RPG Review: Star Wars Edge of the Empire Beginner’s Box

Ever since its future arrival was announced by Fantasy Flight Games, more than a few folks have been anticipating the release of the Edge of the Empire Beginner’s Box, and not just for the simple fact of actually getting physical copies of the dice in their hands without having to resort to stickers.  Well, rejoice Gamer Nation for it has arrived; in fact, one might contend the Mayans were simply counting down to the twin releases of the first Hobbit movie and the Edge of the Empire Beginner’s Box.

So, what’s in the box?  Patience, you must learn patience.

Starting with the box itself, I’m kinda disappointed.  I was hoping for something along the lines of the D&D Red Box of yore or even the Invasion of Theed box set for Wizards of the Coasts’ d20 version of Star Wars, both of which could easily be used to easily cart other materials around, but that was not the case.  Instead, the EotEBB is your fairly typical bit of cardboard packaging, much like that used for countless toys, and while it could be used to store your various EotE materials, the standard flaps will likely get ripped or worn down as the cardboard isn’t especially sturdy.  Also, nearly two-thirds of the space inside the box is taken up by a cardboard divider, which provides a sort of storage slot for the dice.  The packaging is clearly an attempt to do a couple of things, keep the cost down and bring it to market before Christmas, both of which we appreciate.

With that aside, the overall production values are very good, as one would tend to expect from Fantasy Flight Games.  There’s plenty of original artwork interspersed throughout the book, and the booklets themselves are pretty sturdy, in particularly the rulebook, a good thing to be sure as it’s going to see a good deal of use.

As it’s one of the most asked-for aspects of the Edge of the Empire game, let’s start with the dice in terms of the goodies inside the box.  The dice are stored in a decent-sized zip-top baggie, which is certainly reusable if you want to keep your EotE dice separate from your standard gaming dice.  The dice themselves consist of two pale blue Boost dice, two black Setback dice, three green Ability dice, three purple Difficulty dice, two yellow Proficiency dice, a single red Challenge die, and a single white Force die.  And I must say, as useful as I have found FFG’s dice-roller app, having actual dice in hand is a nice feeling, as there’s just something visceral about rolling dice; likely a hold-over from my early gaming days when electronic dice rollers didn’t exist and home computers were a more of a novelty.  Given the usual price-points that FFG sells the dice sets for Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play 3rd edition and the X-Wing miniatures game, I could easily see this dice set going for at least twelve bucks, if not a full fifteen.

The next item is an 8.5×11” sheet of sturdy card stock, which has various character tokens for those gamers that want at least some manner of visual representation of where the characters are on a given map.  There’s also tokens for various enemies, such as the ubiquitous stormtrooper, Gamorreans, combat droids, and Imperial officers, as well as mynocks and even tokens for a Hutt and a Rancor.  Each of the four available characters has their own token, with tokens also provided for TIE Fighters and a YT-1300 freighter.  Rounding out the tokens are eight Destiny Point pieces, with the emblem of the Jedi Order on a white background to represent Light Side Destiny Points and the emblem of the Sith Empire on a black background to reflect Dark Side Destiny Points, which can be a handy thing to have to keep track of the Destiny Point pool.

Now let’s start getting into the meat of the product, shall we?  Starting with the small booklet bearing the label “Read This First,” we have the usual brief synopsis of “what is a role-playing game?” along with “who are the players?” before it moves onto a brief example of play.  There’s also a side bar to put the anti-minis folks’ minds at ease that while the tokens and maps can be a helpful visual aide, they certainly are not required to play the game.  The very back of this booklet has a Star Wars opening crawl, presumably setting up the introductory adventure.

Next item is the two-sided map, with one side presenting the deckplan for a YT-1300 transport dubbed the Krayt Fang sitting in a landing bay, the other side having a small cantina, a spaceport control room, and then a layout for the city of Mos Shuuta, presumably located on Tatooine.  The map for the Krayt Fang is gives a pretty detailed layout of the ship, and includes a number of interesting details such as a wampa-skin rug in the crew quarters, assorted droid body parts in one of the cargo holds, and what appears to be a line with laundry hanging off of it just outside the cockpit.  The most interesting feature on the other side is the layout of Mos Shuuta, which could be used as a blueprint for a novice GM’s own adventures in the Star Wars universe, and might even be used as a central location for a full story-arc instead of just a single adventure.

After that, we have the character folios for the four pre-generated characters, those being Oskara the female Twi’lek Bounty Hunter, Pash the Human Smuggler, 41-VEX the Droid Colonist, and Lowhhrick the Wookiee Hired Gun.  These are of decent quality, and should hold up provided they are treated with a modicum of care.  The exterior have a large image of the character in question on the front and their respective stories up to the point of the initial adventure on the back, giving the player a decent idea of who this character is.  Looking at the character stats, it appears that if going by the Edge of the Empire Beta rules, then these pre-gens put all their starting XP into raising their Characteristics; being one of those that opted for a somewhat balanced approach, this came as a bit of a surprise.  As for the booklets themselves, they’re definitely geared towards a new player, as side bars are included listing out what the different symbols on the dice mean and what the types of dice are on one side, while the other explains basic information about the character’s health stats and a simplified list of what actions a character can take on their turn.  Weapons, equipment, and health stats are on one side, with Characteristics and Skills on the opposite side.  The first character sheet is the beginning version, while the other reflects several possible character advancements after the initial adventure.  The last two pages contain a blank character sheet for that particular character, presumably to allow further advancements, with an abbreviated talent tree on the opposite side with a small side bar once again listing the dice symbols and type and a short section on Skill Training and Acquiring Talents with additional experience points.  For those curious, it seems the talent trees that these pre-packed characters are a mish-mash of the Specialization talent trees presented in EotE Beta.

