, then, that relations between SPI's customers and TSR so quickly deteriorated and that Ares would have so few issues as an independent periodical under TSR.

Issue #14 begins with another installment of "Science for Science Fiction" by John Boardman, Ph.D. Gone is "Facts for Fantasy," since, as noted in last issue, TSR would be making Ares a wholly science fiction-oriented journal. Following it is another "science fact" article, "The Troubled Sun," by Dave Stover. This fairly length piece discusses the life cycle of stars, with particular emphasis on our own Sun. It's not a bad article, as these things go, but it's fairly dry and it's applicability to gaming is neither obvious nor explored.

Christopher John continues his movie reviews, this time tackling High Road to China, Videodrome, and Blue Thunder, all of which he liked to varying degrees. Meanwhile Ian Chadwick has been placed in charge of a section devoted to software reviews, with Crush, Crumble, and Chomp getting some attention, along with Sword Thrust. Greg Costikyan turns in more book reviews, none of which are particularly memorable in my opinion. There's also a pair of game reviews -- Invasion: Earth and Dragon Pass. Perhaps because I'm familiar with the games in question, I found these reviews interesting. It's worth noting that, overall, all the reviews have a much more positive and less sarcastic tone than did those published in the early days of Ares. Speaking as someone who finds little pleasure in acidic reviews, I find this a welcome change.

Timothy Truman provided the cover to this issue (again), as well as a black and white comic called "Braskan Gambit," which ties into the issue's integral wargame, The Omega War. It's an engaging enough comic if you like Gamma World-style post-apocalyptic barbarians with lasers science fantasy but otherwise nothing special. The Omega War game itself, by David Ritchie, is intriguing, at least from a world design standpoint. The game takes place in the 25th century, in the aftermath of a nuclear war between Europe and North America, which left the latter devastated. One player takes on the role of the High Commissioner for North America, appointed by the new World Union, whose task it is to restore order to the anarchic wasteland of the New World. The other play takes on the role of the North American rebels who resist this effort. The game can be won either through military action or by political influence, which I think gives it some depth. That said, I find the little details about the setting that come through in the rules, along with map of North America, much more fascinating than the game itself.

The issue rounds up with an article by David Ritchie called "The Alpha of Omega," which is part design article and part love letter to the pulps. In it, Ritchie talks about the pulp inspirations that led to the creation of The Omega War and the difficulties inherent in producing post-apocalyptic science fantasy. It's a really good article that held my attention and the kind of thing I wished Ares had published more of. I'm honestly more interested in the inspirations of a game than in the niceties of its game mechanics, but I'm probably weird that way.

In any event, reading this issue of Ares is something of an odd experience. Knowing as I do the ultimate fate of the magazine -- and SPI's properties -- lends a kind of slow motion train wreck feel to the whole thing. It's a shame, because I think Ares always had potential as a magazine, but that potential was never fully realized under either SPI or TSR.

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