Bountiful bounty hunting in Star Wars: Outer Rim (@FFGames, 2019) #boardgame

The RockyMountainNavy Boys are modern Star Wars fans. For myself, well, the only true Star Wars is the first movie (Star Wars), Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi (with some reluctance), and Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. Now that I have offended you, let’s talk about Star Wars¬†boardgames, specifically Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019).

I have talked about Star Wars: Outer Rim before and in many ways gave up on the game. With the recent release of The Mandalorian TV series, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself pulled the game out for a bonus game night and gave it another go.

At the suggestion of RockyMountainNavy Jr., we randomly drew characters. This was to avoid a problem we had in the past where RMN Jr. always took a certain character and ran away with the game. As luck would have it, all three of us drew Bounty Hunters for our characters. This lead to several interesting situations where one player was hunting another to get their crew member. In the end, RockyMountainNavy Jr, with Bossk flying a Firespray raced to fame ahead of RMN T (Ketsu Onyo still flying his Starfighter Starter Ship) and myself (Boba Fett in an Aggressor). Unlike other games we played there was alot more player-vs-player interaction this game.

And it still fell flat.

The primary reason I think Star Wars: Outer Rim doesn’t get strong table love is that it just takes so long to play. Our 3-player game took 2 1/2 hours. We talked about the game time and agreed that the game overstayed its welcome by about 30 minutes. We don’t think we were playing slow; it’s just the game is slow by design.

That said, the RMN Boys were very interested if FFG was planing expansions for Star Wars: Outer Rim. The new The Mandalorian TV series seems rip with good content. Once we started thinking, we even wondered if Solo: A Star Wars Story would make for good content. The game is so thematic that Star Wars fans should love it. So why does FFG give it so little love?


Feature image courtesy Fantasy Flight Games.

Royal gaming -or- why Queendomino (@BlueOrangeGames, 2017) still reigns

I WASN”T FEELING THE GREATEST so instead of a “heavier” boardgame or wargame for the Family Game Night we chose some lighter fare. At the suggestion of RockyMountainNavy Jr., we played Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017). Queendomino is an abstract, tile-placement puzzle game where one tries to build their kingdom using domino-style territory tiles. Unlike its predecessor Kingdomino, which exclusively uses the territory tiles, Queendomino introduces Knights for Taxing your territories and Towers to attract the Queen (and pay less for buildings). Oh yeah, don’t forget about a Dragon to burn down buildings you don’t like!

It was not until later that I realized we had not played Queendomino since December 2018. It really felt like it because we all played with much more hesitancy than I remember. I mean, we agonized over our moves. Whether it was deciding where to place the territory tile, or if it was the right time to Tax, which building to build, or which tile to chose next, each decision was sloooow.

Once the game ended and the points were counted, it was RockyMountainNavy Jr. with the win. By one point. He set the new Top Score for the game (after 11 recorded plays). RockyMountainNavy T now holds the Top Losing Score. On any other day his score would have won by some distance but today it was not enough. Oh yeah, how about RockyMountainNavyDad? My score was just above the Average Score for our recorded plays but today it was a distant third place. (Hat tip to the Board Game Stats app for helping track this).

Most importantly, we all thoroughly enjoyed the game. For a game that is so simple in concept it was mentally grueling in play. Not in a bad way, mind you. The decision space in Queendomino is near-perfect for a lighter family game playable is less than an hour. It was heartening to play a family boardgame that we all enjoy after my less-than-stellar recent luck with games like Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie (Jasco Games, 2019) or Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019).

In this age of FOMO or CotN* it’s great to rediscover great games. On BoardGameGeek, Queendomino is ranked #400 Overall and #71 in the Family Games category. That’s very respectable! This play of Queendomino reminds me that I already have some great games in my collection; buying one more is not what I need – I just need to play the great ones I have.


