Saturday, 26 January 2013

Review of Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game

Saturday, January 26, 2013

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Alright then... so that's the card (board?) game players and miniature game players taken care of. But what about roleplayers? Fear not! Next up are my review of FFG's recently released Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game (or just Beginner Game for short). You noticed I wrote review and not first impressions like I said earlier. As I kept writing the whole thing simply became a bit too comprehensive for some mere first impressions so I decided to give it the proper review treatment. While I haven't actually played it yet I think my grip on the system and the setting is firm enough to warrant it. :)

Back since that announcement, yes you know which one I'm talking about by now, the game I was most interested to hear about was a new Star Wars rpg. I had a gut feeling that FFG might try and develop the system they created for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd ed. further, as it had a certain cinematic feel to it. In August last year FFG announced the new rpg and the beta prior to its release. After reading the preview I discovered that my hunch had been correct and the game would indeed use the WFRP3 system at its core. Good news I thought, as I quite like WFRP3!

FFG decided to do a big beta project to get input from the player community and although I didn't participate directly I read a lot about it and wrote down my thoughts on the game.  From what it seemed Edge of the Empire would indeed be using a refined version of the WFRP3 system; refined meaning some changes in the rules but mainly the removal of the huge amount of tokens and cards that WFRP3 was built on. Now, I like the idea of the cards and tokens - to have everything at your fingertips, and not need to flip through books - but with new cards and tokens being added with every expansion it soon became bloated and unwieldy. In fact I think "card fatigue" was one of the reasons our WFRP3 campaign kind of fizzled out after we finished The Gathering Storm. But streamlining an already solid system seemed great to me! Of course, new rules had to be added as well and character creation and evolvement have changed drastically from WFRP3. 

Now the main rulebook has still not been released, although it was recently "officially" announced, and we probably won't see it for another few months. To tide us over until then, and help attract non-rpg players, FFG has released the Edge of the Empire Beginner Game. A box including a slimmed down version of the rulebook, some pre-generated characters, an introductory adventure, dice and... some tokens(!). While I don't fit into the category of non-roleplayer who need to be lured into the fold, I do fit into the category of veteran roleplayer who gets way to excited about something and who doesn't have the patience to wait for the real deal. :)

So when the Beginner Box was released in late December I simply had to order a copy.

What You Get in the Box

Apologies for the many stock images. Didn't have time to take any pictures.

I mentioned briefly what you get in the box, but lets have a closer look. What first might catch your eye is a leaflet with the text "Read This First" at the top. I'll admit to not doing this as it's simply another "what is roleplaying?" text with an example of play. Good for someone completely new to the concept though. On the backside is the opening crawl of for the adventure 'Escape from Mos Shuuta' which is a pretty neat idea. Then there's the actual 32 page adventure book which is labeled "Read This Second". Finally there's the 48 page rulebook with the label "Read This Last". The idea is to be able to get started quickly as all the essential rules are introduced gradually in the adventure.

Besides books (and leaflet) there are four very nice looking pre-made character folders. They are all four pages with a full page cover art of the character and her backstory on the last page. Four pages might seem like a lot but the idea is that you'll flip to the next page when your character levels up, unlocking new abilities etc through XP. There is also a large fold out map, which I think might have been the main reason I bought this box. I love maps! On one side is the top down view of the interior of the Krayt Fang, a YT-1300 freighter the characters are trying to get hold of (it's got a Wampa rug!). On the other side are one larger map of Mos Shuuta and two smaller map of the local cantina and spaceport control. They all look very nice and are reminiscent of the excellent Mos Eisley map from WEG's old game.

An rpg without dice is a rare beast indeed, and the Beginner Game comes with a decent assortment of the special dice you will need when playing. 14 in total of seven different varieties. Again, if you are familiar with WFRP3 they will be fairly familiar, although there are some changes to how the dice system works. Finally there is a sheet of tokens you can punch out and use during the game. They consist of tokens for the player characters and the enemies they might encounter (including spaceships) as well as Destiny Point tokens that are used to keep track of the how many light or dark side Destiny Points are in play (they are doublesided).

On a final note I'm sad to report that the actual box this all comes in is simply rubbish. It's a packaging box - for delivery of the content to the store/customer - not a storage box - for the customer to keep the content in after she's purchased it. This is a shame as I thought I might use it as a general Star Wars rpg storage box, not I'll probably end up throwing it away instead. Sadface.

The Content

Alright, those are the physical components, but what I think you all are more interested in is the actual content of the game. Let's have a look at the rulebook first, and go through a very brief rules explanation.

When playing the game you roll a pool made up of the special dice mentioned above. As you assemble your pool you'll start with the positive dice - for your Ability and Skill scores plus circumstantial benefits you might be enjoying - and then you add the negative dice as instructed by the GM - for the difficulty and circumstantial disadvantages. You roll them all together and look at all the different symbols that come up. Most of the time a positive symbol of a certain kind have a respective negative symbol and the two cancel eachother out, so after you've taken the canceled dice out you're left with the net result. If you've managed to score more Success symbols than Failure symbols you have succeded in your attempt.

