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Minireview: Edge of the Empire

Edge of the Empire is the first core book in Fantasy Flight Game’s new Star Wars roleplaying game line. The ruleset is an adaptation of the Warhammer Fantasy 3rd edition rules, including a set of custom dice. It’s a dice pool system, and it’s a damn good one; the dice have a set of game-specific symbols on them instead of numbers, and in addition to fail/success state it also provides lots of other information on one roll: additional positive or negative consequences (regardless or fail/success), and information about where the success/failure of the roll came from – was it due to skill, natural talent, environmental effects, or just plain luck? I loved this system in WHFRP 3e, and I love it here. Skipping the dice system, the mechanics are fairly lightweight and quick to learn. Characters do not have “levels”, but they do have “character classes” of a sort – but those classes (Careers/Specializations) do not act as hard barriers to anything, so character options are quite open. A “Smuggler” may well later become a skilled negotiator and politician, for example.

The game itself focuses on the edges of Galactic civilization, the “rough edges”. So more Tatooine and “hives of scum and villainy”, less Coruscant and jedi lightsabers. In fact, Jedis are noticeably absent here, which makes sense since the game is set in the time between the first Star Wars film and Empire Strikes Back; Jedis are dead or deep in hiding. There is a low-level Force option, “Force-sensitive Exile”, which allows characters to attain some Force powers without going all Jedi on everyone. The design goal is quite specifically Han Solo -type characters, doing semi-legal or illegal things in the Outer Rim. The next game in the line is Age of Rebellion (which focuses on the Empire-Rebel war), and the third game is Force & Destiny which (presumably) gives us full Jedi options. In a way, it’s a mirror of FFG’s WH40k game line, where the first game was the low-power Dark Heresy, and the later game lines introduced more powerful characters. I think it’s a reasonable model for splitting a game world into thematic slices, trying to cram the whole Star Wars universe and all the possible game themes into one game book might have lost all possible focus. Even now, the Edge of the Empire core book is quite a hefty tome.

As far as I know, the various game lines here will be drop-in compatible with each other. They all have some small tweaks to help focus the game in the default themes: here, we have Obligation, a mechanism for dealing with character tie-ins to various background forces. In Age of Rebellion, this becomes Duty (with similar but not identical aims).

Overall, I’m very happy with this book, and based on one beginning test game, the system seems to work well. It seems to be a well-designed game, and I’m looking forward to the expansion and other core books. Of course, it’s not all fun and sunshine, and it’s not a perfect tome. The writing style is… functional, but not very inspirational. That’s to say, it’s a pretty dry read, good thing that the Star Wars universe itself is quite colorful. Also, while the organization of the book is overall pretty good, many of the mechanisms are explained in an overly complicated way. I’m pretty sure that the page count could have been dropped significantly in some spots, while at the same time providing more clarity. The system is actually quite simple, it’s just made to feel more complicated than it is, here and there. Also, I would really have liked to see clear pictures of all the available spacecraft, instead of a random few. Many ships are not pictured at all, so unless the Internet can provide an image for you, you’re out of luck while describing some ships to the players. The art is quite good, overall, like in most other FFG products.

To me, the game mechanics strike a nice balance between the narrative and the exactly-defined. The dice pool and associated system gives me a nice resolution system that is not just binary, but the rules themselves are very flexible with regards to timing, distance and other factors. Many things are assumed to happen “at the speed of plot”, which suits the Star Wars universe just fine.

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