The Star Wars Outer Rim board game is a thematic pick-up-and-deliver experience set in the universe of the original movie trilogy. It’s for 1-4 players, with games taking around 2-3 hours. The box says 14+, but gamers as young as 10 or so will probably be fine with it. But there is a lot going on, so it’s not for non-gamers.
The game centres around the shadier ‘scum and villainy’ side of the Star Wars universe. Players play characters such as Han Solo and Boba Fett, flying to different planets to complete jobs, serve bounties and deliver cargo. Anyone who has played a Fantasy Flight (FFG) game before will be on common ground. Expect plenty of dice rolling and card reading, with luck and skill playing even parts in your successes and failures.
The component quality is something of a mixed bag. In the box you’ll find 215 full-sized cards, an eight-piece map, 170-ish cardboard tokens, four player boards, six dice and 12 ship sheets. It’s nice to have full-size cards in a FFG release – but someone should’ve told the font-size guy about it. They’re still very hard to read. The game board and tokens are nice quality. But six dice is a bit tight – while the player boards are poorly realised and bow in an annoying way. Finally, the ship sheets are very flimsy, which is a shame as both the art and graphic design quality is great throughout. Worth £50? On balance, I think yes.
Teaching the Star Wars Outer Rim board game
To begin, each player picks one of eight characters, including Boba Fett, Lando, Han and Jyn Erso. Plus a few credits, a starter ship (two options) and a starting job dependent on your character’s style. This is done via a fixed deck of ‘databank’ cards: one of the few good ideas found in FFG’s 2007 release Fallout. These add theme to skill checks and character meetings in the same way an encounter book (or choose your own adventure) works. Some numbers have multiple cards, so more common encounters do keep an edge of uncertainty.
Players take it in turns until someone reaches 8-12 Fame points and wins the game. Fame is largely attained by working – doing ‘jobs’, delivering cargo or collecting bounties. Jobs are the most story-driven part of the game. They can involve a number of skill checks, but can give very good rewards. Bounties need you to find your mark and out gun them, which can be a pain; but again gives good rewards. While cargo delivery is (in theory) both the easiest, most repetitive and least profitable line of work.
Each character has a skill that slightly sets them apart. These largely push you towards their line of work: Han flies faster, so is good for cargo; while Boba Fett can find contacts easier, making him a better bounty hunter. Each also has a thematic target on their player card that gives an easy fame point. And upgraded ships have the same thing. So you may buy a modified light freighter or a Firespray patrol craft. But it will only become the Millennium Falcon or Slave I if you complete the ship’s goal (flipping its sheet over).
Playing the game
A player’s turn is split into three parts. First you either move, heal, or take a few credits. As luck can really screw you (in a fight, for example), it’s nice that recovery is so easy – you just clear all your wounds and ship damage for free. Moving is also kept simple and you can get right across the board in four or five turns. The left-to-right linear map is a little odd, to say the least. But in terms of game play it works fine. Taking credits is also a nice idea. If you’ve just had to hang around because you failed a skill check, you get a little compensation.
Next comes actions: trading with others, buying a card from the market and delivering cargo. You can do all these each turn, but are limited to one ‘buy’. You can only buy the single visible card from one of six market decks (gear, ships, cargo, bounties, jobs, or luxury) – but can discard/flip a new card for one of those each turn. This is a nice restriction, making for a few tough choices. And discarding can be done to scupper opponents.
Finally, you’ll have an encounter. This could be with a patrol ship. Each player has a fluctuating reputation level with four factions, which can lead to enforced battles. Otherwise, you can choose to have a job, planet/ship, or contact encounter. Many of these involve skill checks. Each character/crew member has 1-3 skills (piloting, strength etc), which can make these rolls easier. These encounters are typical FFG (think Arkham, Eldritch etc). Combat is stripped down to a single round, using X-Wing dice. While contacts are tokens next to each planet which – once revealed – can often become crew members or bounties.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: I’ve never found an FFG game fully satisfying. It feels as if they have a small or samey test team, getting the same things wrong time and again. But for me, this is above the average. Everything works and fits together. Routes to victory feel a little different. It only plays long until you learn to play ‘properly’ – ie, sticking to what your character’s good at. And it offers a satisfyingly Star Wars-y experience. So by comparison, it is a good FFG story game. But is it a technically a good game? No, I don’t think so. It falls strongly on the side of too much luck deciding the winner, spoiling it as a proper competitive experience.
- The thinker: There really isn’t much to think about in the Star Wars Outer Rim board game. Pick a character who does the part of the game you want to do; then hope you draw the right cards/roll the right dice results. Really, really not for me. But it has a lot less faff than many games from the same publisher, which is a definite plus. Oddly for a game with so many components, it does feel nicely streamlined.
