Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game (REVIEW)
Star Wars is far more than a series of movies. It’s an all-encompassing brand, spanning novels, comics, video games, and even radio plays. For a lot of people, it’s a fantasy universe as complex (if not more so) as Tolkien’s Middle-earth. One of the many facets of the Star Wars Expanded Universe exists in the form of roleplaying games.
The history of Star Wars as a roleplaying game is actually a muddled one. Two other companies had control of the role playing rights before Fantasy Flight got a hold of them and because of this, each game released has been very different. This particular game, Edge of the Empire, is no different. FF did a beta version of the game, putting it up for sale so that you could buy it and provide feedback so as to become involved in the shaping of the final game. Some took issue that you had to pay to be in the beta, as other companies such as Paizo and Wizards of the Coast did their betas for free, but it proved mildly popular regardless.
The first product released for the game was the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game, the focus of this article and review. The main game, a Core Rulebook that will probably be about $60, was to be released in spring, but has since been delayed.
So, how does the game play? Like any other roleplaying game, you have a game master and you have players. The game comes with four pre-created characters (a smuggler, a bounty hunter, a colonist, and a mercenary) and the website has two more you can download and print. The first thing you notice out of the box, however, is that is comes with some really weird dice.
So, right from the start, those familiar with Wizards of the Coast’s d20 system and West End Games original Star Wars RPG will know they’re in for something new here.
In the box you will find the four character folios, a sheet that says READ THIS FIRST, and two books. The sheet has general information for people who are completely new to roleplaying on it and can be ignored if you’ve tossed dice before. The Adventure Book says READ THIS SECOND, and the Rulebook says READ THIS LAST. That’s weird, you may think. Not quite!
Cracking open the Adventure Book, you’ll soon see that the game is built to be played right out of the box, with no prior knowledge of the rules at all. The adventure in fact introduces you to the rule concepts slowly and intuitively, so by the end of it you’ll be comfortable enough to use the Rulebook without getting confused. This is really awesome! This is how you build a starter set right here.
The game also includes tokens and maps for the adventure, which are of okay quality. The dice are fun to look at. l. All in all it’s a good looking product. So after purchasing it and reading through the Adventure booklet (rather unnecessarily), I got some friends together and took it for a spin.
As I said before, the rules are introduced through the adventure itself. The very first thing the players needed to do was run into a cantina in the city of Mos Shuuta, on Tatooine, to escape from some Gamorreans who were hired to catch them by a local Hutt. The players seem to have run afoul of the slugoid gangster and were trying to get off the planet, so everyone was asked to make a skill check.
The dice might look confusing at first, but they are essentially simple. There are six symbols on the dice, one that means success, one that means fail, one that means advantage, one that means threat, one that means triumph (super success), and one that means despair (super fail). Basically, you roll a combination of green and yellow dice based on what your skill says and add in purple or red dice to determine the difficulty. Green and yellow are good dice and purple and red are bad so, the more of the latter you have, the harder the roll is. What you are trying to do is to roll more successes than fails. However, what is really neat is that you can use the advantages and threats to color the actions. In other words, you may succeed, but if you roll a lot of threats you strain yourself doing so. It definitely calls for improv, but it also adds to the drama of the roll.
For example, during our game the players were called to hide. One player tried to blend in with the crowd of the cantina. So he looked at his character sheet and found his “Cool” skill, for keeping a cool head. He picked up two green dice and one yellow dice for his skill, then added one purple dice because it was an easy task. If the task were more difficult, the game master would call for more purple dice to be added to the dice “pool”at his discretion.. He then rolled them all, counting the successes, subtracting the fails, and looking at the threat and advantage to see if he suffered any strain or got any advantages for attempting the task.
In other games that use simply numerical values, it generally means the dice are only for providing you with a randomization element to represent a chance for failure within the game (i.e. you roll to hit something with a sword, because you might miss). In Edge of the Empire, the dice do this but also add to the story, forcing you to roleplay not only performing the task, but how you do so and to determine whether you experience any strain or advantage doing so. This is definitely the centerpiece of the game and what separates it from other Star Wars games and roleplaying games in general.
One thing I liked about the game as we went through the adventure book was how fast-paced it was. Combat didn’t drag on; in fact, combat didn’t really seem different than any other part of the game, because everything is based on the dice mechanics and your skills. You look at the skill, roll your dice, and move on, so we got through the game rather quickly.
Another asset—the space combat was exciting! The players had captured a freighter that looked similar to the Millennium Falcon and launched it into space to escape the planet and were then pursued by TIE fighters. How that combat worked was that each character manned a station on the ship such as pilot, gunner, engineer, etc. During combat, each station provided different actions available to the player. For instance, the pilot could choose to fly evasively or to stay on target to make it easier for the gunners to shoot. The gunner could, of course, man the turrets and fire lasers. The engineer could do damage control and install parts. It was neat because they were all working together to make the ship work.
The game is easy but not without complexity. Star Wars games of the past were notorious for getting complicated. The West End game sometimes had you rolling a ridiculous amount of d6s at once and Wizard’s game came with the easily unbalanced rules of their DnD game. This one, however, feels streamlined with an appropriately large amount of variety existing within its simple rules and concepts.
Now, this isn’t all to the good. During the course of the adventure, I didn’t really know what separated the characters from each other in terms of capabilities, except that the Wookie was good at hitting things and the colonist was a good engineer. (We only knew that because he wasn’t chosen and that made things a little hairy on the ship.) The characters had a chance to use experience points to upgrade their skills, but I wasn’t really clear on what separated one so-called class from another. I’m unsure whether this is a problem (feature) of the characters, or a consequence of the admittedly simple adventure.
At the end of the game, however, I wanted to play more. There actually is a second adventure you can get from FF’s website for free to continue your game. The Rulebook also seems to give enough information to create your own adventure. The box does not come with character creation rules, so you are stuck with the four (or six) provided in the base set until the Core Rulebook comes out hopefully later this year.
So far I think highly of the game. I like when the rules lend themselves to roleplaying, sort of forcing the player out of the monotony of rolling dice without really describing what is happening. With such a rich tapestry of source materials to draw from, there is no doubt in my mind that this game will be known as one of the better games for storytelling. Couple that with easy rules and a very nice presentation and you’ve got a game I am proud to have on my shelf.