Back in 2012, I mused for a few posts (here and here) about an idea for a new game that allows players to recreate the excitement of not only the 1960s space race, but also the way things "could have been" in the succeeding decades -- moon bases, orbiting agricultural colonies, terraforming Mars, and so on.
Anyway, I just learned about a fascinating new game, just published this year, that covers some of this territory. I admit that my first thought was along the lines of "Oh no, have I been scooped?!" However, reading its rules has been a huge help in figuring out what I want my game to be, and what I don't really want it to be.
Leaving Earth is a tabletop board game written by Joseph Fatula and published by the Lumenaris Group. Each player takes the role of a space agency, and the goal is to plan missions, build spacecraft, manage risk, and reach for the stars! In itself, this isn't a new concept. A year or so ago I also came across a much more detailed game/simulation on the same topic: Phil Eklund's High Frontier. But Leaving Earth aims to shave off enough of the scientific and engineering crunchiness to make it a fun experience for players of all backgrounds. It's essentially the same level of complexity that I'm looking to hit in my game.
Despite my love of all the techy goodness of space mission planning -- and I say that without an ounce of irony -- I think that my original "Right Stuff RPG" (name to be changed to avoid getting in trouble) wasn't really about that, um, stuff. I was always thinking more about the personalities of the astronauts and the ways that they made larger-than-life history. You can see even in my placeholder name that I consider it a Role Playing Game first and foremost.
I want each player to really get into their chosen astronaut characters, to care about them as people. And, of course, to inject something of themselves into their characters, too. Balancing the first (play acting) with the second (wish fulfillment?) is a juggling act that tabletop RPGs have been trying to perfect for more than 40 years now. I'd love to prod players toward that goal, but traditional RPGs like D&D have an open-endedness of "plot" that requires a knowledgeable DM to manage it all.
Thus, the big question is: How much of that experience can be programmed into a more casual kind of game? I still have no answer to that, but I'm always open to inspiration... :-)