The lights are on
In the last couple of months, we’ve been highlighting some great games to share with the family over summer break in the form of Dixit and The Adventurers. This month, our tabletop coverage is steering in a different direction with our look at Fantasy Flight’s new tabletop role-playing game in the Star Wars universe. Unlike other board games we’ve covered like A Touch of Evil or Star Trek: Fleet Captains, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire is a pure RPG, akin to games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and Shadowrun.
Fantasy Flight has crafted a brand new role-playing system built to reflect the best elements of the Star Wars fiction, with a focus on the characters living at the edge of civilization, running in the lawless and dark corners of the galaxy. Edge of the Empire utilizes an innovative core game mechanic built around a set of custom dice, and a character builder that lets players shape a fascinating collection of bounty hunters, explorers, smugglers, and more.
Like most RPGs, Edge of the Empire requires one person to adopt the role of game master to shape the narrative and run the game, and everyone else steps in as a single character within the Star Wars universe – usually 2 to 6 players in total. Players and the GM cooperate to tell the story, and an innovative dice-rolling mechanic not only determines the results of actions, but also helps to add a narrative sense of how those actions unfold.
The Star Wars fiction is an unwieldy beast, and Fantasy Flight has chosen to separate its role-playing game into separate themed experiences. Edge of the Empire (the first release in the line) focuses on characters living on the fringe, far from the Galactic War shaking the Empire and the struggles between the light and dark side Force users. Later installments will add in new content that details those other branches of the Star Wars universe.
Edge of the Empire requires that your group (or at least one or two members of your group) get a hold of the mammoth 400+ page core rulebook, which includes everything from character sheets for photocopying to details on all the rules needed for both players and GMs. In addition, you’ll need to pick up a set of Fantasy Flight’s custom Star Wars dice, which are required to play. Alternately, a Star Wars dice app is available on your smartphone – but frankly, you lose a little something without the fun of real dice rolling on the table. Unlike some role-playing games, Edge of the Empire does not require miniatures or tactical grid maps.
Theme and Story
The designers have done a remarkable job shaping a game that caters to the seedier side of Star Wars, and their efforts bear fruit in the way mechanics, character creation, and story tie together into a unified whole.
The integration of mechanics and story begins as soon as you start to build a character. Before even finalizing a choice of species or career, players select an obligation. Out here at the edge of civilization, a character rarely gets where he or she is without having to make some shady decisions, and obligations help to represent these choices. Think of Han Solo’s debt to Jabba the Hutt, or Boba Fett’s connections to his father and his desire for revenge. Players select an obligation before play begins, and those narrative threads loom over subsequent game sessions; every obligation has a numerical value, and a check at the beginning of each gameplay session determines if the party’s obligations will come into play. Players can accept additional obligations before the game begins to get extra XP or credits to help build their character, but in so doing they risk their obligation becoming a more central threat within the storyline.
I love the risk/reward quality that obligations bring into the role-playing experience, and the narrative implications assure that every character begins play with some fun challenges to face.
The rest of character creation is built around high customizability. The game details eight different species, each with their own special bonuses. My favorite inclusion is the option to play a droid, albeit with a few structural differences from organic creatures, like the inability to become a Force sensitive.
Players then select one of six careers: bounty hunter, colonist, explorer, hired gun, smuggler, or technician. Each career comes with the choice of three specializations, like the smuggler’s choice of pilot, scoundrel, or thief. A specialization brings with it an intriguing branching -style talent tree, so you can build just the character you want.
When you stack the flexible character build options with the rich collection of information provided on the seedy underbellies of the galaxy’s worlds, Edge of the Empire bristles with opportunities for storytelling.
[Next up: The awesome dice mechanic at the core of the game]
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.