12670087_10153963273907082_3286283278008602244_nI’ve already done a review of the PDF version of the game, but I’ve finally laid hands on a physical copy of the game. This was a game that loomed large in my gaming through the 1990s, and informed some of the Victorian sci-fi camapigns of the early 2000s. I still have the original copy of the GDW game, bought at Compleat Strategist in Philadelphia in 1989. Now I have the new Ubiquity-powered game from Clockwork Publishing out of Germany to complement it.

First off, this is the “premium” faux leather covered version of the book. They go for about $100. Production quality on the book is good — the fake leather feels nice and the gold embossing is well done. The binding is solid, and includes a bookmark ribbon in bronze. Good glossy paper, with a readable font in two columns per page, with black & white, grayscale, and color art throughout the book. One point of contention is the sizing. Rather than a typical 8.5×11 or 11.25″ book, like many game lines, this one is 8.5×12″, so it sits higher in the bookcase. The different aspect ratio looks nice, but might be a pain if you don’t have spacious bookshelves.

The new edition is very true to the original setting, but expands a bit on the original material of the game, mostly in dealing with Venus and the German colonies there, but also adds a bit on Mars and Mercury. Setting takes up much of the page count at 121 pages. The game rules are Ubiquity — the same system that powers Hollow Earth Expedition, the ’30s pulp game that usurped Victorian sci-fi in my group’s play rotation. There’s not much new to the rules beyond those found in HEX, same for bits on gravity on different worlds, and comes in at 80ish pages with character creation. One point where the new rules dropped the ball was on the Martian and Venusian characters…there’s no racial templates to give them their own flavor, so I cobbled some together based on the rules from Mysteries of the Hollow Earth and Secrets of the Surface World sourcebooks from the Hollow Earth Expedition line. They are presented below.

Style: The original game was pretty sharp for it’s time, with good color art and crappy line art for the rest; the new version is average RPG quality art for the black and white art, decent color. I’d go 3-3 1/2 out of 5 for the normal edition of the game, but the faux leather brings this edition up to a 4 out of 5.

Substance: Unless you plan on really digging into political intrigue and the like, the book is good enough to launch into a campaign that night, and the rules are complete enough to handle most situations — 4 out of 5. Is it worth the $56US for the print and pdf combo? If you are into this genre, yes; if you are an old Space:1889 fan that wants a better set of mechanics than the execrable ones from 1989, absolutely; and this edition with the swanky cover might be worth the $100 for the fans of the old game.

Space: 1889 is now available through the shop at Mödiphius.

Here’s the templates for the main alien races of the setting:


Hill, Canal, and High Martians -- as portrayed in Chronicle City's version

Hill, Canal, and High Martians — as portrayed in Chronicle City’s version

The denizens of Mars have three major racial types — the Hill Marian, found in the desolate wastes of the Red Planet; the Canal Martians, found almost exclusively in the urban and canal-fed areas of the world; and the High Martians — thought to either be the “Ur” Martian, or possibly a Hill Martians evolved to the particular environment of mountainous Mars.

Using some of the Beastmen advantages from Mysteries of the Hollow Earth (pg. 14-25), I slapped together Martian character templates that were more in keeping with the original flavor of the game:



Venusians aren’t set up as a player character in either any of the editions of Space: 1889, but I’m sure there are folks out there that might want to give them more to do in their campaign than be a poor man’s Sleestak. So here is a Template, vikked from Hollow Earth Expedition‘s Mysteries of the Hollow Earth to use to create a player character Venusian:




Presenting the 1869 Roper Velocepede — a dual-cylinder steam-powered motorcycle with a 1-ish horsepower motor. A later version in the late 1870s/early 1880s was a single-cylinder that produced 3HP and could hit a face-peeling 40 mph!

Here’s an example…and it still runs!

Here’s some specs for Hollow Earth Expedition or its Victorian-period game, Leagues of Adventure or the new Space: 1889

Size: 0   Def: 6   Struct: 4   Speed: 20   Han: 0   Crew: 1   Pass: 0


I remember the first time I saw the original GDW Space: 1889 in The Compleat Strategist near Rittenhouse Square– I was living in Philadelphia and the main games our group was playing were either superheroes (DC Heroes by Mayfair), or espionage games (using James Bond: 007) and cyberpunk Cyberpunk (by R. Talsorian.) The look of the game was intriguing enough, with the great David Dietrick art — one of the big boys in game cover art at the time — and a quick look through the interior was enough to get me hooked. There was a board game, Sky Galleon of Mars, that tied in and allowed you to make the jump from the RPG to a wargame and back, and there were about a dozen supplements and adventure books published before GDW died. I have the book I bought a quarter century ago sitting in front of me as I write this.

