Growing up as a kid, it was hard to escape the gravitational pull of Star Wars. Released in 1977, at the end of my second grade year, I, like pretty much every other male from 6-60, was a huge fan of George Lucas's space fantasy. But, when it came to adventures in space, Star Wars was neither my first nor my true love. That distinction goes to Star Trek, to which I'd been introduced a year or two earlier by my favorite aunt, who shared some of my nascent geekish interests, and who was unmarried at the time and still lived with my grandparents whom I visited nearly every week. Together, we watched reruns of The Original Series on Saturday afternoons on an independent DC channel and I was forever bonded to Gene Roddenberry's creation. Over the years, my fondness for Star Trek has waxed and waned considerably and, in recent years, the latter has won out. I'm frankly tired of the franchise and would much prefer to see it go off gently into that good night, but I doubt that Paramount will ever allow that to happen. I expect Star Trek -- or something claiming to be it, at any rate -- to outlive me.
When I got into RPGs, it didn't take me long to start imagining a Star Trek roleplaying game. To my mind, Star Trek was ready-made to be converted into a terrific RPG. I remember attempting to use Traveller as the basis for a Star Trek RPG, but this met with limited success, as there were simply too many points of divergence between them. I tried a couple of other approaches as well, but none really worked as well as I'd hoped. Then, just three years after I'd entered the hobby, FASA released an official Star Trek RPG, and my prayers would be answered. I finally had my long-desired Star Trek roleplaying game and I ceased my search.
Before FASA released their game, I never managed to come across an already-existing attempt to produce a Star Trek RPG -- FGU's Starships & Spacemen. I suspect I never noticed S&S, because I never saw it back then; it would be years before I ever came across a copy and, by then, I was already too devoted to FASA's game to care about alternatives. Plus, unlike FASA's RPG, Starships & Spacemen wasn't "official." It was simply a pastiche and, as a younger person, I didn't see much value in a "knock-off" when the genuine article was available to me.
Even if I had come across S&S, I doubt I'd have been much impressed by it. First released in 1978, the game consisted of a single 86-page book of exceedingly amateurish appearance. Its text is presented in a single typewritten column. Art is sparse and strangely generic, being mostly vague "space-y" images rather than anything more specific. And significant portion of the game consists of random tables for generating star systems, random encounters, alien beings, artifacts, and so on. There are no lengthy discussions of creating "episodes," using cinematic jargon. Neither are there discussions of "themes" or other such philosophical matters.
Instead, S&S is a very simple, straightforward game that gives the reader stuff -- the germs of ideas from which to create his own science fiction campaign based very loosely on the structure of The Original Series. It's a lot like OD&D in this respect, which is either a virtue or a vice depending on one's point of view. The game presents us with a thin setting, in which the Galactic Confederacy consisting of the Terrans and the "ultralogical" Taurans (and several other races) face off against the warlike Zangids, bent on the conquest of known space. Adventures are assumed to consist of the exploration of new worlds, where any number of threats and obstacles present problems for officers of the Confederacy's Spacefleet, from hostile aliens to weird diseases to temporal paradoxes and more. What's really amazing of S&S is how compactly it presents all these options. Certainly, there's little in the way of detail in the game; everything is presented very briefly that's because it's simply assumed the referee (or Starmaster) will do most of the heavy lifting in this regard.
Compared to later SF RPGs, or even earlier ones, like Traveller, Starships & Spacemen is certainly what one might charitably called "quaint." Its rules are simple, even simplistic, in places and there are lots of ambiguities throughout. My comparison to OD&D isn't an idle one. Despite this, I find something really compelling about S&S, although I'm not certain I'm in a hurry to play the game (which is now available, in print and PDF form through Goblinoid Games). There's an enthusiasm that comes through in this little game, a sense of creative abandon that's often lacking even in my own true SF RPG love, Traveller. Reading through S&S, it's difficult not to find one's brain percolating with ideas for space opera adventures. They may not "serious." Indeed, they may be somewhat silly, but they're also likely to be fun. Nowadays, I place a higher premium on that than I did as a know-it-all kid, which is why I'm more favorably inclined toward Starships & Spacemen than others might be.