Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game Review
A New Star Wars Game
Now, I wouldn't consider myself a huge Star Wars fan. Sure, I've seen all of the movies and played almost every video game. I'm just not exactly an enthusiast; aside from Knights of the Old Republic, I never got into the expanded universe. Yes, I occasionally stop by Wookieepedia to look up the odd factoid, but otherwise I just don't know much about what happens after the end credits of Return of the Jedi.
When I found out Fantasy Flight acquired the license to make Star Wars games, I was excited. I mean, I love those guys.
Just last Thursday I finally got to run the game for a group of friends. Did it live up to the hype? Lets find out, but first I'll give you some background on the game.
One of the biggest gaming conventions of the year is GenCon in Indiana. In 2012, the convention broke records for attendance with 41,000 people showing up to play (and buy) all manner of board games and RPGs.
The Edge of the Empire game was revealed during this event and many attendees were given free softcover copies of the beta rules. Taking a page out of Paizo's playbook, FFG smartly decided to playtest the heck out of the game before release. There's a nice chunk of time between GenCon 2012 and the full game's release sometime in Spring of 2013, so hopefully there will be some meaningful tweaks and changes to the core system.
While fans eagerly awaited the release of the 448-page hardcover rulebook, FFG announced they were putting out a much smaller product aimed at introducing new players to their game system. This would be called the Edge of the Empire Beginner Game.
Star Wars Setting
The game takes place between movies five and six. The first Death Star has been destroyed. Darth Vader still lives. Much of the game takes place away from the peaceful, civilized corners of the galaxy. You get to crawl around in the retched hives of scum and villainy with Hutt crime lords, bounty hunters and other unsavory folk.
This is Star Wars: Firefly Edition. Even the playable characters are bounty hunters, gladiators, mechanics and other roughneck jobs that frankly, excite me tremendously.
The main complaint I hear from prospective buyers of the game is about the dice. They believe Fantasy Flight is just trying to steal their money by getting them to buy dice. While that may be the case, I think the dice are wildly inventive and fun. If you have the Beginner Game (or you buy the dice separately for $15), you have all the dice you need to play. If you like, there's an official dice rolling app for Apple and Android devices that costs $5.
Inside the Box
As you'd expect, the box contains everything you need to play the game, including an adventure book, rulebook, a double-sided poster map, character sheets, tokens and a complete set of custom dice required to play the game.
The box itself is very flimsy, which is unfortunate. However, the complete cost of the box is only $30, and the dice cost $15 by themselves. Obviously FFG cut corners to keep down costs.
So why exactly does this game need custom dice? The game designers wanted the game to have "non-binary dice resolution." What does that even mean?
In other tabletop RPGs, you roll a dice and you'll either pass or fail. Sometimes you'll critically pass or fail, at which point the GM gets to make something tragic or wonderful happen. In most systems, critical events are fairly rare. What EoTE does is allow for a variety of things to happen on each dice roll.
Say you want to hack a computer to open a security door. You roll your pool of dice and come up with enough Success symbols to pass the check, but you also roll a number of Threat symbols (think of them as complications). The GM explains that, although the door opens, you tripped an alarm in the system and now Stormtroopers are being sent to your location.
No Grid or Miniatures?
Combat takes place is discreet range "bands" in this game. Those are Engaged (melee range), Close, Medium, Long and Extreme. On your turn (in combat), a player can use a Move action to change one range band (from Close to Engaged, lets say).
Yes it's abstract, which might turn off hardened D&D players. But it works quickly and more importantly, it's cinematic and it doesn't require miniatures.
Running the Game
The included adventure works as a smooth set of thematic tutorials meant to introduce players to the game. It works very well in this regard. Reading the character sheets is clear and easy. I recommend prospective DMs to read through the adventure completely before running it, though. There's a lot of information initially, but it's easy to skim during gameplay if you've put in the time.
Reading the dice might take some time at first, but by the end of the game, interpreting them was second nature. I imagine actions would go much faster if everyone had their own set of dice (or the app on their phones). Even still, I thought things resolved quickly. The only time we had slowdown was when odd things would happen, like a player getting a critical success and failure on the same roll.
Combat has always been a point of contention with players in my group (meaning they despise it). EoTE's combat tickled my fancy because it uses what it calls "cinematic combat," which just means it works like most other dice rolls, with the added danger of dying. Range in combat is abstracted and can take place in the theater of the mind, which I've always preferred. However, the game includes enough maps to aid new players in visualizing their surroundings. See the sidebar "No Grid?" for more on how range in combat works.
I had a lot of fun with this game. Its modern game design and friendly introduction was refreshing. We had a person at the table who had never played a tabletop RPG in his life and he had a good time. The dice, while controversial to some, make for a very story-driven game. Personally, story is my favorite part of these games. I can't complain.
Fantasy Flight has also released a much longer official campaign for free on their website that extends the story beyond the bounds of the introduction book. I reckon it'll take at least three gameplay sessions to get through it. I do love free stuff!
As a graphic designer, I feel obligated to point out the layout, art direction and presentation of information is both elegant and thematically appropriate for the material. A+!
The stuff in the box is good to start, but there are no rules for character creation at all, meaning that Fantasy Flight requires you to buy the full book to access that information. It's kind of a letdown, but my players won't be needing their own characters for a good long while, at which time the full game should be out.
It's kind of silly that the game costs $30 considering you don't get much of a bestiary or rules for character creation, but you have to remember that half of that is getting the dice for the full game. Considering how many hours of entertainment I'm getting for the money, I think it's worth it.
• Easy to understand, good for people new to RPGs in general (or just this one)
• A genuinely fun game and system
• Lends itself to storytelling and interesting moment-to-moment decision-making
• It's Star Wars
• No character creation rules
• Limited playability once you've finished the free online campaign
• Flimsy box
9 dancing Twi'leks out of 10.