I’d promised Venger a review of Alpha Blue but hadn’t gotten around to it [I got a comp copy, full disclosure]. With Alpha Blue being the latest casualty of policy changes at Onebookshelf and a general, puritanical string to genre and pop culture lately I got the motivation to go ahead with the review. I’m hoping to get hold of Venger for a quick interview about the situation and how the policy works in practice in the near future. If I manage to get the scheduling to work I’ll let you know what’s going on, here.
So Alpha Blue then. It’s a bit of a hard product to review. It’s a science fiction setting that grows out of a science fiction location, with a basic RPG system tacked on. Like my own game, Machinations of the Space Princess, it’s inspired by the camp, pulpy, rather naughty science fiction of the 60s, 70s and 80s – in fact it would make a perfect setting and location for use in MotSP.
The system isn’t really that important here, but it’s a simple D6 based dicepool system that’s perfectly adequate to the task if you don’t have another system you’d prefer to use. The meat and bone of the whole thing is very much the setting and the elements that stem from it. The rules cover all the basics you’d expect, combat, social interaction, cybernetics, science fictional and psychic powers and weird alien abilities. Just not in any huge depth. The tables here can be used for inspiration whatever game system you decide to use.
The universe is detailed fairly quickly and draws obvious derivation in many regards from well-loved films and TV series from the time period. There’s a Federation (in which, amusingly, Earth are the paupers and dead last in terms of culture etc), Draconians – recalling Buck Rogers – and a bunch of other ideas familiar and new, as well as a little bit of near-to-the-knuckle satire and fun-poking of politics and of other game settings (the bit on ‘Space Muslims’ being especially biting).
Alpha Blue itself is a space station – of sorts. This place wanders around the universe, albeit not at an especially hurried pace. Alpha Blue itself is a commentary on our collective hang-ups about sex. Following mankind’s inability to handle its own sexuality, Alpha Blue was constructed as a safe outlet of all of mankind’s collective, pent-up, sexual energy. A combination of an asylum for the oversexed and – eventually – a sort of ‘space Vegas’ where anything goes. It’s now another drifting space station, albeit with an interesting past. A haven for deviancy, criminals, gambling and adventurers.
Alpha Blue itself is very well detailed, while remaining open enough for you to add, alter or incorporate your own material. It’s very much more of a ‘toolkit’ book than something to use straight from the pages. It’s a hard book to review since its main use is as inspiration and a review that revealed too many of the easter-eggs and references within it would spoil the experience of reading it.
Alpha Blue goes a bit further than I normally do in some ways, but that’s mostly a result of my own cowardice and self-censorship. That’s probably why it has gotten into the trouble that it has (though speculation is that it’s a reference in a single paragraph in the book to a ‘rape machine‘ used by an evil faction). It also wears its influences on its sleeve a little more directly than I normally would, in the illustrations within it’s easy to recognise figures like Ming, Klytus, Dr Who and Buck Rogers. The whole thing – and much of the terminology – is somewhat taken from The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue (a porno film with 70s-tastic soundtrack which, if you’re utterly desperate, you can watch on Xhamster.)
All things considered it’s a campy, openly sexual nostalgia fest, probably best approached as a series of inspirational tables and setting components to kitbash into your own settings.
Presentation wise it could be a little cleaner and the art is of very mixed quality. Some of it is very good, some of it is very bad and some of it just doesn’t seem to fit the science-fantasy theme (being, perhaps, more suited to an occult themed book)