There some dangerous places in the Star Wars universe, wretched hives of scum and villainy populated by smugglers, bounty hunters and mercenaries. Though not strictly evil, these characters occupy a distinctly grey area from a moral point of view – and the best of the best are known throughout the galaxy, far beyond the Outer Rim territories that they operate in.

It’s one of these morally dubious characters that you’ll play as in Fantasy Flight’s board game, Outer Rim. With the ultimate aim to secure ten Fame points to win, you’ll be picking up and delivering cargo (not always legally), trying to balance your reputation with a number of different factions who patrol the area, taking on bounty hunter jobs and hiring crew members to help you out as you go. Along the way, you can purchase and upgrade your ship as well as your character, engaging in combat with potential prey and organisations who really don’t like you (I don’t like you either!).

Being a Fantasy Flight game, Outer Rim’s component quality and visual design is unsurprisingly excellent. The only part of the game from a quality point of view that lets it down are the flimsy ship cards, but everything else is wonderfully produced.

Though there’s a lot of rules to take in, Outer Rim’s ‘Learn to Play’ rulebook – along with turn summary cards, a more expansive turn summary on the back of the rulebook and a Rules Reference book, which lists each game concept and rule in alphabetical order – makes the game incredibly easy to learn. I’m normally quite intimidated by games the size and scope of Outer Rim, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s pretty straightforward to learn.

Which is very handy indeed, because there really is a lot that you can do in the game. Even better, you’re not forced down a single route when you play – with the game having a real sandbox feel; given that most encounters and characters are introduced and resolved with a small piece of story, there’s a real sense of narrative that unfolds as you progress to your goal too.

Though there’s only a limited number of ways in which player vs player combat can occur, there are other ways for players to interact. You’re free to transfer credits to other players for whatever reason you like, at any time, for example – and the rules almost gleefully point out that any agreements made in this way are non-binding, meaning that it’s entirely legal rules-wise to ultimately refuse to hold up your end of whatever bargain you make with another player.

Another cool way that players can interact is via bounties. Most often, a player hunting a target for a bounty will find them on a planet, but sometimes the target will already have been hired as a crew member on an opponent’s ship. It’s up to you to work out the details with the other player in terms of how you’ll resolve the bounty (maybe you can pay them to handle their crew member over peacefully?), but if you can’t agree you can always fight them and kidnap their crew for your own selfish ends.

There’s a great selection of characters to play as – the expected characters such as Han, Lando and Boba Fett are joined by some more obscure but just as interesting characters – and even the ships, once you’ve progressed to buying one after the starter ship you begin the game in, can be upgraded to the more iconic vessels so famous in Star Wars lore (with the YT-1300 Freighter upgrading into the Millennium Falcon, for example).

The Star Wars theme is brilliantly interwoven throughout the game, with the astonishing amount of detail in every planet encounter and character reminding you that the guys at Fantasy Flight really know their Star Wars.

The sandbox nature of the game means that you can often pursue several different types of activity at once – or even drop things that you’re not having success in and switching your strategy up on the fly. It’s a hugely compelling design that gives players an awful lot of freedom to reach the goal however they see fit – and it’s this very freedom and variety, coupled with the strong Star Wars atmosphere, that makes Outer Rim so incredibly compelling.

There’s even a single player mode in which a lone character can be pitted against an AI deck; it’s a fantastic inclusion that rounds out an excellent package.

Though the planet encounter and market decks feel a little thin and can get slightly repetitive after a few plays, there’s still enough variance and randomisation in setting up the game that it isn’t a deal breaker. Another thing to consider: it’s almost a given that Fantasy Flight will be releasing expansions for Outer Rim; I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the first one we see has a strong focus on The Mandalorian, whose adventures – and colourful cast of shady characters – would fit beautifully into this game.

Star Wars: Outer Rim really has cast quite the Jedi Mind Trick on me – though co-op monster mash Horrified was the best game I’d played this year so far, Fantasy Flight’s wonderful sandbox adventure has now taken first place for me. It’s a brilliantly involving and thematically accurate jaunt into the seedy underbelly of the Star Wars universe – and I can’t get enough of it.

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