I love this game. It packs a whole lot of space opera goodness into a very tight, rules-lite package. Even if you don't love its minimal rules, it is completely worth the download for the scenario generators.
The game looks nice at first impression, with a three column layout in landscape mode. A good use of B&W icons both evoke a space-pulpy feel and support the minimal design. However, though it looks great, some of the material is not in the order in which I would like to present it to players. It helps to read through the entire game to see how the pieces fit together (so grab the all-in-one PDF, for sure). In fact, though I like the overall look, I made my own documents for use at the table. Some reviewers might deduct stars for layout, but I entreat readers to put aside their graphic prejudices to give the game some serious consideration.
THE SYSTEM: Characters start with five stats, a wide open Skill of choice (think trope or archetype), and Style represented by player choice of three adjectives. The stats are Moxie, Smarts, Wiggles, Friends and Pockets. The resolution mechanic is to roll a d20 and a d6. The d20 is to roll over the GM's target number, add your most appropriate stat, and rolled with advantage if your Skill applies. The d6 is the Cost of the outcome, which can be have a cost, no cost or come with a benefit.
On a Fail, the player marks 1 Grit. Accumulate five Grit to turn any failed roll to standard success. A d20 roll of 1 is a Critical fail, and earns the character an Ailment. Ailments subtract from character rolls. Player Characters start with six hit points, called Gumption, which they regain with a long rest.
That's the gist of the game. I love that there's no mention of how to use Style. Is it a mechanic or just character flavor? If you need the rules to tell you how to use Style, then you should probably steer clear of this game. However, the system is the tip of the iceberg.
Space Aces comes with scenario generators. They are much like the old Madlibs where you fill in noun, verb or adjective. However, there is an Episode Guide that tells you on which tables to roll to fill in the blanks. Here is one result for The Setup:
Hired by [Explor-A-Corp (boldly go)] to [Escort] the / a / an [Artifact] to / at / in a [Asteroid] [Archive (contain info)] [Volatile] from [Law] [Sow Chaos].
You then fill in details by rolling similarly for The Scene (or a few scences!), The Snag and The Snafu. The tables do not yield smoothly flowing prose that you read aloud to the players. However, they get the creative juices flowing and ready for a one-shot right away**.
**Though the tables are great, I didn't see myself taking the time to roll the many dice to fill in all the blanks. Instead, I took the time to copy the tables into a spreadsheet and concatenate the rolls into a very fast Episode Guide. The results are now instant and inspiring.
Space Aces approaches dungeons, NPCs, monsters, items, giant mechs, giant monsters (e.g. Godzilla-ish), and hex crawls in similar Madlib+tables fashion. It's not a new concept, but the content is simple and evocative, which makes it brilliant.
Finally, not to be glossed over is the starship section. Whether The Enterprise, The Millenium Falcon or The Serenity, the ship is an integral part of any space opera. Space Aces again provides tables just dripping with flavor. The space combat mechanics, which I WILL gloss over, are again simple, but lend themselves to rollicking ship drama. If a group wants, the ship can become a major feature of the game — repairing, upgrading, trading up — whether Maguffin or an NPC (self-aware AI, anyone?).
I really like Space Aces. I think it is the right direction for rules-lite RPGs. How well do I like it? I just re-bought this PWYW title for $5. Kudos for a well-thought game.