After a bit of stumbling to put together a game, I wound up running some form of Victorian science-fiction — usually in the Space: 1889 universe — from 1990 until 2004, when I started to drift toward ’30s pulp and Exile’s Hollow Earth Expedition. The game was one of the reasons I went into history, my specialty was Early Modern and Modern Europe until my doctorate (mostly due to the shoddy condition of the European section of the college) when I drifted into Modern US (which strangely coincided with my move to Hollow Earth Expedition.)

A few years ago, there was a Savage Worlds version of this, the original “steampunk” (gahd, how I hate that word!) game, and I have a PDF of that, as well, but never found SW made much sense, mechanically. Close to that time, it was announced that Clockwork in Germany was doing a version using Ubiquity — the rules set from Hollow Earth Expedition. In 2013, the Kickstarter for an English-language version was posted by Angus Abramson — who I worked for in the early days of Cubicle 7 on the Victoriana line — and his new Chronicle City house. I missed the Kickstart for this, having already blown dough on the Revelations of Mars book by Exile a month earlier (still not @#$%ing close to done…) Well, the PDF just dropped for sale yesterday with the print book not far behind, and I had a chance to do a quick read-through this afternoon.


The new book is very true to the original. There’s some difference in the verbiage and the arrangement of the book, but most of the setting is unchanged, with additional material for Germans on Venus that was most likely part of someone at Clockwork’s campaign prior to resurrecting the game. There is new artwork, some of which is an update of pieces in the original book, some of which is original. The quality is true to the original book, as well — mostly black and white pieces and the occasional color plate. The maps of Mars and Venus are updated and look better than the original, but when I looked at them side-by-side, they are “the same.” There is the alternate history from the original book — Edison’s flight in an airship with ether propeller to Mars, and the other alternate history moments. There’s a gazette for Earth, Mars, Venus, and Mercury. Here and there, you can see where the new publishers added bits and bobs to flesh out the worlds — new gadgets and gear, a few locations and “worlds in the ether”, etc.

Character generation is nearly the same as you would find in Hollow Earth Expedition, but there is a specific set of rules for older, more experienced characters that looks a lot like the character creation house rules we’ve been using for our HEX games. There are a few traits and flaws that are setting specific, the Status Resource is very slightly more fleshed out, but otherwise it’s the character generation from HEX. One of the things that I noticed was there were no real traits that differentiated the Martians from the human characters in the game. (Here’s my take on the setting species.) I would have expected something to take into account the acclimation to lower gravity and pressure, but Space: 1889 also has a much more friendly Mars than reality — heavier gravity and atmosphere than most alternate Mars settings. (Over a few campaigns, I started using a Mars with .5G, rather than the .9G of this game, and lower pressures, making mountain travel dangerous for Earthlings.)

Rules-wise, it’s Ubiquity: roll the number of dice (any even sided will do — even a coin) equal to your skill plus the connected attribute and beat the number of successes. It has the “take the average” than makes Hollow Earth Expedition work so well when fighting mooks and the like — the GM doesn’t have to do a lot of rolling and the action moves quickly; characters that just need a pass/fail result can take the average when they know it’s higher than the needed successes for the same reason — getting roll playing out of the way of role playing. If you know HEX, you can pick up and play this.

Style: The original game was pretty sharp for it’s time, with good color art and crappy line art for the rest; the new version is average RPG quality art for the black and white art, decent color. I’d go 3-3 1/2 out of 5. Substance: Unless you plan on really digging into political intrigue and the like, the book is good enough to launch into a campaign that night, and the rules are complete enough to handle mot situations. 4 out of 5. Is it worth the $56US for the print and pdf combo? If you are into this genre, yes; if you are an old Space:1889 fan that wants a better set of mechanics than the execrable ones from 1989, absolutely; if you’re just curious..? No.

Extra Review Goodness!


