I am an old school gamer. I own dice older than most of the contemporary players. I remember those heady days of Traveller – of my characters dying during creation. I remember first edition Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha. My first Star Wars RPG used six-sided dice…and I’m proud of that. FTL 2448 was good too in its own weird way. Then came Star Frontiers – and a plethora of other early game systems. For a while it seemed that space-opera-ish games were the rage.
The old games all had a framework they followed. The universe was big. Man was just one of the races. There were aliens with psionics – which was the magic of the sci fi RPG genre. Thanks to George Lucas, the games all had smugglers and aliens that were, for the most part, quasi-human. You had to have cybernetics too – because that was a thing (thanks to The Six Million Dollar Man.) They all claimed to be space operas (including the game Space Opera). I always felt like most (with the exception of Traveller) just were cardboard-like clones. “Take our fantasy RPG, swap out lasers for crossbows, psionics for magic, and ta da!”
So when I saw Falling Stars, I thought, “Hey, maybe this is a new spin on space operas, with some grit, some depth, some cool stuff.”
God I was wrong.
I rarely blast game products in reviews but this one compelled me to change that policy, if not for me but to save someone the cost of purchasing this system. First off I’ll tackle the elephant in the room. The book is 462 pages paperback and costs $54.99. It is grossly overpriced for what you get. The layout is a san serif font at around 14 point that looks all boldface, which just made the book too long and hard to read visually. No RPG should make your eyes hurt – yet this one does…on multiple levels.
The game is well written, but it breaks no new ground. In fact, it is boring retread of a lot of classic space opera stuff and things lifted from popular media. The difference here is that the game universe is flat and dull. Guess what, there’s cybernetics and a psionic race. Wow. The cybernetics are nowhere as cool as Shadowrun. The races are uninspiring, unthreatening, and dull.
The combat system is skill based except for a confusingly written Setting the Target Number set of rules. It’s supposed to be a big differentiator for them. It’s not exciting. In fact, I wanted to get clarity on it but, and here’s a surprise, there’s no written example in the combat chapter on a few rounds of combat. I’ll grant you I’m no genius, but I’ve written a LOT of game books (and designed RPG’s myself) and I find examples to be, I don’t know…USEFUL.
The character classes are so bad I felt as if I threw up a little bit in the back of my throat when writing this review. Example of the fluff text. “Their cargo is technically considered to be contraband and subject to seizure without warning and for no reason other them being who they are. Even with all of these dangers and pitfalls, most smugglers tend to make a very good living.” How is this the case? We’ll never know – there are no rules for merchants and smugglers. Oh, and the class bonuses? “Never tell me the odds…” “She can make that run in a unit of measurement that doesn’t actually apply to this analogy.” I’m not kidding. This is no homage to Star Wars where they clearly lifted their inspiration – it’s an expensive knock off that lacks any depth.
The spaceship building rules work, but have all of the complexity and thrills of an Excel spreadsheet. At least with BattleTech there are inherent tradeoffs you have to make – armor, speed, firepower. With this you purchase modules and I guess they just fit in your spaceship frame.
The artwork is okay – actually, it’s a redeeming feature in the book. It is all done by the same artist so everything has the same look at feel. That was good. What sucks is how they abused the art. To describe extra arms, they took an image of an alien with extra arms (used elsewhere in the book) and faded everything but the extra arms. It was as if the designers felt that people wouldn’t know what extra arms were so they gave you a visual reference. I will grant you, some players may struggle with that concept – but not at my table.
This game needs and overhaul or, better yet, needs to die the same death of many of its other predecessors in the genre. No burial. Cremation is the only solution for this system.
My review is one out of five stars and I am struggling to be that generous. There are some interesting nuggets here, but the price to get to those concepts is far too high. I won’t even taint my other RPG’s by putting it on the shelf with them. This book should have been titled, “Failing Stars.” As my mother would say, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”