It doesn't stop there though as you might have succeded but still rolled a bunch of Threat symbols, meaning you succeded but with some detrimental side effect. The flipside is also true and you could fail but roll enough Advantage symbols to still manage to get some kind of advantage out of the situation. There are also Triumph and Despair symbols that are kind of like stronger versions of Advantages and Threats. Check the nearby table for more detailed descriptions.

Then there's the 12 sided Force die.... which is mystical. It isn't actually used in the Beginner game except for generating Destiny points at the beginning of each session. It's interesting since it can result in either light or dark side points, the twist being that there are more sides with dark side points, but the sides with light side points have higher values. This very much goes with the dark side not being stronger but quicker, easier, more seductive. Light Destiny points can be used by the players to boost their rolls, while dark Destiny points can be used by the GM. But when used by either the Destiny Point token is flipped over to the other side, so if the players use up all the remainging light Destiny points the GM have them all available to herself as dark Destiny points! A pretty cool balancing mechanic that seems in line with the whole Force thing. While I'm glad there are no jedi in this game (yet) I'm definitely looking forward to reading the force rules in the full rulebook!

So yeah... that's a lot of text just about the dice. But the thing is, if you get how the dice works you pretty much get the entire system. The rest is rather basic stuff: you have primary abilities, skills that enhance those abilities and talents that allow you to break the rules and do some cool stuff! When damaged you suffer physical Wounds and/or Strain which is more akin to exhaustion. You can also elect to suffer Strain voluntarily to get more maneuvers during combat.

Some of the tokens you get in the box.

It's pretty far from rules heavy (and rules strict!) systems like D20. In fact I think it has more in common with the modern indie rpg movement as it's very easy to play fast and loose and simply adjust on the fly and not get bogged down in detail; "That Stormtrooper shot out the lights. Ok, that means you have to roll an extra Setback die when attacking". I was going to say that the system is a bit abstracted, but I actually don't think it is. You might see it as abstract if all you've ever played is D&D with its grids and modifier minutae, but compared to most other rpgs I've read and played I'd say it's fairly middle of the road. It's abstracted in a way I think rpgs should be abstracted, that is to say it doesn't matter if the Rodian bounty hunter is 6.5 or 7 meters away, it simply matters that she's close. If I want that kind of tactical grid-infested play I'll go and pull out my copy of Descent or fire up SWTOR.

Sorry, going off on a tangent there.

The rulebook covers the basic of gameplay but doesn't go into character creation at all and, seeing as this is a beginner's game, the chapters on talents and character evolvement are quite short. However, there is a chapter on spaceships and spaceship combat which I was pleasantly surprised by! At the end of the book are chapters for equipment, starships and NPCs and I think the book actually includes more stuff than would strictly be needed for a beginner game. If you really wanted to this could last you quite some time - as long as you have the imagination to come up with further adventures.

The Adventure

Speaking of adventures... I haven't actually read Escape from Mos Shuuta. I flipped through it quickly just to get a sense of the layout and I read the 'How to Use This Book' section but that's about it. The things is, I dind't want to spoil it as there's a chance that I might actually get to play it! However, from what I have gathered from people who have played it and the backstory for the player characters it's centered around escaping Teemo the Hutt and aqcuiring a spacehip to make it off Tattooine. The adventure is quite short, usually lasting around two or three hours, which is probably the perfect lenght for a demo, but there's a much longer sequal available for download from FFG called 'The Long Arm of the Hutt' which should provide a couple more sessions at least.

The Characters

The four characters included in the box are Oskara the twi'lek Bounty Hunter, 41-VEX the droid Colonist, Pash the human Smuggler and Lowhhrick the wookiee Hired Gun. I wasn't sure what to expect of the pre-gens, but I ended up quite liking them! Their backstories are just the right length and have just the right tone for you to quickly get the characters. Are they slightly stereotypical? Yes, but in a good way; a way that allow new players to quickly find something familiar to latch on to.

Pash's character folder. Click for larger view.

The character folders of course include the character sheet with all the stats, but also explanations of what everything is and how the dice symbols work. It's all quite clearly laid out and should make it very easy for new players to get into the game. Flip the page and you've got an updated character sheet where you can choose and fill in your first character development(s). On the final page is a another character sheet with more space for filling in upgrades and the first start of that character's talent tree. Basically this makes it possible to play with the character and level her up a few levels before you'd need the main rulebook. Again, this is something FFG could probably have gotten away with leaving out entirely, so having it included is a nice bonus.

It bears mentioning again that the art is absolutely spectacular! FFG is known for having beautiful looking products but their new line of Star Wars games (that share art, naturally) might be my favourite so far. There is mostly new art, but now and then you come across something from an older game or one of Ralph Mcquarrie's pieces of concept art and it all blends well together. Awesome!

Oh I almost forgot! There are two more characters available for download from FFG if you have more than four players in your group, Sasha the Explorer and Mathus the Technician, both humans.

