By Clash Bowley et al, Flying Mice LLC / Better Mousetrap Games, $10
FTL Now is the sequel to Cold Space. It takes a similar approach to science fiction, by providing a backdrop that is recent history written across space. So it's 1990-2006, but done with spaceships and lasers.
As before it's a good approach, and more so than it's prequel, grounds the player by giving them the familiar with a slight twist. For space opera of this kind this is a particularly useful technique, as it removes the barriers to entry by avoiding the need to read 120 pages of background just to get an idea of where you might fit in. So we have an interstellar world of today, with similar political problems, similar lifestyles and approaches. No having to explain that the Vl'hurg empire is a set of six factions, yadda, yadda, yadda....
Everything is writ large in the setting, including a 2001 terrorist attack on New York with a re-directed comet. This may not be to everybody's tastes, for some events may be too close to be fictionalised in such a way, for others this is a useful framing technique.
At 220 pages, it's a healthy length for a PDF (hope you've got a cheap printer). However, if you've got any of Flying Mice's earlier products (Cold Space, Starcluster, Blood Games) then a great deal of the material is repeated. I do wonder if it would have been better as a supplement to Cold Space in this regard, as the two share a great deal. As it stands, the positives and negatives of the system are the same, old-school Traveler-influenced gaming. The addition of character templates, which take care of the first few steps of character creation for you, are a welcome way to speed up game preparation.
The artwork follows a similar style to Starcluster and Coldspace, being slightly abstracted computer paintings, where occasionally the source images are a little obvious. It's pretty much the Flying Mice house style, and gives their products a certain feel all their own. The PDF itself has a hyper-linked table of contents and index, so moving about is easy. There are occasional layout glitches, but nothing too serious.
My first gripe is that FTL Now needs an introduction. It dumps you quite un-ceremoniously in the first chapter, and I felt a bit of explanation of how it related to Cold Space would have been useful. I had to work out for myself that it was a continuation of the timeline, rather than a separate game with a similar schtick.
The game itself is very much geared to exploring the setting. The setting material is still a bit dry for my tastes, but an improvement on the equivalent Cold Space sections. There's more feel for the people than before and the progression between the two games gives the setting a “lived in” feel. However, there are still many sections detailing the length, width, height, gravity and so on of a space habitat, but few details on why I should want my character to visit it, or why it matters. It's a case of approaches, and if you like detail on the technical side it's got more than enough to keep you happy. To be fair, given the fact that the cultural side is effectively our own with space travel, there's less need to cover it.
While the game has extensive rules, I think it's really missing a “how this game is played” section. Reading it I'm conscious that it has a few gaps, where it assumes the reader knows what to do with the contents. While fine for a PDF download, where the purchaser can be expected to have a vague familiarity with RPGs in general, Coldspace found it's way into print, and I think if flying mice are going this direction it might be worth making the text more newbie friendly.
Overall: FTL Now provides more old school space opera at a bargain price, with a setting that's easy to explain and rules of a traditional bent. It has its wrinkles, but it's a great concept and a fun read.