Starfinder is a fun new roleplaying game by Paizo. The setting of the game is a mixing of science-fiction and fantasy, somewhat like Star Wars is. It is perhaps slightly more towards the science-fiction side than Star Wars in feel, but it is not as far towards science-fiction as Star Trek. The story setting is that Golarion, the world of Paizo's Pathfinder game, a fantasy clone of Dungeons and Dragons, has disappeared and no one knows why. It is now thousands of years in the future and the descendants of everyone that used to be on Golarion have somehow kind of woken up and found themselves on a huge space station that inhabits the space where the world Golarion used to be. Nobody knows what happened to Golarion and know one knows how they ended up on this space station. They call this time period comprising the destruction of Golarion and and thousands of years after it "The Gap" since it is unknown to anyone what happened during that time. However, the Golarion refugees (if you will) have explored the Space Station and found that it is run by technology beyond their understanding. The space station is powered by a mysterious thing they have labeled the "Starstone." It provides apparently limitless energy and has the ability to act like a homing beacon in "The Drift." The Drift is Starfinder's equivalent of hyperspace. The Starstone makes the space station kind of like the center of the Drift so that anyone trying to get from one part of the Galaxy to another can more easily and quickly jump to the space station than anywhere else, no matter the distance. So the inhabitants named the space station Absalom Station and turned it into the center of commerce and government for the Pact Worlds (the collection of worlds in the solar system). Various alien races live on the station as ambassadors or traders for their home planets. And of course a lot of beings who have left their home planets for various other reasons sort of wash ashore to the station. On the station there is an organization called the Starfinder Society which specializes in hiring out adventurers and scholars to advance the cause of knowledge in the Pact Worlds. The Starfinder Society is hoping to find out what happened during the Gap as well as seek out new lifeforms and civilizations on new worlds beyond the Pact Worlds solar system (ala Star Trek). They found out that there was a pre-Gap organization called Pathfinder Society on Golarion and so they named themselves after that. Thus the players of the game are fresh adventurer recruits working for this organization.
Gameplay/ Rules/ Accessories
In the game players choose between various alien races, classes (careers), and themes. Each one of these aspects of a character provide stats, abilities, and backgrounds that comprise the character the player will play. The races in the Core book for players are androids, humans, kasathas (wise four-armed humanoids), lashuntas (a psychic alien race with two branches that are tall and thin or short and stocky), shirrens (an insectoid race), Vesk (a strong reptilian race), and Ysoki (a short race that look like humanoid rats). The classes are envoys (diplomats and others with high charisma), mechanics, mystics (magic users), operatives (spies), solarians (solar powered fighters most similar to Jedi), soldiers, and technomancers (a mix of a magic user and a technology/science expert). The themes are ace pilot, bounty hunter, icon, mercenary, outlaw, priest, scholar, spacefarer, xenoseeker, and themeless. So a player combines these three things to come up with a character that they like. The end result is a very unique character.
Starfinder rules are an advancement of the Pathfinder rules (which is based on the D and D 3.5 rules). So you have attributes and skills to advance in and various types of dice to roll. Anybody who has played modern video games with rpg influences will feel right at home with the system of attributes and skills and the process of leveling up in Starfinder. In this game there is the addition of starship combat, fought on a grid of hexes, to the normal character combat, fought on a grid of squares, of Pathfinder or D & D. The rules are somewhat streamlined from Pathfinder, so they are easier to grok as a newcomer. They are not as easy to grasp as Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition, though. The rules seem about the same complexity as the Star Wars RPG games from Fantasy Flight Games.
Starfinder has three options for game scenarios. If you are playing at home, the simplest option is to buy their Adventure Path books. Adventure Paths are series of 6 books (or sometimes 3) released monthly that detail a complete campaign. In this way year Paizo releases new campaign about twice a year. They have just released the 6th and final installment of their first campaign, Dead Suns. Your next option is called Organized Play with the Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild. This is a series of one shot adventures meant to take about 3 hours each that are played in stores or conventions. You can register your character online at Paizo's website and then track your character's progress as you play each adventure at one of these locations. For each three adventures your character plays she will level up. Technically you can download each of these adventures from the Paizo website to play at home at a cost of $5 for each adventure. These adventures do have tie ins with each other from time to time in very loose ways, but it is really not necessary for you to play them all or play them in order. If you complete one of the books at home from the previously mentioned Adventure Paths you can give your online guild character 3 xp, which is enough to level up once. Finally, you can use the rules to generate your own original adventures to Game Master for your players. With this option your players won't be able to tie their adventures into an online tracked Guild character, however. So those three options give you some flexibility in fitting the game into your life in terms of how much preparation time you have. Organized play in stores takes no preparation from the players, the Adventure Paths do all the campaign preparation work for you if you want to GM and play at home, or if you have a lot of time you can devote then the stars are the limit as you create your own campaign from scratch.
