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Star Wars Outer Rim in Review

SI Updated January 13, 2020
 
4.5
 
0.0 (0)
2129 0
Star Wars Outer Rim in Review

Game Information

Players
1 - 4
There Will Be Games

It’s hard for me to gauge the buzz in board gaming circles these days, but the release of Star Wars: Outer Rim this last summer completely passed me by. From way over here in Asia, it barely seemed to register at all. The consensus was one of muted approval, a perfectly cromulent game but little more. I’m glad I gave it a chance, because while Outer Rim is a different game than I expected, I am altogether in love with the game I got.

At first glance Outer Rim appears to be in a very particular tradition, that of the pick-up-and-deliver genre. Merchant of Venus is a good starting place for games like this, where the player builds a network of routes to move items around the board. Games like Xia, Merchants & Marauders, and the Firefly board game have all riffed on this in various ways, adding different narrative elements like ship customization and combat. The results are generally very appealing to me, which was what attracted me to Outer Rim in the first place.

Outer Rim certainly has all the trappings of the genre. You take on the role of a scoundrel from the Star Wars universe, and then make your way through the outlying planets in the galaxy. This can be accomplished by moving cargo around the board, but you can also be a bounty hunter or go around the galaxy doing odd jobs. These different activities make you money, which can then be used to buy a better ship and do more stuff. The end goal is to make a name for yourself in the form of fame, and the first person to 10 fame is the winner.

There is a fair bit going on here besides mere pick-up-and-deliver. Furthermore, if you go into Outer Rim with the logistics of trade as your primary desire, you might leave disappointed. The board is actually a long corridor of systems, surprisingly linear in its design as opposed to the large network of locations in, say, Merchant of Venus. It is never very difficult to come up with a route to what you’re doing; either your goal is close or it isn’t. In truth Outer Rim is much more interested in letting players explore the Star Wars setting, doing what they like and making a name for themselves however they like best. It actually has much more in common with big adventure games like Talisman or Arkham Horror, more a light roleplaying experience than an economic one.

In that regard Outer Rim succeeds admirably. Other FFG Star Wars games have sought to recreate specific situations from the beloved movies, usually large-scale conflicts. Games like X-Wing, Rebellion, or Armada all put players in the role of Rebels or Imperials, maybe with some Scum and Villainy thrown in for variety. But Outer Rim is the first board game I’ve played that seems to really recreate the Star Wars universe itself. It represents a vibrant ecosystem of characters, spaceships, and worlds playing out against a backdrop of intergalactic conflict, and the player is given the option to experience it as they think best. You can take the role of famous characters like Han Solo or Lando Calrissian, more obscure ones like Bossk or IG-88, or ones that didn’t even appear in the movies. The game pulls from all three film trilogies, the various TV shows, and even the comic books. And it’s all there for you to explore.

This sense of freedom is pervasive, even as the characters steer you toward different strategies. Indeed, the character you play can make a huge difference in how you interact with the galaxy. Some are well-suited to bounty hunting, while others are really built for smuggling. But there’s never a big penalty for mixing and matching, for taking on a small smuggling job to make some extra credits. You can also build a crew for your ship, made up of characters like Chewbacca or Maz Kanata who might fetch nice bounties if captured by other players. You can even turn on your own crew members and turn them in for bounties if you want to. Outer Rim offers a huge range of narrative possibilities, playing out with surprising specificity.

Other board games have pulled off this trick as well, but what impresses me most about Outer Rim is how efficiently the game does it. Instead of feeling like a sprawling mess of a game with piles of seldom-used subsystems, it feels like it was designed to use the bare minimum of cards and tokens possible. This has been interpreted by some as a lack of content, an obvious attempt to leave something for an inevitable expansion. The game doesn’t really need more cards though, because the variety here is not achieved through huge piles of cards, but through mechanical interactions. The game changes quite a bit based on where NPCs are located, what ships are available, how patrols move, and what characters are in the game. Of all of FFG’s designs, it reminds me most of Battlestar Galactica, another design that relied on permutations of the same relatively simple setup. (Indeed, the games share a designer in Corey Konieczka, here sharing design credit with Tony Fanchi.) Outer Rim feels like a complete and finished experience, and while I would love to see more characters and more planet encounters, it feels like the sort of game that could easily be brought down by an expansion that isn’t quite as well-considered.