Now we come to the adventure book.  There’s a brief summary of the box’s contents, a page on how to use the book, and then a couple pages to help set the stage for the adventure, introducing the city of Mos Shuuta before going into the adventure itself.  The adventure is broken out into a series of Encounters, with the first four being set-up to lead a new GM by the hand in terms of the game mechanics.  If you’ve been actively involved in the beta-testing for Edge of the Empire, a lot of this will be old hat, but it’s pretty handy for those new to the system.  The encounters cover a wide gamut of scenarios, from ground combat to social interaction before ending with a space combat encounter.  At the very end, there several suggestions for other adventures in Mos Shuuta, though most of these have the feeling of being very much akin to sidequests that a GM could use to pad out the adventure should the PCs want to go exploring around the city.

Next item is the Rulebook, which suggests that it be read last.  As would be expected, they give a condensed version of the rules presented in the EotE Beta, though the information on assembling dice pools and interpreting the results matches pretty closely to what’s in the Beta book, which is to be expected.  There’s a listing and description of the skills and talents available.  However, it’s worth noting that some of the material in the Equipment chapter doesn’t match up to changes made in the Weekly Updates, specifically the revisions to Autofire and Blast, both of which have their original listing from the Beta.  Now while I haven’t read the sample adventure from cover to cover in exacting detail, I don’t think Autofire comes up too often, as there’s only one weapon in the Rulebook that has that quality, a heavy repeating blaster which probably won’t be something the PCs will have access to, though it could be a concern if such a weapon is turned against the PCs during the course of the adventure.  The final chapter covers Adversaries, most of which also appear in the Beta book, with the exception of a Captive Rancor, although one interesting note is that instead of “Henchman” tier NPCs, such foes are called “Rivals,” a minor change that I kind of hope makes it into the final version of Edge of the Empire.  The very last page is a one-page index, a helpful thing for a new GM or simply a GM new to this system to have.  The back cover of the Rulebook has a one sentence description of each of the skills, as well as quick-reference charts for the dice types and what the symbols mean, again a hand thing to be able to reference in the middle of play.  Sadly, there’s no information on creating brand new player-characters, something I’d been hoping to see but should have expected wouldn’t be included.

The final item in the boxed set is an advertisement for a free adventure called “The Long Arm of the Hutt,” which can be downloaded off of Fantasy Flight Game’s page for the Beginner Box, and is intended to be played after completing the introductory adventure.  However, it’s the other side of this page that I found to be of greater informational value.

There’s been a slew of speculation as to when the final version of the Edge of the Empire game would be released, and opposite the advert for the extra adventure is an advert for just that product, with the release date being scheduled for Spring 2013.  Not as early as some had hoped, but not as far out as GenCon 2013 either.  And according to the advertising blurb, the final version will be a 400-page hardcover.  Given the amount of information that FFG was able to cram into the 222 pages of the EotE Beta book, I would imagine there’s going to be a goodly portion of background fluff and perhaps even more crunch now that the rules are generally in a finalized state.

Well, that’s pretty much a review of what you can expect to find inside the Star Wars Edge of the Empire Beginner’s Box.  The product has a thirty dollar price tag, but I honestly feel that for a beginner product it’s money well-spent.  Granted, as someone that’s been actively participating in the EotE Beta test period, a beginner product isn’t quite as useful from the perspective of playing the adventure, but the way things are structured in both the character folios and the adventure would make them very helpful for introducing new players, particularly those new to RPGs in general, to this game.  Not to mention, a set of good-quality dice so that players don’t have to resort to converting regular dice results or using sticker-covered dice, the latter of which have garnered some mixed results from what I’ve read unless a fair amount of extra work is taken to keep the stickers from peeling or causing the dice to become unbalanced.

As it turns out, I’ll be running a one-shot demo for a group of friends in the not-too-distant future, so I’ll be able to see first-hand how well this Beginner Box does in teaching a group of beginners, none of whom have so much as looked at Edge of the Empire up to this point.  There is the slight problem of only four pre-made characters being available, but FFG has been good enough to offer an early Christmas present in the form of two additional pre-made heroes, these being Mathius the Human Technician and Sasha the Human Explorer, allowing for up to six players.  For those that have the EotE Beta book, a quick skimming of the adventure doesn’t look like things would become unbalanced by allowing players to construct their own characters using the Beta rules, so it’s an option to keep in mind if you’ve got multiple players who want to play the Hired Gun or Smuggler characters.

In closing, if you’re completely new to FFG’s Edge of the Empire game or just have limited experience with the system, the Beginner Box will prove very useful in helping to teach both the GM and their players the ropes, and by the time the introductory adventure concludes, both should be fairly comfortable with how the dice pools work and how to interpret the various symbols on the dice.  If you’re something of an old-hand with Edge of the Empire, it still looks to be helpful in providing an adventure well-suited to introducing the game to your usual gaming buddies.

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