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The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat
A solitaire game (and sometimes two) players designed by Greg Costikyan


"You're the only one who can save us, diGriz! Say that you will do it, I beg of you..."

The words were music to my ears. I try to be humble in my own simple way, but it is very hard. People keep telling me how great I am. They know that I have saved the universe - twice at least - so they feel, rightly enough I suppose, that I can do anything.

"... please help. Four men have died already, that is why we need you..."

His words fropped me from the heights of elation into the abyss of despair. I snapped at him.

"So that's what you need me for. To be corpse number five. You think I'll look good in a coffin?"

-- Harry Harrison, The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat

Introduction

Hello and welcome to the latest edition of Roger's Reviews. I've been playing board games since I was a wee lad and wargames for over thirty years.

The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat appeared a touch over thirty years ago in Ares #10, a magazine that I quite enjoyed back in its day, and one of the few publications that dealt with primarily science fiction themed games. Harry Harrison contributed a short story to complement the game, a paragraph driven solitaire game that can also be played with two.

No familiarity with the universe of the Stainless Steel Rat is required, although if you like pulp science fiction action stories, you'd be hard pressed to go wrong with Harry Harrison's iconic rogue. The short story from Ares can be read here.

The idea behind this game is that someone on board the space station has deliberately sabotaged the main computer. Four people have died so far in an attempt to get the satellite back under control, and you are being asked by the consortium representing the owners and the insurers to help them out.

"Despair not gentlemen - diGriz will save you! I will turn off your kooky computer and save your prisoners!"

I waited until the cheers and shouts of joy had died down before I put the boot in.

"But, like you, I am a business man as well as a humanitarian. My reasonable and very low fee for the job will be the miserly sum of two million credits..."


You, as Jim (or maybe Angelina), will enter the space station from one of the external access points, make your way to the main computer room, disable the computer, and then determine who from the six main characters on board, is the culprit.

Or die trying.

A complete game usually lasts about ninety minutes.

Components

As magazine games go, this one has rather nice components. The map is beautifully illustrated and easy to read at a glance. The counters are standard SPI quality, and good for the era, and have that lovely matte finish and clean lines are classic signatures of Redmond Simonsen's work.



The counters include:

- the cast of characters you'll encounter and interact with during the story



- the robot foes that you might have to fight



- the gear you have available to choose from, or might find in your explorations



Although the focus of the game is on "Slippery" Jim diGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat does have a wife, Angelina, who is actually tougher than Jim! And the game thoughtfully provides an opportunity to choose to play Angelina instead.



Having Angelina along is also the way the game allows two players to participate in the game.

Rules & Game Play

The rules for The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat are written in the classic SPI case format, with major headings and subheadings and subsections. They are clear and concise, and most people will have no trouble sorting out the rules for the game.

If there's a lack of anything it's an index, and that's entirely forgivable in a magazine game, especially when there's a handy flowchart on the back cover of the rules that outline most of the things you'd have questions about anyhow.

You'll first need to decide if you want to play Jim or Angelina, and then select equipment. The game uses a "suspension of disbelief" track, and you need to pay the cost of your original gear using those points. If you get to 75 SoD points, you lose.

Once you've picked your gear, you also need to pick a villain stack. There are six stacks of six counters, labelled A-F on the back. You randomly pick a pile (no peeking at the letter!) and place it in the villain holding box, and also roll a d6 to figure out which clue set is for this adventure.



When you get a clue in the game, you'll be told it's from tile 3 of your set, so you'll need to get the paragraph number from the tile and read the clue. It's strongly recommended to have a piece of paper handy to make notes, as the clues form a logic puzzle of the "Jane saw Jack and George in the cafe. George says he had coffee with Lisa. Jane had dinner with Luigi." variety. Note however that you'll need to make some inferences too, because it's not strictly speaking a matrix problem!

To win, you need to not only get to the computer and deactivate it before hitting 75 SoD points, but also correctly determine who the villain is.

SoD points are used in multiple ways throughout the game too. For instance, you can avoid taking a damage hit by spending 5 points, and similarly avoid a stun result by spending 2 points. I suppose the name comes from the cinematic idea of needing to suspend your disbelief that the hero keeps getting missed even though he's running in an open corridor with automatic weapons fire.

Play follows a strict procedure. To begin you choose which of the access hatches you enter from, and then roll two dice to get a result from 11-66 and you refer to that paragraph, crossed with the type of space you're trying to enter - for instance, the text for an accommodation space will differ from the text for a corridor. This is a nice simple way of allowing one paragraph to fill in for multiple purposes.