Design-wise, Outer Rim is not at all flashy. There are very few elements that feel innovative or particularly unique. But it’s a classic case where basically everything here works well. Fantasy Flight has an unfortunate history of games that are great aside from one particular issue, often the combat. This was also an issue in Merchants & Marauders, the very fun pirate game with combat so overwrought that the players avoid engaging with it. Nothing in Outer Rim feels like a hassle, and the efficiency of the design means that all of the different mechanics come up in basically every game. The lack of “innovative” mechanics also means that you can engage with the game’s fun parts right away. At no point have I felt like I was at war with the rules, or that they were forcing me to learn something before I could enjoy myself. It just works, and it lets the players have fun on the first try. The only bit that feels a little undercooked to me is the use of “secret” cards, special player actions that can be gained on different planet encounters. They aren’t something that kills the flow of the game, but they are the only part of the design that feels like an afterthought.

To be fair, the experience does have some bumpy moments. While the design feels cohesive and intuitive, it does have quite a lot of rules, and there will be some references to those rules while you internalize everything. It’s also not a particularly deep experience. A lot depends on card flips a die rolls, and those who want more control might find themselves frustrated. Perhaps more worryingly, the game takes a while to get going. The first third to the first half of the game are occupied by small stakes, easier jobs and simpler bounties that allow you to get better ships, crew, and gear, thereby allowing you to go for the big stuff. As a result, the early going can feel endless, since most of the fame generated comes in the back half. It’s hardly a deal-breaker, but it’s a 2-3-hour game, and patience is definitely required if you want to see what it has to offer. However, the pace does have its benefits. I always feel like I’m able to explore as much of the galaxy as I want, and a faster pace might cut that short. I am fine with the tradeoff, but others will think it too long-winded. That’s especially true if playing with the full complement of four players.

Look, I’ve only had this game a short time. But in that short time I’ve played a whole lot. I have yet to find any major red flags in Outer Rim that would prevent me from giving it my highest recommendation. It’s exactly the Star Wars game I’ve wanted for years, a chance to play in the universe I’ve loved since I was a kid with very few boundaries. The fact that it’s in a well-designed game with few mechanical issues is just icing on the cake. This is one of my favorite games in a long time.


Editor reviews

1 reviews

(Updated: January 13, 2020)
Rating 
 
4.5
Star Wars: Outer Rim
One of the finest pick-up-and-deliver/adventure games I've played, and a first-rate exploration of the Star Wars universe. Fans would do well to check this one out.
SI
Top 50 Reviewer 5 reviews
Nate Owens (He/Him)
Staff Writer

After a childhood spent pestering his parents and sister to play Monopoly, Scrabble, and Mille Bornes, Nate discovered The Settlers of Catan in college. From there it was only a matter of time before he fell down the rabbit hole of board gaming. Nate has been blogging since college, and writing about board games since 2007. You can find more of his work at Games are for Everyone. His reviews have also appeared on his blog, The Rumpus Room, and on Miniature Market. Nate enjoys games with a lot of interaction, as well as games with an unconventional approach to theme.

Articles by Nate

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Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #306083 13 Jan 2020 11:06
Coolness. Thanks, Nate. That's the clearest description I've read yet. Makes it tempting, but I already have Firefly and M&M on the shelf (and no $ for new games...)
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #306084 13 Jan 2020 12:50
I’ve been singing Outer Rim’s praises for awhile now (why doesn’t anyone take my word on anything?) and I’m 13 plays into it. I hit the point 5 plays ago where it became clear that Outer Rim (along with Western Legends) represents a clear cut evolutionary line in the PUD/adventure hybrid genre. Anything before it feels antiquated to me, and while there are parts of Firefly and Xia that I like (the movement in Firefly and the ship design in Xia, specifically), the quality of life improvements put OR and WL clearly ahead enough that I couldn’t imagine playing Firefly and M&M (which I’ve never liked) again. The verdict is still out on Xia, but I already know which game will hit the table more often.