Feature image Blue Orange Games

*FOMO – Fear of Missing Out; CotN – Cult of the New

It’s a Space Race Ameritrash #Boardgame – First Impressions of Tranquility Base (@worth2004, 2018)

I’LL ADMIT IT, I LOVE SPACE. As a historian, I also love the history of the US Space Program. So when I saw the ad copy for Tranquility Base (History in Action / Worthington Publishing, 2018) on Kickstarter I had to pledge my support. I am very happy I did because Tranquility Base is pure Ameritrash gaming awesomeness!

Now, I am using the phrase Ameritrash in the most favorable way here. Tranquility Base hits all the best parts of Ameritrash:

  • Theme – It’s the US Space Race
  • Player-to-Player Conflict – A bit of “take that” to prevent multiplayer solitaire
  • Moderate to High Levels of Luck – You need the right cards at the right time; no drawing from a river of cards just cycle the deck! But there’s no dice….
Courtesy Worthington Publishing

Turns out Tranquility Base is an update to the 1997 & 2006 title Moonshot the Game (History in Action). I never saw the earlier version, so Tranquility Base is my first exposure to the game. I’ll admit I got this game in large part because of RockyMountainNavy Jr., my aspiring aerospace engineer. He loves all thing aerospace right now and the game will help him learn the history of the US Space Program.

Courtesy Worthington Publishing

In terms of game mechanics, Tranquility Base is at heart a set collection racing game. Each turn players spend Fuel (the game currency) to Assemble Missions, Launch Missions, Move, rearrange equipment, or even Scrub Missions. History cards provide bonuses while Wild and Instant cards are often used to slow down an opponent. I wasn’t really expecting this “take that” element of the game but upon play immediately see how it is necessary to interfere in your opponents plans. In many ways it is no different than the Fate Decks in Villainous. Most importantly, it prevents the game from devolving into multiplayer solitaire.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and I played our first game of Tranquility Base for our Family Game Night this weekend. True to the box, our first play at 3-players took about 90 minutes. We all caught onto the game mechanics quickly, though it did take until about mid-game to internalize some of the more subtle aspects. Future games will be faster; maybe not fast enough to make Tranquility Base a filler game but fast enough to make this a good candidate for a 1-hour-or-less time block. I won the game by completing my six missions and already had relaunched a mission which I used to get to the Moon first. RockyMountainNavy T was next in turn order and he would have completed his last two missions and been able to land on the Moon in his turn. RockMountainNavy Jr. had four missions completed and was probably two turns away from winning. It really was a close race!

Soviet Moon inside the box with the upgraded metal landers

Tranquility Base has an in-box solo mode. The game is also packaged with the new Soviet Moon Expansion which can be used as an extra non-player for the regular game or as a timer in the solo game. I have reviewed the rules for the expansion and look forward to using it in the game as it not only imparts more history but also adds more “Space Race” flavor to the game.

Tranquility Base will definitely relaunch and find its way back to the RMN gaming table, and soon. Excitedly, RMN Jr. said he wants to take the game to school for his aerospace class. I can also see this box rocketing about the block with the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. The rich theming, educational appeal, and simple mechanics of Tranquility Base also make it a good “gateway game” for non-gamers to launch into the hobby.

In a year where my two purchases of a non-wargame family strategy game have turned out to be less-than-stellar (Villainous: Wicked to Core and Star Wars: Outer Rim) I am really pleased with how the simple Ameritrash awesomeness of Tranquility Base is a success. It’s a well-themed, mechanically simple game with a high enjoyment factor that also happens to be highly educational – in other words a perfect family game.


Feature image by self.

A final rim shot – or – giving up on Star Wars: Outer Rim (@FFGames, 2019) #boardgame

I TRIED. FOUR TIMES I TRIED.

Four times is the number of sessions of Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019) that I played since the game arrived just three weeks ago. It’s enough. I’m giving up.

I wrote in my First Impressions post how I quickly had doubts about the game. From the too small text to the long playtime to the less-than-satisfying game ending. After four plays it’s not getting any better.

This past weekend I tried. Once again we pulled out Outer Rim for the Weekend Family Game Night; a rare repeat performance after playing just last week. This time we mixed up the turn order. This time we arranged the board on the table differently. This time we were more careful picking our characters.

I still can’t read the cards. The game still took nearly 2 hours. The end was still (even more?) unsatisfying.

