As always, I roll into a review ready to talk primarily about things only tangentially related to what I'm reviewing. If you don't feel like reading through all of it, here's the TL;DR version: this is a truly remarkable and above all else, complete, light science fiction RPG. It is worth both your time and your money. The suggested price of $2.99 is a steal - but go ahead and take it for free if you want to make that "steal" more literal.
Often times in roleplaying game rulebooks we hear that among the many unique virtues of the roleplaying game form is that players are both creator and audience. But if players are both performer and audience, who are we playing to, exactly? Each other? Ourselves? Does the GM have a special audience role as well as a special performance role? Let's say there's a line on our science fiction RPG character sheet that says "Alien Epidemiology" and a rating that says we're okay at being alien epidemiologists, and we write that at the beginning of the campaign and nobody else ever knows it's there, a common event that any experienced RPGer can relate to. You thought it would be cool but for whatever reason it didn't ever come up in play. I can see an argument that this skill perhaps informs the performance of the character - the player knows it's there even if no other player (or GM) knows (or remembers) it's there, or knows its significance. The opposite argument urges the foolishness of taking something that's imaginary in the first place (there really aren't any xenoepidemiologists out there reading this, right?) and, instead of making it realer by requiring real people (the other players) to make statements about, challenge, and respond to it, letting it remain pure internal imagination. If that mediocre and irrelevant skill never impacts everyone else's experience, how much value can it really have? Why waste your time with it?
The answer to this apparent dilemma, I am increasingly coming to believe, comes at a lower level than individual players' decisions - it depends on what the mechanics of the games are and the goal of the game. Since I'm a three ring idiot, it always takes someone demonstrating this in the mechanics of a game for me to figure this out. This brings us to Vast and Starlit, a 2013 game by Epidiah Ravachol, a game that has provoked a lot of thought in me about this very challenge.
In Vast and Starlit, the player characters are all escapees from a prison ship, crossing the galaxy in an attempt to find a home. You are told this in the first sentence of the game. Character creation is conducted not by individuals weighing resources against anticipated opportunities which might be provided by a GM, but instead by a conversation centering around the strengths and needs of each character; and you don't get to speak up about your own character until your turn comes. Furthermore, the only people who are able to evaluate whether your strength is sufficient to overcome a situation are the other players. In other words, if I say my guy is a top-notch biochemist due to his long work as a poisoner and chef (to use a character in a similar situation from a past campaign), that's awesome; but the extent of my biochemistry knowledge and skills in a specific situation are decided on by the other players. To put it another way, I'm playing my biochemistry skill to the other players. (There's no GM in the game.)
As each person's turn comes, they set a scene, select who is there and what is happening (old hat to a Primetime Adventures veteran like myself). Some crewmembers will be "focused" on; others will not. You can either play your own character or an NPC in the scene. When something that's Dangerous or Difficult is attempted, that's decided on by the other players. The consequences of attempting it are explained by the other players and the player of the character making the attempt decides what to do about it. If you're playing a non-focused character, then you end up having to take a result without knowing what it is in advance. If you're playing a focused character, you get to hear all the different options before choosing the one that's best.
This is a very simple cycle, starting with the need that your ship has that you can't fulfill right now. As you move forward the cycle will keep the game going - a situation arises, characters interact, if they're not doing anything dangerous or difficult, they go about their business. If they are, then their incremental failure or endangerment drive new situations and new opportunities into the plot.
If there was anything to criticize in the "base rules" (really the complete rules of the game) it would be that it doesn't assist the players in determining how to create interesting injuries, dangers, or needs on an ongoing basis. If you've seen a bunch of space science fiction TV shows and movies, you probably won't have a problem with doing this, but it seems likely that in a group of four you might have different ideas of what seems like a reasonable consequence.
(Oh yeah, definitely try to have at least four to play this game - although it's fine with a smaller number, having different voices and points of view in the choices make for a much more exciting game with many more twists and turns.)
This game also comes with several supplements! The first, Bodies in the Dark, is one of the most provocative supplements I've seen in a while. It provides additional rules for interpersonal interactions. There's a brief look at command, but what leapt out at me was the rules for hostility and romance. Yes, they are tracked on the same track. For everyone who's played Mass Effect, this will definitely spark some ideas about interspecies romance and other transgressions. As always, your fellow players will let you know the consequences of "moves" (ahem) you make with respect to hostilities or romances. If you've ever watched a showdown in any kind of show or movie and thought "These enemies just need to screw each other and get it out of their system" then you will love this system.
There's also a map of the galaxy, which again is primarily for provoking situations for your crew to have to deal with. Similarly, there's rules for introducing or developing new technologies.
The whole packet is done in 16 pages (some of which are front and back covers.) This leads to my main problem with this game, the format. Although the NASA pictures are gorgeous, putting them in the background makes it so printing the book ranges from marginal to a waste of time. There also aren't layers letting you turn off the background (and if there were, the white letters would immediately disappear on several pages.) Even on a pretty decent home color printer you're likely to have plenty of bleed on some of the grey circles in the Technical Manual, be unable to check off those boxes unless you have a white-ink pen (but then how do you erase and move it?) you're unlikely to be able to make much sense out of the galaxy map, there's a giant star flare slightly off-center in the Bodies in the Dark track, and in general it's just a huge pile of blah. I can't emphasize enough that you should copy-paste the text outta this thing, build your own tracks for Bodies In The Dark and Technical stuff, and attach them to the ship drawing your group creates. (You can use the Galaxy Map on your tablet or smartphone, since you don't need to consult it in the same way and it's only one page.)
There is no reason whatsoever for this game to be a PDF. An app or, heck, a HTML or well-laid out RTF document, would be just fine. I can't give this game a perfect score because its form is just way, way off from what its function is.
To sum up, you're going to be in the spotlight when you play this game; and your fellow players are going to be lobbing challenges at you based on their view of the situation, not based on your view of your character's capabilities. You will only be as safe in this game as your fellow players will let you be. You won't be able to hide beneath a really big number on a character sheet. If that excites you, you shouldn't waste any more time on this review, put your money down and Get This Game. If you want more to your character to belong specifically to you, with a game system that will protect that against others' evaluation, then give it a pass. This is a game where you will be forced by your fellow players to make some tight, tough decisions and where they will tell you that things don't work out for you even when you try really hard. In other words, it will be really, really, exciting and tense to try something dangerous or difficult. Isn't that a feeling worth seeking out?