Friday, November 20, 2015

Forbidden Stars Review

Hello readers.

Recently Fantasy flight games has published a lot of highly detailed (costly too) games with incredible well crafted components - especially miniatures, who are based on two high-selling franchises, the one being Star Wars and the other Warhammer 40.000. It is obvious that FFG is going to squish the juice out of those fruits by providing the most memorable boardgame experience to the gamer.

What remained to be seen was if they actually could make good enough games based on those franchises since they can't just push the limit in boardgame design by using the most advanced producing technology by paying for it (and then charging the customer).

Thankfully in most cases the games range from good (Relic) to very good (X-Wing) to extremely very good (Imperial Assault) and others. 

A day ago i was invited to go to Fantasy Shop Victoria by Takis Valeontis to try one of the new games - Forbidden Stars, it was a really nice and interesting idea and i thought also of taking the camera with me, my new Nikon SLR to take some pictures of the game and write a small review around it.

We were happy to be joined by two other players, Christos Dimitreas and Antonis Michailidis and later Andreas Vogiatzis took control of the chaos forces when Antonis had to return to the warp.

Takis, our host to the game played the not-so-enigmatic-anymore Eldar forces, Chris led the green tide of the Waaagh! and Antonis went renegade leading another black crusade. 

The game is played by two, three or up to four players, each player takes one of four iconic races/forces of the Warhammer 40.000 world, Space marines, Chaos space marines, Orks or Eldar.

The game's board represent a part of the galaxy separated in square sections containing parts/areas, each area can be empty void of space or it can include a planet, the players maneuver land forces and spaceships from area to area trying to eliminate their opponents forces/units and claim at least objectives/areas to win the game, the first player who manages to occupy two specific areas of the game board wins the game and everyone else look up to him with awe.

The game board or the 'part of the galaxy' also known as the 'Herakon cluster' is separated in large square parts or sections, each part itself is also separated in four areas and each area can have a planet or just the empty void of space, dark matter and the occasional asteroid.

Some areas will contain player's objectives: usually far away from their starting positions, if a player manages to occupy two objective's areas - he wins.

The game is played in rounds (like you didn't guessed that already). In each round you place four orders (and only four) to sections of the map, you can place more than one order in a section but you cannot place more than 4 orders in the whole map, to add to this amazing drama: you don't place them all at once but you place an order on the map, one player at a time, one after the other.

There are also four different kind of orders that you can place and you get two of each (a total of 8 tokens) those are:

1) Deploy: purchase units in the section that you placed that order (wonderful miniatures) and then build Factories, Cities and Bastions (boring but useful)
2) Strategize: Upgrade your whole army in the form of combat cards that you will be using in battles (more tactical options) or order cards that will generally give you advantages in the course of the game.
3) Dominate: Gain some special and very useful resources from the planets of the section you placed that order.
4) Advance: Move TO the section that you placed that order from ONE adjusted section to it (the section where you placed the order is the target for movement to)

Starting forces for the Space marine player (me), four small flags and one large flag representing ground units in the form of space marine scouts (the small flags) and space marines (large flag), also included is a spaceship (strike cruiser - awesome) and a factory (come on, where are my land raiders?) 

Later in the game when you capture planets and you hold them with units or buildings you gain - at the end of the round - resources in the form of 'materials' - the currency of the game and with the deploy order you spend materials to buy and deploy even more units, or buildings, or enhance your tactics in battle or orders with the Strategize order.

Interestingly enough to get more 'advanced' and powerful units you need to 'level up' your force, you do so by building 'cities' where each city provides one level and each level 'opens up' availability of new units for you to buy with materials and deploy them.

Units in starting position of the game, two small flags (space marine scouts) are placed on planets, they cant be placed on empty space and if they want to pass through empty space they would need to have a spaceship occupying the 'space' area they would have to pass through. A spaceship is on the edge of the section and a factory is on the right, a blue marker below the factory represents that it belongs to the space marines. 

The hexagonal marker (with the Ultramarine logo) is an order, placed closed at the start of the round, this hexagonal space at the center of each section is the part where orders are placed, if another player places an order on top of another player's order then the last order placed has to be played before the first order is going to be played.

For example, during the later parts of the game this section of the map drew the attention of the space marines, chaos space marines and ork forces, the space marines placed an order first (the one on the bottom) then the orks (the green one over it) then the chaos space marines (the red on top of the green one) and lastly the space marines placed another one (the one on top). This means that Because of the 'traffic' the top space marine order has to be played first, then the chaos, then the orks and last the first space marine order.

By the way, here is a land raider! it got upgraded to be there, it started from space marine scout and with two orders and the special skills of the space marine faction it turned out to be a much more powerful unit. Land raider is the 3rd most powerful ground unit for the space marine faction.

