Hmm. I'm of two minds about Rocketship Empires ... but not in a bad way ... but whether to give it 4 or 5 stars.
The book is graphically beautiful ... no other word for it ... but the layout is, well, not great. Lots of widowed and orphaned section headings, which simply wasn't necessary ... a sign of an inexperienced layout artist, I suspect. Of course, while I find that personally annoying, it doesn't change the chunky goodness of the product overall.
Likewise, the spelling ... grates ... obviously they didn't use a spellcheck program or, if they did, it has serious problems. The plurals of words ending in "y" for example, end in "ies" ... one company, two companIES and NOT two companYS. Sure, minor thing. But so obvious ... and that's not the only gratingly glaring spelling error ... parachute is abbreviated as 'chute (or, maybe, chute) ... it is NOT represented by the word shoots ... I know that schools don't teach spelling as such any more (I'm a teacher, so I should), but, they DO correct errors (well, I do, anyway) ... and if the writer knows as much about WW2 as he seems to, then the mis-spelling is unforgivably sloppy.
The use of full colour fills on tabular information ... looks great, but chews through the ink cartridges ... and wasn't necessary. At the very least the layout could have included a printer friendly version or just used coloured TEXT rather than coloured FILL.
The fact that tables have no headers and are not always placed on the page to which the text that refers to them actually is ... unfortunate. It's not as if there wasn't space ...
That's the layout stuff, which, if you read my reviews, is almost as important to me in some ways as the actual content ... and its the reason why I can't, in good conscience, give RE a 5/5 rathing.
How about the chunky goodness ... the content?
Well, this is a "tubepunk" game ... WW2 (well, its set in 1936, so the leadup to WW2) in Space with Martian Technology as the deus ex machina ... and it looks like it could be an interesting campaign. Very interesting.
I have some issues with the history ... the Martians appear in 1919 and, for example, by 1936 something like (from memory) 80% of Spain's population has moved offworld ... and Spain is as much an industrial powerhouse in RE36 as it was in the real world. Which is to say, its NOT. And all this is done in freighters that rarely exceed 3000 tons. Fifteen years to move 80% of 50 million people in 3000 ton freighters. Sorry. Suspension of disbelief just crashed and burnt in flames.
However, the intriguing possibilities of the background are such that I can (and believe YOU should, if you even care) forgive the historical uinlikeliness (I'm a historian by training, so I'm biased ... or just too persnickety, I guess) because I can see the possibilities of this background.
So, yeah, some of the history is clunky and unbelievable, but the backrground as a whole has real potential.
RE36 is a systemless book ... but a considerable chunk is taken up with creating a system to show how to fit it into whatever system you actually use. Probably almost as much space, in some ways, as a cut down system suitable for the genre would have taken up ... go figure ;-)
This is especially the case with the Spaceship design section, which, for a "systemless" system, is remarkably system heavy. And some of it just a tad clunky. Well, at least you are being encouraged to use some OTHER system evil grin ... I figure that Silhouette Core/Gear Krieg would be a pretty good fit (though not, by any means, the only one! Not even, necessarily, the best ... it is just one I have some familiarity with).
Overall, the systemless system and the background are intriguing ... I can really recommend this product, despite the minor shortcomings ... it's probably around a 4.25/5, possibly a 4.5/5 ... and I don't rate things highly unless they are damn well worth it!