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Eric Lai
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The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat

Introduction

This old 1981 Ares magazine game, long out of print, is an absolute classic and a rare breed of game that uses a paragraph system that brings the adventure alive. There hasn't been many paragraph system games, the Ambush series of games being the obvious exception. The game's premise is the usual space station computer gone haywire and commanding all its robotics & systems to kill the humans on the station, you are the intrepid adventurer that will not only shut down the misaligned computer but also discover the mysterious Villain behind the sabotage.

Commentary

You start the game by either selecting to become the hero or heroine in the adventure and then choosing the equipment that you will bring on your adventure. The amount of equipment you can bring is limited and your choice will make a huge difference on how you approach to the puzzle and the risks you dare face.

You then randomly select a Villain Chit. Apart from the paragraph system (which I will describe shortly), the game is also a game of sleuth. During your exploration of the station, you will hopefully encounter clues as to who the villain is. There are 36 Villain Chits that corresponds to 36 possible endings to the game, making it possible to replay this game unlike Ambush, where once you reveal the game's hidden situation and there is no longer surprise, its less fun the next time you play. This variable ending is one of the charms of this game.

To win the game, you must make your way to the computer room (clearly marked on the map) and fight a final battle and shut it down. You are then tasked with deducing who the Villain is and if you do, you win the game. During many games, you barely scrape enough clues and you can only make a best guess! Its not easy!

You lose if you die during your adventure or you run out of time. Time is measured abstractly with the oddly named "suspension of disbelief" tracks, its basically a track where you add up the cost of the actions you take during the game. You have a maximum of 75 actions points and if you go over this you lose. For example: picking a lock with the lock picks costs 2 action points and firing your SMG will cost you 5.



The map is very unique looking to say the least, the colors are very 70s and you just have to love the old Buck Rogers type renditions of the heros. As you can see there is a male and female hero. On the heroes are asterisks where you put wound chits to mark injury, there are six of these areas on the body and if you're wounded in all six you are dead, a wound in the arms will cripple your aim. There are also 9 spaces on the body to put items, (as well as a space suit space) these spaces are further divided into: On hands, On body, In your pockets. To use items, it has to be in your hands and it costs combat turns (called equipment sequencing in this game) to swap your equipment around in battle.

Around the male hero is the maze that is the space station, the station is divided in to three rings, the outer ring is the lowest lever and the inner ring is the top level where you start. The station's rooms are a basic square grid, each small square is separated form the square next to it via either a solid wall or a door. The station's rooms (the squares) is color coded and each color represent a different type of room; services, industry, corridors, lifts, accommodations.

The game starts by throwing you at one of the entrances squares and during each game turn you basically, open a door (or make a door through a wall with a laser torch), and then explore the new room. You can then rearrange the items on your character as well as rearrange the configuration of your allies in relation to your lead character (I will explain more of this in a little while)

You open doors and explorer new rooms via the paragraph system, in this game you basically throw the dice and make reference to the number you roll and look up the appropriate paragraph and within each paragraph, its further broken down into the action you are taking, for example, if you are using the laser cutter to open a hole in the floor to the next level below, you throw the dice and find the paragraph and read the writing next to the title: laser cutter (or open door, or explore accommodation or whatever your case maybe). You get the gist?

The paragraphs allow for a ton of variability within each game and also adds very atmospheric narrative. As the paragraphs are often worded like a choose your adventure novel. Sort of like an inanimate Dungeon Master.

Like most space stations I know, there are enemies to fight. And combat is very interesting. The text in the paragraph will direct you to what hostiles has appeared and where they are in relation to you. They can be behind, in front, on the left or right of you and they can also be far, middle or near in distance from you, they can also be facing you or not. You place the enemy chits around the depiction of your hero on the map in the correct area and then combat begins. (Some of these chits around your character could also be your allies too! That you've gained during your adventure.) The combat sequence is simple, each character has an alertness level and the higher can go first in battle, then proceeds to the lowest alertness unit. During a units turn there are two phases, first the unit moves, either turning to face in another direction or move closer. Then comes the equipment phase where combat occurs, either long range or melee. The decisions of the enemy is controlled via a very simple algorithm, but what you do with your hero and its allies is totally up to you.

There is a lot more to the combat and exploring than that I will list here, but here is a short list: Light a cigar to use the smoke to make laser weapons less effective, use a flashlight, illumination grenades, hack your robot enemies to turn them against the computer, drink whiskey to increase your alertness?!?, reload ammo, use an electric probe on your enemies, parley with people you meet, fight in the dark, use smoke grenades during combat, etc. There is quite a lot of things you can do!

Its quite tough to get to the computer room, the place is full of traps and dead ends and sometimes you have to make huge circuitous routes to your destination. And the 75 action points is actually cutting it quite fine! During many of my games I have used over 70 points by the time I reach the final confrontation, if I make it that far at all!

