Edge of the Empire Beginner Box

I’ve been kind of curious about the new Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight Games since it was announced. I managed to get a copy of the Edge of the Empire Beta book shortly after GenCon last year, and it looked pretty good, but until I actually played it, I wasn’t sure how much I would like it.

Then FFG released the Edge of the Empire Beginner Game. It’s been very carefully constructed to take new players ((And by this, I mean the set presupposes no knowledge of gaming at all, teaching the basics of RPGs from the ground up.)) from no knowledge of the game to basic competence with the system. The contents of the box includes a number of books and papers labeled with the order in which the GM should read them. There’s an intro sheet to read first, the adventure book to read second, another sheet with info about a follow-up adventure ((The Long Arm of the Hutt, downloadable from FFG.)), and a pared-down rulebook. In addition, you get four character folios for the pregen characters, and a set of the special dice you need to play. There are also an extra pair of character folios you can download to run the game with more than four players.

I wanted to see how the game ran, so I gathered four of my friends, and we took the Beginner Game out for a spin.

I’m not going to say too much about the adventure, both because I don’t want to spoil it for others, and because it’s a pretty linear story, with no real twists or surprises. That said, it provides a few hours of good Star Wars amusement, covering most of the kinds of things you want to do in a Star Wars game.

The main thing I was interested in seeing was how well the structure of the set taught the game. Each encounter teaches one or two new rules – or tweaks on rules – leading the players from simple ability checks, through combat, opposed rolls, minion rules, and even starship combat. By the end of the adventure, the new players have had a taste of just about everything available in the game, with one exception that I’ll talk about later.

One of the big things I wanted to see was how the the fancy dice worked. Like they did with the latest Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay edition ((Although, not with such wanton exuberance.)), FFG created a new dice mechanic to work with specialized dice in a simple dice pool system. You build your dice pool based on attributes and skills possessed by your character, adding difficulty dice based on opposition, difficulty, and situation, and roll them all. Add up success symbols, cancel successes with failure symbols, and if you have one success symbol left, you succeed. There are a couple more tweaks to the system, with advantage and triumph symbols on the positive side, and threat and despair symbols on the negative side, but you get the idea.

The dice give outcomes along two different axes – success/failure and advantage/threat, tweaked by triumph and despair. It works pretty slick, and the players learned the language of the dice symbols quite quickly, so play actually went fast after the first couple of encounters. What I found, though, was that estimating the odds – what was a long shot, what was a sure thing – was difficult. I mean, you can ballpark the odds based on the types and numbers of dice in the pool in a broad way: more green skill dice than purple difficulty dice mean that the roll is likely to succeed. But how likely is more difficult to tell ((Why do I care? Well, it’s not a gamebreaker, but I’m so used to examining and understanding the odds on numerical dice rolls that I feel a little adrift without the ability to do that. Not a huge deal.)).

Combat runs pretty quickly, and the threat and advantage mechanic adds some colourful variation to the vanilla back-and-forth of the standard “I hit him, then he hits me” of the basic combat system. The minion rules turn groups of stormtroopers into serious opposition without bogging the game down. And the starship combat runs smooth, with options for everyone on the ship ((At least, everyone on the ship in the playtest.)) to do something every turn.

Opposed rolls work very much like normal rolls in this system, with the difficulty dice that are added to the pool being determined by the skill of the character opposing the active character’s intent. So, if you’re trying to talk a junk dealer into selling you a part he promised to another ((Just as an example.)), the difficulty dice in your pool are based on the junk dealer’s Discipline skill. This nicely resolves in a single roll what normally takes two separate rolls. I like the idea, and it works pretty well in play.

The one thing that the Beginner Game doesn’t cover that exists in the Beta version of the game ((Well, the one play aspect that I noticed. Of course, the Beginner Game has no info on character creation, fewer equipment listings, etc. As one would expect in an introductory set.)) is rules for Force users. Now, Edge of the Empire doesn’t deal with Jedi or Sith characters, and rightly so; the default setting of the game is the interval between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back ((I’m pretty sure, anyway. I don’t have the book handy right now.)), when the Jedi have been hunted almost to extinction and only Vader and the Emperor stand for the Sith. Out on the Rim, the eponymous edge of the Empire, there may be a few minor Force users that haven’t been exterminated yet, but anything more impressive gets far too much Imperial attention.

So, as I say, no Force use in the Beginner Game, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Based on what I’ve seen in the Beta book ((And bear in mind that it is a Beta book, so things are apt to change.)), Force powers add another layer of complexity and another new type of die, along with a whole set of powers and abilities. They look interesting and useful but, as I say, they weren’t in the Beginner Game, so I didn’t get to test them.

Anyway, final verdict on the game is that it was fun to play. The linearity of the adventure can be forgiven in light of how the game is structured to teach the system, and there’s enough fun stuff in the adventure to make it enjoyable to play. It did a good job of teaching the basics of the system to new players ((And GMs.)), while hinting at how much more fun you can have using the full game.

So, if you have an interest in a Star Wars RPG, I suggest checking it out. It’s not that expensive, will give you a taste of the system, an evening’s play ((More, if you download the sequel adventure.)), and a set of the dice you need for the game.

Go check it out.