Just over a year ago Fantasy Flight Games announced that it acquired the Star Wars license that WotC had passed on previously, ending it’s critically successful Star Wars Saga roleplaying game. With that announcement came the news of two new games, the Star Wars Living Card game and the X-Wing miniatures game. Back then I thought to myself: this license must be crazy expensive, surely they’re gonna capitalize as much as they can and release a roleplaying game as well. Come GenCon 2012 and Christian T. Petersen announces the Edge of the Empire roleplaying game, with an imminent Beta to come in a limited softcover format. I got the beta as soon as I could (it took some time to get to the UK), and was excited at the prospect of playing. What I found was a 220 page rulebook full of crunch and nothing else (ed. note – crunch = rules). I dove in bravely but found the rulebook quite daunting. It had separate rules for regular combat and vehicular combat, various item stats, force powers, talent trees – the game was huge. It looked as complex as DnD but with a slightly more narrative driven focus. That, lack of time, and constant errata made me make a decision I wasn’t very keen on – I had to put off playing Star Wars.
Till now! Enter the newly released Star Wars Edge of the Empire Beginner Game, an entry level product designed for novice roleplayers and people new to the system. So what’s inside? Well, let’s have a look in my unboxing video.
I’m going to try and refrain from making this into a review of the beta and try and focus on the beginner game. All I’ll say about the core game is that I’m not entirely sure what I think about it in general. My feelings are definitely positive, but it’s hard to define where this game fits yet. As for the beginner game, I am almost sold. I say almost because I haven’t finished exploring the main rulebook yet (the basic rules are explained in the intro adventure – enough to run your first session). The game has a lot of promise but minor issues do crop up here and there. The first being the quality of the contents. Aside from the box itself, the quality isn’t really bad, but I feel like a comparison to similar products might shine a brighter light on the matter. The recommended retail price of the package is £24.99 (29.95$ for my American readers). This is right in between the Red Box which retails at £16.99 and the Pathfinder Beginner box which retails at £29.99. Content wise, it is almost the equivalent of the Red Box – you get a map, some character sheets, two booklets, a sheet of tokens and some dice. Overall you get more dice than in the Red Box and the character sheets are vastly superior, but it is no comparison to the amount of stuff you get in the Pathfinder equivalent (an erasable battlemat and a 90 page rulebook with character creation and rules up to level 5). So looking at the content to price ratio, Edge of the Empire seems to be the more expensive one – however, it must be said that some of that definitely goes to cover the Star Wars licensing fees, and the price is still very reasonable. The second problem is that there are no rules for character creation. This is a major selling point for some people, and those who love to dabble with characters will either have to get their hands on the beta, or wait for the release of the core rulebook.
The core of the game (same as in the beta) revolves around the dice mechanics. As I’ve mentioned in the video, there are 7 different kinds of dice. Ability dice (green d8) represent your basic skill and generate success and advantage. They can be upgraded to proficiency dice (yellow d12) which have better success and advantage results, and can also produce a Triumph – a sort of critical success. These are rolled simultaneously with difficulty dice (purple d8) which generate failures and threat, results that cancel out successes and advantages respectively. They can be upgraded to challenge dice (red d12), which have greater amounts of failures and threat and can also produce a despair result (a sort of crit failure). Ok. Still with me? So what ends up happening is you roll a bunch of dice and you’ll get various degrees of success and failure. For example, you could succeed at a task but generate threat, which nets you a success but with a negative side-effect. You hit the stormtrooper that was chasing you down a corridor with your blaster pistol but it overheated and became unusable for a round for example. You could also fail, but with an advantage, and so on and on and on. After our playthrough of the beginner adventure my friends commented that the dice mechanic makes it feel very much like Star Wars. Most of the time, even if you succeed – you never get away scot free, which is very much in line with the feel of the galaxy far far away.
Edge of the Empire focuses on the scum and villainy aspect of Star Wars. It’s set within the original trilogy (post Battle of Yaving I believe). The beginner adventure carries that feel across very well. There’s an evil Hutt crimelord hot on our trail, we’re in the dusty streets of Mos Shuuta, Tatooine, there are bounty hunters on our trail and eventually we even get to nab a YT-1300. What I liked about the way the beginner adventure is written, is how it allowed everyone to learn the rules of the game as the adventure progressed. It eliminated the need to just do a massive rules info-dump and allowed them to develop naturally as an extension of the game. Which was great when it worked, but it didn’t always. The rules for Critical Injuries are very vague and even after we consulted the main rulebook we felt a little baffled. Also, the rules for vehicle combat are severely lacking in detail and raised more questions than answers. But these are minor quibbles. After all, Edge of the Empire is meant to be a narrative game and the rules are only a crutch.
One of the best parts were the character sheets. These were done much like the Pathfinder character folios, but with leveling up in mind. The sheet explains everything that players can do during their turn, and after they complete the first half of the adventure they are given some xp and allowed to spend it on new talents or skills. We encountered one minor error in our playthrough, 41-VEX, the droid characater is able to upgrade his Ranged (Light) skill which should upgrade his dice when firing a blaster and throwing a grenade, however the upgrade on the grenade part isn’t accounted for. It’s a minor oversight and won’t affect the game much, and I don’t think I’ve encountered an error-free roleplaying game yet, so this is not a surprise really, more of an FIY to future players of 41-VEX.
After you’re done playing an intro adventure, there’s a link to a much bigger adventure in PDF format. There are also two extra characters giving players some variety of choice and creates the possibility of accommodating a larger game. You can find these resources by going on the Fantasy Flight Games webpage.
One of my favorite parts of the box has to be the map, specifically the YT-1300 interior side, which I can see myself using over and over again in many games to come. It really sparked the imagination of my players and made me really glad I got the box.
The gameplay itself felt smooth and the innovative dice mechanics forced us to think outside of the box narrative wise. As a GM, I felt like I needed to provide a good amount of description behind every dice roll, which meant that the game was always full of detail – definitely a good thing in my book. Most importantly, it felt very much like we were having a Star Wars adventure and my players looked like they were having fun. So the game was definitely a hit. My only concern is the amount of structure within rules – it is definitely rules-heavy. Thankfully, the gameplay can easily adapt to the style of every group and the focus can easily shift towards narrative. I’d also like to note that the mere fact that the Beginner Game exists says that FFG want this game to be big. DnD big. And I think it’s well on the way to be just that.