I FREELY ADMIT THAT I HAVE A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP with the Star Wars franchise. I love the first two movies and the Thrawn Trilogy, and I hate the newest trilogy and the dumbing-down of Star Wars over the years to a ‘tweener comedic farce. Oh yeah, and Han Shot first! So when Fantasy Flight Games published their newest Star Wars licensed game, Star Wars: Outer Rim – A Game of Bounty Hunters, Mercenaries, and Smugglers I was hesitant to buy. Unfortunately, I did not account for the RockyMountainNavy Boys who are both Star Wars fans, especially RMN Jr. I was also tempted by several commentators/reviewers/fans who claim Outer Rim is good for three players – our usual gaming gang composition. So Outer Rim made its way across the galaxy and landed on the RMN gaming table this weekend for our first introductory game. This Pick-up and Deliver* game is faithfully thematic to the Star Wars Universe and mechanically streamlined but the language-dependency of the many cards can dramatically slow down the game.
“Why, you stuck up, half -witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder!” – characters in Outer Rim
In Star Wars: Outer Rim each player is a character from the “official” Star Wars universe that is trying to be the first to earn 10 “fame.” Possible jobs are legitimate – or illegal – cargo, hunting bounties, or other jobs on behalf of four factions. One’s reputation with a faction goes a long way towards determining how they react to you.
I was surprised by the selection of a few of the characters in the base set of Outer Rim. I didn’t recognize at least one of them. The RMN Boys did, which goes to show you how out of touch I am with the Star Wars franchise after Disney took control. The character design decision that really surprised me is in the Contacts. Here, the designers really took to heart the sidekick concept, relegating even major Star Wars characters like Chewbacca to a minor role in the game with no real expectation of ever becoming a major character in an expansion.
“…a wretched hive of scum and VILLAINY.” – Components in Outer Rim
Like many Fantasy Flight Games products, the components in Outer Rim help make the game the deep thematic experience it is. It starts with the crescent-shaped board (literally the Outer Rim) and is carried through by the art on the cards and the text. Being an officially licensed product has its advantages and it shows. From Characters to Contacts to Ships to Jobs or Cargo this is Star Wars…at least Star Wars according to the Disney movie canon.
A major component complaint I have is the text used on the cards. I freely admit I am an old grognard who has to wear bifocal glasses but even with my strong prescription I was unable to easily read many of the cards. Being able to read the cards on the table is important for the speed of play (more on that later). One also needs to be really strong in the Force if they are seated on the “opposite” side of the game table and trying to read the small text upside-down!
“Don’t worry, she’ll hold together…You hear me, baby? Hold together!” – Game Mechanics in Outer Rim
Mechanically, Outer Rim is a very easy game. The rules can basically be taught from the Reference Card. I don’t mind the two rule books, the Learn to Play and the Rules Reference. The Plan-Action-Encounter sequence is easy to catch onto and where in a turn you can do things is pretty straight-forward…at first.
That said, the mechanics of the game, when combined with the components, can slow the game down. Outer Rim is heavily language dependent – the text on the cards really matter and there is alot of text! During your turn there is much reading required, be it a delivering a Cargo or completing a Bounty or Job or executing an Encounter or Databank Card. More importantly, there is much reading required when it is not your turn. If the game is to keep moving, a player needs to be constantly scanning the board state and choosing best routes as well as understanding all the impacts that Characters, Gear, or Mods have on play. They need to be looking at the Market Cards available before their turn starts. Here is where all those highly thematic components actually don’t help.
Understanding the text on the cards in Outer Rim can also be problematic. The iconography is small, and to really understand the cards one must really understand key concepts like Reputation and how the card fits into – or breaks – the Plan-Action-Encounter sequence. Although the rules recommend not reading ahead on a card too much, to make a decision about a card one needs to read it fully and carefully. All this takes time and slows the game down. Our 3-player intro game to the recommended 8-fame (instead of the standard 10) took almost three hours, or nearly 60 minutes per player. Maybe this is a trademark of designer Corey Konieczka and FFG. Another Konieczka design in my collection, Battle Galactica: The Board Game (FFG, 2008), is for 3-6 players and plays in 120-300 minutes, or 40-50 minutes per player once they are familiar with the game. I shudder at the thought of playing an “epic” game to 12 points of fame like mentioned in the rules. Outer Rim is an OK game…but I cannot see playing an epic 4-player game to 12-fame for over four hours!
All the text likely contributes to the fact that Outer Rim is recommended for ages 14+. This makes Outer Rim nearly an “adult” game. In the RMN house, Middle RMN Boy is on the Autism Spectrum and understanding all the text and the implications is right about what he can handle. We all understand that text slows him down; in Outer Rim that effect is multiplied by the sheer amount of text and sometimes subtle interactions the cards are describing.
“Rebellions are built on hope.” – Final Thoughts on Outer Rim
This has all been a very first impression reaction of Outer Rim, based on one solo play using the AI and one introductory learning game. It’s obvious that the game will play faster with more familiarity but the density of text employed means even that speed-up will have limits. Strategy-wise, I can also see that certain combinations are better and it plants seeds of doubt as to just how open-ended the game is. For instance, RMN Jr. started out with Han Solo and made it his goal to get the Millennium Falcon for his ship and Chewbacca as crew. This personal decision happened to meld well with in-game effects; that combination of Character, Ship, and Contact/Crew together that made for a powerful game engine. For myself, focusing more on teaching the game, I had Lando and and the Shadow Hawk, a ship more suitable to a bounty hunter whereas Lando is more a smuggler. Lando needs a ship with speed and cargo; he’s very weak in Ground Combat and really shouldn’t be fighting Contacts for Bounty. In retrospect, Lando’s strategy is “obvious;” that is, if one is really familiar with either the theme or the small text on the components.
Looking beyond the small RMN household universe, I sense that the need for thematic and mechanical familiarity will make Outer Rim less friendly for a pick-up game by newbies. Sitting down at the table cold with either little theme background or lack of rules knowledge can make Outer Rim challenging – dare I say less enjoyable – to play and potentially relegating it to a niche game within an already niche hobby.
Which brings me back to the beginning. Star Wars: Outer Rim truly is a mechanically streamlined game that is very rich thematically. However, the language-dependency and abundance of text on cards is also its own unshielded exhaust port-weakness. This game will get played by the RMN Boys and myself, I just hope that we get to the point it plays faster.
*According to BGG, in a Pick-up and Deliver game, “Players must pick up an item at one location on the playing board and bring it to another location on the playing board. Initial placement of the item can be either predetermined or random. The delivery of the item usually gives the player resources to do more actions with. In most cases, there is a game rule or another mechanic that determines where the item needs to go.