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Space Opera $10.00
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Space Opera
Publisher: Fantasy Games Unlimited
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/13/2021 14:01:59

Originally posted here:

Space Opera has always been one of those games that I have wanted for years but never tried. Anytime I thought about the game it was usually out of print and the prices were a bit high. Then I'd forget about it again. Reading through all my old Dragons, especially in the 1980-1983 time frame, there was an ad for it every issue.

Since this is SciFi month I figure I should go back to this one. Thankfully for me, it is now available as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.

Space Opera (1982)

Space Opera, 1st Edition, was released in 1980 which makes it one of the first competitions to the Classic Traveller RPG. The 2nd Edition version, which is what DriveThruRPG has, was released in 1982. I can't really speak to the differences. According to a post over at Wayne Books, there are not really many differences between the 1st Ed "Blue" box vs. the 2nd Ed. "Black" box save for the art.

There also seems to be a slight difference between the two black box 2nd edition covers.

Space Opera was written by Edward E. Simbalist, A. Mark Ratner, and Phil McGregor and published by Fantasy Games Unlimited.

The PDF from DriveThruRPG is 200 pages split into to two volumes. There are two color pages of the box art and the rest is a very old-school style b/w text with some minimal art. While this sounds like a drawback the game is very much a sandbox-style game. So the "Art" that would be here is from whatever your favorite sci-fi property is. Space Opera tries to be all things to everyone and ... well we will see how well it does at this. The PDF is a scanned image, then OCR'ed. There is no bookmarking.

Out of the box we learn that Space Opera is exactly that. A game to emulate your favorite Space Opera fiction. This is not the hard science of Traveller or the weird science of Gamma World/Metamophasis Alpha. This is Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers. I have heard it described as "not drama, but melodrama."

The sections are numbered like many old-school war games. 1.0 is "Space Opera" 1.1 is "Required Materials & Equipment" and so on. There are four major sections of Vol. 1, the player's book, 1. Space Opera, the introduction, 2. Character classes, 3. PC Career Experience and 4. PC Knowledge and Skills. Vol. 2 is the "Star Master's" section. Yes they are indeed called Star Masters. Here we have sections 5 to 18. 5. General Equipment Lists, 6. Personal Weapons, 7. Heavy Weapons, 8. Ground Combat, 9. StarShips, 10. StarShip Combat, 11 StarShip Economics & Interstellar Comerce, 12. World Creation, 13. Cultural Contacts (aka Aliens), 14. Directory Design of Planets, 15. Habitable Planets, 16. NPC Races, 17. Beasts, and finally 18. Personal Living Expenses.

If it looks like the game is heavy on weapons and combat then yes, it is. It is also so wonderful old school with bunches of different systems and sub systems.

Instead of completely reviewing a 40+ year old game let through out some caveats and some points.

First, while this game was certainly an attractive alternative to Traveller at the time, we have many more games out now that do this all better and with clearer rules.

Second, if you are a fan of older games or a fan of Sci-Fi games then really is a must have for your collection. The PDF is nice and cheap compare to the $100+ to $300 range I see copies go for online. For $10.00 it is worth your while if you are curious about the game, the history of RPGs or Sci-Fi games.

Now some points. Or how to get the most out of the 10 bucks I just asked you to spend.

Section 1.2 covers units of measurement, all metric focused. Many games do not have these, this is useful for anyone working in three-dimensions or needs a good idea what a cubic meter is.

Section 1.4 has good advice on dicing rolling in any game. Don't roll unless the outcome is in question or it serves the drama. There are lots of time to roll the dice, it doesn't need to be done all the time.

Section 2.0 covers classes. They boil down to Fighting, Tech, Science, Medical and Specialist. We will see these in one form or another time and time again in nearly every other Sci-Fi RPG from Stars Without Number, The Expanse, to Starfinder and even Star Wars and Star Trek.

Section 2.2 is a nice overview and random tables of Planet of Birth. They are all d20 rolls and should work with every other system out there. My back of the napkin math even tells me it would work great in such games like White Star.

Section 2.3 character races has great guidelines for just about every sci-fi race out there. Humans, future humans, evolved apes, cats, dogs, bears, birds, lizards. All here. Again guidelines so cut and paste into what other Sci-Fi game you have going on. No giant insects though.

Section 3.1 on covers some great guidelines on Mercenary service. I can't vouch that the economics will transfer from game to game though.

Section 4 has so many skills. I prefer a simpler skill system these days, but this would help you define some specialized ones.

Section 4.10 has a lot of Psionic skills as well. Might work with Stars Without Number. This is also how you get "The Force" without pissing off Lucasfilm/Disney.

Section 5. So. Much. Equipment!

Section 15. Great toolkit for habitable planets.

Section 16. NPCs and sample Alien races.

I said above it tries to be everything to everyone. It does this by taking every sci-fi trope there is and giving it a home here. Does it work? ends up being very long, very complicated and somewhat unattractive, but I can't tell if I am judging it by today's standards, my standards for game design or the standards of the time. This is a toolkit game with 1000s of options and you only need to choose the ones that work best for you.