Along the way, you will meet some of the characters on board the station. They might be friendly, they might be hostile, but you need to decide how to interact with them. Some will accompany you and can be helpful in fights, some will just give you a clue and move on.



Since the game requires that you figure out who the culprit is that reprogrammed the computer, you can't simply rush for the computer space because you might not have enough clues to guess correctly. The game does have a built in mechanism for giving you more clues once you've deactivate the computer, but they cost 5 SoD points each, and odds are you won't have 15-20 points to spend on the clues you're missing!



Other than the characters you'll meet along the way, you'll also run into hostile robots! The computer of course controls all the robots on the station, and they are programmed to attack attack ATTACK!



Robots follow a flowchart set of rules for combat, and essentially it boils down to - if they can fire from range, they do. If they can't, the keep moving towards you until they can engage in hand to hand combat.

As you can see from the image, there are four quadrants for your character (front, back, sides) and three distances. There are also facing considerations - you can't fire at a robot behind you, so you'll need to turn. You'll have the opportunity to swap the gear in your hand for something on body so the lockpick you used to get into the room can become the much needed laser pistol. Or perhaps you'll start with the humidor so you can light a cigar, which cinematically makes laser fire less accurate.

Combat is dangerous for two reasons. One is that it presents another way for our hero(ine) to lose - if all six of the body areas get wounded, you die! Two is that taking damage automatically means your spacesuit gets punctured and it's no longer safe from poison gas and decompressed areas. That's less problematic though.

Once you have successfully deactivated the computer and made your guess as to who the villain was, it's time for the big reveal. You flip over the tile to see which letter you're on, and cross-reference that with the number you rolled at the beginning to be taken to the final entry.



If you've earned fewer than 75 SoD points and you've correctly identified the villain, congratulations! You win!

Conclusions

There's a lot to love in this game. The theme of the computer gone mad space station has a long history in the annals of science fiction, our robust hero(ine) as well, and having the short story by Harry Harrison himself to buttress the theme of this game just makes it an all around wonderful package.

If there's a drawback to the game, it's that there are only six possible outcomes for the game (note the villain matrix) so once you've encountered all six endings, the game will have lost a significant amount of its mystery. This is simply a truism for paragraph driven solitaire games. However, just getting to the computer room in one piece is a feat in itself, so you'll be playing this a while before you've had the pleasure of outing all six characters as the villain.

In addition, one can also take a page from Damocles Mission (which came along later) and give yourself a handicap by reducing the total number of SoD points available to you - you might well know that Corona is the villain because you've seen that clue before, but with only 50 SoD points, can you deactivate the computer in time? I suggest you try it. It'll keep things interesting!

"Give me the gun," I said, stepping forwards as the others quailed back.

"Take it!" He screamed. And pulled the trigger.

Then he looked down at the gun, pulling the trigger over and over again when nothing happened. My fist caught him hard on the jaw and he slumped to the deck unconscious. I bent and picked up the gun - and smiled.

"Unloaded," I told the gaping audience. "I was sure from the very beginning that someone had programmed the computer to do all this dirty work. And whoever did that programming had to still be aboard the satellite. Therefore, since you were all under suspicion, I could take no one into my confidence. Hence the accusations - and the unloaded gun. Corona seemed the obvious suspect, but I just wanted him to prove it himself."

A ragged cheer began, raising quickly in volume. I smiled and bowed acceptance. Accepting as well the impassioned kisses of the ravishing redhead Trina. All this and two million credits too!



Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for well designed games that allow players to focus on trying to make good decisions.

Among my favorites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph and Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb
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Ray
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Great to see an Ares game. Do more!
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Andy Ravenscroft
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It's the first time I've noticed, but Jim and Angelina owe more than a little of their clothing stylings to Judge Dredd.
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Kiboko Hippo
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Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Have you tried Asteroid (GDW)? Similar theme. Two-player - one controls the team of adventurers, one controls the "mad" space station.
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Kiboko Hippo wrote:
Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Have you tried Asteroid (GDW)? Similar theme. Two-player - one controls the team of adventurers, one controls the "mad" space station.

No, I haven't. Oddly, I've played virtually no GDW games at all - not because I have anything against them, but because it seems that wherever I've lived their products have not been in the stores.
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gobbeg] wrote:
It's the first time I've noticed, but Jim and Angelina owe more than a little of their clothing stylings to Judge Dredd.

There's a possible reason for that; there were three books (Stainless Steel Rat, SSR Saves the World, SSR For President) serialized as comics in 2000AD in 79-85 (a big gap for the last one after the first two were published), and the artwork seems to be similar to that.

The artist (for the comics) is Carlos Ezquerra, creator of Strontium Dog, and sometime artist for Judge Dredd (in particular, the Apocalypse War arc).

