The Solar System as It Used to Be

Martian Canal,
by C Bonestell

One of my favorite subgenres in science fiction is old-school interplanetary adventures, in which Mars has canals, Venus jungles, and Mercury two faces (hot and cold). Lo! and behold, yesterday I discovered a blog devoted to that subject: The Old Solar System. Its creator is the British pseudonym Zendexor, who introduces himself as an SF critic. Well, he certainly masters the subject, discussing the oldschool settings created by veterans writers like Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Brackett, SM Stirling, and Edmond Hamilton.

If Zendexor knew Swedish, he would probably have written a lengthy post about Sture Lönnerstrand’s solar-system odyssey Rymdhunden (“Space Dog”) from 1954.

Check the Old Solar System blog here — link >>>


Review: “Terraforming Mars”

Since I became a board-gamer in 1974, I have had three gosh-wow experiences at the gaming table: Civilization (Avalon Hill) in 1981, Twilight Struggle (GMT Games) in 2008 och Terraforming Mars (Fryxgames) in 2016 – three brilliant designs with much flavor, suspense and gaminess.

The theme of Terraforming Mars is to make the Red Planet habitable to humans by executing hi-tech projects that raise the temperature, improve the atmosphere and create oceans. Each player runs a megacorporation, either a “plain vanilla” one or one with unique advantages and limitations (e.g. top-notch biotech combined with budgetary constraints). One round is called a generation so a match spans centuries. When three predetermined targets have been reached — usually after only a few hours of play — the match ends and scores are calculated. Victory requires a clever mix of resource management and worker placement.

The components are a gameboard that depicts the Martian hemisphere with the Hellas basin and Vallis Marineris; card decks; plastic cubes in various colors and sizes that represent resources and properties; and hexagon tiles that represent cities, oceans and forests. Quality ranges from OK (the cubes) to excellent (the Mars board). My sole complaint is that the card texts are too tiny for my middle-aged eyes — next time I will use a magnifying glass.

Ultrashort Summary
The resources megacredits, steel, titanium, plants, energy, and heat are used to purchase and play project cards, construct industrial facilities, cultivate vegetation and carry out a lot of other ventures that will make Mars habitable. New cash arrives automatically every turn, but when it comes to everything else each corporation must establish its own production.

About 200 unique project cards represent dramatic events (e.g. crashing an ice asteroid onto Mars); inventions (e.g. a new energy source); and political maneuvers (e.g. making a cartel to take resources from a competitor); et cetera. Some deal with events on Earth (e.g. corruption and media coverage) and others with ventures among the asteroids and the moons of Jupiter (these celestial bodies are handled abstractly).

Success is costly, and bottlenecks in your corporation’s cash flow and energy production frequently obstruct your strategies. Unspent resources can be saved from turn to turn except for energy, which turns into waste heat that warms the planet (a clever notion). Certain ecological projects require specific oxygen levels and temperatures. The megacorporations can harass each other with cards that pilfer energy, cash or metals through cartels, cybercrimes, and raids; however, these cards are optional and can be removed from the deck before play.

The match ends when all ocean tiles are in place and Mars’s oxygen level and average temperature have reach their predetermined targets. The players calculate victory scores from general terraforming contributions; the emplacement of city, forest and ocean tiles; and accumulated points from specific projects (e.g. animal husbandry).

The rules are easy to grasp and the players’ challenge is to execute their plans skilfully, because there are many paths to victory. Furthermore, a solo-play option is provided. And, yes, the designers have been inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy: there is an oblique reference in the rules where some explanatory examples contain three gamers named Kim, Stanley and Robinson.

My Verdict
5 Red Planets out of 5. I’ll actually upgrade it to 5+, because of the game’s high gosh-wow density.

Fryxgames News
I have learned that the Fryxgames designers are working on expansion kits with new maps for Mars and possibly other celestial bodies. Yes, please!

Review: “Warcraft: The Beginning”

I went to see Warcraft: The Beginning today. I had few expectations, because it is a computer wargame turned into a CGI-heavy movie. But I was pleasantly surprised. The characters had more depth than expected (particularly the Orcs), the plot more turns and twists, and the battles more lethal outcomes (verily, anyone can die in war).

