Game Review: Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (Part II)

And just like that we're on the cusp of September. I know, I know. That's some serious old lady speak. Apparently my next foray into super science should be a remote control that can manipulate the space-time continuum. <<drums fingers>> Excellent.

You know what else is excellent? The fact that the players in my inaugural run as a GM still haven't fled in terror. Three sessions in and they're apparently sticking around. I'm going to give the vast majority of the credit for that to the system, for it does indeed deliver on its promise to be narrative-based fun.

Now that we've all had a bit more time and opportunity to get our role-playing hands dirty, I wanted to update the earlier Edge of the Empire review with some of our experiences and observations. Hopefully these will come in handy if you're considering running a campaign in the system or if you've signed up for the public beta of the successor volume, Age of Rebellion. The following tidbits are divided between commentary gleaned from the players and input from my point of view, as the GM.

For the Players

My players are generally affable nerds with considerable role-playing experience who relish the opportunity to roll some dice and utilize their imaginations in the Star Wars universe. While they can get particular, none of them are 'rules lawyers', despite the fact that one is, by profession, a lawyer. For the most part, they've enjoyed the flexibility that the system provides in terms of character maintenance and interaction with NPCs. As discussed in part one of this review, the core mechanic of the game centers on creating a brisk, complex narrative. The most common remark I've heard regarding this is that the core mechanic and, by extension, the system as a whole, is something of a double-edged sword. The degree of freedom is unlike most other systems and my players have reveled in being able to do pretty much anything that springs to mind. They now have several sources of illicit income derived entirely from activities for which there are no formal rules or guidelines, but sprang into being simply from, "I do X, would that then let me do Y?"

It's a lot of fun to see them get to stretch those imagination muscles and dive into a universe almost entirely unfettered. However, sometimes that lack of structure can be more of a bane than a boon. There are a significant number of concepts, activities and encounters that have no more explanation than, "Whatever the GM feels is appropriate." Understandably, this can cause frustrations when the players are trying to formulate a plan of action or lay out logistics for how they intend to fill the downtime between encounters.

Crafting is one area that could have benefited from a bit more guidance. Things like scavenging or modifying a weapon seem at least somewhat straightforward in their intent, but the activities themselves are enormously broad. Scavenging in particular is frustrating because there are no rules differentiating someone looking for any potential usable parts versus someone looking for a rare metallic alloy with which to make an auto-cocker for their bowcaster. To address this, we've modified the rules governing the rarity of a given item (meant to apply to the purchasing and sale of goods in the game) and applied them to salvaging components.

The core rulebook lists what skills may be utilized in order to make scavenging checks, but everything else is, "Whatever the GM feels is appropriate." Want to add a scope to your sweet carbine and improve your aim? Sure thing. The core rulebook provides instructions as to how many free hard points are required for the task but, as for the actual time and effort it will take to mount the scope to the carbine? Eh, "Whatever the GM feels is appropriate." I'm not saying that every handicraft and activity needed a correspondence chart. Yes, the system is narrative based, we understand. But it would have been very helpful to get just a bit more clarity on certain things, particularly when the talents that support crafting get some explanation, but the craft itself does not. Though, as mentioned, my players aren't 'rules lawyers', they were meeting with difficulty trying to ascertain these details definitively, building off of previous experience with other systems that do provide substantial instruction. This may be parsed out and addressed in future rulebooks.

Speaking of rulebooks, the core rulebook itself is dense and quite lengthy. Is it a Randian tome? No. Does it take a bit of effort to get comfortable with? Yes. With such a new system, it's taken a few sessions for my players to tap into the rulebook and start creating synergies or applying talents for maximum effect and that's to be expected. What might be nice in the future is an online dictionary or wiki, akin to what Paizo has with their Pathfinder system, that would allow players to look up aspects of the game and study them at their leisure.

For the GM

Though I've loved the system, and being able to GM, quite a bit thus far, the lack of structure regarding certain skills or interactions has been as big a source of frustration for me as it has been for the players. While I do my best to explain the logic in any rulings made where formal written rules leave off. The vast majority of said logic is founded in my existing knowledge of the Star Wars universe which is handy to have, but not required. There are also suggestions as to what you can do if you'd prefer to run your campaign outside of established canon. Only one of my players is similarly obsessed versed so, on occasion, without formal rules, some of the rulings themselves do not make complete sense to the rest of the players. This is obviously also something I need to work on as well.