Edit: Fixed botched quote and information.
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This game was one of the best solo adventures I ever played.

I would play it every night for a week, but then I got to used to recognizing clues, so I'd put it away for a year and then do it again.

Loved it.

Loved choosing the item load out.

Great game.
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The play's the thing ...
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Scautura wrote:
gobbeg] wrote:
It's the first time I've noticed, but Jim and Angelina owe more than a little of their clothing stylings to Judge Dredd.

There's a possible reason for that; there were three books (Stainless Steel Rat, SSR Saves the World, SSR For President) serialized as comics in 2000AD in 79-85 (a big gap for the last one after the first two were published), and the artwork seems to be similar to that.

The artist (for the comics) is Carlos Ezquerra, creator of Strontium Dog, and sometime artist for Judge Dredd (in particular, the Apocalypse War arc).


More than that he helped create Judge Dredd.
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petegs wrote:
More than that he helped create Judge Dredd.


Oops... blush

Before my time, unfortunately, so it completely slipped my mind.
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Great review, thanks!

Is the two-player game co-operative? Or are Angelina and Jim really competing against each other? Mind you, it could just be for bragging rights at home afterwards...
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Red Wine Pie wrote:
Great review, thanks!

Is the two-player game co-operative? Or are Angelina and Jim really competing against each other? Mind you, it could just be for bragging rights at home afterwards...

It's cooperative. You're working together to stop the computer and discover the culprit. To add some spice, it's possible that either Angelina or Jim could be eliminated if their SoD hits 75.

And bragging rights would definitely go to the person who figured out who the culprit was.
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Jerry Tresman
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gobbeg wrote:
It's the first time I've noticed, but Jim and Angelina owe more than a little of their clothing stylings to Judge Dredd.

It is the other way around.

Consuidering the Stainless Steel Rat made his first appearance in 1957 - Astounding stories + artwork and was featurered in 200AD in 1979. So I suspect Harry Harrison's books and stories were an influence on Mills and co. at 2000AD whilst conceiving their 21st Century Dirty Harry.

http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?q=stainless+steel+rat&hl=en&s...:en-gb:IE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7ADFA_enUS405&biw=1061&bih=939&tbm=isch&prmd=imvnsb&tbnid=cZ8EQMJBNNSCSM:&imgrefurl=http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/The_Stainless_Steel_Rat&docid=NZaMdo8RpZ2SbM&imgurl=http://image.absoluteastronomy.com/images/encyclopediaimages/s/st/stainless_steel_rat_prog171_carlos_ezquerra.jpg&w=250&h=294&ei=8qsDULyVB8XL2QW5jp2iCw&zoom=1

and

http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=stainless+steel+rat&hl=en&r...:en-gb:IE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7ADFA_enUS405&prmd=imvnsb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=76sDUIS8FvLU2QWDhJ2-Cw&ved=0CGkQsAQ&biw=1061&bih=939#q=stainless+steel+rat&hl=en&sa=X&rls=com.microsoft:en-gb:IE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7ADFA_enUS405&tbm=isch&prmd=imvnsb&tbs=simg:CAQSEgmGNgN1opzxUSHy0SkSpjRYkw&iact=hc&vpx=389&vpy=79&dur=1126&hovh=279&hovw=181&tx=93&ty=373&sig=103744012913875679396&ei=GKwDUPPtNanW2gXVleyiCw&page=1&tbnh=140&tbnw=69&ved=1t:2220,r:18,s:0&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=e63a0d9860adaba6&biw=1061&bih=939
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i recall reading these books as a kid had them all!!! super!
nice review
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Great review! Made me want to pick up a copy myself.

I'd like to know what those "X"s are if you don't mind! I assume you used them to mark off spaces you already went to correct? Where did you get them?

Thanks!
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SD1138 wrote:
Great review! Made me want to pick up a copy myself.

I'd like to know what those "X"s are if you don't mind! I assume you used them to mark off spaces you already went to correct? Where did you get them?

Thanks!


Those X things are tile spacers. You should be able to pick them up at most hardware stores. You can get them in different sizes, and they apparently come in a variety of colours too.

Very handy.


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Great review. I just got the game and had a very quick play on my day off of work, only played a few rounds to try and get a feel for it but it was fantastic non the less. The only thing I see as causing me issues is when robots enter your field of vision and you have to move around them....found this bit a little confusing. If you leave the room (first of all, CAN you leave the room?) do they follow you? Do they stay and try to fire at you with a ranged attack?

Fantastic tip about those tile spacers!! Will pick up a pack this weekend when I try the game again.
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