A hive of fun and villainy
Outer Rim is a game that begins with the same bravado and energy as John Williams’ opening fanfare to the Star Wars films. It throws you into the galaxy far, far away as a rogue ready to make their name echo down the generations by doing all manner of questionable side job, from smuggling illegal goods to capturing or even killing targets – all for the right price.
The roleplaying-lite arc of the game is harder to resist than a Jedi mind trick. Han, Lando, Jyn Erso and other familiar faces are here, but they’ve largely been stripped of their established place in the canon, starting out with little more than their particular set of skills, the starship equivalent of a battered Ford Cortina and a handful of credits. It’s up to you to take them on a romp across the game’s eye-catching crescent of a map board, zooming from planet to planet to acquire jobs and bounties and build up your fame – Outer Rim’s literally winning trait.
The sandbox nature of Outer Rim allows for a joyous remixing of Star Wars lore as you see fit. Han Solo can become a bloodthirsty assassin, Boba Fett a keen merchant of goods. Character goals – which grant money, fame and new abilities – gently nudge you in a particular direction, but aren’t so restrictive that you feel railroaded. Characters met via encounter cards on planets or by interacting with contacts (who can also be the target of hits, sparking a hunt to capture or eliminate them) have the chance to join your crew, while the ships for sale through markets can turn into named vessels by achieving the right objectives. Having Lando zoom between planets in Slave I accompanied by Greedo is as fun as it sounds.
With the surprisingly tight gameplay loop (Rebellion this ain’t) essentially boiling down to a case of picking something up from one planet and delivering it to another, Outer Rim tries to sustain its momentum on the fun of being part of the Star Wars universe. Jobs and encounters can lead to simple branching events resolved by straightforward dice rolls, with equipment and skills modifying the chance of success. You might be attacking a Rebel base, taking part in a high-stakes game of sabaac or dogfighting with one of the patrols chasing you across the galaxy; either way, you’ll be rolling. Even succumbing in ship or ground combat doesn’t have much of a penalty – a relatively small fee and the inability to move on your next turn. It’s all quite light, but it works because the dollops of story and narrative on each card pin it all back to the game’s draw factor: Star Wars.
At least, it works for a while. Outer Rim’s glaring issue is that for a sandbox game, the sandbox feels extremely shallow. There’s a healthy supply of cards in the box, but given the number of different decks, you’ll cycle through the lot soon enough. Some events can play out in a variety of different ways, but many of the contacts and jobs will be identical in every playthrough, which begins to wear away the feeling of open-endedness that the rest of the gameplay allows.
With not quite enough gameplay depth to paper over the thinner parts of the narrative, and not quite enough story offering to justify its fairly rudimentary base gameplay, Outer Rim ends up an experience lost in the middle-ground. In a shorter game, these weaknesses may not have felt as noticeable, but here the overly-long running time leads to things feeling more and more stretched – and all but ensures a sense of having seen nearly everything after only a few full plays.
These lows are particularly disappointing because the highs are so high – that first hour of building up your remixed character and turning in bounties and goods to bump up your ship, equipment and crew might well be among the best tabletop Star Wars experiences going. But as the hours wear on and that momentum slows, what were exciting exploits increasingly begin to feel like repetitive busywork.
Future expansions may give Outer Rim the full depth of immersion in the Star Wars universe that this promising but unfulfilled game deserves. Until then, it’s fun enough to still be worth experiencing at least once – but don’t be surprised when it ends up sitting in the cupboard until it has a bit more to offer.
PLAY IT? – PROBABLY
Outer Rim has a brilliant premise, a slick set of rules and a ridiculously fun first hour. What it lacks is the depth of gameplay and story to fully sustain that excitement across its lengthy running time. With the right expansions, it could be a real Star Wars gem – until then, it can’t quite fully deliver on the promise.
Designer: Corey Konieczka, Tony Fanchi
Time: 2-3 hours
This review originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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