Beyond the Starfield – Space Adventure Board Games
Chances are, if you’ve played some games, one of them has sent you to space. On the TV, you’re more likely to explore other words through your digital eyes, in games like Starfield and No Man’s Sky, than as a civilization-directing deity, whose interstellar home is more often found on the tabletop. There, with the likes of Twilight Imperium, Eclipse, Voidfall, and so many more, space becomes a battle area flush with cubes and counters.
What happens, though, when you take a space adventure to the board?
Well, for one, you’re going to need a better ship.
A Real Hunk of Junk
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a starfarer in possession of a ship, must be in want of a better one. And in the three games giving you that ship, Firefly: The Game, Star Wars: Outer Rim, and Xia: Legends of a Drift System, you’ll want to set about upgrading your gear as soon as possible.
These games spit you and your fellow spacers into the void with little to work with, and endless possibilities. All three give you a far off goal to chase, whether it’s ‘fame’ in Outer Rim and Xia, or a certain story in Firefly. How you go about achieving it is up to you, though doing small-time hustles to render your scrap heap into a viable vessel is a good way to start.
When your turn comes around, you’ll be staring into a sea of stars, picking a planet to hop to, a job to take on, or some cargo to haul. Nudges abound, whether it’s a starting story, a bonus granted by your character, or the missions in the market. Your buddies will make their choices, and soon you’ll be blasting off, trying to out-hustle your opponents however you please.
That choice, whether to maraud through the galaxy blowing up enemies (or friends), sling containers, illegal or not, from one port to the next, or pursue big missions in favor of big rewards, is your first key decision, and while a starting draw might influence your direction, it’s hard to go wrong.
If you want Boba Fett to spend his days hauling dirt from Tatooine to Ryloth, that’s your call.
The Interstellar Rat Race
Once you’re off and going, eying that first upgrade or snagging a new crew member, the turns in all three space adventure board games keep it snappy. You’ll take an action or two, maybe roll a die or read a new mission card and get a reward. Because you’re all running your own ships, it’s not likely someone’s going to mess up your plans, and if they do, well, you’re ready for that, right? You bought the missiles, or the speedy drives to get away?
Well, like their TV counterparts, getting blasted to bits by your best pal doesn’t do much to throw you off track. It’s a setback, sure, and a bonus for your buddy, but these aren’t meant to be harsh, cutthroat experiences leaving you let down or looking at the clock. Instead, buff out those laser burns and get back on your adventure, because even if you’re losing, in these games, it’s about your story.
Maybe Boba Fett, hauling his dirt, hires on Chewie and Lando, upgrades his ship to have a bit more cargo capacity, and now he’s the shipping magnate of the Outer Rim. Or your Mal Reynolds might become the pirate he always wanted to be, shooting up the Alliance with Wash by his side.
As your gear gets better, your skills get sharper, and your story finds its focus, you’ll get drawn into every turn, cackling as your opponents blow a job or reading aloud the next mission, watching eyes wince as the risks and rewards multiply.
End Game Fame
As the game gets cruising towards the finish, with sparkling ships kitted out, full crews completing contracts, and those final fame points in sight, you’ll have an evening’s record splayed across your player board, a story all your own, told by your choices and helped, here and there, by luck.
Whether that luck stays with you in the final rounds, with everyone racing across the galaxy for one last score, creates a unique endgame magic. Even if you’re not competing for a win, maybe you’re set to ambush someone and turn the tables, or get that last turret to make your ship complete. More meaningful than scraping out a few more victory points when you’re already down a dozen, or watching as two other players throw dice at each other when their massive armadas meet.
It’s a tangible journey, one you’ll see, one built of moments, like when Fett made his first haul, and how, with his last, he finally bought his dream ship, the Millennium Falcon.
A Wide Galaxy
If all three space adventure games let you tell a story, then are they the same?
Not quite. The biggest difference between Firefly, Outer Rim, and Xia lies, as you might expect, in the settings. If you or your group loves the universe that Lucas built, Outer Rim is an easy selection, being chock full, especially with the Unfinished Business expansion, of just about every original trilogy Star Wars character you could want. Beyond all that dirt hauling, you can take up bounty hunting, gather your crew for jobs, and risk die rolls for skill-checks. Or find some weapons and start a fight with other players: snatching up your pal’s copilot and selling them to the Empire never gets old.
Firefly brings you to the ‘Verse in style, with more story-focused gameplay that broadens as you include the several expansions. It’s a tad more focused than Outer Rim, with the stories doing more to drive the action, while also providing plenty of personality: one set turns bounties into rescues, while another encourages grabbing risky contraband, then helping out contacts so they’ll actually buy it, all while under threat from Reavers and, you know, more normal law enforcement.
Xia is the neutral option, shedding the chains of intellectual property for possibility. You can be an outright pirate, mine asteroids, or skate the systems trading treasures for money and fame. You can stuff your ship with weapons, or launch with a big engine and nothing else save room for cargo. Outer Rim and Firefly offer some custom crafting options too, but Xia gives you blocks and bits and says let’s build.
All this freedom makes Xia the trickiest of the three, with more effort put on the player to determine their own destiny. If you care about winning, you might be frustrated by difficult mission draws or by choosing a less-efficient path because you didn’t know better. I’d say that’s missing the point: Xia, especially, is about crafting a space adventure narrative in the broadest sense. Be feared across the galaxy, be a pest to the other players, be the fastest pilot ever known, dashing across the cosmos for credits and fame.
Xia does, however, carry a drawback to Outer Rim and Firefly: cost. It’s a rarer title, especially if you’re hunting down the excellent expansions. Reprints happen every now and again, and stock swirls, but if you’re on a tighter budget, look to Star Wars and the ‘Verse to find your next adventure.
They won’t let you down.
Board games don’t always need to be about the points, maximizing an engine, or riding predefined rails better than the other players. Sometimes, kicking back for an afternoon and simply going on an adventure, following the stars to where they take you and your friends, is the emergent experience you’re looking for.
Outer Rim, Firefly, and Xia are your tickets to a wider gaming world. Best pick your ship and go for a ride.