The subject of this book is hobby games. This is a phrase which has come to refer to a whole spectrum of games with physical components (books, miniature figures, maps and so on) which dedicated enthusiasts play to adopt the personas of imaginary characters (in role playing games), fight fictional wars (in wargames), choose the plots of the books they read (in gamebooks), or simply so that they can enjoy a social game which may be set in the kinds of fantastic worlds they like to watch and read about (in board games and card games). More specifically, it is about games of this kind which are part of the science fiction genre (often known simply as sf), rather than being set in magical milieux or exaggerated versions of our own world. This is a tradition which has sometimes been overshadowed by discussions of games set in other kinds of worlds – especially those based on medieval fantasy – in previous books dealing with the hobby gaming industry.
After some initial chapters discussing game narratives and settings, the majority of this book deals with individual science-fictional games, and with the histories and natures of their various forms, such as role playing games or wargames. It could be argued that such a work is obsolete in a time when multiple databases listing such games – many of them cited in this book's own bibliography – are freely available on the internet. However, the descriptions stored on these websites are typically highly factual, an approach made explicit by the rules governing such compendia as wikipedia. This book is instead devoted mainly to critical analysis of the works and traditions it considers, and is thus inherently subjective in a way which seems unfeasible for encyclopedic databases created by many hands working in anonymous collaboration. In addition, this book is primarily concerned with hobby games as works of science fiction rather than as games, meaning that more time is spent on the fictional worlds they create and the links between them and other forms of sf than on the systems of rules (or mechanics) which define them as games. (Connections between works in different media are explored both explicitly and – by use of a specialized set of terms which denote such common science-fictional ideas as "long vanished but immeasurably superior alien species" – implicitly.) This is not the attitude adopted by most web resources. As a result of this approach, games have been selected for inclusion primarily on the basis of their interest as works of sf, with their historical or commercial importance as a secondary consideration. Thus works which use science fiction purely as a source of generic background images, or which simply reiterate the themes and details of the media from which they have been licensed, have in general not been given entries. It should also be noted that this book deals exclusively with works which have been published in English (as is true of the great majority of hobby games of science-fictional interest).
The majority of the pieces in this book have been previously published, in a somewhat different form, in the third (online) edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Related Work. I would like to thank David Langford and John Clute for the generous help which they provided as editors when the original versions of these entries were being written.