Junior played Lando. He went whole-hog into the thematics of being a Smuggler by purchasing the Millennium Falcon, Extravagant Wardrobe, and taking Lobot for crew. Putting all that together he built a powerful, near unstoppable game engine. He won easily.

Middle RMN Boy was IG-88. He never found enough droid crew to get that bonus ability for Bounty Hunting. Not getting helpful crew meant he was more dependent on luck than skill; and Lady Luck was a b*tch to him that night. He upgraded to an Aggressor but never got his game engine really going. He ended the game far behind.

I took Kenso Onyo. I don’t know anything about the character. After playing hte character I still don’t. In Outer Rim not having sufficient metagame knowledge is a major disadvantage because you have to figure out if you are going to use a Smuggler or Bounty Hunter or Mercenary/Marauder-first strategy. Lando is a Smuggler; IG-88 a Bounty Hunter. What is Kenso?* I adopted a Bounty Hunter strategy that nearly paid off (I had 8 fame at end game) but the early struggles with figuring out what engine to go with put me just enough behind to lose.

There was certainly much more player-to-player interaction in this game. Several combats were fought against fellow players, or there was gambling on whatever-the-casino-planet-named. There were some great thematic moments, like when Lando cheated at Sabacc (taking IG-88’s money in the process).

In addition to my First Impression thoughts, here are a few others that crossed my mind during our last play:

  • Three players is good for this game. Less makes it multi-player solitaire; more will have too much downtime.
  • Some suggested passing the Market Cards amongst players during their in-between turns to read. Something has to be done because the cards are too hard to read on the table.
  • The only real variety in set up is in the location of Character Encounter tokens. The Encounter Decks are not very deep and after even our few games I feel they are too predictable. The same goes for the Market Deck. Character encounters are invariable. There is actually little variety from game-to-game making replay attraction diminish very quickly.
  • The end game is so unsatisfying. “I got 10 fame, yeah! Now let’s pack up the game…” Some good enterprising fan fiction writers need to write a collection of short, paragraph-long coda, each based on the Character + Ship + Reputation standings (ok, that’s around 1000 paragraphs so we need several of those Star Wars fanatics). Of course, this can never happen because Di$ney certainly won’t allow anything to be published that might be mistaken for canon. Not unless they can monetize it…like charging players several dollars on an app they overpaid for to download the possible ending….

During and after the game I could see that Middle RMN, my Autism Angle, was getting frustrated. That great thematic moment with Lando cheating at Sabacc was not enjoyable; it was simply another roll of the dice that punished rather than rewarded. More than anything else, his body language convinced me that Outer Rim was not fun. Thinking back, I have to say that about half-way through the game I was already looking at the clock and thinking about the after-game. Although there are moments of fun, the overall experience of playing Outer Rim is not very enjoyable for either of us.

As I write this post I see on BoardGameGeek that Outer Rim has a rating of 8.0 (Very Good – Enjoy playing and would suggest it) based on 805 ratings with 208 comments. I see that 12% of the ratings are a 10 (Outstanding – Will always enjoy playing). This is the same percentage of ratings that cover from 6 (OK – Will play if in the mood) down to 1 (Awful – Defies game description). I actually took a little time and looked at the people who rate Outer Rim a 10. I looked at their collections (or lack of collection in more-than-a-few cases) and what they play. Suffice it to say that my already low-faith in the BGG ratings system reached new depths….

RMN Jr. was responsible for set-up this last time so I think he wants to play Outer Rim with the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. He seemingly loves the game, as evidenced by the highly thematic game play he brings to the table. Maybe his play style is the key; I am trying to play a game about Star Wars in a sandbox universe rather than know and follow canon and divine the official Di$ney strategy.

No thanks, you rats.


*Sure, I know I can google it. But should I? I mean, do I really need to goggle a character in Outer Rim to effectively play the game. If the answer is “yes” the game is flawed. FULL STOP.

“Never tell me the odds!” – #FirstImpression of Star Wars: Outer Rim (@FFGames, 2019)

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.