Okay, I said I wasn’t going to buy any more of the PDFs but I never said anything about the physical, print-on-demand versions. At least I resisted and didn’t buy them immediately. I waited until a few people had posted pictures on-line.
In this post I’m going to look at the hardcover, print-on-demand versions of the Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn and Knight Hawks rules available from DriveThruRPG. We’ll look at their layout, production quality, and how they compare to the originals. There are lots of pictures and each one is linked to a large high resolution version if you click on them. This is going to be a long post so settle in and let’s get started!
The image to the right shows the two hardcovers side by side with the original boxed sets that they contain the contents of. These particular boxed sets are my “third” copies. My originals are almost completely thrashed as I’ve been using them for over 30 years and I left my “second” copies, which are nearly pristine, where they were.
The Alpha Dawn cover is a near perfect reproduction of the AD box set cover. It should be noted that this isn’t the original cover – you can see that at this link. This version of the cover was introduced to match the styling of the Knight Hawks cover when it was released and it makes sense that they kept with this version for these products.
The Knight Hawks cover has some variations from the box cover. First, the color of the Knight Hawks title is lighter on the hardcover. Also, the text on the book, both above and below the picture, call out that this is an expansion to the Alpha Dawn game. The text on the box doesn’t make that distinctions. Finally, the TSR logo is slightly different. Now the reason for this is that there were actually two different printings. The boxed set I have is most likely the original. And then TSR realized there might be some confusion and reworked the cover to make the expansion nature of Knight Hawks explicit. My other two boxed sets actually have covers that match to hardcover book. I actually never realized there was a difference until I started writing this up. Looks like I need to stash away this boxed set as well.
Opening up the book, all the material from the boxed set is included in the following order: Basic Rules, Expanded Rules, SF0: Crash on Volturnus module, the maps, and finally the counters.
The picture to the right shows the cover of the Basic rules in the hardback (left) and the original (right). The color in the hardback isn’t as rich and vibrant as the original but that due to the fact that it is non-glossy and that they used the Standard Color option to keep the cost down. This is true for all the book covers.
The book is laid out exactly like the originals: cover, inside cover, content, inside back cover, back cover for both the Basic and Expanded games rules. The printing on the inside covers are blue just like in the originals as you can see in the picture to the right which shows the last page and inside back cover of the Expanded Rules book. The original is at the top and the new one at the bottom. You can see the aging of the original as it is a bit yellow. The rest of the book, just like the originals, is in black and white.
The layout of the module is slightly different since the cover of the module consisted of a pair of two page maps, one on the inside and one on the outside. The image to the right shows the reproduction of the outside cover map (bottom), the deck plan of the Serena Dawn spaceship, compared to the original (top). The one reproduced in the book is just slightly shrunk compared to the original to make sure it fit in the margins of book. Of course since it is bound into the book, you can’t pull it out and use it on the table, but that’s to be expected. Otherwise, the pages of the module are presented in order with the center pages, that in the saddle-stitched module were designed to be removed as handouts, right were they were in the original printing.
Next we come to the maps. The next picture shows the big city map as compared to the one reproduced in the book. Obviously it wasn’t going to be possible to reproduce a 24×36 inch map in a 8.5×11 inch book so it is significantly shrunk down. Otherwise, the color and quality of this reproduction is great. (If you want a full sized version to print, I created a remastered, digital version that you can use.)
After the big city map, the book contains all of the little maps from the back of the city map. These maps were mostly a single panel, approximately the size of a sheet of paper so they fit nicely into the book. However, they did have to be shrunk down just slightly to fit. The image to right shows a pair of the maps in the book compared to the ones on the original poster map. If you want a digital copy of the one two-page map from the back of the poster, which represents a small compound and is used in the module SF1: Volturnus Planet of Mystery, you can grab one I made on the Frontier Explorer website.
Finally, we have the counters. This is a single page at the back of the hardcover (left) that reproduces the counter sheet (right). My counter sheet from this “third” set is missing a few counters. This is the one reproduction that isn’t actually shrunk. The counters are the same size in the book as there original sheet. Of course they are just printed on paper instead of cardboard.
