A Few New Hopes

For all the realms Star Wars has managed to conquer, it’s never been the gaming juggernaut it could have been. It’s done pretty well when it comes to video games, what with the X-Wing flight sim series and the Dark Forces and Jedi Knight shooters successful enough to almost make us forget about missteps like Masters of Teras Kasi.  But on the tabletop, it’s been a much more mixed bag.  Its zenith was arguably the West End Games role-playing game, a system much beloved to this day, and responsible in part for the resurgence Star Wars enjoyed in the late 80s and early 90s.  Wizards of the Coast gave it two less successful shots, trying to graft it onto the Dungeons & Dragons system, and there was a collectible card game that looked great but which I don’t recall all that many people playing.  Wizards eventually let the license lapse, and for a while, nobody seemed all that interested in giving it another go.  But now Fantasy Flight Games has come out with guns blazing, with a miniatures game currently in release, a role-playing game in its beta testing period, and a card game due to hit by the end of the year.  It’s a real Star Wars renaissance at the game table.

The card game is the one I know the least about, since FFG has only just recently released some details.  It’ll be what they call a living card game, where, unlike Magic: the Gathering where cards are released in randomized booster packs, all cards in a new set are released at once, with all players having equal access.  I’ve played their Game of Thrones card game, and really liked what I saw.  It looks like they haven’t just ported those rules over to their Star Wars game, which is smart, since Star Wars doesn’t really have the level of political intrigue Game of Thrones does.  But there’ll still be different factions, which means building different decks and trying different strategies. So it’ll be a game with a ton of replayability right out of the box, before any expansions see the light of day.  And I love the choice to go with original artwork on the cards as opposed to film stills (the box art notwithstanding).  It’s a choice FFG has repeated throughout the line, and it somehow makes the property seem fresh as opposed to seeing the same images we’ve been seeing for the last thirty-five years.

Then there’s X-Wing, FFG’s miniatures game.  Modified from their WWI air combat game Wings of War, this moves the battle from the skies to the stars, pitting all the classic Star Wars fighters against each other. It’s a fairly simple game — players maneuver their ships, then roll dice to attack and defend based on their pilots’ skills and the strengths of their ships.  The strategy comes from upgrades that can add to a ship’s abilities, but which are limited by a point-based squad building mechanic.  You can field a small squadron of highly skilled, well-equipped pilots, or send a swarm of rookies and hope sheer numbers win the day.  Unlike a lot of miniatures games, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to start playing.  A core set goes for around $40, and can be found for even less than that with some diligent searching online. That’s not even enough to buy just the rulebook for Warhammer, and for that you get three painted ship models and all the counters and cards you need to play a small-scale skirmish.  Speaking of the models, they’re gorgeous, with lots of detail and spot-on with regards to scale.  And the next wave features a Millennium Falcon that looks like display quality, not just a game piece.  I’ve played several times and it’s a great game, a really fun distillation of the dogfights the original trilogy made famous, and one that the fans really seem to have taken to.  There are already custom cards for other ships in the Star Wars universe, fan-made scenarios, and some amazing models and playing surfaces.  FFG has definitely scratched an itch with this one.

But I’m probably most excited about Edge of the Empire, the first in FFG’s planned series of role-playing games set in the Star Wars universe.  It’s only in the beta testing phase, and it already feels like a winner.  The best thing about it is that it centers on what I think is probably the most easily role-playable facet of the franchise:  the seedy underbelly of the Outer Rim.  Players can take on the roles of bounty hunters, smugglers, and hired guns, scratching out a living far out on the edge of the galaxy.  It’s got a real Wild West feel to it, which was one of the things the very first Star Wars evoked so successfully.  The game system is the real star though.  Taking a cue from FFG’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game, Edge of the Empire eschews traditional numbered RPG dice for a symbolic system that’s designed not to simply tell you whether or not you did something, but to provide a narrative framework to tell you how you did or didn’t do that thing.  Players are encouraged to come up with their own interpretations for spectacular successes or drastic failures, and there’s a destiny point mechanic that even lets them alter the story provided it’s dramatically appropriate.  The idea isn’t to run an exacting tactical combat simulation, but to tell a thrilling space opera, and everything in the game is pointed towards that goal.  So far I’ve only run one session with my group, and after a few minutes of adjusting to not seeing numbers come up on their rolls, they took to the dice with gusto, really sinking their teeth into the narrative possibilities.  For a beta version, it’s remarkably playable, and that same fan community that’s taken so strongly to X-Wing has embraced this as well. There are incredibly useful reference sheets, automated character creators, and stats for alien races and spaceships not appearing in the game.  Some players are grousing that they can’t play Jedi, but that doesn’t bother me; not only is it appropriate to the setting, it keeps the game from turning into everyone watching the Jedi be the heroes.  Edge of the Empire gives everyone a chance to shine.

I’d played several of FFG’s games prior to their Star Wars onslaught, and every single one of them was a quality product.  When it was announced they’d obtained the license, their reputation was enough to get me intrigued.  Now that I see what they’ve done with that license, I’m even more impressed.  They seem to get the essence of what appeals to me about the franchise, the sense of wonder and adventure, the sheer gee-whiz feel of the whole thing. They’re two-for-two as far as I’m concerned, and I’m eager to see where they take the property next.  Star Wars on the tabletop is in very good hands.


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