Great write up, Nate, glad to see it getting some much deserved love on this site.
jeb's Avatar
jeb replied the topic: #306085 13 Jan 2020 12:53
It's a really good time. Especially if you're Lando and can do a passable Billy Dee Williams.

"A Gift For Jabba? Jabba loves me! Or, at least he will by the time I get to Tatooine, I'm sure of it… Pretty sure."

"Maz, you are an important and integral part of this team. Without you would we have made it through The Maelstrom? Hardl—what's that, Bossk? you roll 5 guns and want Maz? I barely know her really; have a good time trying to track her down, she's a tough cookie."
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #306086 13 Jan 2020 13:16
I'm about 1/2 dozen plays in, and Nate's review is spot on. It evokes the Star Wars atmosphere that I want.

I definitely have no need to play Firefly again.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #306087 13 Jan 2020 13:58
Great review. Everything sounds good about this game, but that rim layout gives me claustrophobia. I understand the concept, but I want a space game with more of a sense of freedom in movement. In Firefly, when I've got a handful of jobs, I like being able to mentally plot out fuel efficient routes and weigh them against the potential risks like reavers or complications during the job. This linear rim leaves players endlessly going back and forth past the same locations all the time.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #306089 13 Jan 2020 14:20
Oh for Chrissake people, how come nobody told me Doctor Aphra is in the game?

Must-purchase.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #306092 13 Jan 2020 14:53

Shellhead wrote: Great review. Everything sounds good about this game, but that rim layout gives me claustrophobia. I understand the concept, but I want a space game with more of a sense of freedom in movement. In Firefly, when I've got a handful of jobs, I like being able to mentally plot out fuel efficient routes and weigh them against the potential risks like reavers or complications during the job. This linear rim leaves players endlessly going back and forth past the same locations all the time.


That's the sense you get when you look at it and what I feared as well; however, once you play it, it works really nicely. It's all managed through both the number of jobs you can take and how you interact with the spaces based on what you are looking for. Surprisingly, it doesn't get repetitive -- very nice design work
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #306098 13 Jan 2020 15:17

Space Ghost wrote:

Shellhead wrote: Great review. Everything sounds good about this game, but that rim layout gives me claustrophobia. I understand the concept, but I want a space game with more of a sense of freedom in movement. In Firefly, when I've got a handful of jobs, I like being able to mentally plot out fuel efficient routes and weigh them against the potential risks like reavers or complications during the job. This linear rim leaves players endlessly going back and forth past the same locations all the time.


That's the sense you get when you look at it and what I feared as well; however, once you play it, it works really nicely. It's all managed through both the number of jobs you can take and how you interact with the spaces based on what you are looking for. Surprisingly, it doesn't get repetitive -- very nice design work


I'll admit I've kind of been thinking in the same direction. I like maps because they make for open play, lots of options even if some of them are favored. I'm always impressed that Merchant of Venus will result in four different players on the same map taking advantage of four different sets of synergy.

So my question with this game has been if it's more in a Magic The Gathering model, where there's a lot of variability but it's about managing the minute instead of managing the grand. I'm more of a grand guy, though I know there are a lot of people that really dig the minutia. That's what's going to call this game for me . . . and Doc Aphra of course because let's face it, she kicks ass. I love competent women.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #306102 13 Jan 2020 15:39

Shellhead wrote: Great review. Everything sounds good about this game, but that rim layout gives me claustrophobia. I understand the concept, but I want a space game with more of a sense of freedom in movement. In Firefly, when I've got a handful of jobs, I like being able to mentally plot out fuel efficient routes and weigh them against the potential risks like reavers or complications during the job. This linear rim leaves players endlessly going back and forth past the same locations all the time.


