So, I said I would talk about FFG’s new Star Wars Beginner Game awhile back. I’ve been out of the loop in the blogosphere for a few months, and I suspect this has already been done to death, but I wanted to give a bit of commentary on it from a player’s point of view.
I played through the Box Set adventure twice, once by myself and once with our old WFRP group. Since I’ve most recently been playing Vampire, my tactics were a bit different when by myself than when with the group; I ended up exploring quite a bit more and doing more RP than fighting. Still, the two experiences had some key similarities that reveal quite a bit about the system itself. I didn’t GM this, nor did I look extensively through the books. Star Wars is my husband’s specialty, and I’d never want to GM it for him because he’s the sort who knows that “they don’t have that kind of electronic lock on Tattooine” and so on. So fair warning: this isn’t a review from a GM’s point of view.
Like all FFG products, Star Wars has outstanding production value. Included are full-color premade character folios with a couple of levels of stats, a picture of the character, and the character’s history on the back. Lavish full-color maps of the city and starport also add quite a bit to the game, although the scale doesn’t accommodate minis well, if that’s the direction you want to head. I only gave a cursory flip-through to the books, but they seem just as lovely as everything else FFG creates, with lots of full-color images on every page. The colored, custom dice are high quality, as is the dice app, which we had to use because you can’t yet buy dice separately and we needed more than two sets to make a four-player game run smoothly. (To be fair, we’re quite a dice-greedy group; normal humans could probably just share.) The dice app includes some “fun” SW sound effects that are way too distracting for the gaming table, but it’s easy enough to turn down the sound on your phone.
The included adventure cleverly introduces new players to the game. Each new encounter teaches you a bit more of the rules. By the end, you’ve mastered not only social and combat tactics, but you’ve also had a chance to try out space combat. Each section includes complete descriptions of the logic behind the rules so that the GM can explain to the players not only their options, but also how the game works from the GM’s side of the screen. It’s a neat idea that other games with unusual mechanics might consider.
Players have a clear goal with several obstacles that can be solved either through violence or wit, and there’s a section where the players can wander around the town and get into trouble they create if they wish. If you’ve spent your entire life under a rock and don’t know much about Star Wars, I fear for your sanity, but you’d get a pretty good introduction to the feel of the series from the adventure. The one thing that didn’t thrill me was the fact that the “wander about” section feels forced and mechanical since you’re supposedly running from a powerful enemy. Why would I take time to go window shopping with a crazy pursuer on my heels? Further, since there’s not a lot of ‘there’ to this adventure, so you’re unlikely to get into deep RP, but again, since this is an intro, that might not bother you.
What can I say? It’s watered-down WFRP, but not necessarily in a bad way. FFG has removed the stance trackers, party sheet, cards, and the million fiddly tokens, which, in many ways, is a relief. (I know, I know. I defended those bits vehemently elsewhere on this blog and on the internet, but they annoyed even me after awhile.) You build dice pools in much the same way as in WFRP, adding ability dice and proficiency dice to represent your character’s core capabilities in an area, boost dice to show effects in the general area that would aid in his/her action, and difficulty, setback, and challenge dice to represent the NPCs and environmental factors that would oppose your action. Rolls then indicate successes and allow players and GMs to spend additional rolled points on other effects. As with WFRP, the system works well if you have a group that wants to narrate its own outcomes, because the dice give both players and GMs the flexibility to have a bit of wiggle room in their interpretation of events. The premade character sheets show you clearly what types of dice will make up your pool, so players can easily get everything ready before their GM adds difficulty/setback/challenge dice.
The Destiny Point tokens provide a nice mechanic for bonuses. Tokens begin either on the Light Side or Dark Side; players can use the tokens to give their abilities a boost when tokens are turned to the Light Side, but each time they use a boost, they must flip the token to the Dark Side; then the GM has the ability to use the same boost for one of his rolls.
Overall, game play is pretty straightforward and streamlined. As I say, I think the system intends for players to narrate their successes and GMs to push back a little by narrative negatives, adding a dimension of gameplay around the negotiation of outcomes itself, although that’s not really how our group has played in the past, so it’s not how we played Star Wars.
Play went relatively smoothly for us, but then again, it should have gone relatively smoothly for us, since we were already familiar with WFRP. Our group playthrough skewed towards the silly, with one of our players deciding to change the medical droid’s background so that he had once been a sex droid. The Wookiee PC character invites all kinds of hilarious language barrier problems, so if you’re not up for that kind of hilarity, you might want to take that character off of the table. On the other hand, the SW universe invites that kind of silliness to a certain extent, so that tendency isn’t as game-breaking as it might be in another genre.
Missing From the Box:
There are no chargen rules in the Box, and the Bestiary only includes a handful of enemies. Having adapted a bunch of 2e WFRP before to FFG’s system, I suspect that NPC creation isn’t too hard; you can take material from other systems and pretty easily scale it for this edition, which my husband did when he added in a handful of encounters to the middle of the adventure. Not having the bestiary isn’t a big deal, then, especially if you have the old d20 Star Wars books and can crib from them. Chargen is a bit more of a problem. You could easily work out characters similar to those in the Box, but obviously there’d be no way to branch out to new skills.
FFG’s SW seems like a solid system with many of WFRP’s strengths and fewer of its bits. FFG has already released a longer adventure arc for the premade PCs that a GM could follow until the complete set comes out in April, so if your group eagerly wants to keep this rolling, it certainly can. The opening adventure felt a bit canned, but then again, all opening adventures feel a bit canned, and FFG’s main goal was to teach the system, not come up with a stellar storytelling experience. I haven’t taken a look at the rest of the existing story arc to see how it plays out. Having worked with the premade material for WFRP, I do know that FFG has a tendency to release uneven adventure content; GMs will find a few moments of utterly brilliant writing mired under a whole bunch of junk meant to justify new mechanics. On the other hand, perhaps Star Wars will remain free of some of that nonsense since FFG doesn’t seem to want to follow its earlier “buy lots of bits” strategy and therefore won’t have to use adventures to justify a million new mechanics.
I can certainly say that I’d be up for playing this system again, although I must admit that after playing Vampire, it felt really mechanics-focused. On the other hand, it’s hard to tell if that’s because of the system itself or because the designers wrote the first adventure to highlight the mechanics…or because practically anything might feel really mechanics-focused to me at this point.