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A First Survey: Science Fiction Hobby Games
by Neal Tringham
337pp £15.99 Pseudonymz
This book is going to cost me a small fortune….
Neal Tringham is responsible for the RPG entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. It was always going to be impossible to sum up such a sprawling field in that work, so he’s added in another 20 000 words and published it as a stand alone work published by Pseudonymz.
The author gets stuck into entries on some 100 SF RPGs as well as Wargames, game books (like Fighting Fantasy), and card and postal games. Video games are a big enough sector to merit their own upcoming book. Don’t be put off by the term SF, instead read, ‘everything except fantasy’ (and even then there’s plenty of swords and sorcery included). Supers and Horror both get plenty of coverage too.
The difference between this work and the kind of wiki content you’ll find all over the Internet is that Tringham is more than happy to apply a little bit of critical analysis along the way. In other words, you get opinion along with the facts. I like this approach very much. In the preamble to the entries he sets out his stall on stories and worlds as well as attempting some definitions. I certainly couldn’t agree with everything he says, and a couple of lines raised an eyebrow but its good to know where he’s coming from for the rest of the book.
Even a hundred RPG entries can’t hope to cover every single SF game ever released, but the selection is thorough and comprehensive. Each game gets about a page of text, often more (Traveller gets the biggest entry, naturally) and it covers the history, the setting, and mechanics of note. It’s all highly detailed and, as far as I could tell, incredibly accurate. That doesn’t always make for a straightforward read as every time a game is named you also get its year of publication and the names of its designers too. That takes up a fair amount of space in the text. There’s also emboldened words that you can check in the extensive glossary, as well as a generous index.
Taken as a whole, this is impressive in its breadth and depth. There are notable omissions though; indie games only get three entries (Forgotten Futures, My Life With Master, Shock) which I found surprising. The entries are very much up to date (Star Wars: Edge of Empire is included) so it’s not that the work is behind the times. Running a quick compare and contrast with my game shelves shows Diaspora, Bulldogs! and Burning Empires all missing. Having said that, there are a bunch of entries for games I was only dimly aware of, if at all, and as such I know far more about the hobby now than I ever did.
Yes, this book is going to cost me. The format means that the author has to get across the jist of a setting in just a couple of paragraphs. This functions as a fabulous try before you buy buffet of new/old games. On finishing this review I’m immediately off shopping. You’ll be the same, I promise.