Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Cool gaming finds #2: Space Master extravaganza!

My last post recounted one of my favorite used-game-store discoveries. Here’s another one, which differs from the last story in that it involves a game I might actually play someday.

Not long ago, I was making a rare visit to a comic store in a town I don’t often travel to—it’s about an hour’s drive from home. They had a big table stacked high with used games, all priced at a few dollars. I immediately spotted this little gem:

Space Master 2nd edition boxed set

That’s the 2nd edition, boxed set of Iron Crown’s Space Master roleplaying game. I’m a sucker for anything from the heyday of Rolemaster, so I snatched it up for $5 without thinking and raced home. The box was bound up with rubber bands and I was in a hurry, so even though the box seemed really heavy, I didn’t give it much thought.

When I got home, I opened the box and discovered why the box had felt so heavy. Here’s what spilled out:

What I found in my Space Master boxed set

That’s the Space Master rules, all right… and a whole pile of adventures and modules published for it. In fact, I’d say that’s a sizable percentage of the entire product line.

I think I’m pretty set as far as Space Master goes!

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Unexpected gaming finds: a journey into the dark heart of Cyborg Commando

There are few things more fun than browsing through a big used game collection at a hobby store—you never know what you’re going to find.

There’s a comic store near my house that has a selection of used games. I usually don’t pay it too much attention when I visit the store, since I’ve combed through the used section in the past and already snatched up the stuff that interests me. But for the last year or two, I’ve been tempted by, of all things… (drum roll, please) this:

Cyborg Commando boxed set

That is, of course, a copy of Cyborg Commando, a Gary Gygax creation and one of the worst games ever published, if internet scuttlebutt is to be believed. Every few months I would stop by this store, see that slightly battered game box on the shelf (for just a few measly bucks!), and after a fierce internal debate, I’d successfully make my saving throw vs. Buy More Games I’ll Probably Never Play.

But recently, in a moment of weakness, I decided that I just had to have this artifact of gaming history. It’s by Gary Gygax, for crying out loud! How bad can it possibly be? (Pretty bad, actually; but that’s a story for another day.)

So I picked it up, trundled home with my prize, and retreated into the basement, after a brief exchange with my wife:

Me: I stopped by the comic store and picked up this game!
Wife: Cool—what is it?
Me (excitedly): It’s called Cyborg Commando. It’s widely considered one of the worst roleplaying games ever published!

Safely downstairs, I prised open the box. The old-papery smell of a dusty TSR-era boxed set filled the air:

Inside the Cyborg Commando boxed set.

Two rulebooks, some sort of short adventure-looking booklet, and some dice. A little on the meager side, but this is gaming history I’m experiencing, so that’s OK. But wait! What’s this on the inside cover?

Signed Cyborg Commando rulebook

Unless I’m mistaken, those are the signatures of Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer themselves! (Too bad the owner of this boxed set didn’t get Kim Mohan’s signature as well, for completeness’ sake; alas.) The writing in the top left (in what looks like Gygax’s handwriting) says “At Gencon XX, 1987.” Gencon 1987 was the same year Cyborg Commando was released, so the publisher may have been selling signed copies at their booth at the convention.

What a cool surprise! It actually is a piece of gaming history. It’s not as cool as having an actual vintage D&D book signed by Gygax, but it somehow feels even nerdier, which is good. I also suspect there’s no shortage of signed Gygax books out there, given his decades-long involvement in the hobby—but this is the only Gygax signature in my collection, so it’s pretty special. I may never play this game, but it sits proudly atop my gaming bookshelf.

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On the challenge of giving your interstellar empire a cool name

Have you ever thought about what a challenge it is to come up with an original, yet cool-sounding, name for your type of interstellar empire?

It’s a challenge keenly felt by the major factions in most science fiction game settings, judging by the wide variety of near-synonyms for the word “empire” that crop up in their names. As we all know, every good interstellar empire’s name needs to follow the format [faction name] [government type]. And we also know that there can be no more than one instance of any particular type of interstellar government in existence at the same time. Look at the effort game designers go through to avoid duplicating faction names in, say, the Traveller universe:

Traveller factions (current Mongoose edition)

  • Vodani Consulate
  • Vargyr Extents
  • Aslan Hierate (is that even a word?)
  • Solomani Sphere
  • Hive Federation
  • Third Imperium

Imagine the embarrassment of being unable to think of a cool, unique name for your interstellar empire! The factions of the Battletech universe feel your pain:

Battletech factions (in 3025 or thereabouts)

  • Free Worlds League
  • Federated Suns (Hey, “Suns” isn’t a government type! Sneaky.)
  • Draconis Combine
  • Lyran Commonwealth
  • Capellan Confederation
  • Marian Hegemony
  • Outworlds Alliance
  • Taurian Concordat

The powers of the (sadly defunct) Star*Drive universe had to really break out the thesaurus to name themselves:

Star*Drive factions

  • Borealis Republic
  • Rigonmur Star Consortium
  • Nariac Domain
  • Orion League
  • Orlamu Theocracy
  • StarMech Collective
  • Thuldan Empire
  • Hatire Community

And we’ll close with Hero Games’ Terran Empire setting, which is unique in featuring more than one “Empire”:

Terran Empire factions

  • Terran, Varanyi, and a few other Empires
  • Conjoined Civilizations Republic
  • Thorgon Hegemony
  • Velarian Confederation
  • Mon’dabi Federation

The point is not that these aren’t interesting or well-imagined settings (I happen to appreciate them all). It’s just amusing to watch the settings’ creators jump through vocabulary hoops to come up with unique names for the different factions.

Pity the poor latecomer to the galactic superpower scene, who must make do with being a “Community” or “League,” rather than a much cooler-sounding “Hegemony” or “Theocracy”!

(And real-life country naming conventions are a bit bizarre, too—for instance, the more politically repressive and un-democratic your country is, the more likely you are to have “republic,” “democracy,” or other wildly inappropriate words in your country’s official name.)

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