Also, no sentimentality and no info dumps; the action starts in medias res and then it is full speed ahead when the Orc Horde’s vanguard reaches the Kingdom of Stormwind for the first time by gating in from their ravaged home world and taking the humans by surprise.

No significant spoilers below.

The main human plotline is how king Llane of Stormwind has to handle a major war by mobilizing whatever military and magical resources are available. The prospective allies are wary and magic does not always deliver what is expected. The Stormwinders’ views on honor and bravery fit well with the pseudo-medieval society: a knight must be ready to lay down his life for the monarch and the realm.

The main Orkish plotline deal with how the vanguard is supposed to reenergize the transfer portal to let the whole Horde through. The portal is fueled by soul force and such fell magic does not comply with the Orcs’ traditional views on honor. Barbarians, certainly, but with firm customs dealing with propriety: “Orcs do not lie!” is a statement repeated at key events. A massive human sacrifice is also hard to arrange when the humans fight back.

Anyhow, the movie ends with a closure plus lots of loose ends for a sequel that I would like to see: three protagonists are about to face big challenges and somebody seems destined to become the local Moses.

A plus for the strong female characters, both human and Orkish; half-Orc Garona (depicted above) is my favorite protagonist. Another plus for the unusually profound depiction of the Orcs.

I therefore give the movie four “For the Alliance!” out of five.

Review: Small Ships in the Great War

Sea Warfare is an unexpected little non-fiction book by Rudyard Kipling, the Nobel Laureate who today is famous for poetry and short-stories dealing with imperialism and the Indian Raj. I recently found an ebook edition free of charge at Amazon.

The book was written in 1916 or 1917 as a piece of propaganda to bolster morale on the Home Front. Nevertheless, Kipling rarely wrote poorly so this remains an interesting volume despite occasional outdated views and phrases. The reader learns of the everyday toils of the Royal Navy’s non-glamorous small craft, e.g. minesweepers, destroyers and submarines. Kipling used after-action reports and interviews with ratings and officers as his sources, though he changed many ship names because of wartime secrecy.

HMS E9. Sea Warfare describes some of her wartime exploits in the Baltic Sea. Click on the picture for a larger version. (Photo: Imperial War Museum, London)

Despite the obvious bias, i.e. chivalrous Britons fighting cruel “Huns”, these stories tell a lot about sailors’ wartime chores, for example, the hardships of mine-sweeping in the North Sea and the harrowing experience of serving aboard a tiny destroyer facing the Kaiser’s battleships in the titanic North Sea clash that is called the Battle of Jutland.

The book also addresses a few matters that I had not heard of before, for example the British submarine operations at the outskirts of Constantinople during the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. Tiny subs hunted Turkish ships in the constricted waters of the Dardanelles Straits and the Marmara Sea, hampered by mines and shore batteries; an underwater campaign very different from the one that Germany pursued in the North Atlantic at the same time.

I write diesel-era adventures and Sea Warfare provides me with useful setting information for future stories. I have already outlined a riverine tale in the Patchwork World setting. So my verdict is four armed trawlers out for five.

Första recensionen av rollspelet “Sci-Fi!”

Summary in English: The first review of my new space opera RPG Sci-Fi!
Signaturen Pax har recenserat Tomas Arferts och mitt nya rollspel Sci-Fi! på sajten Jodå, som spelets kosmosbyggare gläds jag åt ett omdöme som det här:

Är det här bra? Svaret på frågan är Ja! Med utropstecken som sig bör. Sci-Fi är det spel som jag själv, och många andra, saknade under den svenska rollspelshimlen på 80-talet. Ett svenskt science fiction spel med rymdskepp och främmande raser. Det hade platsat galant i våra spelgrupper då. […] Samtidigt förmedlar det en hel ny spelvärld som känns nostalgiskt retro och den ger många uppslag på idéer inför ett kampanjspelande.

Läs hela recensionen här — länk >>>