This is not the Granddaddy of Sci-Fi RPGs. That would be Traveller. This is however the Great Uncle. He still has some good ideas and since he has no kids of his own he can spoil the grandkids as much as he likes.

I am sure that there are groups out there still today that would LOVE this game. Me I prefer something a little more streamlined. That all being said, I am glad I bought the PDF of this as opposed to spending $100s on eBay for it.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Space Opera
Publisher: Fantasy Games Unlimited
by Jeff R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/16/2010 15:18:38

This is not a review but a comment this game is about as old as me and the scan coversion to PDF looks as old as me (40). I realize some one was kind enough to scan it to PDF but I was hoping that it would be a quailty job too. However if your like me and remember either playing the game or seeing it in the Dragon magazine as I did your going to want to buy it anyways. Oh yes Im looking foward to playing this classic. If FGU would have cleaned up the text and modernized it I would have given it a 5/5.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Space Opera
Publisher: Fantasy Games Unlimited
by Michael G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/07/2010 23:10:03

This is just an incredibly detailed and amazingly complex set of rules that really can cover just about any event or action that you can consider. I loved the character generation rules and i see where the basic concept was carried on in other games later on.

I still have my dog eared copy of the original book but wanted to get this one as well.

It's sad that such a detailed set of rules had such awful adventures to go with them, but i guess that is just one of the reasons it never really took off. Too bad really.

The bonus of having the equipment included in this package made it worth the price.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Space Opera
Publisher: Fantasy Games Unlimited
by Hamilton R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/19/2010 04:01:18

The reason for buying this product is for the information in it. The game system is entirely dated, and overly complex, but it has a lot of information about how to run starships, psionics, weapons and types of items. It is loaded with stuff.

  • Us older gamers will buy it for nostalgia too.

However, I must rate it as a stand-alone game, for it may be the only game someone plays. If this person stops at this game, it would be a shame for him to miss out on the other excellent products available.

QUALITY: Fair VALUE: Good EASE OF PLAY: Poor VOLUME OF INFORMATION: Excellent LAYOUT: Poor ARTWORK: Good (but BW and limited)

[3 of 5 Stars!]
Space Opera
Publisher: Fantasy Games Unlimited
by James V.
Date Added: 08/13/2004 00:41:23

Amazingly enough I discovered Space Opera in 1981 and about 5 months after I discovered the D&D and the AD&D First Edition rules. I was hooked on role-playing and SO really added fuel to the fire. I studied those rules backwards and forwards, upside-down and right-side up. I tore them up. I just could not find anybody that would stop playing AD&D, so I focused on AD&D - but I absolutely never forgot the "Space Opera" RPG.

In my opinion, the SO RPG is not the greatest mechanically designed ''classic'' RPG. SO had both a confusing and weak hand-to-hand combat, space combat heavily based on "wet-navy" mechanics, poor to non-existent martial arts system and a skill resolution mechanic just as poor. Otherwise the damage mechanic and skill result mechanics where pretty cool. SO's primary strength lies in its originality of the material about super-technology, super-science, Psionics, FTL spacecraft details, detailed history, detailed cultures and great inter-stellar civilizations that easily compares to or rivals the SCIFI RPGs classics like: Traveller, MegaTraveller, MechWarrior, BattleMech and even StarFrontier. I think only the StarWars RPG (the original), StarWars D20, SpaceMaster and Star Hero equals SO's potential, in this regard. Get this! 'Space Opera' is the only RPG where a Dorsai-type soldier, a Lensman-type super-agent/spy, a classic scifi Star Marines, StarPatrol and a Jedi Knight warrior can all fight side-by-side - OR fight each other!!! Isn't that cool? Minus the few areas of what I said is bad, the good in SO provides a broad range of material and concept development that is historically one of the best rpg designs since the early 1980's. As you can probably tell, I was happy, when I found DRIVETHRURPG's website! :D

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Space Opera
Publisher: Fantasy Games Unlimited
by Mark M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/23/2004 15:27:37

Back in 1981 while I was attending college I happened to stumble across this jewel of a game. The local wargaming club had just discovered it and was running original scenarios for it in addition to those of Traveller, which had been around for just a few years.

Space Opera has a unique character-generation system which I've found to be more satisfying than the current crop of "generic" RPG's. It's not a trivial task to create a character (done randomly using the time-honored tradition of rolling dice), but ultimately the player ends up with a true science-fiction player character, with skills and abilities specific to the far-future universe described in the rules and fine-tuned by the Game Master.

Combat requires just a couple of dice rolls to resolve hits and damage, although the Game Master has to keep track of variables such as range, speed, armor and size. The weapons table lists other variables (armor penetration, reliability, range, lethality) for each of the weapons listed -- and there are a lot of weapons, ranging from the dagger to the good ol' blaster rifle.

Perhaps the only drawback to this game is the black-and-white graphics, sprinkled sparingly throughout both rule books. Anyone used to the current multi-color, glossy-paged hard back RPG's may be disappointed with the artwork in Space Opera. But Space Opera is a game for the mind, and hard-core science fiction RPGers could do a lot worse than to choose this product.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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