This is a non-issue. It’s a different set of decisions that your movement offers. Instead of playing the efficiency game, Outer Rim’s movement is more about where do you want to stop. Getting to a planet is cool because you can shop or manipulate the market against other players. However, stopping at a planet might mean giving up movement points. Stopping in space is giving up the chance to shop and the space encounters are unpredictable. The board layout is also to ensure that all the moving parts actually work. The NPC ships actually do what they’re supposed to do (as opposed to M&M where they outright suck and Firefly where they sometimes work with expansions) and once you have a bounty hunter player who knows what they’re doing, it makes player interaction actually possible. It’s not anywhere near restrictive as it looks and it really does benefit the design. Firefly is just as back and forth as Outer Rim is and Outer Rim is free of all the random, frustrating BS I couldn’t care less if I ever had to deal with ever again.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #306105 13 Jan 2020 17:09
Just to expand on something I glossed over in my last post...

If you or your group insists on player interaction, make sure someone is a bounty hunter. In 3 player games especially, there will often be a point where the bounty hunter needs to collect on another player’s crew. It’s lead to some fun moments in my games, like when I (as Boba Fett, who can really learn where all the NPC characters are) came after another player because I had the bounty Greedo and they had him in their crew. They were just dabbling in bounty hunting but had the bounty for Lobot. I caught up with them and asked if they were going put up a fight over me taking Greedo. The agreed to staring out of my way if I told them where Lobot was. I have no idea if that is against the rules but I don’t care, it was a killer little standoff.

So yeah, my advice is to play with at least one bounty hunter. Not having one won’t spoil the game like having the wrong balance of lawful/outlaw characters in Western Legends, but knowing that someone might want to come after your crew at some point is fun.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #306107 13 Jan 2020 18:14

Josh Look wrote: I’ve been singing Outer Rim’s praises for awhile now (why doesn’t anyone take my word on anything?)


And just to follow up on something Josh said: It's not that I don't take your word on anything. In fact, I read your words (or listen to them) just as closely as anyone else's here. However, there are two bits of context:

1. You're a Star Wars fanatic. That means that, most of the time, you're going to look favorably on anything that's Star Wars and at least decently designed. I am not a huge Star Wars fan. I'm more interested in how it plays than what it is (see: my thoughts on Villainous.)

2. Like MB, you're prone to seeing things very starkly. You've done it in the post I quoted, where you've decided that games as well regarded as Firefly and M&M are dust/trade bait to you now that you've played Outer Rim. I'm not that, uh, enthusiastic about my opinions and I still think there's value in both of those games, in the same way I think there's value in a number of games that I still own that are of similar styles.

Speaking for myself, I'm not ignoring things you say. I'm just interested in reading opinions in addition to yours that may be a little less fervent. Also, just to reemphasize: I was mostly just pointing out Nate's excellent review, where he provided a solid look at the game, good AND less-than-good parts, in an objective manner.
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #306112 13 Jan 2020 20:49
A week or two ago I played a game as IG-88 where I managed to get Chewbacca on my crew. (He's great if you plan on fighting a lot.) Then when Chewie's bounty came up, I calculated that it would be more profitable to turn him in. The big walking carpet put up a fight, but I subdued him and sent him the client on the Ring of Kafrene.

Everyone around the table was kind of bummed out. But not me, because I was programmed without mercy.
Road Judge's Avatar
Road Judge replied the topic: #306114 13 Jan 2020 21:03
I got Outer Rim for Christmas and hope to play it at my next meetup. I own Xia (got it and expansions this summer) and I really like it. Visually it's also very appealing and I like the various ways the board can be assembled since its unique every game. I was on the fence for Outer Rim because I own Xia and wasn't sure I wanted another pick up and deliver. But it's Star Wars, so I put it on my Santa list.

I'll admit seeing the half circle board for OR I was wondering if after a couple games if it will feel same-y but your review gives me hope that I'll enjoy it with multiple plays.

