Most of the articles in this series reference games I’ve never played, or played only occasionally. Some are extremely obscure. Well, this one is definitely obscure, but it’s a bit different, in that it’s a game I played quite a bit back in High School (Gill/St. Bernards, 1979-1983), namely, Star Rovers, published by Archive Miniatures in 1981, which was a very good year for gaming. I’d say it was roughly the peak of what I, personally, consider the "classic era" or the "Golden Age", based mostly on the premise that "The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12" — that is, the defining moment of any genre is the era that it is discovered by the individual. But anyway…
Star Rovers embodies the spirt, essence, zeitgeist, whatever of what I think gaming, and especially science-fiction gaming, should be. It’s really Space Fantasy, not "Science Fiction" in any meaningful sense. It’s an insane hodgepodge of whatever random elements the writers thought were cool, pulling from pulp sci-fi of the 30s and the science fiction movies of the 1970s (especially "Star Wars", which of course itself pulled from those same pulp elements) as well as the vaguely inchoate common assumptions of the rapidly developing gamer subculture.
Setting? Oh, you silly, silly, man (or woman). This was the early 1980s! We didn’t need no steenkin’ setting! (We still don’t, if you ask me — not as part of the core rules.) What you needed was the idea of a setting, a sense of a setting, the echo and color and tone of a setting, but not any actual, definable, setting. So what does Star Rovers give us?
From "In The Beginning", on page 0.01. (Yes, 0.01. You got a problem with that?)
Billions of years in the primoridal future, beyond Infinity, the Universe collapsed into a Black Hole and ceased to exist. Time reversed its flow, and the stars burst forth from the Cosmic Nothing in a blaze of light. Cosmic wastes congealed into captive orbits in the outer darkness, forming planets, sometimes colliding with each other, shattering into rocks and asteroids and wandering comets.
As if on signal, at different times and places, floating synapses of energy crystallized into minute replicas of ancient suns, then into chains squeezed by the colloidal clay into the building blocks of Life. Carbon and Silicon proved to be the most prevalent molecular bases to evolve life from, but there were others, and sentient races evolved in a bewildering variety of forms. Sometims the path of Intelligence omitted many stages altogether, assuming bizarre shapes far removed from the normally travelled paths of natural selection. The Cosmic Computer catalogued nine billion different species of sentient life before the Universe collapsed and the stars winked out of existence.
(All random Capitalizations are As Found in the Original text.)
Don’t ask about the Cosmic Computer. It’s never mentioned again. But the mere fact it was mentioned automatically gives you some sense of what this game’s about, isn’t it?
A paragraph or two later, in "Fragments of Imperial History", we learn that:
Then, the Biomorphs came. They grew from within, these Exploding Men, almost impossible to detect. They struck without warning, like a sudden earthquake or an epileptic seizure. They were a threat so dreadful that the Empire felt obliged to deny their very eixstence and the terrified people gave tacit approval to this conspiracy of silence. For the name itself, though seldom spoken, conjured Death and Oblivion, almost attracting attack with each utterance.
I didn’t leave out anything vital; "Biomorphs" aren’t defined or explained, either.
Skip ahead one more paragraph, and we get:
For Time has begun to run out. The Hurrakku — they who would gnaw their way through a starcluster and leave nothing in their wake — had already starswarmed. And even though they were still more than forty galaxies away, they were headed in the Empire’s direction.
But they were only the messengers of a great doom. What goaded the Hurrakku onward was the fear of impending annihilation. There loomed behind them an expanding, starless, blackness — A rift in the Space/Time fabric grown so large that it consumed the Past, the Present, and the Future. This was the Final Darkness that Would Cancel Everything!
But then we learn of the El’dar scrolls!
With great secrecy at first, and then more openly, the Empire began to field great numbers of intelligence gathering operations; then exploratory groups to search for the lost technology of the El’dar.Starknight enclaves planned and executed missions into unexplored territories to recover lost artifacts. The Rebel Axis also began receiving reports and dispatched probes of their own. So did the Dragonspawn. The Biomorph High Command had always been aware of the existence of the lost artifacts, even before the Empire, but had never succeeded in recovering any.
Thus it was that the Star Roving Ages began. As always, the enemies of the Hu-men, who sought only their destruction, followed in their wake. But the Hu-men no longer looked back in fear. Instead, they looked forward into the vastness of space with a renewed sense of wonder.
I’ve skipped a few paragraphs here and there, but nothing which would add more "context" or "meaning" or "definitions" or any other such wuss-like things. Hurrakku? Dragonspawn? "Starspawned"? Starknights? Rebel Axis? Some of these words show up again in the text, never explicitly called out or defined, others are never seen again. But you KNOW what this game is about! Giant alien…somethings… that chew through ENTIRE STARCLUSTERS! Biomorphs! Starknights! Ancient artifacts! Galactic secrets! Holes in TIME AND SPACE! Some sort of outer space dragon men, or something! Whatever! It’s cool! This game certainly isn’t about whipping out your HP Scientific Calculator that does RPN and trying to figure out the fuel requirements for the jump drive and if you’ll show a 15 credit profit on that load of dried beans you’re hauling from one planet to another. This game is about things that eat galaxies, man! Whatever they are! Didn’t you read it, dude? They, like, eat galaxies! Or they’re running from something that eats galaxies. Or… something. Whatever. Dragonspawn!!!!
Sorry. Lost myself there.
Anyway, that’s just the first two pages. We’ll get to character creation… sometime. I just had to post the introduction. Enjoy.