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Voyage of the B.S.M. Pandora

Entry updated 20 November 2019. Tagged: Game.

Board Game (1981). Simulations Publications Inc (SPI). Designed by John Butterfield, Edward Woods.

Published as an insert in issue 6 of the sf Wargames magazine Ares, Voyage was perhaps the first successful example of a single-player, paragraph-system Board Game, blending the branching narrative of a solitaire Role Playing Game scenario such as Buffalo Castle (1975) (see Fighting Fantasy) with the ability to move pieces on a physical board. Subsequent examples of paragraph-based Board Games were much influenced by the design of Voyage, which generates events by elegantly combining the characteristics of the terrain on the map with various randomizing tables and the numbered sections of text which supply the game's story. The end result is a rich and varied experience, much less repetitive than that provided by most examples of the related form of the Gamebook.

The game describes an exploratory mission conducted by the eponymous Starship, dedicated to collecting specimens of extraterrestrial organisms (the initials in the title stand for "Biological Survey Mission"). A major inspiration for the design was apparently A E van Vogt's novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle (stories July 1939-August 1943 Astounding, May 1950 Other Worlds; fixup 1950; vt Mission: Interplanetary 1952), which deals with a similar expedition. Voyage is highly atmospheric, with explorable planets ranging from water worlds to high-Gravity environments with highly corrosive atmospheres. Available incidents include First Contact scenarios and the discovery of Alien artefacts in abandoned Cities, as well as the expected animal encounters and equipment malfunctions. Arguably, Voyage is more of a narrative experience than a winnable game; the unpredictability of events means that the success or failure of the Pandora's mission is largely a matter of chance. As a mechanism for generating interactive stories in a picaresque mode, however, it is highly impressive.

Related works: Wreck of the B.S.M. Pandora (1980 SPI) designed by James Dunnigan, published in Ares issue 2, is another Board Game set on the same vessel, which can be played by two participants or as a (somewhat limited) solitaire game. Its plot, much influenced by Alien (1979), is less of a sequel to the story generated by playing Voyage than it is a possible ending to the Pandora's mission. [NT]

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