Nice review!
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #306119 13 Jan 2020 22:04
Heaven knows I don't need another SW game, and I reflexively bristle at obsolescing Firefly even if I don't end up playing it all that much, but you've intrigued me more about this one than anything else has. The points about this being universe evoking rather than cube transporting echo almost word for word what Corey himself says about the impetus for the design, interestingly enough.

(And how did I miss that Corey had left FFG last year? I read [and just now alluded to] what seemed at the time to be an oddly valedictory retrospective, but I feel like I should've registered it more.)
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #306120 13 Jan 2020 22:10
Re: the board. It's main effect is to drastically simplify route-finding. If finding routes through complex networks is your deal, then it will be disappointing. That's why this game hasn't really replaced Merchant of Venus for me. That game is much more about pick-up-and-deliver than Outer Rim is. But by simplifying the navigation, it allows the game to focus on the narrative beats of the experience. This is very much in keeping with Star Wars, where getting from here to there is as easy as punching in some hyperspace coordinates. The NPC ships change the alchemy quite a bit though, and I think the board also forces you to reckon with them more than in something like Merchants & Marauders.

M&M is actually the game that I think is hurt most by Outer Rim in my own situation. The adventure elements of that game are much better realized here, and Outer Rim is also a less overwrought experience.
SebastianBludd's Avatar
SebastianBludd replied the topic: #306121 13 Jan 2020 22:17

Road Judge wrote: I'll admit seeing the half circle board for OR I was wondering if after a couple games if it will feel same-y but your review gives me hope that I'll enjoy it with multiple plays.


There are rules for setting up a random map if you ever get tired of the default setup, though I imagine some random configurations wouldn't be balanced.

I've played Firefly, Wasteland Express and OR recently and OR is easily my favorite. Firefly takes too long and the action system for WE is positively baroque as compared to OR's streamlined goodness. As the guy who usually brings the game, I wouldn't hesitate to play OR with nongamers.

In our last session I spent too long searching the market decks and ended up third, but on the other hand I got to play as Bossk and was hunting bounties with my jetpack and vibro-axe at the end while destroying patrols with IG-88's ship, which was quite satisfying.
Jarvis's Avatar
Jarvis replied the topic: #306123 13 Jan 2020 23:20
I got this at Christmas as well and just played it over the weekend for the first time. I look forward to playing it again, but I’m not sold that it replaces Firefly or M&M yet.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #306127 13 Jan 2020 23:49

jpat wrote: (And how did I miss that Corey had left FFG last year? I read [and just now alluded to] what seemed at the time to be an oddly valedictory retrospective, but I feel like I should've registered it more.)


Quietly one of the top 5 designers of the past 15 years (to me) being cut loose of the FFG constraints is definitely important.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #306133 14 Jan 2020 09:33

Gary Sax wrote:

jpat wrote: (And how did I miss that Corey had left FFG last year? I read [and just now alluded to] what seemed at the time to be an oddly valedictory retrospective, but I feel like I should've registered it more.)


Quietly one of the top 5 designers of the past 15 years (to me) being cut loose of the FFG constraints is definitely important.


It will be interesting to see what he does, but he is still working for Asmodee.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #306137 14 Jan 2020 11:12
I've played SW:OR the last two weekends and we both enjoy it . I think with lower player counts bounties are a tad harder, as you don't have as many tokens getting revealed; we both did mainly jobs and cargoes.

It does make me want to bust out Merchants of Venus, as I do miss the exploration aspect as well the route development that happens in that game .
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #306139 14 Jan 2020 11:45
If I was more into SW, I would probably pick it up. It does look like a good game and I would certainly play it. Alas, M&M works for me in both theme, player interaction, the expansion options, etc. I think I am one of the few people who does not have a negative opinion of the ship to ship combat. The NPC ships work in my mind in as much as they were not always a physical threat, but lurking about to make you think up other routes to get to your goal. the sea is a big place.


I do hope one of my friends buys it so I can play it eventually.