04th Jun2019

‘Star Wars: Outer Rim’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

sw-outer-rim-box

If you’re familiar with the phrase “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” then you’ll almost certainly have seen the original Star Wars movie, and you’ll likely recognise the words of Alec Guinness’ Obi Wan Kenobi. Indeed, the Mos Eisley Cantina that this phrase refers to has become one of the most iconic locations from all the movies, and it is of course the famous location where Luke Skywalker meets the rogueish but likeable Han Solo, having watched him gun down a bounty hunter named Greedo.

Star Wars: Outer Rim is a board game set in locations like Mos Eisley Cantina and featuring rogues, bounty hunters and other forms of galactic outlaw, including not only Han Solo as a playable character, but also Lando Calrissian, Bossk, Boba Fett and Jyn Urso to name but a few. The game begins with each player choosing a character and beginning their character as a gun for hire, trader and rogue, with nothing but their wits, a basic ship and a single job to complete. The first player to reach ten fame will be the winner.

Star Wars: Outer Rim is very much a pick up and deliver game. You’ll begin with one of two ships and an ability, which between them provide your character with a speed and a damage value when fighting both in the ship and on the ground. You’ll also have both a character health and a ship hull strength. Each character also has a number of skills such as Piloting or Influence which will be used to resolve tests that appear on various cards. During the game, you can add abilities and modifiers to these skills and base stats through upgrades to the ship, items (like weapons or body armour) and crew members, who brings their own skills and abilities.

By pick up and deliver, what I mean is that your character is going to pick up various jobs and items of cargo over the course of the game. Some of these may be entirely voluntary (and can be purchased from an open market whenever you end your movement on a planet) whilst others will come through a numbered story deck (such as the jobs that each character starts with.) In general, you’ll want to complete these jobs because they provide credits, fame and sometimes, additional benefits like access to mods or items.

The game board is a uniquely shaped crescent of different planets that are connected by waypoints, and each turn begins with a movement phase where the active player will plot a course through hyperspace based on how much movement their ship (and any modifiers) allow. If they end their turn on a planet, they may deliver their cargo or complete a job (as stated on the card) and they may access the market which features six decks of cards, with the topmost card face up so that all players know what the market has to offer at all times. A player is allowed to put one market card to the bottom of its deck before making a choice in the market.

Sometimes, player movement will end with that player on an encounter space. Where this is a patrol that belongs to one of the four factions (Hutts, Empire, Rebels and Syndicate) that player must always stop if they have a negative reputation with that faction, and a battle will ensue. Players can pass freely through spaces occupied by friendly patrols, so maintaining relationships (for better or worse) is an important factor in the game. I should also note that these patrols move as a result of market cards being taken.

Encounter tokens are often more interesting than patrols since they are not always a linear/predictable battle. More often than not, such an encounter will reveal a named character from the Star Wars universe and in turn, a story card will be revealed. In this way, players may create rivals, initiate battles, gain new crew members or pick up interesting jobs. Some of these encounters are actually characters that have bounties placed upon them, which makes them attractive and valuable spaces to target.

When a battle does kick off, either between a character and one of their bounties or between players, then a simple set of dice rolls occur. Players will be rolling to score hits, critical hits and focus symbols depending on what their character abilities (and modifiers) show, and then they’ll deal damage to the enemy and themselves accordingly. Combat can take place either in space or on the ground, and characters and ships (it’s possible to buy all manner of ships, including the Millennium Falcon itself) all have different strengths and weaknesses.

The combat itself is quick and painless, but there can be some interesting consequences. Players that are defeated will need to spend their next turn healing (and will also suffer a penalty) whereas a damaged (but not defeated player) can simply opt to fully heal themselves rather than move. In this way, there’s a small element of push your luck which can become decisive in the game depending on how close you or your opponents are to the all important ten fame. Defeating a patrol will also spawn a stronger patrol from the same faction, eventually leading to an unstoppable foe (like a Star Destroyer) which will automatically defeat players. With that said, fame can be accumulated through combat, so there can be advantages.

When all these elements are mixed together, I found Star Wars: Outer Rim to be a surprisingly compelling and well rounded experience that feels super, super thematic. The feeling of being in the Star Wars universe is absolutely there and especially since the spin off movies (Rogue One and Solo) have introduced us to more and more of the fringe elements, that feeling is even stronger than it might have been. There’s a real sense that these pilots survive based on their wits and skills, evading more powerful foes as they wheel and deal their way from planet to planet.

Mechanically, Star Wars: Outer Rim is also fairly satisfying, which is definitely in part because of how thematically relevant it is. Strip away the theme and replace it with “generic space” however, and the pace and simplicity of the gameplay would still be appealing. Each turn consists of three phases, each of which is completed in relatively short order. Yes, the game does get more intense later on and the decisions are harder (like which job to go after when you know it’s likely you’ve only got two or three turns until someone else wins) but the paths forwards are relatively straightforward.

Typically, I don’t love pick up and deliver games because they fail to engage me, but it’s rare that I don’t enjoy a Star Wars game that has such an immersive theme. In the case of Star Wars: Outer Rim, the theme is excellent, but the pick up and deliver gameplay is just about strong enough to stand on its own. It succeeds because it is neither too complicated nor dull, and features like combat are dealt with as fully featured elements of the game, but with eurogame style outcomes (a reduction in efficiency) rather than those in more combat focused games.

With these things in mind, as well as an attractive price point, Star Wars: Outer Rim is a game worth adding to any collection, whether you’re a novice or an experienced player. Star Wars fans will be particularly thrilled, but anyone can enjoy the fast paced and thematic gameplay. The only players that I could imagine not enjoying Star Wars: Outer Rim are those who look for consistently deep, heavy eurogames that have no reliance on luck and reward slightly longer term thinking that Star Wars: Outer Rim allows for. Either way, it’s a keeper for me.

**** 4/5

Star Wars: Outer Rim is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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