The interior of the Knight Hawks book is very similar to the Alpha Dawn book. It starts with the Tactical Operations Manual, which contains the rules for the boardgame and ship combat, then the Campaign Book, with contains the RPG rules for starships, then the SFKH0: The Warriors of White Light module, then the maps and counters.
However, they made a few layout choices that seem a little strange. I actually called this out in the review of the Knight Hawks PDFs I did a while back. This is nearly just a reproduction of that layout in printed form. Instead of putting the pages in the same order they appear in the originals like they do in the Alpha Dawn book (cover, inside cover, content, inside back cover, back cover), the first two books are present in a slightly different order: cover, back cover, content, inside front cover, inside back cover. I found this really strange.
Just like the module in the Alpha Dawn rules, the cover of the module included in the Knight Hawks set consists of a pair of two page maps. In this book those are presented after the module text instead of before it.
The poster map included in Knight Hawks consisted of two full sized maps, one of just a giant hex grid for starship battles and the other containing a deck plan for part of a space station and two sets of deck plans for assault scouts. Both of these maps are shrunk down to fit into the book just like the big city map from the Alpha Dawn set. They are good to reference but you can really use them. Hex maps are fairly easy to come by if you need them and if you want remastered versions of the station or assault scout deck plans (blue, green), there are version I’ve created which you can print and use as needed.
Finally, there is a page that reproduces the counters from the Knight Hawks game at full scale.
Overall, I was quite happy with the print quality. It’s obvious that these are reproductions from scans but the product pages on DriveThruRPG explicitly say that so you know what you are getting. Despite that, the printing is crisp and clean and easy to read. The art is well produced and clean as well. The image to the right shows a typical page from the books (bottom) compared to the original (top). This particular page is from the Basic Rules book.
My older copy has yellowed with age and the new one is crisp and white. The one thing I did notice is that the margins in the new one are a bit smaller than the original. There isn’t quite as much white space around the text in the hardcovers. It’s not an issue but after looking at the originals for 30+ years, it is something I noticed immediately upon opening the book. This is also more true for the Alpha Dawn book than the Knight Hawks one. The margins in the latter are much closer to the originals.
Some people have posted pictures on-line of some alignment issues of the printed pages where the text was right up against the top of the page with no margin at all. I specifically checked the pages in question and my copies didn’t have any issues. So either there was a problem in the original PDFs supplied to the printer for printing which have been fixed or those particular copies just suffered from a bad print in the print-on-demand process. My copies are clean and consistent all the way through as far as I can tell. (I thumbed through them but didn’t look at every page.)
For the maps that span two pages in the hardcover, whether they were the large ones shrunk down or the two page maps from the module covers, are laid out properly so that nothing is cut off in the binding margin. This is just the faintest bit of white space between the pages so you can see everything that is on the map, nothing is missing. I was quite happy to see that they went to the effort to get that binding margin size correct.
This is only the second hardcover print-on-demand product I’ve ever ordered from DriveThruRPG (the first were the Player’s and Referee’s Manual for FrontierSpace) so I can’t comment on how well the binding will hold up but it looks fairly solid. And to be honest, these won’t see a lot of use. I still use my original copies from when I was 12 and these will mainly sit on my shelf as collector’s items.
Overall, I was quite happy with the printed books given how they were created and what they were trying to reproduce. The only thing I’d really change is the page ordering in the Knight Hawks book so that the covers and inside cover pages were in the correct order. Otherwise the books were fine.
The price was reasonable as well. The Alpha Dawn book was $29.99 which, if you adjust for inflation, is effectively the same price as the original $12 I paid for the boxed set back in 1984. The Knight Hawks book is only $19.99 so it’s an even better deal.
If you are going to order these, I recommend spending the additional $2 to get the PDF versions as well if you don’t have them. The reason (beyond having PDFs of the books) is for the digital files of the maps. All of the two page maps from the module covers are reproduced in the the digital files as single maps. The big poster maps are not all stitched together in the PDFs but I’ve already recreated those (links above) so that’s not really a worry. And you get digital versions of all the small maps from the back of the city map in the Alpha Dawn set.
So if you don’t have the rules and want a hardback set, or just want a copy for nostalgia’s sake, these are a solid product.
Did you grab a copy? What were your impressions? Let us know in the comments below.