Game Review: Mindjammer from Mindjammer Press/Modiphius by Sarah Newton

Space is a big place. It can hold a lot of stuff. And as such, be a difficult thing to wrangle for a science fiction roleplaying game campaign. Where do you start? Where do you end? How do you get a handle on content of potentially galactic proportions?

Mindjammer - Sarah NewtonMight I recommend Mindjammer from Sarah Newton?

Not just because it’s cool. Not because it uses FATE rules. Not because Sarah wrote it. But because it does damn near anything you might want it to do for a sci-fi campaign. Gracefully. With style. And in a way that’s fun for GM and players alike.

Sound good? I thought it might.

I have always loved science fiction, but have never run a game in space. I’ve run near-future campaigns and even some cyberpunk-style settings, but I tend to stay in the fantasy genre because it’s easier to grok. Now that I have some of the ideas from Mindjammer in my brain, I’m pondering doing some space travel in the near future.

This version of Mindjammer has undergone a major revision. It wasn’t always FATE-based. The first edition was designed as a supplement for Starblazer Adventures (Cubicle 7) and won an ENnie back in August 2010. I haven’t played either version yet, but I think FATE lends itself more to the open feel of space-based adventures.

Why? Collaborative storytelling. FATE games (thank you Evil Hat) enable the group to come together on a campaign and setting concept, which works really well with as broad as the science fiction genre is. Want to play a Star Trek themed game of galactic exploration? Cool. Want to play through the rebellion of Star Wars or the smuggling of Firefly? Why not? Maybe even Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon? Go for it! Fate Core is embedded right in the book, which means you have the system at your fingertips. Whatever you want to do you can probably pull off quite easily. It has almost a Traveller feel (from what I remember of that game) in that space travel is commonplace and technology is just a part of life – not bolted on.

But the really fun part is that you don’t have to create your own universe or use another source as background if you don’t want to. Sarah has taken care of that for you in great detail but with plenty of room to grow. Commonality Space is a big place full of planets ready to explore. That size may be a limiting factor only because it has so large a scope. Remember me saying space is a big place? Well, it is!

And that’s kind of a problem. Between all the available races of sentients and aliens, artificial and biological, you end up with a ton of options. When you add in all the occupations, skills, stunts, and extra abilities it becomes a bit overwhelming. And then add technology on top of that… it quickly becomes unwieldy. I’m sure once you have your characters created and a corner of the universe to explore it becomes less so, but it seems a bit daunting at first.

Though the Technology chapter has several tables to help summarize options, points, indices, cost, and so on, I wish there was a similar way to boil down the options for many of the other parts of character creation. Seeing all the other options spelled out simply in list form might help a bit. There is a massive and nicely done index, but it’s a bit like finding a needle in a haystack… There are some helpful reference sheets towards the back, but they’re more for game play than character creation. And the “Character Creation Checklist” on page 19 is a great start but doesn’t go far enough to help narrow down the many options available.

The sheer amount of information on everything in the book is staggering. From the Mindscape (a shared infospace used across the Commonality you could spend all your time in and never leave) to Constructs (ships, stations, and more that may or may not be sentient), Spaceships, Organizations, Cultures, Worlds, Aliens… the list goes on. The level of detail covers more than 200 pages all by itself.

The Mindjammer book truly does represent the one-stop-shopping approach to RPG books. You should have enough material to run a nearly infinite array of games and scenarios. But though I know that’s really attractive, it might also scare off potential players and GMs. It’s definitely a daunting amount of detail for me. And though I’d love to play, it’s a bit like trying to eat an elephant… tough to know where to start.

From a layout and design standpoint, the book is stunning. Mostly using a two column approach, the text is easy to digest with a great use of boxed text and images (from an array of talented artists), tables, maps, and more. Pages are full, but not overwhelming to look at. The design team did an amazing job.

So I’ll sum up by saying this. If you’ve ever pondered running a FATE-based space campaign, I don’t think you’ll find a deeper resource of ready-to-use information than the Mindjammer book. Just know that you may be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of detail waiting for you. More than 500 pages are in the “Thoughtcast Edition” of the game available this month, with a final version coming at the end of February and hardback shipping maybe by the end of March.

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4 comments to Game Review: Mindjammer from Mindjammer Press/Modiphius by Sarah Newton

  • Brian

    There are a couple of problems with this review. Firstly the system has been rebranded as Fate as opposed to FATE. It is no longer an acronym. The other is that Starblazer Adventures as well as its variant of Mindjammer were both already FATE games. They ran on a version of FATE 3.0. They both used standard D6s instead of Fudge dice, and that tended to confuse some people.

    Great review though. I am looking forward to trying out this version.

    • Game Knight

      @Brian – Thanks for the corrections! Sarah actually caught me up on the FATE 3/4 difference this morning, so thanks for that. And I’ll do my best to correct “FATE” to “Fate” in my brain from now on. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Does the over-load of options seem to be in keeping with the toolkit nature of Fate Core or is it more an unfortunate side effect of an unfocused design?

    • Game Knight

      @Bill – I think it’s just that the book is a huge resource for a setting and game system that both offer a bazillion options. As I say in the first paragraph, space is a big place. And this book reflects that. I’m hoping that some of the supplements that are going to come after it are a bit more focused on a single world or spaceship or organization rather than trying to describe a whole universe. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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