RPG Thursday – Edge of the Empire Beginner Game

Edge of the Empire Beginner Game (courtesy Fantasy Flight Games)

Happened into one of the  local (sometimes) FLGS last Friday and found them setting out the brand new Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) Edge of the Empire Beginner Game (EotEBG). Being an Original Trilogy Star Wars fan, and seeing the price of only $29.99, it seemed like a good investment.

I didn’t invest in the FFG EotE beta when it was released earlier this year. At $30.00 it seemed excessive for a beta product. When I later found out that they gave you stickers to put on your dice to make them FFG Star Wars dice I felt my decision was justified. I also have no experience with other FFG RPGs.

Out of the Box

EotEBG comes in a standard 8.5x11x2 inch light cardstock box. The cover art includes the heroes shooting Imperial Stormtroopers from a speeder identical to what Luke Skywalker owned in the original Star Wars. The setting itself is in the Galactic Civil War period around the time of the Battle of Yavin.

Being that this is “An Introduction to Roleplaying for 3-5 Players” the contents are structured to be a teaching guide. The four-page “Read This First” introduction sheet has the obligatory “What is a Roleplaying Game?” and an example of play. The 32-page Adventure Book is clearly marked as “Read This Second.”  This programmed adventure guide both leads the players through the adventure but (more importantly) guides the GM as he teaches the players the game mechanics. Let me repeat that: the GM teaches the players the game. Each encounter introduces a new part of the rules:

  • Encounter 1 introduces the Core Mechanic
  • Encounter 2 introduces Combat
  • Encounter 3 is Opposed Checks in the form of social interactions
  • Encounter 4 expands Combat and Skill Checks
  • An Interlude at this point introduces the Destiny Pool
  • Encounter 5 introduces Minions (opposing NPCs) and dice pool building
  • Encounter 6 introduces Nemesis’ (more powerful opposing NPCs)
  • Encounter 7 introduces Starships and starship combat

The four player characters each have a multi-page folio with evocative cover art, a two-page spread with their starting character sheet, a second two-page spread with advancement options, a blank character sheet and an appropriate talent tree. The back page of the folio is a background story. To assist in the adventure included is a four-panel, two-sided fold-out map. The map can be used with the 35-count token sheet which has characters, creatures, and ships. To keep you adventuring after completing this module, an ad for a downloadable follow-on adventure is included.

The last book – the Rulebook – is also marked “Read This Book Last.” This 48-page book (plus back cover charts) has seven chapters which cover most of the essential rules less character generation or any rules for the Force outside of the Destiny Pool. Finally, the Beginner Game box includes 14 customized FFG Star Wars dice. Of note, these dice are NOT the same used in FFG’s Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.

What I Liked

The cover art attracted me in the store because it invoked the Original Trilogy era and not the Prequels or Clone Wars (which I admit my kids love but I cannot stand).

The dice! Given that FFG sells the (not similar) Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Dice set for $7.95, the 14 dice here likely make up at least half the price of the box set.

Narrative Approach. I like the fact that instead of simple Success-Failure the dice also tell you Advantage, Threat, Triumph and Despair. What each of these means is up to the players or GM to describe; the rule provide guidelines and examples, not necessarily hard-and-fast conditions.

What I Didn’t Like

At first I was confused because as I pulled the contents from the face-up box the top face-up items were actually the last to be read. I can imagine how this happened; the assembly line had all the items laid out left-to-right and as they were assembled each item was stacked on top of the previous one resulting in the last item being on top of the pile. I had to reshuffle the items to get them into a seemingly proper order. Small concern to be sure but as a beginner’s game this confusion can be a bad first impression.

The “Read This First” was confusing with the scenario set-up on the back page. I feel this should have been first because it sets the stage for the example of play inside the folio.

I am not sure I agree with the “GM as teacher” method. Encouraging players to learn at least the Core Mechanic and the basics of Combat before play should make the play easier and more enjoyable rather than becoming bogged down into a procedural teaching of rules.

The player characters get their own folio with essential rule items around the edges. The GM needs a similar item (simple GM screen?) to assemble all the tables together too rather than being forced to page back-and-forth in the Adventure Book or Rulebook.

The dice! Specifically, there are not enough to construct even a basic dice pool for the player characters. For example, Oskara the Twi’lek Bounty Hunter is taking a shot at a Stormtrooper at   Medium Range. Her basic dice pool using her Blaster Carbine is Agility x2+ Proficiency x2. With her Agility of 4 she needs to upgrade her dice pool to Agility x2 + Proficiency x4. Yet there are only two Proficiency die included. Sure, FFG points out that you can go online and buy the FFG Star Wars dice app for $4.99 but shouldn’t a beginner box game be playable out of the box?

The dice! Specifically, interpreting it all. Just sorting through the dice roll results can be challenging. If we keep building on the previous example, we find Oskara starts with a dice pool of Agility x2 + Proficiency x4. At Medium Range it is an Average Task (2x Difficulty dice). If Oskara aims a single boost die is added. Let’s say the Stormtroopers are behind a wall – that’s one setback die for cover. So the (final?) dice pool is Agility x2 +Proficiency x4 +Difficulty x2 +Boost + Setback  for a total of 10 dice. This means the GM and players will have to interpret between 10 and 19 symbols of six different classes (Blank, Success, Advantage, Failure, Threat, and Triumph). Skill in reading all the results at a glance may come with time but it is not necessarily intuitive.

Parting Thoughts

I certainly feel my money was well spent; there is alot going on in this box. That said….

I disagree with FFG’s approach to teaching the game as it depends too much on the GM and simply brings the player characters along for the ride. That said, the approach is very suitable to teaching younger players (i.e. kids). However, the somewhat gritty setting is probably not what the younger set wants (nor a setting that Mom and Dad want them to play in either).

I personally like the emphasis on Narrative Play through the Advantage-Threat-Triumph-Despair dice results. However, this requires a different type of player; a player with more imagination. I am not sure younger players can utilize this mechanic to its full advantage. Indeed, the whole Beginner Game come across as having an identity crisis. On one hand, it seems aimed at a younger, more inexperienced RPG crowd with the GM as teacher approach and color commentary that is nice but extremely simple (almost comic book) in execution. On the other had, the setting is gritty and the focus on Narrative Play seemingly demands a more experienced RPG player.

I am looking forward to the Core Rulebook, but must admit some reluctance at jumping into the system fully. Although I am sure that Character Generation will be fine but I am worried about how the Force will be implemented. In the Beginner Game, the Force is used to define the Destiny Pool – what other games might call plot points – which are used to upgrade skills checks. The mechanic here is that the Destiny Pool has Light and Dark tokens which are flipped to opposite sides when used. The player characters can use Light tokens and the GM dark. A very simple approach. I can only hope the final version of the Force is more defined.

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