Gurps space 4e is the latest product out for gurps 4e, and like other 4e gurps products it's expensive, hardbacked, slickpapered, colored and overpriced for what actually get.
This is especially true when one compares it to the 3e version of gurps space, as I will later in this review.
Looking at GS 4e we get a 240 page hardback book printed in color on slick paper, all of which adds up to more "KA CHING!!!" for sjg and more $$ out of gamers pockets.
(To the best of my knowledge, most gamers would be happier with softcover books done in B&W on flatpaper and for lower prices. However when one tries to point this out to SJG, they simply cite some sort of 'study' as proof that despite what gamers might know from other gamers first hand, most gamers prefer hardback, slick papered color products at higher prices.)
As to what's printed on the slick color pages nestled between those hard covers, it's a very uneven mix of almost too much detail on some subjects and a complete lack of any detail whatsoever on others.
The book starts out with a well written (as all the book is, I admit) diatribe on why we're so damn fascinated with space and why so many of us yearn to get there someday, Einstein bedamned.
The authors expressed some of my own feelings and desires to a degree that made me feel a connection with them and their work.
It then discusses the varities of campaigns that can be set in space, ranging from hard SF to space opera to sheer absurdist campaigns a'la "Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy". There are even notes on 'starships and magic' settings. Each genre recieves a basic treatment and a list of references.
Also, the concepts of tone and scale are discussed professionally.
Possible campaign types and occupations are listed, such as law enforcement, piracy, bounty hunting, prospecting, journalists, explorers, settlers, etc.
We get a list of possible agencies that might exist in some space settings, like one called the "SJG" which stands for special justice group. Ha ha.
Possible antagonists are listed. On page 29, right in the center, it lists "militant islamics' as possible enemies. My hypocrisy detector pegged when I read that ref, as any mention of militant islamics on the sjg forums gets a thread closing and possible banning. I guess sjg has one standard for game book writers and one for the customers. (BTW, this is no critique of the book's authors. It is most definitely a criticism of sjg.)
Getting on past this whiff of double standardism, we pass thru
more general material that is fairly generic (well, it is gurps, so that's to be expected.) and quite well written, especially the notes on technology and what consitutes hard science fiction and what constitutes rubber science, until we reach the book's jewel in the lotus, the star system and planet generation tables.
This thing is like a 4 year course in astronomy and astrophysics compressed down into an interesting read that's still quite heavy with facts and charts. The authors should be writing science texts for colleges, I kid you not. They've obviously read plenty.
To sum up a monsterous amount of data, I will say that the star system and planet generation tables are exhaustively complete and laden with terms one usually only finds in very hard SF novels written by, say, Greg Bear, Greg Benford, Larry Niven or other masters of hard SF. Want to know what a stellar object's 'black body temperature' is? Want to know what the hell black body temperature is? This book will tell you. It gives formulae for determing orbital speed, escape velocity, surface gravity and, in short enough facts to actually make it a useful reference for a hard SF writer. (The system/planet creation system in GT IW is a stripped down version of this one, BTW)
Next comes a section on creating alien creatures. Having written one of these for a SF game company myself I can appreciate the care and effort that went into it. The notes on biochemistry and biology are quite informative, and could again be of use to a hard SF writer.
Afterwards comes ideas for creating alien civillizations which, again, is quite well written and thoughtful.
There are templates for various characters, with point levels, suggested skills, advantages and disadvantages and that's basically most of the book.
The bad part of gurps space 4e isn't anything that's in it, it's what's not in it that hurts. In a book about space and technology, not one single piece of equipmwent is statted out in 4e terms. Not one single weapon, ship or even a spacesuit appears in stat form, and that hurts the book a lot.
What made it worse is that I dug up my gurps space 3e book to compare the two. GS3e was 175 pages and had several useful lists of weapons, equipment and gear taking up a few pages. It also had a basic modular starship construction system and a spaceship combat system. Lastly, it was softcover, flat paper, B&W and more affordable.
It also had less comprehensive but useful star system and planet creation rules, alien notes, cultural notes and so on.
In sum, GS 3e was a gaming product, while GS 4e is almost more of a reference manual for someone wanting to write a hard SF novel, but is seriously lacking (almost totally lacking, in fact) in actual game material.
I would have preferred a few pages of equipment lists, at least some weapons and gear that might commonly be used in a space campaign, but not one piece of equipment was listed. C'mon, guys, it's called 'GURPS SPACE". so let's have a space suit, at least....
Gurps space 4e is a great tool for writing SF, but it's very deficient on actual game material.
Comparing gurps space 4e to gurps space 3e shows clearly what's gone wrong with the fourth edition of gurps so far.
It also shows why getting "Star Hero" might be a better buy if you want gaming material foor a gaming system as opposed to a refference book for a budding SF writer, especially since one of the authors of GS4e worked on star hero.