Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Retrospective: Casino Galactica

When it came to "adventures among the stars" science fiction roleplaying games, Traveller was my preference. Consequently, FGU's Space Opera was merely a game of which I was aware but whose unique pleasures I did not appreciate until many years after the fact. This was partly the result of not knowing anyone who owned, let alone played, the game, as well as the fact that, for whatever reason, the hobby shops and bookstores I frequented never seemed to stock Space Opera products. Looking back on it, this strikes me as odd, since there were actually a large number of these products – not as many as Traveller but more than, say, Star Frontiers

Today, I think the Space Atlas series tends to get a great deal more attention and perhaps understandably so, since it's in these volumes that we get a sense of the wider "kitchen sink" setting of Space Opera. Yet, FGU also published a fair selection of adventures for use with the game and some of these are well worth examining, starting with Casino Galactica, published in 1984.

Written by Steven B. Todd (of "Gnome Mountain Workshops," a would-be third party publisher of Space Opera support material under license from FGU) and illustrated by Steven S. Crompton, Casinto Galactica is billed as an "adventure setting & scenarios" on its front cover. That's a good description of its contents, as we'll see. The bulk of the book consists of an extensive description of the eponymous Casino Galactica, a luxury resort hotel on Arcturus VI established by Cosmo Filroy, a wealthy man with a mysterious – and possibly criminal – background. It's a decidedly clichéd set-up for a location, but clichés are Space Opera's bread and butter. I don't mean that as a criticism. Clichés persist because they're useful and fun; one of the genuine joys of Space Opera, in my opinion, is the way it leverages pulp SF clichés to present lively, if not necessarily coherent, settings and situations for roleplaying.

Casino Galactica is divided into several sections, the first of which focuses on "personalities," which is to say, important NPCs. Each NPC is given game statistics, as well as a background and suggestions for using them in an adventure. Accompanying many are illustrations by Crompton. The NPCs run the gamut from Filroy himself to the staff of the casino to notable guests. As one might expect, many of the NPCs have hidden agendas and goals, with some being agents of governments both foreign and domestic. The book also includes maps of the casino and its environs, along with keys of the same. Much like the NPC descriptions, some of these include suggestions for their use in an adventure. This being a casino, the book discusses the various types of gambling that take place here, along with rules on how to use them in the game. There's also a series of random encounter tables, for use with the NPCs descriptions. Likewise, the flora and fauna of Arcturus VI (with illustrations) get write-ups, completing the description of the planet on which the casino is located. 

The final section of the book outlines a series of six scenarios set in and around the casino. I use the verb "outlines" advisedly, since none of these scenarios consist of no more than three or four short paragraphs presenting a skeleton of an adventure. If you're expecting fully fleshed out, ready to run scenarios, you'll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you're simply looking for a few hooks on which to hang your own ideas, they're not bad – nothing amazing, mind you, but enough to get the referee started if he's in need of a quick adventure to drop into an ongoing campaign.

I really like RPG supplements like Casino Galactica. They're reflective of an approach to refereeing that largely matches my own. I prefer to be given lots of "raw materials" from which to craft my own adventures. Give me lots of NPCs, maps, and hooks rather than a highly structured scenario anytime. Of course, I rarely use any published adventure as-is, so perhaps I'm biased. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel positively toward a book like Casino Galactica, which is both gleeful in its use of pulp SF tropes and very flexible in the hands of a confident referee. It's not for everyone, but what is?


  1. "I prefer to be given lots of "raw materials" from which to craft my own adventures. Give me lots of NPCs, maps, and hooks ".

    In my old age, I'm right there with you. I like Lincoln Logs still in the can, not the final build. When I was a younger though, and modules started to be produced for AD&D and later B/X- we welcomed them with open arms (and hacked them to our heart's content). We were getting older and other things (school, hobbies, sports, etc) started to eat up our time to craft RPG materials.

    As for SO-though I had many of the early FGU games and they were prevalent at the local game store, I also never saw anything much in the way of Space Opera either. I bought into it 20 years later when I was collecting, but never gave much of it more than a casual glance through. It reminded me of Aftermath, C&S 2E and other mechanical nightmares, instead of the lighter fare FGU products I liked such as MERC and Daredevils.

  2. Interesting. I had (but never ran) SO, but the only stuff I bought for it were the related Space Marine minis rules, the equipment guide, the Seldon's Spaceship Guides, and (perhaps predictably) the Atlas books. This makes me regret not trying the other books, although younger me might have preferred more "finished" adventures in the vein of (say) Villains & Vigilantes.

    Rather liked the SO setting, but the mechanics of the game were daunting. Stole a few ideas for Traveller games, though.

  3. Loved SO back in the late 80s, even if character generation took nearly as long as the game! Supplements like this were great prompts for scenarios and SO was definitely a game that thrived on cliche.

  4. Caveat emptor, your description "This being a casino, the book discusses the various types of gambling that take place here, along with rules on how to use them in the game" is very generous. I just grabbed this on drive thru RPG for this alone.

    However, the rules actually describe how common terran games like roulette are played here. Naturally, the rules for roulette are not included. There is a brief description of the types of race betting that can be done here but without any mechanics. Useful perhaps if on the fly you need the name of the coach of the winning team from last year.

    I don't recommend this for anyone who is looking for RPG casino games for their own table, as there are none.

    1. Aw, no weird alien scifi gambling? Something like Star Trek's Dabo or Fizzbin (the latter of which may, in fact, be impossible to play), or whatever BSG's card game was called? Or that game from Retief with the spinning prize cage whose controls gave you electric shocks and eventually drops a weight that will crush your hands? Or even a children's card game with holographic VR gear, possibly played while riding motorcycles? Or even something tame like a game of Paradox-Billiards-Vostroyan-Roulettte-Fourth Dimensional-Hypercube-Chess-Strip Poker? :)

      For those who don't get the last ref: