For some, a game that requires unique dice outside of the “standard set” (also known as “D&D Dice” in some circles) tends to be a hard sell. Players don’t want to invest in the dice for themselves, GMs don’t have the funds to buy multiple sets for the group, and both parties are usually wary about trying to figure out what each die result means when numbers aren’t involved.
While I ran into this issue with FFG’s Star Wars line, once we got beyond that first hurdle, the game proved to be a blast to both play, run, and playtest. I’ve been tinkering with the game for years, even though I haven’t run it for a while due to some issues I’ve had with power creep and picky players.
When FFG announced that there was a new RPG in the works called Genesys, I couldn’t pass it up. It seemed like a streamlined approach to Star Wars, and I absolutely needed to see what was changed, for better or worse.
Genesys is pitched as a generic tabletop game in a vein similar to Fate, d20, Cypher, and Savage Worlds (among others, of course). Everything you need to run a game in any setting, whether medieval fantasy, alternative World Wars, sci-fi, or even steampunk, can be found within this book.
From a mechanic side, the game is pitched to be an evolution to what we saw with Star Wars: by using a set of custom dice, we can denote success, failure, and the variations of advantages and disadvantages thereupon. The game also benefits from years of tinkering, input, and expansion, as Edge of the Empire had the official, non-beta launch in June 2013 and we’ve been seeing more materials released for it ever since.
If you are new to FFG’s Star Wars line, you may want to check my previous review or awesome comic explaining the mechanics from Up To Four Players.
==What You Get==
Genesys weighs in at 253 pages; not as large as the Star Wars corebooks (each in the mid 400 range) and a touch smaller than Fate Core (about 300 pages) but it’s larger than Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition (about 200 pages). The book is in full color and, if buying the print edition, is a hardcover book.
Within these pages, we are presented with the rules needed to play the game (with the core mechanic being nearly identical to Star Wars but using different, new dice designs), a group of settings inspired by FFG’s other licenses (Weird War, Android Netrunner, and Runescape to name a few), and the obligatory GM and player tips to run/play the game.
It’s a relatively straightforward product until you get into the specific details.
For those of us coming in from the Star Wars line, it’s like getting settled into your favorite chair, but better. All of the basic mechanics are here and are familiar (albeit with different dice symbols but same probability), but there are a few new additions tacked on. I can confidently state that some of these additions may make this version superior to what we have in Star Wars, and I didn’t expect that.
Of the changes, one of the biggest ones was to the Talent mechanic. In Edge of the Empire and later games, every profession had a set tree to follow to acquire Talents. In Genesys, this is changed to more of a Talent Pyramid, in which you can literally pick and choose talents to fill in your own personal talent tree, with limits regarding how to acquire Talents. Basically, Talents are now in five Tiers, and to acquire a higher Tier Talent, you need to have two or more beneath it. For example, if you want a level 3 Talent, you need at least two at Tier 2 and three at Tier 1. It’s a nice balancing act, as it can grow to be as large as needed (no new trees required!).
The game also still has a nod to the Career/Profession/Class mechanic from Star Wars, but more open. Starting Careers give +1 rank in up to four specific skills for free, as well as granting a discount to a list of specific skills. That is literally all a Career is in this, so outside of that, the doors are open, and as there isn’t a concern about balancing Talent Trees, building a new Career isn’t too difficult. There’s even a section in the GM section to help with this; how is this a bad deal?
I’m also enjoying how they are handling the magic mechanic. With Star Wars, the Force required you to have a Force-based Career (either by purchasing one of the two Universals or starting as a Force Career) in order to have a Force Rating, and all effects were based from that rating. Each power also had to be individually purchased, and then success was determined by how many “pips” you had (0-2 per die, some at a cost) on your roll.
Now, any spell/power/effect simply requires the purchasing of a related skill (set by the setting/type of power) and spending Strain to cast a spell/effect. There’s a small table mapping out various effects (like implementing Ensare or Burn will Increase the Difficulty, while drastically raising damage Upgrades Difficulty), but overall it’s a list to mix and match to get the effect you want.
Running a superpower game and need to create an ice blast, or want a chain lightning spell for your fantasy game? Easy enough to do with this list, and it doesn’t stray from the core mechanic the way the Force did.
There are a few other smaller, but noticeable changes, such as the inclusion of a Social Encounter system, some word changes that makes rules easier to work with and understand, more ways to customize the mechanic and more freedom compared to what we had before. All of these are great things to have in a game in general, and doubly so when it’s a revamp of a previous game.
If you’ve been a fan of some of the other, non-RPGs from FFG so far, such as the Runescape miniatures or the Android Netrunner card game, you’re in luck. Within the book, we are given tips to run various themes as games, along with a sample setting included with it. For example, when the sci-fi section comes up and is explained (i.e. what makes a sci-fi game), there’s a blurb to introduce readers to Netrunner. While it isn’t an in-depth set of notes, it and the rules included (such as new races and gear) should be enough to get a new player started and give someone experienced in the setting the foundations to build whatever they want.
