When I was a kid, I had a dream video game. It was basically “Wing Commander: Privateer”, only bigger, and it was set in the Star Wars universe. I’m still waiting on the video game, but Fantasy Flight have this year delivered much the same experience, only in board game form.
Outer Rim is the company’s latest licensed offering, and as the name suggests, it’s set on the fringes of the Star Wars galaxy. This isn’t a game about galactic conquest or heroic journeys; it’s all about smugglers, pirates and mercenaries, as you fly around the edge of the universe collecting bounties and smuggling contraband.
Designed for 1-4 players, everybody picks a character from an available roster of Star Wars scoundrels (including Han, Lando, Boba Fett and Jyn Erso), everybody gets a crummy spaceship and you’re then set loose on a board that has eleven star systems for you to travel to.
The aim of the game is to become the most famous smuggler in the galaxy. And that’s it. How you get there is entirely up to you. You earn the fame you need to win by completing jobs, and those jobs are as varied as delivering illegal cargo, hunting down Star Wars characters with a price on their head, defeating Imperial or Rebel patrols in space combat and even RPG-like quests.
Some of those jobs, like smuggling and blasting TIE Fighters, are just simple dice rolls/checks, but when characters are involved – and they include everyone from Princess Leia to Grand Admiral Thrawn – things get a lot more interesting, as they’ll often ask you to complete multi-stage storylines, which unfold as you draw cards from a story-laden quest deck.
As you travel across the galaxy completing jobs, you’ll start earning money alongside fame, which lets you visit marketplaces and upgrade your equipment, take part in special events like high-stakes games of Sabacc or even buy an expensive new ship, like the Falcon or Slave I (which you’ll want to do, since they can carry more cargo and are stronger in space combat than the starting ships).
The freedom you’re afforded to just fly around picking and choosing jobs is very cruisey, and with no time or turn limits, or central storyline or overriding objectives to stick to, games play out in a wonderfully flexible way. The varied ways you can reach the required amount of fame, and the way games unfold depending on which characters are in play and what kind of ship you have also mean that no two games ever play out quite the same.
Outer Rim includes a singleplayer component, where you’re free to play as you like while a single opponent is controlled by a deck of AI cards, which dictate what the other player does at any given time. It works, and it’s fine if solo play is your thing, but this game really shines when you’re playing against other humans, because just like real smugglers and pirates, you’ll be stabbing each other in the back.
Whenever players are sharing a location – and this happens a lot if there’s four of you and only eleven systems – a number of possibilities open up. You’re able to trade anything, with no restrictions, so you can swap cargo for a bounty, upgraded weapons for a crew member, whatever. There are also instances where players can directly fight against each other.
In addition to the main smugglers, the game board is also full of Star Wars characters which can be encountered. They can hand out missions and even join your crew, but can also be captured as part of a bounty hunter mission. What’s cool about these characters is that they’re persistent; if one is in your cargo hold and another player needs them they’ll have to track you down, and if they’re removed from the game board then they’re done and can’t be encountered again.
Maybe the highlight of my time with Outer Rim, though, was during my first playthrough, when I joined in the Sabacc game I mentioned earlier, which promised big rewards if won. It costs a lot of money to even get to the table, so I saved up my credits over the course of a game and when I had enough was excited to get down to it. Turns out winning was harder than I thought, and after failing a few dice checks I’d not only lost, but my rival got all my money at the end of it, and he hadn’t even had to pay to get into the game. All that money I could have spent on cargo, weapons or even a new ship, gone, and I felt just like Lando must have when he lost the Falcon to Han.
From the design through to the fantastic art, Outer Rim is incredibly thematic. I love how it’s able to capture both the free-form mission-hopping of a sandbox video game, while also letting you dabble in some light RPG questing, treachery and combat along the way, all the while feeling exactly like you’re Han Solo, dodging big Corellian ships as you make the Kessel run.
Best of all, though, Outer Rim manages to stick entirely to its best themes while avoiding the actual plot of the Star Wars saga completely. I remember when I watched Solo that, for all the nods and winks it made to the character’s future, the bulk of the film, and what made me love it, was that it was really just a fun heist movie about a couple of scoundrels on the mission of a lifetime. So when the end of the film had to drag everything kicking and screaming back into the Star Wars universe’s greater lore I was devastated. Couldn’t they have just let a cool story stand on its own?
Outer Rim can. It’s a Star Wars adventure without Jedi, a game that knows some of us want to get into Mos Eisley instead of away from it.