By Paco Garcia Jaen
Mindjammer is a mammoth tome of an RPG straight from the mind of the talented Sarah Newton, experienced writer and designer with a catalogue of games that include Monsters & Magic, Legends of Anglerre and many others.
Mindjammer came to my attention for the first time years ago when the novel in which the universe is based was published. I devoured it. Knowing Sarah’s writing I knew it’d be good writing, but I was really unprepared for the story scope and magnitude of the setting.
As you can imagine I was gagging for the roleplaying game, and when I saw the book my heart both sunk and soared all at the same time.
I have a couple of things to say as means of disclaimer. Firstly I know Sarah very well. She’s a friend. Thus this review won’t be unpleasant and it will be a bit biased. Having said that, I will be as objective as I can.
Secondly I didn’t like FATE when I tried to read it. I had heard a lot of good things about it and I backed Evil Hat’s Kickstarter campaign. I got less than 1/2 into the book and I had to put it down. I just didn’t get it. That made me read this book a bit begrudgingly.
This review is not exhaustive either. This game is too large to review it in one go, so this is the first or two reviews.
My heart sunk because when I said earlier that it’s a mammoth tome, I really meant it. Clocking nearly 500 pages, this hardback is a mighty beast and a heavy one at that. Sturdy hardback with a *gorgeous* full-colour map courtesy of Jason Juta and 24 pages in full colour with the rest of the pages in black and white. I’m afraid I am not a friend of huge tomes anymore.
And it soared because I know the absolutely amazing setting Sarah has come up with and seeing the amount of work and material thrown to it made me very, very excited to find out what was inside the book. Also, to see the production value of the book was heart warming. It is really a fantastic quality game.
So with a fair bit of trepidation I opened the book and started to read. As suspected, Sarah’s writing is approachable and easy to get on with. That is helped by a great layout and a good choice of font that let your eye glide over the pages without a problem.
The book contains 25 chapters (I told you it was mammoth) and they cover everything from some basic introduction, the rules basics, character creation, rules, skills, stunts, cultures… all the way to appendices that contain a few character and environment sheets.
The Introduction and the Basics chapters are all the players need to get started. There is enough in those two chapters to give newcomers an idea of what’s going on and how to use it. It’s by no means enough to run the game, but it manages to convey the atmosphere and ethos of the game well enough to get you going.
Then we start with the heavy duty stuff…
Character creation is a doodle. It is suggested that the character creation process to take place during a session and do it as a collaborative exercise between all the players. I would certainly agree with that. In fact I think is something most roleplaying games would benefit from. In Mindjammer’s case it’s more poignant because of the scale of the game. Mindjammer is a space opera with the potential to host adventures at an inter-galactic scale and consequences that could affect entire civilisations. Creating characters synergistically will help the adventures not get out of hand.
Cultures, Genotypes and Occupations and the game start to shine. This is a setting placed 15.000 years in the future. Things are bound to be a bit different. And they are. Consideration has been given to genetic manipulation, evolution, transhumanism, alien contact… You name it, is there. And is there in a way that invites you to explore and create your own variants. Ideas kept coming almost effortlessly.
And then we got to the rules. And at last I can say I now get FATE. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Sarah has managed to delve into the FATE system in a way that gives sense to everything I couldn’t understand in the FATE core book. The abilities, compels, dice rolling, stunts, consequences, skills and extras are covered in the following chapters and now I get it. And I even like it!
Then the game shines a bit more. The technology episode is tremendous. Believable-sounding explanations that are actually based on a layer of real science grabbed me right away and, once again made me think about the possibilities. And there are many of them.
Playing and Gamemastering Mindjammer gets a thorough cover in the following chapters, and thank goodness for that. This game is immense and the scope for it to get too big is just as immense. Mindjammer is so huge that one could just stand and wonder “so what do I do” and not know what to do because of the magnitude. These chapters help with that. A lot.
The Mindscape is one of the pivotal aspects of this game. A network so vast that can hold the consciousness of billions of beings and the memories of anyone who’s connected to it. Vast and vastly powerful spaceships travel between planets to update the databases and make them available to all to access. Like our current Internet with a neural connection and so hugely vast we can’t really imagine its size. Of course you can get inside it and play as an entity directly interacting with any conscious being, virus, defence programs, firewalls… Like TRON but a lot better, bigger and more exciting!
Starships, Space Travel, Vehicles and Installations are probably the weakest chapters. Not because they’re weak, at all. They have some fantastic examples of ships, vehicles and weapons of all kind. It’s just that they’re the most predicable chapters. Admittedly it’s very difficult to come up with something truly new and innovative on that ground and, to be perfectly honest it doesn’t really need to be. There’s some comfort in the familiarity of space travel as we know it from Sci-Fi tradition. Also it leaves you, the player and GM plenty of space to come up with your own ideas, which is something Sarah tells you to do throughout the book.
I am going to stop this first part of the review here because the next chapter, Organisations blew me away and I rather leave it for the next instalment than add another 500 words to this one.
So far my heart is soaring with this game much, much higher than it sunk when I saw the size. Even if I weren’t interested in playing (I am) I would recommend this book for the advice, ideas and sheer amount of useful data it contains.
Second part of the review with my conclusions coming very soon!
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