That said, if you do decide to use canon in your campaign it can provide some seriously awesome, potentially goosebump-inducing moments for both you and the players. At one point in the last session the players landed in a hangar bay riddled with blaster fire and made their way to a nearby cantina. Only after seeing an all-Bith band playing "that same song" did they have the realization that they were standing in that cantina and parked in that hangar bay. Similarly, watching them roleplay after learning critical bits of information, like that Alderaan had just been obliterated by the Empire, was a pleasure in itself and truly where the core mechanic gets a chance to shine.

Some things that are ok for the time being, but feel, for lack of a better word, clunky include two types of combat: mass and space. The rulebook does an excellent job of laying out not only the base protocol, but three alternate courses of action a GM can take when laying out adversaries for the PCs to confront. That in itself is great but, akin to our qualm with the crafting, this section could have benefited from just a bit more explanation. Something as simple as "we recommend you use this for groups of 5 or more" would go a long way in preventing needlessly drawn out combat sequences.

Sorry YT-1300. We seem to be having a scanner malfunction
Space combat, while fun, is also fairly complex. Part of this is due to our relative inexperience, but it is also not the simple extension of personal combat that the rulebook makes it out to be. For this there is plenty of instruction, but it seems especially dense given that other sections, including those governing more common activities, aren't given nearly so much detail. We go from "Whatever the GM feels is appropriate" to "you need to reach this speed within this range and position yourself within this arc to be able to have even a chance of hitting a craft of this silhouette." It's fine. As with everything else, we're still learning and will get more comfy with space combat in time but, at present, it seems a bit uneven and tends to weigh heavily on the pace of the game.

Something other GMs may want to do is to counsel their players on the importance of having at least one individual with a minimum of two ranks (the most a PC can have at the game's outset) in the skill Pilot (Space). GMs may want to provide this designated PC with a copy of the rules governing pilot only maneuvers and actions before the campaign begins so the player can familiarize themselves with these unique instructions. They are almost assuredly too much for one person to take in and utilize effectively while in the heat of combat.

It's been a great experience thus far. Here's hoping that this continues.

Wishes for a wonderful Labor Day weekend for all those celebrating these next few days and a happy con to those lucky nerds headed off to Dragon*Con or PAX Prime!
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This Week in Geekdom

It's Sunday again <does a little weekend dance>. The past week has had that whole bittersweet tinge to it that this time of year tends to render. Though my back-to-school days are long gone, there's something a bit melancholy about watching the last grains of summer trickle through the proverbial hourglass as we prepare to embrace autumn again. In any case, this week was chock-full of nerdy goodness. So, without further ado, This Week in Geekdom!


Oh DC, you and your new 52 are so silly sometimes. We've seen quite a few...interesting aesthetic choices and edits in the newest incarnation of the DC roster and this week it was Lobo's turn to go under the reinvention Check out the results here.

Surprised? Well, Lobo is hardly the only comic denizen to undergo a fairly dramatic makeover. Here are 10 of the most noted alterations comics fans have seen to date.

Justice League America also got something of a makeover this week, going from JLA to JLC. It's true, Justice League America is moving north of the border to become Justice League Canada.

In coincidental tribute to this inter-continental move, the federal government of Canada released a special commemorative stamp featuring Justice League member Superman on Friday.


The head-shakingly, face-palmable story of lengths one hacker had to go to in order to edify Facebook on the latter's lax security

Ever wanted to build your own robot, but don't have a degree in engineering, electronics or robotics? Well, for $350 USD Lego can give you ahand with that.

In a victory for electric car enthusiasts, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (aka the government body that gets to crash cars for fun) awarded Tesla Motors with the highest crash-test safety rating ever in American automotive history. Read here about the Model S and its insanely high 5.4 star grade.

Remember last week how we chatted about the Hyperloop and how it would revolutionize mass transit if such a thing could be made? Apparently the guys over at WhiteClouds don't deal well with hypotheticals when they're discussing game-changers, so they whipped together this 3D model of the proposed Hyperloop using 3D under 24 hours.

