A role-playing adventure set in the "future" as seen by Victorian era science fiction writers. Players explore the far corners of the Earth (Atlantis, King Tut's tomb etc...) and travel between planets on ships made of martian "liftwood" (invented by none other than Thomas Edison). Based on GDW's pencil and paper roleplaying game. Similar in design to Paragon's MegaTraveller series.
The world of Space 1889 is a genre-defining Vernian retro-futurism, usually summarised by the word "steampunk". The year is 1889 and nearly everything that Jules Verne and H. G. Wells envisioned in their books really happened. There are ancient civilizations of Martians living in cities linked by networks of canals. Some have harnessed the power of the anti-gravitic properties of 'liftwood' and are able to create flying vessels. There is even Ether in space allowing people to sail through the cosmos. And, of course, there is still plenty to do on good old Earth. The colonial wars and the general unrest accompanying the Second Industrial Revolution are a force to be reckoned with.
Let me be frank with you. You don't want to play without the manual. No, allow me to rephrase that. You won't be able to play without the manual. Not even play: you won't create a single character without referring to it. On the other hand, the game implements the original RPG system so well that you can actually use the Space 1889 rulebook during character creation and the game in general.
First, you need to create a five-person party. As in the case of other GDW games, the system is pretty complicated and includes six attributes and twenty-four skills that are affected by choosing careers and spending points. Careers have specific requirements, so the manual is a absolute must. Fans of the Traveller series should feel right at home or could even be relieved as you have total control over your character creation.
When the party is ready, you can start your adventuring. Or should I say Grand Adventuring? The plot is what the Grand Adventure genre is all about. You start at the archaeological event at the London museum and decide to take interest in the recent events in Cairo that coincided with the unearthing of Tutankhamun's tomb. Then you will travel the world, sail the Seven Seas and beyond, as you harness the power of Ether to visit Martian deserts and Venusian jungles. There are several things that should be in a Grand Adventure/Two Fisted Tales mix: exploration, intrigue, combat, travels, chases, aerial combat, exotic vistas, mortal danger, space combat and investigation. The only thing the game lacks is a decent romance (no alcove combat for you).
Playing this game reminded me of driving a tank. The game window takes up a rather small part of the screen and the rest is cluttered by various indicators and switches. So you either play looking at the labels of the switches and buttons or learn the controls by heart. Thankfully, they are not too complicated and you will be using only a few keys for the most typical actions. Remember that on the main screen you control only one character (current party leader) who interacts with the world, so don't forget to choose a character who is best suited to the task.
The combat interface is a bit obscure and counter-intuitive as actions can be performed only by pressing the appropriate shortcut-key. It is actually pretty simple though, and you should quickly get a hold of it after reading the manual and fighting once or twice.
It's worth noting that the game introduced many details contributing to its complexity, some of them quite uncommon. You need to consult star charts to navigate in space. You can mount a horse to get an edge in combat. You may choose different approaches to various characters. And that's, of course, not everything.
All in all, this game is a small marvel. It is complicated, has a pretty steep learning curve and its interface could have been designed a bit better, but it is also deep, engrossing, detailed and a rather well-balanced game, so steampunk aficionados or even casual fans of vintage RPGs can spend many hours playing out the frantic events of the fateful year 1889.
Space 1889 is the second game based on Game Workshop's p&p RPG. In an alternate history (similar to Origin's Martian Dreams) where Thomas Edison invented time travel, you set out in an alternate 19-century world to find King Tut's treasures, but are soon caught up in a grand quest that leads you to Atlantis, Mars and beyond. Numerous optional mini-quests and emphasis on exploration and puzzles over combat make this a great game for both RPG and adventure gamers. The well-written dialogues (especially with Rasputin and Jules Verne) are a plus.
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