Search your past, you know it to be true: you’ve played, or seen, a Star Wars board game. Like the movies, they’re everywhere. Monopoly, Risk, Life, and countless others slap the sci-fi juggernaut on their bones to spice up the year’s holiday sales, and while I think every home deserves a copy of Loopin’ Chewie, today we’re ditching the obvious for the Outer Rim; for Star Wars games you might not have heard of, but that’ll have you grinning like Han Solo with a princess onboard.
So put on some John Williams and keep reading for some recommendations to take you to a galaxy far, far away:
When you’re getting the ragtag band together, it’s always good to start or finish with some quick fun, and Star Wars: Jabba’s Palace – A Love Letter Game gets your Star Wars game night going with delightful deception in just a few minutes. Simple to learn, playing up to six within half an hour, and cheap enough for Watto, Jabba’s Palace is a strong hand to deal while guests are arriving.
If it’s a duel, consider trying out the Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game. Riffing on Star Realms, this two-player head-to-head pits Dark vs. Light with classic trilogy characters, the Force, and a central market both sides can sabotage. A classic one-more-game setup in a small box, Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game is also a great option for the Younglings in your life, playing fast enough to hold their attention while being smart enough to keep yours.
Across the Stars
If your date in the galaxy that Lucas built demands a more daring touch, take a look at Star Wars: Outer Rim. Much like older Freeform space-faring staples Xia: Legends of a Drift System and Firefly: The Game, Outer Rim has you starting with a lowly starship and not much else, attempting to blaze your way to fame and fortune across a wide open galaxy. Whether you want to do that through running illegal cargo, hunting bounties, or working for one of several factions is your call, but no matter your choice, Outer Rim will let you carve out your own destiny.
But enough generalizing: the real highlight in Outer Rim comes when you, Boba Fett, snare enough Rebels to buy the Millennium Falcon before your buddy, Han, has a chance. Then, with your newfound ship and your assembled crew, you can complete one last job for the Hutts, ensuring your name will forever be enshrined on Tattooine’s sketchiest cantinas while the Imperials chase Han across the galaxy.
All it takes to build a legend is a few dice, some savvy card play, and a keen sense of direction.
If Outer Rim seems your speed, the recently-released Unfinished Business expansion does what the best expansions do, and simply fills out the fun without adding on many new rules, making it an easy include when you want to pack the galaxy with more notable names to recruit, imprison, or steal from your friends. If you ever wanted a chance to simply be in the Star Wars universe, this game is what you’re looking for.
The Imperial March
Then again, after you’ve torched your pal’s plan, Darth Dan might very well seek revenge. Star Wars has no shortage of games for him to do just that, with head-to-head war and skirmish options for both land and space, fleets and fighters.
If your favorite characters are Admirals Ackbar and Thrawn, then Star Wars: Armada might be your chosen battleground. A fleet-vs-fleet miniatures wargame, Armada lets you take massive ships into battle and, if you’re anything like me, run them off the edge of the table because you chose to shoot instead of turn. Star Destroyers and Mon Calamari cruisers can duke it out while frigates and starfighters dance, with variable objectives adding a little more nuance.
Sneaking a Corellian Corvette behind enemy lines, letting loose with a heavy laser cannon right into the enemy’s weak rear shields while they scramble to react? Delightful.
And when Darth Vader’s flagship makes their maneuver and roasts said Corvette? Chalk it up to the dark side and bring in the fighters.
Star Wars: X-Wing is arguably the most popular Star Wars game available, with tournaments and game nights aplenty at Noble Knight and other stores. There’s a reason for this: who doesn’t want to get their hands on those nifty fighters and pit them against each other in a fast-paced dogfight?
If Armada pits two fleets, X-Wing launches two small squads, or even single ships, against each other. You can choose pilots, modifications, and more for every model you take into battle, letting you pick the perfect proton torpedo to torch Darth Dan’s bumbling space boats.
