The Good, The Bad, The Scum and Villainy
Star Wars: Outer Rim
“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy….”
Robert McKee, a famous author and story consultant, allocates the extreme importance of complex villains in movies. One of the ubiquitous faults of the writer, screenwriter, storyteller, and creator is the underdevelopment of what McKee refers to as a “complex villain.” Bad guys need to be bad. Good guys need to be good.
Stories need to have character and moral polarization. However, a one-dimensional, flat villain can destroy an otherwise stellar narrative (See Dominic Greene in Quantum of Solace, Dr. Doom in Fantastic Four, and Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men for examples).
At its core, the bedrock of the Star Wars films dichotomize characters: the good guys (the rebellion) against the bad guys (the empire). But, in essence, Star Wars is such an expanded and in-depth world that there are good guys, bad guys, and all that fall in-between. From bounty hunters to smugglers to mercenaries, there are ample opportunities of creative pools to swim in. The “scum and villains” are not a marginalized group. Often, they stand center-stage.
Greetings, fellow scum and villains. Welcome to the hive—the outer rim—a marginalized area in the galaxy on the outskirts of the known world. This is where you operate, in the galactic shadows. The Outer Rim is your backyard. In Star Wars: Outer Rim by Fantasy Flight Games, players assume the role of their favorite characters that lack a moral compass. During the game, players compete for fame points—having a reputation for being a scoundrel has its perks.
The game is, for lack of a better phrase, a “point salad” game. In Star Wars: Outer Rim, players gain fame points from upgrading their ship, collecting on bounties, and smuggling illegal goods for a private corporation, and so on. The first player to ten fame points automatically wins. These “sandbox” opportunities are fascinating as it allows players to “build” their own story for their character. The replayability is here. Players yearn to try different nefarious characters from the Star Wars universe and attempt and develop different strategies. Hands down, this is the game’s saving grace.
Star Wars: Outer Rim is an engine-building game—kind of. Despite what the box says, a game runs closer to the two-hour mark. And the gameplay is what kids these days would call “a grind.” For example: It may take you ten turns to deliver illegal cargo from one side of the Outer Rim to the other. For this act, the player receives a fame point. You just took ten turns of your life to struggle against the board for a single solemn point. Great job! You only need nine more—better get started on your next ten turns to (hopefully) gain another fate point. It’s tedious. It drags on. It outstays its welcome.
Counterpoint: As previously mentioned, it’s exciting to level up or enhance your character and/or ship while spending ten turns flying across the Outer Rim. Star Wars fans will be instantly attracted to the theme as the game allows you to play as some of your favorite characters (personally, I love playing as Lando). Also, due to encounter cards, who knows what other narrative threads may present themselves during your galactic travels. This aspect, I admit, is quite fun. I like buying a new ship. I like upgrading it. I like hiring and firing a crew. I enjoy buying a new blaster for my character. I enjoy traveling from planet-to-planet searching for bounties. This makes Star Wars: Outer Rim feel like an engine-building game—as you get better, your ability to score fate points get better. Unfortunately, most of the time, players rarely arrive at their optimal setup before the game is practically over.
At the end of the day, I give Star Wars: Outer Rim a recommendation. And here’s why: At the start of the game, all players can agree to lower the fame points to circumvent the game from dragging on and on. This limits your ability to build the prominent, bad-ass character and ship you want, but your game will not drag on past the two-hour mark. In fact, I almost exclusively play with a lowered fame point count. However, if you’re not like me and would love to spend hours and hours “grinding” in the Star Wars universe, this game is perfect for you. For me, if I am to sit in a bubbling hot tub filled with the essence of Star Wars for the better part of an afternoon, I’d rather play Star Wars: Rebellion. Is there enough room in your board game world for TWO games in the Star Wars universe? If the answer is yes, I recommend you start by giving Star Wars: Outer Rim a run for your credits.