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Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager, $30

 Simulations about life outside the cockpit are rare. Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager is a plucky independent effort that takes players into the control rooms and boardrooms of NASA and beyond. It’s heavily inspired by Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space, a 1993 sim about the race to the moon. The developers have extended the concept to give players the option to guide U.S., Russian or third-party space programs to the moon and beyond. Gameplay revolves around staffing a program with engineers, astronauts and mission controllers and selecting programs to green light. Time invested in staff training, research and development yields more reliable equipment and better chances of success.

Though BASPM offers several play modes, the most engaging is a single-player campaign that reprises the race to the moon, challenging you to find the best balance of resources against time limits. It features historical components such as NASA’s Ranger probe, McDonnell’s Mercury capsule and the Soviet Vostok craft, along with some programs that didn’t see operational reality, such as McDonnell’s Advanced Gemini. A sandbox mode allows players to develop a program at their own pace, and there’s also a multiplayer mode.

The graphics are simple but clean, the music is pleasant, the code is stable and the whole package is clearly a labor of love. The manual includes a nice interview with consulting astronaut Buzz Aldrin. And no matter how many times I launched a rocket, I always found the mission control sequences suspenseful—and cheered whenever a mission was a success.

BASPM isn’t without some quirks. Although the interface is responsive, there were some points where the way back to a previous screen wasn’t clear. It also seems odd that a game emphasizing spreadsheet-like sorting capabilities to help with decisions on staff allocation doesn’t include those same tools for evaluating potential new hires. Plus the sim would benefit greatly from a strategy game staple called the “tech tree,” a map explaining how foundational technologies relate to subsequent ones. BASPM gets around this to some extent by displaying programs in sequence, but what’s not obvious is that one of the risks you can take is to skip some of the programs.

Some may feel this game is less about space than shuffling staff between training and programs. But those who missed Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space or would like to play a contemporary version will find this new game a challenging exercise.


Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.