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Cold Space RPG $10.00
Publisher: Better Mousetrap Games
by Rob M. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/19/2005 00:00:00

Cold Space is a science fiction RPG set against an alternate history that pits American and Soviet super-powers struggling against each other on earth and in a hyper-accelerated space race thanks to the game?s Solothurn drive. The Solothurn Drive adds contra-gravity and ?warp field? FTL capabilities to the timeline?s tech tree. Against this backdrop the player?s take on the roles of soldiers, spies, spacers, scientists, and settlers among the familiar conflicts of cold war history as well as among the stations, moons, planets, and faraway stars opened up by the presence of the Solothurn drive. It runs on the StarCluster 2nd Edition game engine, a set of solid percentile mechanics that utilize a detailed year by year education/career system to define characters.


The PDF opens up with a chapter on the Cold Space setting. Herein you find the retro-history of the cold space setting, where the major eras in the timeline are described, Initial Cold Space: 1954, Early Cold Space: 1955 ? 1964, Middle Cold Space: 1965-1975, and Late Cold Space: 1976-1989. Within each era, major campaign types are outlined along with the character?s most appropriate for each. A close reading of this chapter and discussion with his players will give the GM the means to outline the campaign setup he has envisioned. Military campaigns, both Earth-side and among the colonies are likely, with Korea, and Vietnam looming large, as well as several additional colonial conflicts, is outlined. Espionage campaigns are of course likely everywhere, with all kinds of Cold War skullduggery likely, indeed, for the edification of younger gamers, the cold war gave rise to the ?Spy Game? as we know it, particularly during the late ?70s early 80?s among East/West Germany and the Warsaw Pact countries. Then of course there is space exploration and colonization campaigns, as well as merchant trading, piracy, and Rocket Corps campaigns.


This chapter describes the play style associated with Cold Space, the Task resolution rules, as well as pretty much all of the combat rules, which would have been better saved for a separate combat chapter. Knowing the basic task resolution system and play style makes understanding the character creation system, the next chapter, easier. However, also included in this section are detailed nitty-gritty combat rules, such as automatic and burst fire, something which the player isn?t likely to want to know, nor remember at this point in his learning of the game, especially before he has created his character.

As mentioned earlier, Cold Space uses the Starcluster 2nd Edition game engine. StarCluster is based on a ?survival? model, that is, your main goal is assumed to be your character surviving to gain more skill & ability. The default campaign is assumed to a linked series of adventures, each presumed to take place over a period of years, spanning the character?s career. Thus you first adventure or two might involve a military character fresh from the academy, then a few years later in his first campaign, and years later as grizzled NCO leading a troop in a campaign.

The task resolution system is a roll under percentile setup. Your character has a level in skill, from +1 for rudimentary skill, +10 for highly skilled, on up to +15 to +20 or more at the very high end. You base chance of success, the number which you must roll equal to or under on the percentile dice, is 40%+ 5xSkill Level. Thus if I had a skill level of +3, my chance of success would 55%. Thus I would need to roll a 55 or less on the percentile dice to succeed. Attributes affect this as well, adding 5% to the chance of success for every 2 points over 7. (The Attributes, which are rated from 2 to 12 or more, with the average being seven, are Strength (STR), Coordination (COOR), Agility (AGY), Endurance (END), Charisma (CHA), Luck (LUCK) and IQ. IQ, for reasons I do not understand, uses the ?real world? scale where an IQ score of 100 is average, so while you might have an STR of 8 and END of 8, your IQ is 125.) IQ is an exception of course, in which case the modifier is equal to +1% for every point of IQ over 120.

Mixed in with this chapter, rather haphazardly I would say are the basic combat rules, including detailed rules for grenades, burst fire, etc.


Characters are defined by two important sets of stats in Cold Space, Attributes, and Skills. The attributes represent a character?s basic abilities, while the skills represent his learned abilities and training. The culture and social class that a character grew up under is the major determiner of what skills a character can learn. The culture determines a character?s ?Mother?s Milk? skills, those skills he learned during his childhood. A character?s social class, as represented by the cash he has available to him, determines what education and professions he will be able to take up, and thus the skills he can learn. Your character?s skills are built year by year as he spends years in school or at a job.

This system is fairly unique in that there is no ?experience? system; Character?s only advance in abilities by the year by year system. A character?s adventures are assumed to happen within a year, and do not add to the skills or abilities he gains. Thus you can play a character at any arbitrary point in his career, by advancing his abilities appropriately.


These two chapters, Weapons & personal equipment provide information on the equipment available to character?s in the setting. Though you might expect some ray-guns to show up among the brave men of the US Rocket Corps, they are all ?real world? type slug thrower fire arms. The weapon stats are fairly generic, with not detail being provided with regards to weapons becoming more accurate or such over campaign period (Such as the M16 becoming more reliable, and with the newer ammo, more accurate and damaging towards late 80s. ) However, the bulk of spacesuits and such are addressed, as they become more compact during period.
Unfortunately there are few illustrations in the equipment chapter, and relatively few in the Starships chapter. More illustrations would have helped bring across the peculiarities of the retro-tech feel of the starships and space-technology in the game. (The very fist ships used to land on the moon in the Cold Space timeline were converted submarines using the contra-gravity abilities of the Solothurn drive! Additionally, the ideas of rocket powered ships that can reach trans-luminal speed thanks to the ?Corkscrew? drive beg for some cool retro-tech illustrations. The two ships that are illustrated are basically ?blunt cone? type rocket landers, very interesting. Additionally, a bit of propaganda style illustrations would have help reinforced feel of game. I mean, they call the space navy in the game the Rocket Corps!)


