Edge of the Empire Review

Thursday, June 11th, 2015
Posted in roleplaying

The Edge of the Empire roleplaying game by Fantasy Flight Games, much like its oft-discussed dice, is a mix of success and failure. Its ideas are simultaneously brilliant and half-baked. It’s a system that will help players and GMs collaborate on exciting and unexpected adventures. It’s also a system that requires extensive house ruling and often contradicts itself. After two years of playing I can’t exactly recommend it, but I also won’t stop playing it anytime soon.

The rules are simple enough at a high level. Characters have “characteristics” which represent your natural abilities and derived skills that they can train. When you’re doing something exciting and challenging, you combine characteristics, skills, talents, and gear to build dice pools via FFG’s signature design flourish, custom dice.

Each type of dice that goes into a dice pool represents a different aspect of the current situation which helps or hinders your efforts. Two kinds of positive dice represent natural ability or additional training, and two kinds of negative dice represent inherent and exceptional difficulty. The GM calls for additional, smaller dice to represent situational modifiers like poor light, helpful gear, or adverse conditions.

Each die has different symbols representing Success, Failure, Advantage, and Threat. Success and Failure cancel each other out and determine whether or not the character succeeds in their task. Advantage and Threat also cancel each other out and dictate whether the character creates complications or advantageous side effects in the process.

Baking concepts into the dice results like “success with complications” and “failure with advantages” makes it easy to keep the narrative moving and exciting. The system allows players to pick the effects of positive advantages which helps players contribute to the story without being overwhelmed. Adding dice to represent situational difficulties is an extremely clever workaround for the endless tables of modifiers that have plagued GMs for ages. For each different complicating factor, just add a “setback die.” For each helpful factor, add a “boost die.” An entire category of bargaining and discussion that dominates checks in so many other games is entirely removed.

With Edge of the Empire though, the devil’s in the details. Each skill has specific rules for interpreting success, failure, advantage, and threat. These rules are obtuse and often contradictory. Sometimes Successes grant time reduction, other times Advantage grants that. Some skills treat Threat as a secondary failure condition while others create side effects with them. The skills themselves are also often confusing with overlapping or vague descriptions. Exciting moments frequently lose momentum in order to debate Cool vs. Vigilance vs. Discipline or Athletics vs. Coordination.

This becomes ludicrous with the addition of gear. A fair amount of gear comes with varying options between “low end” and “high end” models that are rarely spelled out in terms of mechanical impact to gameplay. When gear actually gets mechanical rules, they also contradict one another. After two years I still forget whether to upgrade or downgrade Medicine or Computers checks based on the presence or lack thereof of the associated tools (for the record, Medicine checks without a kit are downgraded — Computers checks with a kit are upgraded). And don’t get me started on the bonkers rules around first aid kits, stimpaks and emergency repair patches…

Edge often feels like an unfinished project despite three different versions of the core rules and countless sourcebooks for expansions. The high level ideas are great and help create an atmosphere of swashbuckling adventure as long as you do the legwork of deciding what subset of its’ confusing rules you’ll be playing with. Each of the three core rulebooks went through an extension “beta testing” process, so I am baffled at the inconsistencies that run throughout this game.

If you are gung-ho for Star Wars, by all means pick up one of the generous beginner boxes and try it out. Despite all my complaints, it’s a system I will keep running and keep hacking. Once you find your group’s version of Edge of the Empire, you’ll still have a grand adventure.

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