Ashen Stars is a game that takes its genre, "gritty space opera," very very VERY seriously. So much that sometimes it becomes annoying, as when things happen or are the way they are because that is what would have happnened on Star Trek: TNG or the new Battlestar Galactica. Enough, already, be your own game. Chargen in this game is, .... well, I can't tell you because it is impossible in this game to create a character without having a GM or a group to do it with. I like making characters just for fun or to test systems, but you can't here, because the number of points you get for buying abilities depends on how many people are playing. Also, there are no ratings for basic physical/mental abilities, like Strength, Intelligence, or Will. Characters are entirely summed up by their skills, and all groups must have every one of the crucal Investigative skills (one of the reasons you need a GM for chargen). One positive aspect of the way characters are made is the emphasis put on Drives and characters arcs. I like it when characters are more than collections of ability scores, but I also want scores.
AS is run on the GUMSHOE system, which is entirely focused on investigation and mystery solving. Thus play proceeds by the GM granting clues to players automatically when they have the right skill in the right place (no rolls needed), hoping that the players will have the sense to see that they are in place to use that skill. When they don't, the GM has to dump the clues on them anyway, cause mystery is the thing and the players HAVE to solve the mystery. They can of course fail, but mystery solving is the drive of the game. If you and your group want that, GUMSHOE makes absolutely certain you will get it. Every time.
I like well-developed, detailed settings, but AS's The Bleed is just the suggestion of one. It is the 25th century, after an intersellar empire of multiple races (including Humans) called the The Combine has barely won a war against a mysterious enemy (cause everybody has a peculiar memory loss about anything concerning them), the Mohilar. (don't complain, it's GENRE).The Bleed, where the game is set, was a border region of that empire, and is now more or less left to its own devices as the Combine pulls in its bloody stumps and tries to rebuild. The less in the more or less is the PCs, who are freelance, roving problem solvers/ law-enforcers called Lasers. They take and fulfill Contracts by solving the aforementioned mysteries. This is a neat solution to the need of RPGs to explain why a disparate group of unsual people are traveling constantly (together!) and using force with no consquences. Don't these people have jobs, bills, families and rent? Yes: their job is to travel the Bleed solving the Problem of the Week on the Planet of the Week, and that's how they pay the bills and rent on their spaceship. Families, if any, exist to be threatened by bad guys.
But AS's solution to this problem is no worse than any other RPGs, and more thought-out than most. All-in-all, AS is a game that does what it sets out to do well, regardless of the qualms I have about what it sets out to do.
[3 of 5 Stars!]