These two chapters provide the starship combat rules, which work similar to the character combat system, however, each crewmember takes on specific tasks during a combat around, coordinating communications, identifying targets, firing weapons, etc. The space travel rules provide rules for determining travel times among interplanetary and interstellar destinations. An interesting tidbit is that, even with the ?warp drive? elements of the Solothurn drive, the ships still follow real world space travel dynamics. They have a brief period of acceleration upon leaving for their destination, followed by a freefall coast at that speed towards their destination. And once approaching their destination there is a braking period as they slow so they don?t overshoot their destination.


This chapter is a gazetteer of all the worlds colonized by the two super-powers and the UN sponsored states, starting from Mars and The Moon in the Sol system on to Omicron Eridani IV and V. These are done as nice solar system maps, plus global maps, along with details and stats for each world/system. Also included in this section is a running travelogue written by a writer commissioned by TIME magazine to travel to all the off-earth colonies. It gives a nice feel for each of the different worlds and some adventure hints for many of the planets. A table listing details of each of the worlds and their associated colonies is included in Appendix B.


The PDF makes use of a 2 column layout, and is fairly compact, with no extraneous whitespace. The PDF makes use of a large fancy serif font for several of the chapter headings; the font was fairly ornate and made me think of a fantasy setting rather than retro-tech future of the product. A more futurist/military/NASA style font would have added to the feel of the game, the ornate serif font used tended to jar me from the SF feel of the piece. The fonts used in the faux news-clippings looked authentic. The artwork is primarily limited to one large piece at the beginning of each chapter; it is passable for the most part, with the cover piece being the only standout, though there are numerous well-done solar system and world maps in the worlds section.


Cold Space presents an interesting alternate history SF universe for players to explore, taking an interesting period of history and ratcheting it up a notch to include a retro-future space race. The Starcluster 2nd Edition mechanics provide a serviceable set of mechanics, though they could have been presented better, such as splitting up the basic task resolution information and combat rules into their own chapters. GM?s will want to read the fiction pieces, which are pretty good, running throughout each chapter to better immerse themselves in the Cold Space universe. This game also could have benefited from more targeted GM advice or a sample adventure, to help GM?s, and players get onto the same page as to the feel of the game, and the specifics of a particular campaign focus. Expansions detailing particular periods and campaign types would of course be helpful, and are hopefully forthcoming.

Overall, however, Cold Space provides a unique combination of retro-future Space Opera and alternate history gaming to engage players, the details of which can be easily adapted to another system. (Or expanded upon by enterprising GM?s, I of course, would like to see a Post-Armageddon Cold Space, where the big NATO vs. Warsaw Pact tank, or in this case contra-grav gunship, battles took place in Europe, followed by some nuclear exchanges on earth, with the various aligned colonies left to carry on the fight, or pick up the pieces.) So, for players looking for some sci-fi action that isn?t just another far-future space empire, I heartily recommend taking a look at Cold Space.

LIKED: Funky retro-tech alternate history Cold War commie bashing.

DISLIKED: Could have used more GM/Campaign advice, more illustrations of tech stuff, more propaganda style illustrations of rocket corps and soviet counterpart would have been fun.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


[4 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher Reply:
Thanks for an excellent and thorough review, Rob. Most of your points were actually considered during the lengthy process of writing and playtesting this game, and we'd like to explain our reasoning.

The exclusion of combat specific modifiers from the Playing the Game chapter was considered and rejected, when we saw we would have what amounted to less than two pages of combat-only modifiers. Burst and Automatic Fire, Grenades, Ranges, and Cover don't add up to much. Supressive fire is not combat specific, as it can be used by extension in any situation where one group is harrassing and distracting another, combat or not. Also, we felt that adding a combat chapter would be in effect stating that combat was fundamentally different from any other skills use, when it is not. In short, we thought that a combat specific chapter would be misleading, and just to small to be justified.

The "fantasy font" is an art deco font from the thirties and early forties. We felt a more futuristic typeface - like the one we used in StarCluster 2 - would detract from the period feel. Ironic, no? :D

We initially worked out changes in equipment effectiveness over time - as well as changes in pricing due to inflation - but feedback from our playtesters was uniformly negative - "too confusing" was what it boiled down to, so that was dumped.

The lack of "blasters" and lasers was purely intentional, as the only differences between our Cold War and theirs was due to the singular invention of the Solothurn Drive. As a result, we have the usual slug throwers with machetes and combat knives for close combat. This is also why the spaceship mechanics (boost-drift-brake) are like what we have now.

All of the tech in the game besides the Solothurn was appropriate to the time period. We advanced the perfection of the Orion and Nerva drives by half a decade or so due to more money being spent on their development. Both projects were technical successes on a comparative shoestring in the real world, which were scuttled by political considerations which would be meaningless in Cold Space terms. In effect, Cold Space is very "hard" SF - taking one single technological advance, the Solothurn Drive, and exploring its ramifications.

You'll note I didn't disagree with any of your criticisms. :D

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Cold Space RPG
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