So first up I'll look at the two Dark Stars books. As I said, to my knowledge, Off the Rack is the final product and the Core Rules are the rejected version.
First up the Core Rules. I've already addressed the rules in the first review I did of the pdf so I won't reiterate that here. In comparison to the old print on demand version there are advantages and disadvantages. I'll start negative and finish positively. The new book is stitched instead of glued like the POD version. This makes it easier to read, and more importantly use at the table because it sits flat where the glued binding does not. However the stitched binding doesn't feel particularly durable, the cover seeming like it's barely holding on to the pages. I'm sure it's tougher than it seems but it's fairly easy to see why this production run was rejected here. Furthermore the pages have a bit of bleedthrough where they've been folded a bit off. For a beater table copy to pass around to players and lend out, it's fine.
On the positive side, as I said, the book sits flat, which makes usability better. The colours are also more vibrant which makes it more pleasant to look at, and the paper inside is a nice thick glossy paper and not the (nice not not great) paper that the POD version uses.
The Off the Rack hardcover is similar-ish save for finish. Off the Rack was a POD softcover that had some editing issues. A couple of repeated passages and shit like that. The new version seems to have eliminated it, and added some new vehicles and art to boot. Furthermore, it's now a stitch bound hardcover. The cover seems tightly fixed to the pages and thus the book feels very solidly built. Like the core rules, the art is much more vibrant than it was previously, though like Dark Stars in general, it does suffer from being an indie RPG, where consistency of art is not always there. I'd have loved for all of the art to be in the very stylised manner like on the cover, and exists in a lot of the art but it isn't all like that probably due to budget constraints. It's understandable and I give it a pass because of the small studio creating it.
In terms of content for Off the Rack, it's weighted towards the higher end stuff that's either restricted by virtue of being heavy military equipment like tanks, or in terms of it being more of a boutique item than you would typically associate with a Cyberpunk setting's bread and butter mean streets. It also has more detail on ships both commercial and military as well as more mundane things like Medical Insurance that can be used as an elegant way of enforcing genre conventions. Since Dark Stars makes it quite easy to lose limbs to heavy damage, making replacements obscenely expensive makes engaging with the corporations in a grey manner, being a consumer but also actively hostile to them an interesting gameplay choice. There are also different levels where if you are rich enough, they might even refrain from throwing you out of the clinic before your injury is healed, and you get a certain amount of freebie genetic modifications per year. It's not a thick book, but it certainly does add a lot of flavour to the glitzy side of Cyberpunk for this setting.
Mostly just a little look at the physical products here rather than anything about mechanics but if the quality of Off the Rack is indicative of what's to come, then I'm impressed. Next time I'll post about the third book that came.