Creating a magazine is not an easy endeavour. I know because I wanted to create one (the name of this website might be a hint) and I had to give up when I realise it was too much work for me alone. So when the offer to review Frontier Explorer, an unofficial magazine for the Wizards of the Coast game Star Frontiers, I had to say yes.
Now I *love* magazines. They are the perfect medium to explore new ideas and take daring risks in layout and narrative. If they work, great. If they don’t, learn from it and try again in the next issue. That means I expect a lot from a magazine. So I had to repeat to myself that this magazine is put together by only a handful of guys and thus can’t compare it with my favourite magazine, ImagineFX, when they offered to send me an issue for review.
The magazine arrived about a week later. The PDF can be downloaded for free and the POD publication will set you back… are you ready? $7.07. Yes friends, that is a shocking amount in the best sense of the word.
Star Frontier is a Science Fiction game published by TSR a long time ago, and this magazine is all about that game and nothing else than that game. For now. As and when the audience and the contributions grow, the magazine will expand, according to the editors.
I’ll give them credit for a couple of things right now. This issue has some of the best paper I’ve ever seen in a magazine and the cover is lovely. Well thought out and very appropriate for the theme of the issue, if a bit clichéd (ET has a lot to answer for. That’s all I’ll say at this point).
I would like to separate, very clearly and vehemently, from now on the contents of the magazine from the layout.
The writing is pretty good. The magazine has a very good number of articles, mostly written by the creators; Tom Stephens, Tom Verreault, Eric “iggy” Windsor, Jim Young and Richard “Shadow Shack” Rose, and features a combination of adventures, essays on various aspects of the sci-fi game, etc. It is rather enjoyable to read and the information is very useful, even if I have never played the game.
The authors also go a long way to try and expand the game, not just talk about it, by providing with stats for animals, spaceships, etc. Something any magazine about a game should do indeed.
So why did I make the differentiation before? Because they need an art director. Badly.
For starters the cover of the magazine doesn’t have the titles of any of the articles in it. No captions for the adventure or anything else. It’s just the name of the magazine and the theme. With the lovely illustration, of course. I’m afraid I consider this to be a fundamental error. By omitting that information, they’re doing two things: First it’s a waste of space. I understand wanting to preserve as much of the cover as possible because the illustration is lovely, but you’re also stopping people from getting hooked to download the magazine because they see an article that sounds interesting at a glance. Secondly, for anyone who decides to collect this magazine, there’s no way to remember what was in each issue. At the moment that might not be a problem since – at the time of writing this review – there are only 5 issues out. As soon as the number becomes more considerable, remembering what’s where will be difficult.
The layout is a standard two columns per page. The font is big and readable and there are some illustrations. It flows well enough and the number of illustrations is pretty decent.
There’s not much that tells me this is a magazine about Sci-Fi or gaming, though. Unless you actually read it, there is no obvious branding or theming as such. The titles of the articles are all encased in the same banner featuring a shot of space, which doesn’t help differentiate what each article’s theme is; as in adventures, zoology, planetary information, etc. This is a magazine about the future, about things that haven’t happened yet and futuristic views of things. It wouldn’t go amiss if the layout reflected this a bit more.
I will be kind on the illustrations because they’re mostly drawn by the same people who do the writing and I think it’d be unfair to expect a lot. They illustrate what they are meant to illustrate but no one will blame you if you don’t fall in love with any of them. Again an art director is needed on that one. However from time to time they use other artists work (always fully crediting them) and they do choose good illustrations.
However I won’t be so kind on the maps. There is one thing I *hate*: obviously repeating tiles in maps.
There is one thing I hate *a lot*: small repeating tiles.
There are a lot of those. And I mean a lot. Pretty much every single map of the base featured in the Dawn Trader Class Merchant Ship, has the floor covered in those. They jump at you like mad and stick in your eyes to the point that you actually have to make an effort in seeing what else is on the map.
I might sound like I’m being harsh. I am. It’s a peeve of mine and you don’t have to share it. If you don’t share it, then ignore that bit of this review.
I can’t help but admire the work these guys have put into this magazine. Even though I have been hard on them on the maps, the fact that they manage to write, collate, design and publish something like this with so few resources is nothing short of fantastic.
It is pretty clear that they are very passionate about the game and know it inside out, which, for fans of Star Frontiers, is great news since they’ll always be well catered for.
Unfortunately it seems to me they’ve gone into getting the material out there without asking for enough feedback. And I mean proper feedback, not the sort of feedback that friend, family and fans give you.
The lack of theme and art direction does let this magazine down. As much as the writing from all the authors is good, that’s where their skills end and they need to consider bringing someone on board who will look after the look and feel of each issue.
The layout is not bad, but it is also too generic. Taking a look at other magazines, not necesarily Sci-Fi magazine, but any other, should render enough ideas to help make the following issues much more visually appealing.
If they get some better mapping software and get a bit more adventurous layout and illustrations you could have in your hands a really neat publication worth keeping on the shelf for years to come.
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