An advance order has been played and three space marine cruisers rush to attack the section, upon their arrival they bombarded the planet with the red unit (a chaos space marine unit): each strike cruiser has an attack value of 2 - this means that it will roll two dice during bombardment and with three cruisers it means that there are going to be six attack dice to be rolled against the chaos unit. Since half of the faces of the dice means a hit and the chaos space marine has 3 'life' the cruisers should be able to finish it off.

Emperor's teeth! only two hits (bolters) and four shields (misses during a bombardment but defenses if it were a ground combat) so the space marine unit survives the attack (they always manage to heal their wounds after an orbital strike, they don't make nuclear bombs as good as they used to)

The other side of the board is full of Eldar forces and right next to them is the Green tide of the Orks, as seen here the Eldar has already build three cities (the grey things that look like upside down ice cream cones are really 'Hive cities') this means that the Eldar have already reached level 3 and so they will be able to build more powerful army and fleet units.

The horizontal purple colored tokens that cover the length of a section are 'Warp storms'. No space ship or army can pass through a warp storm and at the start of every round they move and change orientation at the players choice, Chaos space marines can pass through them but for all the other factions they are effective barriers, its a nice innovative part of the game's strategy that adds up to the headache that you get from the tactical planning that you have to do during the course of a game.

Another bombardment, this time from the chaotic fleet, the Land raider has 4 points of 'health' and the chaos cruisers roll 3 hits, this isn't enough to destroy the space marine tank and the chaos warlord starts executing the incompetent gunners. The bastion to the left protected the marine scout unit (the small flag) as a bastion completely protects a unit from bombardment.

Space marines are unleashed on the world of Thylin, its a objective planet for the Ultramarines and they want it really bad, they want it so bad that they will be using the card 'Fury of Ultramar' as a combat card - one of the five they drew at the start of combat as their opponent, the chaos space marine cultists also drew five combat cards and they had to choose the best one for the confrontation.

At the start of each combat both attacker and defender draw five combat cards of the ten available to them and roll their combat dice (equal to the combat value of their involved units) once they know the results of their dice (how much damage they caused and how much they can shield from the incoming attack) they reveal their chosen card.

Each combat card provides some bonus attack or defense or both and some special rules to the combat. Its a nice addition to a game like this and gives a more tactical ploy instead of the usual 'my tank has attack 2, your guys has attack 1, lets roll the dice and see who wins' it also narrates the battles a bit, yet its not anything too new as we have seen a system like this on the Horus heresy boardgame (published also by FFG). 

We ended the game a little after that, the orks and chaos space marines have completely conquered the section where previously the space marines were stationed. The hour was getting late and the demo game was obviously long enough for us to understand what the game is about.

My overall conclusion for the game is that it is very good, its system is a mix between Twilight Imperium 3rd edition and Horus Heresy with some new details and improvements, it has simple and deep strategy and fewer rules than it seems to have.

There wasn't much about explaining the rules after round two,
they are simple and straightforward.

While there is resources micromanagement on the game its not that much or complicated to follow. The graphic design is exemplary and since the game is supposed to be played on space i just have to compare its graphic design with Relic's, especially its game board, it is much more clear and visually readable than the one in Relic.

I didn't liked the flags representing ground forces, while the powerful and too-much-powerful units are represented by specific units (Land raider and Titan for space marines for example) their weaker counterparts are generalized by flags (large and small flag), i wish they would have made miniatures for the smaller ground units as well.

Players at their first experience with the game will need a couple of hours to complete it and they will be playing the introductory scenario where a lot of the things that experienced players will be placing on their own will be placed by the game itself. Experienced players have the choice of creating the map from scratch and even place the objectives and starting sections as they see fit, this greatly enhances the replayability of the game but also takes a lot of time for the setup.

A group of three or four experienced players will manage to play the game in four hours (or more) because of its deep strategic order placement system and card choice ground combat, especially the order of placement of orders is quite tricky and with a lot of strategic depth, the fact alone that placing an order first on a section can lead other players to place an order there just to delay your move will require some serious planning (that will take time and brain cells).  

Overall I think that it is a nice addition to anyone who likes space empire conquering games, strategy games and will reward someone who seeks visually beautiful games, additionally fans of the Warhammer 40.000 universe will love the new scale of the grimdark never-ending-conflict.

For the Invulnerable.

+ Highly detailed components and clean graphic design, a map easy to read.
+ Engaging deep strategy. 
+ Lots of replayability
+ Warp storms, they couldn't incorporate a movement blocking system in space better than that.

- Why flags? why?
- Time consuming, the day where you will be playing this, you won't be doing much more.

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