Stargazers rejoice! It has been confirmed that, earlier this month, our limited view of the cosmos got a bit more diverse.

Have a minute or two? Check out some of the most stunning, colorful footage of the Aurora Borealis ever caught on video.

It's the roundest (and possibly the most expensive) kilogram on Earth. Here's the extraordinarily precise and spherical results of the Avogadro Project.

Speaking of highly precise, the latest issue of Science describes what researchers believe is the most detailed, precise clock ever created.


Impatient for the upcoming release of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? Well, the powers-that-be at Marvel took pity on their loyal fanbase and released these promo stills/videos to help tide usover.


Ever wondered what the best Tetris players in the world do to assert their shape-placement skills? Well, they try to clear as many lines as possible in an absurdly short period of time. Like, say, 40 lines in 20 seconds.

On Tuesday, Microsoft released a list of 23 titles that will be hitting stores alongside the Xbox One when the latter debuts in November.

For those of you still loyal to the Diablo franchise, Blizzard took some time this week to attempt to steal more of your money garner your attention by announcing the title of the forthcoming expansion to Diablo III, Reaper of Souls. Fans will have to wait until BlizzCon for little details like a release date.

Either Bethesda Games has a really great product on hand or they refuse to see the MMORPG reality for what it is. On Wednesday the studio announced that the much-anticipated title Elder Scrolls Online will be subscription-fee based (and also feature micro-transactions). Just some quick math here for you guys: it will be a $60 base game plus $180 a year in subscription fees to get your free-form Skyrim fix.  

While some MMORPG-ers cried out for their wallets, others cried out in mourning. Disney announced yesterday that its 10-year-old family friendly digital universe, Toontown, will be meet with the end that Judge Doom sought. The game will officially go dark in its entirety on September 19th.

Feats of Nerdery

Since we already gave electric cars a bit of much-deserved love earlier in the post, let's keep to that theme. Meet John Watson, the 73-year-old farmer who eschewed that whole going to a dealership and buying a Prius thing and made his own electric car.

Ok, there's loving your favorite TV show, then there's spending 3 years of your life turning your car into a real-life KITT. Watch the incredibly accurate results of one Knight Rider fan's labor of love.

One enthusiastic British stone carver sought to ensure that his/her nerdery got divine approval. While refurbishing an 850-year-old abbey, several time-weathered gargoyles got a more geeky, contemporary visage.

As always, best wishes for the week ahead!
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Round Up: Gen Con 2013

It's time to act on what I've been promising you guys for the past week or so: a breakdown of the gaming highlights of Gen Con 2013! I may not have been on the floor of the convention this year (that whole getting married thing snapped up the lion's share of vacation time for the GIR and I), but I was going to be damned if I let a little thing like geography get in the way. Geography…pfft. If the attendance figures trickling into the media stream are even somewhat accurate, it would imply that Gen Con grew nearly 20% year-over-year with nearly 50,000 unique badge-wearing visitors. That right there is all sorts of awesome. Lots of happy, considerate gamers tends to make for a grateful, gracious host city which, in turn, sets the stage for excellent conventions to come! 

Of course, there were plenty of games to be had from game developers of all sizes and specialties, many of whom were thoughtful enough to craft blog entries and post video of their goings-on in Indianapolis for those of us attending in spirit. Akin to last year's rundown, I'll categorize all the announcements from the con by publisher/distributor.

Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) Though this year's "InFlight Review" was markedly leaner than what we got in 2012, FFG didn't come out to Indy empty handed. 

- Building onto its burgeoning roster of 2-player tactical games, FFG announced that they will be producing a second edition of the BattleLore.  This update was crafted by the designer of the original title, Richard Borg, who sought to make the squad-based epic fantasy rumble more robust than its predecessor. There will be stats for each individual unit in your armies to replace the older 'color block' system of stat-tracking. Full details concerning the update can be found here and the game itself is scheduled to be released in the fourth quarter of this year. 

- Further testament to FFG's now 5-year-old partnership with Games Workshop is Warhammer: Diskwars. Designed for 2-4 players, the game draws on the original Diskwars lets the mighty factions of the Warhammer universe be pitted against one another in fast-paced tactical combat. The title is slotted for release in the first quarter of 2014.

