Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ares Magazine: Issue #6

Issue #6 (January 1981) of Ares is a strange issue, or at least a very different issue from the five that preceded it. As Redmond Simonsen notes in his editorial, "The content of the magazine is orienting itself more toward the game in the issue." By this he means that there are far fewer articles in this issue than in previous ones (there's also no fiction piece). Instead, a significant portion of its 40 pages are devoted to supporting Voyage of the Pandora, a science fiction game by John H. Butterfield and Simonsen himself, which he calls "a very distinctive and novel game system" using "programmed paragraphs" -- in short, a choose-your-own-adventure approach to solitaire gaming.

The first article proper is called "Pandora Tech" by Michael E. Moore and provides details of the Ares Corporation Titan-class biological survey vessel Pandora. It's a short "non-fiction" article in support of the issue's included game. This is followed by another installment of "Facts for Fantasy" by Susan Schwartz and "Science for Science Fiction" by John Boardman, both of which try to present real world facts and ideas as inspirations for gaming. I've never found any installments in either series particularly good, but they're both considerably better than Boardman's pieces on why beloved sci-fi concepts don't work according to "real" science. There are a couple of negative film reviews, one of which is for Flash Gordon, the now-much beloved campy pulp romp starring Max Von Sydow. There's also a ranty article by David J. Schow complaining about the cost of everything in movie theaters, from the tickets to the snacks. I can only imagine what Mr Schow would think about the state of movies in 2012.

Voyage of the Pandora itself is a rather fascinating game. The game simulates a four-month long expedition by the interstellar survey ship Pandora as it visits a variety of planets, seeking out new life. The player must utilize the ship's resources, including crew, to achieve certain objectives during the allotted time and with minimal loss of the ship's resources. Like all SPI games, I find its level of rules complexity somewhat high, especially for a game of this length. Still, I can't deny there's something compelling about its presentation, particularly its use of 232 paragraphs to act in the role of a referee to adjudicate all the encounters and events the player might experience. The game also uses a set of small hex maps and 100 counters, along with record sheets of various kinds, to handle other aspects of play.

There are a few book reviews by Greg Costikyan, including one for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which he loved. A second installment of "Quick Combat" for DragonQuest (by Justin Leites) also appears, along with "DragonNotes," a new feature devoted DQ. Rounding out the issue are game reviews by Eric Goldberg, including a review of GDW's Azhanti High Lightning, which he praises "Since [it] has many resemblances to a design of which I am proud."

As I said, issue #6 is a strange issue. One of the things that made SPI unique as a publisher was the way they solicited -- and reacted to -- feedback from their customers. Consequently, Ares feels very much like a work in progress. Each issue is different, as its staff attempts to produce something that meets the demands of its readers. That's certainly commendable behavior but it also gives the magazine an "up and down" character that makes it hard to get a handle on it.


  1. If we ever get the opportunity and several hours to kill, I would love to introduce you to the first SPI wargame I ever bought (at the tender age of 12 or so). Invasion: America.

  2. Sadly, the B.S.M. Pandora wrecked. On a nearly weekly basis at my house for a while.

  3. You wouldn't want to board the B.D.S.M. Pandora by accident. Unless you're into that.

  4.  There is also Wreck of the B.S.M. Pandora, which was even ported to the Apple II. Oddly, "Pandora Butterfield" is the name of a real-world artist. I thought "Voyage" was very enjoyable, as indeed were nearly all of John's games. Anybody seen any of his museum exhibits?