Review: Paizo – Starfinder Beginner Box

Starfinder Beginner Box
Starfinder Beginner Box is a science fantasy role-playing game starter kit, written by Amanda Hamon Kunz, Robert G. McCreary, Joe Pasini, and Owen K.C. Stephens and published by Paizo.
By Aaron T. Huss

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The Starfinder Beginner Box is the all-essentials quick-start guide for Starfinder turned up to about 1000hp. Inside this beautiful box are the core rules for Starfinder, GM guidance, pre-generated characters with character sheets, a map, paper miniatures, and some other things I’ll discuss shortly. Besides just the contents of the box, Starfinder is Paizo’s somewhat-sci-fi version of Pathfinder, a theme known as science fantasy. The mechanics are the same as Pathfinder and the game actually aligns with Pathfinder’s scale for damage and armor. In other words, you can actually incorporate Starfinder into Pathfinder without becoming an overpowered sci-fi soldier that would mow down entire swaths of adversaries in one fell swoop. It’s not really a good representation of sci-fi, but it does provide you with options for using both games together in very interesting ways.

So let’s talk about the components inside the box.

When you first open the box, you get the “What’s inside this box” and some reading material that attempts to steer you in the right direction. Although on top of that you get one of each die type you need to play the game and the bases you will use for the included paper miniatures. Right from the get-go you can see how this is fantasy in space given the very standard-looking Paizo goblin sporting some sci-fi gear. Turn this card over and you’ll see a pictorial representation of everything inside the box. This is very handy to know what’s what.

After this brief introduction of pieces you get some very beautiful, easy-to-use character sheets and the incredibly useful “What can I do on my turn?” cards (6 of them actually) that give you an overview of what you can do on your turn and where you will find the information that explains that. On the back is a list of the various conditions a character can become during gameplay.

Beneath these first accessories is the meat of the box – the Heroes’ Handbook and Game Master’s Guide plus the collection of pre-generated characters to get your game moving quickly. We’ll start with the Heroes’ Handbook and discuss the Starfinder mechanics.

Starfinder definitely takes the core Pathfinder mechanics and melds them into a sci-fi theme. However, it is not a standalone, all sci-fi type theme and is appropriately called science fantasy. I say this because the game really feels like epic fantasy in space rather than actual science fiction. Yes there are androids and computers, but the rest feels more like an extension of the core fantasy game. Starfinder does take the nice step of altering the available skills to match the sci-fi theme rather than a fantasy one. This is a great way of getting you into that style of game. However, it pretty much ends there outside of naming conventions.

Much like most epic fantasy games, Starfinder focuses on close-quarters combat and not the long distance military-style you may encounter in other sci-fi games. The ranged weapon selection may be sci-fi in theme, but mechanically they are not much different than ranged weapons in Pathfinder. They all have short ranges and interesting choices for damage. Melee weapons allow you to add your Strength bonus to damage, so a 1d8 sword still has a chance of killing in one hit. Ranged weapons get no bonus, but you would think sci-fi weapons would have better damage. Well, they don’t. This super cool sci-fi pistol has a range of 30ft and 1d6 damage (as a generic example). Not very sci-fi like, but it does match the close-quarters combat theme. Armor is also similar in that the sci-fi armor is not better than the fantasy armor, it’s just themed differently. At least it scales properly with the sci-fi weapons.

Characters are not much different than their Pathfinder counterparts. There are some fun new species to play with and the theme and class match the sci-fi design, but all the mechanics are similar to all other d20 games. Not a bad thing, of course, as it makes stepping into Starfinder that much easier for fans of Pathfinder. All-in-all, from a player’s standpoint, it’s a very familiar game for those who enjoy Pathfinder and simply opens up a new opportunity for fun gaming experiences to be had. Just don’t expect a hardcore science fiction game, because it’s not here.

Now we get to the rest of the contents that offer all the goodies for GMs. Besides the GM’s book, you also get a large fold-out map and a collection of amazing paper miniatures (although they are actually cardboard). This is not like some GM’s books you find in quick-start collections as it contains a great guide for Gamemastering and building an adventure. This is often content reserved for the full core rulebook, but you get it here! And of course you get the standard starter adventure(s) and bestiary, but those are to be expected. It is the guidance provided that was quite unexpected.

Cracking open the Game Master’s Guide and you immediately see more of why this game is more fantasy than science. The basic theme is dungeon delving and you wouldn’t really know at first glance that it has anything to do with a sci-fi setting. There is setting content inside the book that expands the sci-fi setting, but the focus of the adventures is still that close-quarters encounters you often see in epic fantasy. Of course, you also get a whole lot of content that you can use anywhere and everywhere within many Starfinder campaigns including the base setting material, bestiary, and of course the many pages of GM guidance.

Overall, it’s a very complete Beginner Box and I can’t believe the price point is so affordable for what you get!

If you love Pathfinder and really love the gaming experience of epic fantasy, but want to explore new themes, Starfinder is the perfect introduction to sci-fi. The science fantasy theme grounds you in the trappings of fantasy, but skinned with a sci-fi theme. It is definitely designed for a specific audience, and I do believe it will meet that audience’s expectations.

If you are looking for a grand, galaxy-spanning campaign of hardcore sci-fi action and adventure where you have to mow down a field of alien bugs that want nothing more than to skin you alive, this is definitely not the game for you. But then, you are not the target audience; just stick to the concept that it’s epic fantasy in a sci-fi setting and you should know if you want to play or not.

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