Finally, this book is basically a toolbox for the game mechanic. While it is a ready-to-run mechanic, the book is built to allow GMs and players to make tweaks as needed. There are optional rules (such as skill subsets, like Melee (Light) and (Heavy) vs using just a flat Melee skill), setting support rules (like how to handle superpowers; it works for the mechanic but not my bag), and rules for creating whatever you would like (vehicles, gear, species, powers, careers, Talents, etc).
While I am happy to see some of these new changes implemented, there’s still a handful of issues that crop up with this.
My first gripe is more on a personal note: if you buy the physical book, you won’t be getting a PDF included on this. I know I’m spoiled by a number of other devs and publishers that offer this service, as well as Kickstarters that give the PDF with the rulebook (Evil Hat, I’m looking at you here!), but it’s still a bit of a slap to buy a $40 rulebook from the source and still need to drop another $20 to get the PDF.
Another issue that is also more personal preference: you need custom dice. Thankfully, anyone coming in from FFG’s Star Wars has everything they need, but there’s an added learning curve to translate symbols from Star Wars into the symbols for Genesys (I’ve lost count how many times I mixed up the new logos while determining results). This also means that to save a headache, you’re buying another set of custom dice and/or another custom app.
On a slightly related note, this feels like a cash grab to me, especially since the dice for Genesys and Star Wars run for $14.95 per set. Added kicker: you will need at least two sets to have enough dice for most basic rolls; I own four sets and there are times I wish I had a fifth. This price is also a bit frustrating as there’s one fewer die in the Genesys set than the Star Wars set (namely, the Force die) and I think Genesys lacks tokens, yet the price is still the same. Again, cheapens the book a bit because of what feels like a cash grab in the long term.
Yes, this is not directly related to the book itself, but it’s a bit of a challenge for a new group of players that has to be overcome due to the extra cost of dice.
Overall, the game does suffer from some of the same issues that plagued Star Wars, as well as issues that plague generic system rulebooks.
From the Star Wars side, we are seeing a return of the same dice, progression, and general rules mechanic. While we don’t have the same power creep and career balancing issues that we saw with Star Wars (at least not yet; hard to speak for the future due to lack of materials), we are see the same snags with the dice mechanic: it’s possible to utterly fail and have piles of Advantages. This type of situation ended up slowing down games more often than not, as we lack a “Succeed at Cost” or any other alternative mechanic to work with the dice.
The progression changes are actually decent due to the removal of the talent trees, but there is still the issue of costs paid for progression. Progressing in anything that’s not a career skill is still a slog, and it’s a bit of a pain that I’m not a fan of.
Mechanically, the game has most of the same problems that we’ve had with Star Wars that will lead to house rules across the board. While we thankfully have more tools to allow for better creation of those rules, there are just some parts that are tougher to track and frustrating to organize.
From a generic mechanic standpoint, the issue is rather obvious: it’s generic. The book tried to consolidate everything we’ve seen, mechanically, from the Star Wars line and make it into a generic mechanic that will work across the board. This leads to some bland writing and some shoehorning as elements of settings are butting against mechanics to fit in wherever possible. Some of this will probably be fleshed out in later books (don’t ask me for details; I have NDAs signed that keep me from it), but for now, I’m marking this in the “bad” category.
I hate saying it, but I’m not too keen on the art direction for this book. Some snippets of art, usually smaller images, are beautifully rendered, but the majority is drawn to look incomplete, as though it was sketched and then partially finished. While an interesting idea and somewhat fitting for a generic rule system (a nod to the “here’s the baseline, do the rest yourself” mentally of generic rulebooks), I found it to be cumbersome and saddening, as some of the artwork looks lovely (and some could be downright gorgeous) if they were actually finished. Instead, we have ships with direction lines and guides to help denote scale, and it just detracts from the quality for me.
On a different personal note, I would love to see a lower-cost version of this. Paperback, more portable, etc. If I’m paying $40-$60 on a book, I’m usually expecting a licenced book with a setting and full mechanics; it’s been rare to find a “generic” rulebook that breaks the $30 mark nowadays so I’m not sure how I feel about this one.
All said and done, Genesys sits at a comfortable 3.5 buns.
While a part of me wanted to go for the 3 buns, I have to admit that the changes made are actually those that were clearly issues from Star Wars; these were comments that I and others have made over the years, and it is clear that someone from FFG was listening. The improvements over the Star Wars mechanics alone are worth the price of admission.
Sadly, it’s still the same system as Star Wars, so if you struggled with dealing with the dice mechanic, especially with tinkering with the dice pools, then you will more than likely hate Genesys thanks to some of the tweaks made.
Genesys is produced by Fantasy Flight Games and is available as a hardcover book from their webstore for $39.95 or as a PDF via DriveThruRPG for $19.95. Dice retail for $14.95, and if your approach to gaming is anything like mine, you’ll want at least two sets before starting.