Year of the Phoenix (1986)

Year of the Phoenix (1986, no relation to Phoenix Command) was the last RPG published by Fantasy Games Unlimited before they shuttered. It represents one of the stranger military RPGs to come out in the ‘80s. Actually, in all honesty, this is basically a percentile skill-based system and not deeply preoccupied with the minutia of tactical small arms combat, so I dunno if it is technically a military RPG. On the other hand, combat is still annoyingly complicated and features ten hit locations (four more than RuneQuest), so, pretty heavy. Again, though, I don’t really care about these as games, I am interested in how they are weird jingoisticly infected artifacts of Cold War-era gaming. And boy, is Year of the Phoenix that.

There’s an elaborate set-up here. Players make their characters as members of a near-future space program. They go up in the rocket to deal with a hostage situation on a space station and the Libyans (of course) detonate a bomb, after which they come down in the year 2197. Guess what? While they were gone, the USSR won World War III and took over North America. Their grip isn’t tight, and there are plenty of resistance groups to join, which the players presumably do, and the game goes from there. The vision of the future is…naive. It could maybe be fun if you got rid of stuff like the fact that resistance in the southern states is a reborn Confederacy and the implication that all this happened because of “godlessness.” For instance: it is revealed at the end of the introductory adventure that some folks on Staten Island have the Statue of Liberty hidden in a secret underground bunker?

I dunno, its hard to take it all seriously and is sort of baffling it exists at all. And it is a pretty elaborate product, especially for an FGU game, with cardstock counters and a color map. What a one for a company to go out on.

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