Frank Chadwick's "Space 1889" come out on the market shortly after I starting my journey with Dungeons & Dragons and other practically all other pen and paper based role-playing games. I don't think there was any game available back then which I wasn't fascinated for one reason or another but there was something really cool and different about this one. Sadly, it quickly was eclipsed by other games which resulted in GDW publishing and supporting the game for just three years (1988-1991). GDW of course, is better known for Twilight 2000 and, of course, Traveller. Nonetheless, there was something very cool and evocative when I gazed upon the cover and, subsequently, the pages of the book. It would be many years before I finally got my hands on a copy and it's been a few since which has permitted me to go through he book several times. It remains a game that I haven't had a chance to play and never got around to running myself.
This weekend, I've pulled it out again have starting checking out parts of the book largely due to John Carter. I finally got a chance to see the movie (and I'll write about it in the next day or two) and I finished reading the "Princess of Mars" early last week. While the setting for Space 1889 is pretty cool in it's own right, adapting the system for a Barsoom campaign in the same time period that the series would take place (give or take based on preferences) becomes an easy task.
The Space 1889 system is, thankfully rules-light enough to prevent one from possibly being deterred from doing so and character creation is one that I rather like. Of course, it would be pretty simple to port the skill and attribute system to something like the d6 system (Star Wars) since it's really the skills and careers system which really shine IMO. Detailed just enough but streamlined nicely and rules light ready. Of course, I don't find the Space 1889 system perfect by any means, but it gets the job done. While the book gives basics of ship to ship combat, I'm not sure I like how it handles aspects of this combat scale (when both characters and larger ship to ship combat take place). That's just a minor quibble though. As for the rules themselves, the book is really meant to be read and not just consulted. Once you have done so, the game becomes fairly simple to understand and play with the majority of tables you might need located in a just a few pages at the back of the book.
Now, my copy of the book has seen better days but it's a sturdy book with a selection of color pages within a book which mostly uses black and white line art. It's 218 pages in all and despite its initial lackluster reception when first released, it's still available now. Frank Chadwick retained the copyright to Space 1889 and reprints and newer material has been published by Heliograph. You can find more information HERE. You can also go to Noble Knight Games where a used copy of the GDW hardback would set you back around $35 (give or take based on condition) or you can get the newer Heliograph reprints for around $25 (MSRP of $29.95). PDF is *way* cheaper where a bundle of everything GDW published will run you about $40 (13 books of varying page count) or for $50, everything (17 books of varying page count). At the very least, for $7.95, you can get just get the core book as a PDF. Not too shabby at all -- even if you're just curious.
Space 1889 mentions and is clearly influenced by the writings of Jules Verne, HG Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle. When I finally do run my own game, I will count Edgar Rice Burroughs as an additional influence.
On the other hand, if you are interested in running a Barsoom campaign with good ol' OD&D (or preferred retro-clone), you can also always check out the unofficial 'Warrior of Mars Supplement' hosted by Jason Vey at one of his sites (http://www.grey-elf.com/) or you can get it directly HERE.