Sunday, 5 February 2017

Review - Metamorphosis Alpha Collector's Edition

I've been thinking lately about how I can update my blog more often on days I don't get any significant painting done.  I thought about doing more "Up On A Soapbox" but if it doesn't come to me in the moment I think it would feel forced.  So instead I decided to start doing some product reviews.  The idea hit me for 2 reasons:
1.  I've bought and used a lot of stuff in the last few years that might not have a foot print in your local game store so you might not be aware of it.
2.  Having been in and around the gaming industry for 30+ years I feel like I have a decent grasp on a lot of products journeys and histories (but I don't think I've quite descended into the curmudgeonly old vs new debate yet).

Pre-amble aside lets get to my first review!


First up a quick history lesson for those of you not familiar with the Metamorphosis Alpha RPG.  Metamorphosis Alpha is in fact the FIRST sci-fi RPG every published, it sprang out of James Ward's early meetings and involvement with Gary Gygax's D&D groups back in 1976.  Ward thought D&D in space would be a great idea and pitched it to Gygax who told him he should go ahead and write it himself.  Although it is a separate and mechanically unique game on its own MA is basically conceived as a giant dungeon flying through space.  Ward's original intent had been that the giant colony ship would be an environment in which to explore but that the ultimate goal of a campaign would be to gain control of the ship and direct it to a final destination (which apparently in play testing no one ever actually attempted).
I'm a Johnny-come-lately to Metamorphosis Alpha as I have far more experience with its direct spiritual successor Gamma World.

I bought Metamorphosis Alpha more as a history piece than with any intention to game it but that idea has shifted.  In the past few years there have been a number of "deluxe" or "collectors" editions of games and books that I have purchased due to a combination of general nostalgia and because they have included looks back on development and design that I find really interesting, this is one of those products.  In addition to the game itself the Collector's Edition also contains interviews with Mr Ward as well as his reflections on his multiple stints with TSR during some of their most interesting periods.  It also contains all of the old Dragon and Space Gamer articles published in support of the game.

From a mechanical point of view Metamorphosis Alpha shows its age in a very positive way.  During the era it was developed RPGs tended to focus more on character creation and mechanics and less on conflict resolution.  Conflict resolution was more up to the players based on how they wanted to apply skills, abilities,, equipment and actual role-playing to the challenges confronting them.  This isn't to say it's a 'rules-lite' game but its problem solving is far less linear than games of our current area where each challenge feels like it has a direct counter to solve it.  Overall it feels like a great game to introduce new role-players or non-gamers to gaming fun as it doesn't rely on a lot of meta-game knowledge and understanding.

As I touched on earlier I bought Metamorphosis Alpha Collector's Edition more with the intention of owning it as a book to read and then go live on my shelf, but now that I've read that book I'm busily planning my first adventure.

From a qualitative point of view I would definitely give it a thumbs up and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get their sci-fi RPG on outside of a firmly established developed game world.  It's also a great look into the history of TSR  and a fond trip down memory lane for gamers of my age.  Also if being a gaming hipster is becoming a thing (I'm pretty sure it is) this product will allow you to avoid being as "mainstream" as Gamma World.


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