Paizo is also great about putting out tons of options for players beyond their Core book. In a very short time span they have pumped out an Alien Archive book and a Pact Worlds book in addition to their adventures. The Alien Archive book details many new aliens to either become monsters to fight or race options for characters in your games. The Pact Worlds book adds loads of background information on the surrounding planets and adds many new themes for players to pick for their characters. There are already more player options in Starfinder than there are in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition, which has been out for a few years now. That's quite impressive.
In terms of accessories, Paizo also puts out sets of cardboard character, monster, and starship standees that can be used in the game. They have complete sets of these standees for each book they release which contains new creatures and starships. These are a great help to running the game and much cheaper than buying a lot of miniatures (like you end up doing in D and D). They also have put out quite a few reusable maps that can written on with dry or wet erase markers. They have a GM screen which is nicely done and a magnetic combat pad to help you run combat and track initiative. I find both to be very helpful in running games as GM.
I really enjoy this game system. I don't care for Pathfinder due to the complexity of Pathfinder's rules being a bit much in my opinion. For that reason I prefer D & D 5th edition to Pathfinder for a fantasy setting. Starfinder, however, is an acceptable level of complexity for me. I like its balance of player options to complexity. I hope the new edition of Pathfinder coming out will have the streamlined rules Starfinder has. If it does, it may well pull me away from D and D 5th edition as my fantasy RPG of choice. The published adventures for the organized play and the Adventure Path books in the first campaign, Dead Suns, that I have done so far, have all been fun, original, and interesting. One of the Guild organized play scenarios will probably go down as the best one-shot rpg adventure ever as far as my children are concerned. Star Sugar Heartlove was an absolute hit with them. The characters got to save a star (as in very popular) sugarpop music band's performance. The adventure's culmination was very funny, thematic, and the most original I've seen out of any published RPG adventure I've played.
Starfinder Roleplaying Game Versus Star Wars Rolelaying Game
So far I'm not sure whether I like this one or the Star Wars RPGs from Fantasy Flight Games better in terms of actual rules and raw game generating possibilities. However, Paizo does a better job than FFG in publishing adventure materials if you don't want to make your own adventure up from scratch. FFG publishes adventure modules, but not as often as Paizo. A huge drawback for Star Wars is that FFG does not run an organized play system for their game. Star Wars is geared more toward "theater of the mind" play than Starfinder. Starfinder expects that you will be using minis and a map to work out your combat. Star Wars doesn't need that and so FFG does not put out any maps or miniatures for their game. Oddly enough FFG's starter boxes for the three Star Wars RPGS come with maps and character tokens, however. But that doesn't transfer into their full line of their RPGs. In terms of setting and theme, the Star Wars RPGs have the fact that they are set in the Star Wars universe going for them. This produces instant player buy-in and familiarity with the subject. However, Starfinder's universe is already very well fleshed out and interesting after only about a year under its belt. So if you are looking for a science-fiction/ fantasy setting RPG, definitely take those facts into consideration.
Starfinder is perfectly accessible and appropriate for children of upper elementary school (4th grade) and up if an adult is running the game as a Gamemaster for them. The artwork is attractive and appropriate for these older children. Starfinder is nicely inclusive in its books as well. I appreciate that the female characters portrayed in the artwork and stories are all every bit as powerful and competent as the males. The humans and aliens display racial and gender diversity very well within their own races in the game. So, good job Paizo on all of that!
The core rules do allow for characters to be whatever morality they want on the spectrum of good and evil, but Starfinder Society organized play does not allow players to play with an evil alignment. So all the adventures they have published so far have the characters behaving as heroes and not villains. This is a definite plus for using the game with children. If the published adventures so far were movies, they would be classified as PG or PG-13 depending on the individual adventure. The thing to remember about role-playing games as opposed to every other type of tabletop or video game out there, however, is that the Gamemaster can modify the content of the adventure to fit whatever level of maturity the players are at. So making the published adventures somewhere in the PG/PG-13 range is a good target for Paizo to maximize the amount of customers interested in their products.
I do not think children below middle school age would be able to pull off game mastering a game themselves, due to the complexity level of the rules, without massive scaffolding. Middle school children could probably pull it off after a couple games as a character and a lot of general RPG experience.
All in all it's a great game for a gaming family looking to get into role playing with parents and children, at about age 9 and above, playing together. My own children (4th grade and 7th grade) really enjoy it and give it enthusiastic thumbs up. It would also work well for an after school gaming club.