- The trasher: Interaction levels can vary wildly. Not great if players have different feelings on the topic. For example, if a care-bear player builds a crew they love, they won’t like it when I come along and serve bounties on them. But a big plus is, even if you’re shot to pieces, you immediately recover next turn with little lasting damage. This helps it feel as if you’re a bunch of epic heroes. Rather than other games (hello, Firefly) where bad luck can basically rule you out of contention in single shot. Combat is pleasantly simple, while some of the cards (such as the often take-that ‘secrets’) throw up some fun situations. Love it.
- The dabbler: This isn’t really my kind of game, but it looks pretty good on the table and is quite easy to pick up. And it does feel like Star Wars, with characters thematically doing what they do in the films. It’s fun when you’re playing Han and get Chewie as a crew member – or buy the Falcon and do the Kessel Run! But those moments only last so long, and there isn’t a huge amount of variety in the box. So if it was someone else’s choice, I wouldn’t veto it. But overall I found it a little long and samey.
Solo (hoho) play in Star Wars Outer Rim
I don’t endorse the Star Wars Outer Rim board game as a single player experience. On the plus side, setup and a character’s turn are identical to normal. So it’s easy to use it as a learning experience. And, I suppose, if you only play solo games and love Star Wars it ticks the boxes mentioned throughout the review. But unfortunately, that’s where the (very minor) good news ends.
To make it competitive, the designers have added a dummy player you have to control. This means setting up and largely playing a second character. Flip a card, do all the things it says, then it’s back to your go. The first problem is, this takes almost as long as your own turn while being way less fun. It’s fiddly, samey and pointless. But worse, you’re not making decisions. Good solo modes add some challenge for the solo player, giving you decisions that may make your own life easier. There’s nothing like that here. Really, really awful.
The harshest critics of Star Wars Outer Rim describe it as ‘move and roll’, rather than ‘roll and move’. And if you don’t like this kind of storytelling skill-check game, it’s a pretty valid criticism. But, as I say about calling euros dry and theme-less (so it’s only fair to do the reverse here), this is what you expect from an FFG game. But no, I don’t think this is going to convert players who don’t like the genre. I’d suggest luck plays 50+% in terms of who will win the game. You either need to get on board with that, or walk away.
I wouldn’t agree there are no meaningful decisions though. Sure, it’s not a thinky euro. But judicious deck discards and pickups will certainly push the odds of success in your favour. And the choices aren’t always necessarily obvious.
On the flip side, I worry greatly about replayability. After four or five games I already feel an expansion is needed to keep things fresh. Certain items are no-brainers to pick up, certain cargo always skipped, while flipping over contacts already lacks surprises. Worse, it already feels the game is on-rails for us. At first, it was simply fun to read the cards and see what happens. Now, with that experience already faded, it feels as if it’s about winning. Which is about being efficient. Which isn’t really what a storytelling experience is all about.
Let me try that again (and again…)
But if you do think, ‘let’s just get on the rails and see who wins’, you hit the next problem: stalling due to randomness. No matter what path you choose, you’re going to have to roll some dice to win the game. A failed roll is rarely a big deal – except for the fact you’ll normally need to try again next turn. Fail once, annoying. Fail twice, you’re annoyed. Three times and you’re giving up, you’re bored, and (if things were in your favour except the luck gods) wah! It’s not fair!
Really, this can be happen in your first game. I think we gave it a pass early on as we enjoyed the thematic experience. Everyone was reading out new cards and doing things no one else had done. If my turn stank, at least someone would do something cool. But no more. Once the thrill of the new is gone, failed skill checks and combats feel painfully dull. Some cards handle this well. You may succeed but lose credits or reputation; or completely fail the job (acceptable, if you took a big risk for a big score). But this just highlights the many other situations where this isn’t the case.
Conclusion: Star Wars Outer Rim board game
I like a bit of Star Wars. And Outer Rim does a good job of injecting theme through the ships, characters and situations. It takes a popular part of the universe and lets the players immerse themselves into it, the FFG way. It’s hokey but fun, swingy and long. But an invested table of fans are going to get a lot of fun out of this for a good few games.
But for me, the shine came off faster than expected. The little cracks I’d initially overlooked come into sharp relief, showing up a game design that felt rushed, flawed and unbalanced. The good ideas showed the half-arsed bits up for what they were. And thematic fun turned into a plodding few hours of skill roles as we prayed for the right cards to come up. Mileage will of course vary. And a great expansion could really take it up a notch. But right now, for me this is another near miss in a long line of the same from Fantasy Flight. But it’s probably still a keeper, to have for the occasional day when you just need to shoot Greedo.