My Thoughts

I think Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game is a pretty good product. If you belong to the target group of people new to roleplaying (or perhaps people new to non-D20 roleplaying). It's got a surprisingly comprehensive starter rulebook, well rounded characters that can be developed further and an adventure that (I hear) is a good introduction to roleplaying. What more could you want as a teenager just exploring this new medium?

On the other hand, if you are a rpg veteran like myself this is more of an appetizer as you wait for the main course and had the core rulebook been released on the same day I don't think I would have bought the beginner box. Although I'd love to play or run the adventure and the downloadable follow up, in the end I think what I will find continual use for in the future is the dice, the map and perhaps the tokens. On the third hand, it is a good rpg introduction and I could easily see myself running this as a demo for roleplaying in general more than once. And I've enjoyed reading through it and kind of getting warmed up for the core book that I'm assuming will be released in May or June. So for me I feel the box was worth the investment.

As for the system itself, I like it. They've taken the good things from WFRP3, left the baggage and streamlined it. In this game you won't end up with the huuuge dice pools of WFRP3 as you often upgrade or downgrade dice instead of simply adding more dice to the mix, meaning the size of the pool stay more or less constant. Difficulty is also a bit more fluid instead of the standard one difficulty die of WFRP3. I also like the Destiny Point system as its dual nature forces the players to really think about when to use it (because they know it'll come back and bite them in the ass!).

There are of course things missing form this paired down rulebook. While I didn't expect character generation to be in their I was a little surprised that Obligations didn't make it. Obligations in the main game is something every character have, it could be a dept or a promise or simply baggage that your character starts out with. It adds to the characters background but also figures in play as there as the Obligation in question can turn up when least expected - you run into a bounty hunter working for that Quarrian you owe money.

The full talent tree from the beta rulebook.

These are trifles though, and in the end I think this is a good way of trying to widen the hobby a bit. You will have to decide for yourself wheather you will find use for the Beginner Game or wheather you'll get more out of simply waiting for the core book. It's good at what it does, but what it does is fairly specific. With that said, I really can't wait to play it!

Star Wars week on Fire Broadside is in full swing and next up is a tactics article on how to play the Rebels in X-Wing. Expect to see it on Sunday.

May the Force be with you!

6 kommentarer :

  1. I really appreciate your review of the new Star Wars RPG beginner box. Around the time of its announcement I preordered it, but eventually cancelled my order. Deciding to wait for the big book.

    I fiddled the box at a local game store yesterday and I was really tempted to buy it, but still decided wait. After reading your review and the one by Farsight Blogger (, I think my decision was a right one. And the big book is only a few months away :)

    Despite the very nice presentation of the beginner box, I don't think it would have given much in actual content to my group of long time roleplayers. Even if we sometimes run one-offs with pregenerated character by the running gamemaster.

    I read the bonus adventure and the sheets of the two pregenerated characters available on FFG's site and I'm liking what I'm seeing. What I told you about the Traveller vibe on your beta impressions post earlier seems to be even more present with the new material while still remaining distinctly Star Wars. I think FFG's more focused approach on the Star Wars universe will serve the game in the long run, eventually catering to all fans. I'm just happy that the exploration of the more gray areas of Star Wars gets the first round.

    I don't think I have been this excited about a roleplaying title release since the first announcement of Dark Heresy.

  2. @NetDiver - Ah, now I see your avatar! For some reason it didn't show when using my phone. :)

    I think you (and Farsight Blooger) are right - it really is a great introduction to roleplaying, but for veterans it's a teaser at best. I feel a bit hobbled when it comes to the adventure(s) as I've refrained from reading them, but I've heard good things!

    Definitely agree about going this route. People complained about not being able to play space marines in Dark Heresy as well, but it worked out pretty well in the end, didn't it? :)

  3. So I have a question, what do I need to buy to create MY own characters? The core rulebook? Will that help create my own or is that even possible?

  4. Hello Anon! Yes, to make your own characters you need the proper Core Book that was released recently. Remember that the Beginner Box is aimed squarely at people who have never roleplayed before. If you're familiar with the concept I'd suggest skipping the box and going straight for the book, unless the dice and maps look useful to you. :)

  5. In my mind the Beginner Box is actually quite good investment for the money. While I haven't bought this myself, a friend of mine bought it so I know what's inside. You get one set of dice, condensed rules of the game and a good adventure to start playing. All for the price of two dice sets which you'll need to buy anyway.

    While this is a product that I wouldn't buy myself, I can't deny that it is a very good product for the price especially if the your interested expanding to the core game.

  6. At first I thought "hang on a minute, the dice set can't be that expensiv!", but yeah... it really is like buying two dice sets! I agree it's pretty good value for your money, at least if you make use of the maps, but if you really want to get playing "for real" I think you'd be happier with the core book.

    Nothing wrong with this set though and although the adventure is very, very short (a couple of hours maybe?) the downloadable sequal/extension is actually quite meaty!


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