With a wide range of ships across all the Star Wars eras and a lightning-fast playtime, X-Wing is a great introduction to Star Wars games as well as miniature gaming in general. That X-Wing and Armada come both assembled and painted makes them an easy recommendation, even for nerf herders.
Battle of the Heroes
If you prefer sand to space, even though it’s coarse, rough, irritating, and gets everywhere, Atomic Mass Games has you covered. Star Wars: Legion is like Warhammer 40K, but with Stormtroopers instead of space marines. Deploying vast forces across varied terrain requires time and tactics, sure, but Legion keeps things moving with an alternating activation system, allowing both sides to react dynamically to the other, rather than watching as your poor team takes hit after hit with nary a chance to move. Coupling this with a neat command mechanic, which simulates battle’s chaos by making the next unit you move a bit uncertain, and you get a match made for special moments.
Legion also lets you stride into battle alongside your favorite heroes, with start sets pitching Luke against Vader, or Kenobi vs General Grievous (he of the many whirling lightsabers). Or, if you were the one cheering Maul’s brief appearance in Solo, you can grab the Shadow Collective starter set instead and run around with mercenaries, bounty hunters, and random goons.
However you choose to wage your Star . . . War (sorry), you’ll also find a strong community for Legion, with regular tournaments and casual days to find like-minded generals if you’ve dispatched the fools around your personal gaming table.
Atomic Mass is also launching a more intimate skirmish miniatures game this summer with Shatterpoint, a small-team battler that’ll require less volume than Legion, but is designed to pack more punch with every move. The Jedi will force leap across the map, the Fetts will fly, and lasers will do what lasers do, all in the service of tight matches with, like X-Wing, snappy play and shorter lengths.
Unlike their space-faring counterparts, though, both Legion and Shatterpoint come with a hobby side, letting you dig into assembly and painting, though if the thought of putting together dozens of identical stormtroopers makes you want to force throw something, know that Legion’s armies come with multiple poses and options, letting you make your team unique.
Duel of the Fates
Teams, you say? What of teams, when Star Wars is about destiny, about the galaxy, of Light Side and Dark? Can any single game bring all of Star Wars together, transporting you and a friend (foe?) to the greatest galaxy-spanning conflict of all time?
If you ask me, that game is Star Wars: Rebellion. A behemoth that pits you and a friend—it can play up to four, but only try that if your teammates can feel the Force—in a cat-and-mouse struggle for ultimate power. The massive board sprawls planets aplenty, any one a potential home for the hidden rebel base. If the Empire can find and destroy that base before the Rebels convince the galaxy to join their side, the Dark Side is triumphant.
Both sides in Rebellion have leaders, a collection of major and minor players in the classic trilogy, and you’ll send them on secret missions, to command your fleets and armies, or to simply beg a world to lend you their strength. The back-and-forth play lends itself to cinematic moments, whether it’s Darth Vader turning Leia to the dark side (and giving the Imperial player a valuable asset) or Chewbacca leading a raid to destroy a new Death Star while it’s just a floating frame on the galaxy’s edge.
Add in the Rise of the Empire expansion and Rogue One characters join the fray, along with refined combat rules that turn every encounter into a tense mix of dice and card play. While you don’t need it at first, it’s worth a look after a few plays to make the most of the time, and challenge, that Rebellion demands.
And yet, for all that, the game is, as Han once put it, one in a million.
May the Force Be With You
Star Wars board gaming is a rich universe, one that can put you in the boots of your favorite soldier, let you swing a lightsaber with the most powerful Jedi, or dash across the stars in an X-wing cockpit. Whether you want War of the Ring in space or Love Letter with a dash of danger, squad skirmishes or fleet clashes, you can find it in your favorite galaxy, and your favorite game store.
Written by Adam Knight
Spinning stories and playing games under the direction of his two cats, Adam delights in the roll of the dice and a well-told tale. Find more of his adventures at Black Key Books.
[ More from Adam: Deluxify Your Board Games]