So, let me stack this up against the closest thing to its peer — Leagues of Adventure, also a Ubiquity-powered game set in a Victorian science-fiction alternate universe. This one is published by Triple Ace Games. Again — the mechanics, character creation, etc. is no different from Space: 1889 or Hollow Earth Expedition, but there are a few places where Leagues of Adventure excels: in the character creation section, there is a great bit on the Rank Resource, and how it ties to the various real and invented clubs of the period. Being a member of a club was almost essential for the well-heeled gentleman, and certainly for the aristocrat. Like Space: 1889, the Status Resources is pretty sketchily defined, but at least Space:1889 makes room for people below the rank of peer or wealthy middle class (bravo!) Also, Leagues provides rules for Inventions — something Space: 1889 (like the original) glosses over. Characters as inventors seem to be an afterthought in Space: 1889, but there’s a nice set of rules for it in Leagues and a goodly selection of weird steam- and clockwork-powered science!

Style: 4 out of 5 — the Art is superior RPG quality, full color, and the layout is nicely done. Substance: There’s a lot on the society and the basics of the Victorian period, and the rules are more comprehensive than Hollow Earth Expedition was… 4 out of 5. Is it worth the price of $30 US for the book? Absolutely. Is it worth the $18 for the PDF — no. Buy the book.

Now, here’s my suggestion: I would be surprised if Clockwork and Chronicle City didn’t do some kind of reprint or series of splatbooks for Space:1889, and TAG already has one book out and another with weird inventions on the way…if you’re a Space; 1889 or Victorian speculative fiction RPG fan — buy them both and mix and match the bits and bobs you need to build up your setting. (It’s what I’m doing.)

I finally getting around to responding to a reader’s question…

“Hey, Scott, why do you hate Fate so much?”

I don’t hate FATE, so much as I find some of the fast and loose aspects (See what I did there..?) can create a much higher level of complexity that is needed. I had the same issue with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and Firefly from Margaret Weiss — which are essentially Fate with Cortex die schemes. The plehtora of assets, complications, etc. adding to dice pools can get a bit hard to manage. (Although it doesn’t reach the wheelbarrowful dumping of dice majesty of d6 Star Wars when a Stardestroyer opens up on you.) I also dislike the “damage” system of the rules. (I’m not a hit point guy, either.)

Speaking of dice: I hate the idea of the Fate dice, which is why the MWP stuff is a big more palatable for me. Similarly, I was okay with the positive/negative die mechanic of Chameleon Eclectic’s The Babylon Project, although I’ll admit it was also a crappy way of resolving chance. I’ve bought the Ubiquity Dice for Hollow Earth Expedition, but they aren’t needed; they simply make rolling dice pools (and Ubiquity does have a Shadowrun-esque love of dice pools) easier. You can play HEX with a bunch of coins, if you need to.

“But, Scott, you can do Fate die with a normal d6 — just assign positive, negative, and nought to the sides.” Well, there you go making sense. Away wi’ you!

The real issue isn’t Fate — they’re great pick-up game rules that can be tweaked any ol’ way you wish — it’s that I can’t seem to get a game that doesn’t have Fate trying to claw its way into the game mechanics. It’s like trying to escape OGL d20 junk in the early aughties.

“You like [enter game name]? you know you can get those rules in d20, right!?!” Scott: “Screw you, and get off my lawn!”

I’ve looked over a bunch of the new Fate and Fate-infected products that have been hitting the shelves over the next few months. There’s some really good stuff. I’ve been very complementary of Mindjammer — a game that really plays to the strengths of Fate — and Firefly — a Fate-ified Cortex product that makes good use of some of the Fate ideas, while retaining some of the flavor of old Cortex, but which, like the previous book, really shines for the writing, production values, and background material. I’m looking forward to Atomic Robo, but anticipate that’s going to get played using the MHR rules.

Addendum: This is also, apparently, the 1000th post for The Black Campbell!

Another great Kickstarter on the loose! We just saw Exile Games kick ass for Revelations of Mars, now Angus Abramson’s Chronical City is bringing the English version of Space: 1889 using Ubiquity (Exile’s rules set for Hollow Earth Expedition ) to life.


The game has already been released in Germany and is doing well.

UPDATE: It’s been a day and looks like they’ll likely be funded by tonight. Excellent!