I don't think that I am stepping out onto a particularly fragile limb when I say that Mindjammer is one of the best original science fiction settings to be created in the contemporary era. It also isn't much of a risk to that that the setting, and the games attached to it, isn't as well known as it could be. We're facing a resurgence in science fiction, and science fantasy, gaming right now, and Mindjammer should be a game that you check out as you are looking for things to scratch that science fiction itch.
Right now, Mindjammer is available in a couple of flavors: the original Fate-based rules, and the newer Traveller-based game (using the most recent version of the Traveller rules published by Mongoose Publishing). While the Fate-based is one of my favorite implementations of the Fate Core rules, in this column I am going to focus more on the more recent Traveller rules version of the game.
The Mindjammer Traveller edition is co-designed by Mindjammer creator Sarah Newton, and ENnie Award winning designer John Snead. When I picked up the Traveller edition, I thought that the game would have an enormous hurdle to pass over because the original Fate-based version was so good. I had faith in the designers that paid off in this game.
I've played Traveller in a number of flavors, from Classic to the newer Mongoose version of the game. The game has a simplicity to it that has contributed greatly to its longevity. The system is robust, provided that you character survives character creation, and the Mongoose version of the game offers some "upgrades" to the system that gives it more appeal to contemporary gamers. If the game has a flaw, it is the fact that it is enmeshed in a particular flavor of space opera science fiction, a flavor that was especially popular in the 60s and 70s. In my attempts, Traveller could get creaky in more contemporary styles of science fiction like cyberpunk and transhumanistic fiction. This was the problem that I thought that Mindjammer would run into.
But the game bore out that, in the hands of creative and talented designers who are well-versed in the tropes of the genre, you could craft a solid transhumant science fiction game using the Traveller ruleset.
Mindjammer Traveller has the options that Traveller players are used to, and augments them with options for characters who are "vegetable intelligences," cephalopods, large scale synthetic beings like starship sentiences or corpuses (sentient buildings sometimes used by corporations), and a number of hominid species unique to the setting. These rules are supported by a robust system of traits, advantages and flaws that allow for a great deal of customization of your characters. These later traits are built off of the existing rules within the Traveller game itself. These new traits use the same rules that you would use for building animals and other creatures within the game.
One thing that Mindjammer assumes is that characters will be much, much longer lived. With the advances in cybernetic and genetic science that is a part of the setting, people live much longer than they would, even in a more "normal" science fiction setting, like that of the baseline of Traveller. Characters in Mindjammer measure their lives in hundred, or thousands, of years, so the career system of Traveller has been modified to take this into consideration. Your Mindjammer Traveller characters will have a less likely chance of "aging out" of careers than in baseline Traveller. In fact the Mindjammer careers mostly have longevity packages written into them that will make the characters longer lived.
There are also rules for the more abstract entities within the Mindjammer setting. Everything from organizations and cultures to organizations like corporations and government agencies are covered under the game's rules. Mindjammer is not your father's Traveller game.
The basic setting of Mindjammer is known as The Commonality. This is a confederation races, worlds, cultures and other groups that are bound together by faster-than-light travel and a unique method of communication known as the Mindscape. The Mindscape combines instantaneous communication with near unlimited data storage and access. With the Mindscape the setting gets around a lot of the issues that can come up with science fiction societies that span across many galaxies.
Transhumanism isn't for everyone. As an idea it tends to extrapolate scientific concepts into directions that many think go past the boundaries of science. In comparison to baseline Traveller characters, your Mindjammer Traveller characters can seem preternaturally or superhumanly powerful. In fact, the reaction of species and cultures outside of The Commonality when they first encounter citizens of it is to think that they are encountering space gods, or god-like beings. This isn't going to be for everyone, but it can open up some interesting new directions for your science fiction/fantasy gaming.
Asking if Mindjammer Traveller is a better game than the original Fate Core version of the game is a tough one. The games, while they have the same setting, address two very different, and sometimes opposed styles of play. Mindjammer Traveller will likely be a better fit for those looking for a more "traditional" type of gaming. While the game expands the science and technology of Traveller into directions that are more mind-blowing, it still maintains the power structures of players and GMs that you would expect from a Traveller game. If you want an experience that features more player-facing elements, and a style of play that features a greater amount of cooperative play between all of the members of a gaming group, you will likely want to pick up Mindjammer Fate Core instead.
You don't have to worry about getting more setting material from one book or the other, or needing the Fate Core version of the game if you want to play the Traveller version. From a setting stand point both books have the same material, and have everything that you will need to play for that game. The Mindjammer Traveller game does require that you posses the current edition of the Traveller rules from Mongoose Publishing.
Regardless, if you want to play in one of the best science fiction game settings around, pick up Mindjammer. It is available from Mindjammer Press and published by Modiphius Entertainment. If it isn't already at your local game store, be sure to check it out next month at the Gen Con gaming convention. Mindjammer should be on the bookshelves of everyone who is a fan of science fiction gaming.