- Civilization: the Board Game got a new expansion in the form of Wisdom & Warfare. As the title of the latter suggests, the expansion is designed to help players hone a more diverse and productive social climate in their empire as well as add new functionality to combat units in order to make warfare a more dynamic undertaking. Both the new expansion and the base game are now available online and at your local game retailer. 

- Expansions were largely the name of the game for FFG this year, with Cosmic Encounter also receiving new material in the form of Cosmic Storm. The Cosmic Encounter expansion adds 25 new aliens, Space Station structures, and a new win condition: Space Station Conquest. Cosmic Storm was released for sale at the convention and is now available at retailers both physical and digital.

- In keeping with the expansion theme, the star of last year's InFlight Review, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, got the add-on treatment as well with the release of Beyond the Rim. This announcement comes right on the heels of the debut of the core rulebook on July 5th, but this didn't seem intentional. Either FFG is adhering to its original production timeline or it's trying to atone for the fact that the core book got into our hot little hands a calendar quarter after the original delivery date. Beyond the Rim is a full length adventure and should, hopefully, maybe, be released later in the third quarter of this year.

- The next incarnation of FFG's gargantuan RPG system, Star Wars: Age of Rebellion, is on schedule to be released in the first quarter of 2014. If you'd like to get in on the beta for the narrative dice-rolling goodness you can sign up here.

- The best-selling X-Wing Minis game received two new ships: the Tantive IV and a Rebel Transport. If you think those seem like enormous vessels for what was originally a dogfighting game you wouldn't be wrong. X-Wing Minis will also receive a new rule set, Epic Rules, to accommodate space battles with capital-class ships.

The minis will probably look like this...maybe
There was allegedly a bit of an awkward moment in the FFG booth. Apparently the developer was not ready to go public with the deckbuilding game Blue Moon but eager geeks came across a mock-up in the booth and couldn't contain their digital squees.

Best known as the makers of ice breaker/polygraph test The Resistance, IB&C premiered their newest title, Coup. In Coup players assume leadership of an up-and-coming noble family in a corrupt medieval Italian city-state. Using the resources available, and your own guile, you attempt to garner influence over your fellow players, deducing what resources they have available and winnowing said goodies away. 

In related news, the alleged highlight of the entirety of Gen Con was a semi-impromptu mash-up of The Resistance and the flagship product of Asmadi Games (IB&C's partner for the con). Yes folks, there was some We Didn't Playtest This Resistance.  My soul hurts knowing this went down and I was not there to see it.

Perennial convention favorite Steve Jackson Games caused quite a stir as they announced that they would be partnering up with USAopoly to create Munchkin: Adventure Time. This, along with Munchkin: Pathfinder will be released in early 2014.

Speaking of USAopoly, the publisher had a couple of titles that it brought to Gen Con in its own right. Foremost amongst these is the latest update on a classic, Risk: Plants vs Zombies. In addition to floral battles with the undead, USAopoly brought some love for Bronies everywhere. Behold my friends, Monopoly: the My Little Pony Edition.


Fans of Upper Deck's Legendary Encounters series and/or lovers of the Aliens franchise thrilled at the news that Legendary Encounters: Aliens will be gracing the shelves next year to coincide with the 35th anniversary of the release of the original Alien film.

There was all sorts of excitement in addition to the bevy of new games. Warden of all things Pathfinder, Paizo Publishing, cleaned up at the Gen Con En World RPG Awards (the ENnies), taking the crown for Best Publisher, Gold Product of the Year (NPC Codex), Best Adventure (Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition), Best Setting (Magnimar: City of Monuments), Gold and Silver Best Monster/Adversary, Gold and Silver Best Miniatures, Silver Best Cover, and Gold Best Free Product.

 Lastly, a Guinness world record was set during the course of the convention as nearly 1,000 attendees crammed themselves into the JW Marriott to play the largest game of Settlers of Catan in history. 

Whew! It's no wonder that the lucky nerds who attended are likely still exhausted. Kudos to all the volunteers that made this year's Gen Con so awesome and you better believe the GIR and I will be at the Convention Center next year!

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