Conclusion

This is an excellent solitaire game, it has all the formula that makes for an interesting solitaire experience. Meaningful choices, surprises, variable endings, a mystery, interactive battle system and most of all Narrative! I wish someone would resurrect the paragraph system for future games, as I think there isn't another solitaire system that engage the imagination quite like it. The games are very memorable and very tense. I suspect there will be some people that will find looking up the paragraphs tiresome, but I don't mind. Its just 5 pages or so and it really isn't much hassle. All in all, I totally recommend this game to any gamer that are interested in solitaire games, this one is a classic, its out of print since 1981, but it shouldn't be too difficult for the persistent buyer. You can even play two players, which I forgot to mention!

I will give this a 9.5 out of 10, a seminal classic game, that is fun and memorable and introduces many interesting mechanics

+9.5 for all the great memorable games I've had playing this over the years, its not just nostalgia! I play this again yesterday and still had a ball! Very good production values, a very well done map and a very legible rulebook for its era. Unique game that has one of the best narrative of all the games I've ever played.

-0.5 its perfect, as a boardgame can be! But even with 36 different endings there is a limit to how often you can play this game.

A geeklist of my other Solitaire Reviews

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Robert Wesley
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Aberdeen
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gulp I just played: "Return of the Lifeless Ordinary Rat" and at least this ONE this TIME was complete! Yes, one of our cats caught "it", killed that, and left it lying around here today, so I wasn't going to allow on such putrefying then. Just days earlier, then I found HALF-a-RAT, and shortly after disposing of this, then I find a freshly killed mouse and have to be rid of him as well. At least we have SOME 'mousers'-kind, except the ONE lousy, lazy, non-mousey, crazy CAT!
robot
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Eric Lai
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When my killer shih tzu bought home a dead bird once at the height of the bird flu scare in Hong Kong, my wife almost fainted!
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Steve Herron
United States
Johnson City
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Never play block wargames with a dentist, they have those little mirrors to peek behind the block.
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GROGnads wrote:
gulp I just played: "Return of the Lifeless Ordinary Rat" and at least this ONE this TIME was complete! Yes, one of our cats caught "it", killed that, and left it lying around here today, so I wasn't going to allow on such putrefying then. Just days earlier, then I found HALF-a-RAT, and shortly after disposing of this, then I find a freshly killed mouse and have to be rid of him as well. At least we have SOME 'mousers'-kind, except the ONE lousy, lazy, non-mousey, crazy CAT!
robot


About like our cat Patches, one evening my wife went in the kitchen and saw a mouse eating out of Patches' foodbowl and Patches just sitting there watching the mouse.
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Captain Nemo
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How well does it model Jim's world?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stainless_Steel_Rat
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Lee Troutman
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hammurabi70 wrote:
How well does it model Jim's world?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stainless_Steel_Rat


It's been a loooong time since I played this game but if memory serves, it was pretty consistent with the Slippery Jim DiGriz "canon". Nothing in the game seemed implausible or "wrong" (assuming the SSR universe that is).

And I have read at least half a dozen Stainless Steel Rat novels.

A real classic (IMO), one of the best games ARES ever put out.
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A. Power
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Excellent review (and nice sales pitch) that has me itching to play. You got me interested in tracking down a working copy for own solitaire excursion. Great info and detail about a quirky game lost in OOP land. Now off to find a copy of a 30 year old game from a magazine.
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Eric Lai
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In this issue of Ares Magazine comes a short Stainless Steel Rat background story to the game and it certainly whets and primes the imagination for the gaming experience.

I'll say that the game is certainly in the same rascally spirit as the books. I think fans of the book series will find extra enjoyment from the game.
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Leong Yew Lam
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Seri Kembangan
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Excellent review ....i have a copy of this ....but YIKES!!! no counters. I have enough to make a hand made copy of the counters though.
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Captain Nemo
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Garfink wrote:
In this issue of Ares Magazine comes a short Stainless Steel Rat background story to the game and it certainly whets and primes the imagination for the gaming experience.

I'll say that the game is certainly in the same rascally spirit as the books. I think fans of the book series will find extra enjoyment from the game.


I shall ever lament not having obtained a copy.
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Eric Lai
Hong Kong
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No need to lament! There are several copies of this on eBay at any one moment!
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Eren Koyunoglu
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Very Good review. I'd be happy if I may ask some questions. I'm reading the rules over and over but I seem to miss the part where you say using an item costs suspension of disbelief to simulate time as action points. I think it is only used for outfitting the character at the start of the game, not for using the items during the game. I would be happy if you can point me where to look if I'm mistaken. Another question comes to my mind is, can you enslave more than one robot with the bot slaver or can you have one being under your control?
Thank you.
Eren
 
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