40K Carnage And No Measuring Required! - Forbidden Stars Review

There is a category in the board gaming world that I like to call "event games". These are games where a typical board game night may not be enough to fit a play through in so you are forced to plan these in advance on a spare weekend day. Examples include Twilight Imperium 3 (TI3), the giant epic space 4X monstrosity of a game that takes 6+ hours on a regular basis and Through the Ages, the in-depth civilisation game that when played with multiple players, really can feel like it's literally going through the ages. Despite their length, these can be highly enjoyable games giving a sense of epicness and scale to the experience.

Of course, we all have busy lives here. We got jobs, commitments, kids (well not me, so I guess I have the advantage there) and so trying to fit these games in can cause issue with some players. These games aren't typically cheap and when you splash out your hard-earned income on a mammoth title, you want to get your monies worth for sure. But I for one always feel the need to indulge in a giant game every once in a while providing it's good of course. It scratches the itch of in-depth long term strategic planning and by the end of such an event you feel a great sense of achievement in what you've done. Here lies your mighty space empire, here lies your civilisation, prosperous and happy, you just can't get that same level of scale in a game that's over and done with in less than a hour. Of course if you've done poorly then you're probably left with some smouldering spaceship wreckage or a angry citizen's revolt, but hey, nobody's perfect!

So Fantasy Flight Games have brought us Forbidden Stars, an epic space conquest game under the banner of the Warhammer 40K license. Now personally I don't feel like Warhammer has realised its full potential in board games with titles that tend to be mediocre or just plain bad. However FFG really hit home with Chaos In The Old World (my personal favourite from the license) so they've proved that it can be done. And we all know how successful they are when it comes to space games so the odds are in their favour to nail this one. Not to mention Corey Konezka is one of the designers and if you check out his resume you'll find a lot of epic style sci-fi, fantasy and horror games to his name including the aforementioned TI3.

So will this do justice to the 40K license and could it even be a potential replacement for TI3? I'd best have a look at my calendar and see when I've got some free weekends. . .




Designers: - Corey Konieczka, James Kniffen & Samuel Bailey (2015)
Publisher: - Fantasy Flight Games
# of Players: - 2-4
Ages: 14+
Time: 120-180 Minutes. . . . . . . optimistic!
Rating / Rank: 8.43 / 358


For The Emperor!!!


Forbidden Stars has you take control of one of four different factions, all of which are familiar to anyone who's even seen a Warhammer 40K game. The Space Marines, Chaos Marines, Eldar and Orks make up the current roster each with their own unique units, ships and cards. The aim of the game is to collect a pre-determined number of objective counters by moving across the modular map, conquering planets, destroying enemy units/ships and setting up bases.

Throughout the game you can purchase additional upgrades for your faction as well as new units/ships by managing your material resources and erecting cities across your empire. Actions are determined by placing order tokens across the map that allow you to move, fight, upgrade, build, etc and these can be taken in any order, however the orders of opponents can block your own allowing them to sieze the initiative in a particular sector of the map. These orders can also be improved during the game to give you special abilities when utilising them, for example performing a strafing attack run during your movement.

Combat uses the classic "pool 'o' dice" system, but supplemented with card combat. Each faction has their own tailored deck of starting cards to work with but may upgrade these during the game by replacing old ones out of their deck. The cards are played over a course of 3 rounds to influence the battle or manipulate the dice until eventually one force is destroyed or a winner is determined by morale.

Play continues until one player claims enough objectives or 8 rounds have passed, at which time the player with the most objectives or most occupied planets as a tiebreaker, wins the game. There's a lot more to this game then can be stated in an overview, but I'll go into more detail on certain aspects later.


A Giant Lust For Plastic


One thing that can be said about Forbidden Stars is that it has a lot of presence. And I'm not even talking about when it's set up, I'm just looking at the box right now. If you thought Imperial Assault had a fat box, this qualifies as obese. I use one of those IKEA Expedit units and this takes up half the height of one of those squares by itself, it's insane. Open it up and you are instantly greeted with thick cardboard tokens, colourful cards and enough plastic to fill a Debenhams shop window. But curiously even when you've unwrapped and bagged everything up fully assembled (and I merely mean inserting a stand into each ship base so calm down) there's still a lot of room left in the box. Of course this being Fantasy Flight, you just know that they have plans set in motion for future expansion down the line.

It's almost getting repetitive praising the component quality of games when it comes to FFG. But they know their stuff you can't deny this. The plastic miniatures are the star of the show looking nicely detailed and resembling what we know about how they looked in the 40K tabletop game down to a T. They are of course unpainted other than to conform with their faction colours so we're not talking X-Wing Miniatures level here, but these are good moulds and each race's units and ships are unique with their own personal touches. The cards depict high quality artwork to immerse you into the theme further and of course you can't have an FFG game without at least one chunky dial counter present and you merely use it to keep count of your material resource. FFG is the hater of board "tracks" in their games!

All of this quality does come at a cost however and that is. . . . well, the cost! Forbidden Stars is going to rid your wallet of at least 60 of your hard earned pounds to acquire so it is by no means a cheap purchase. If you want this, you're investing in it and all the expansions that you just know will come later. After all all you need to do is bring in a new 40K race every now and again with their own plastic units and cards and we'll all be clawing at the window of our FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store for the uninitiated) to get hold of it - "Oh by the way FFG, Tau! Just saying, wink wink, nudge nudge!"


Getting Up In Your Face!


Some epic style games can result in the occasion where someone "turtles" for the entire game by just setting up a giant blockade and then building up in his own little world. This works thematically, but can be a little boring when this occurs. Forbidden Stars scares off all the turtles and ensures they never come back. Aggression is not only encouraged in this game, but also essential to victory. Of course you can't just go blindly charging in, you have to be use tactics and pick your battles, but there are only so many worlds and some of your objective counters are going to be in the heart of enemy territory. And with only 8 rounds, if you just sit back and do nothing, you will lose period. Being aggressive and conquering worlds gets you resources and assets that you need and you can't afford to lag behind another player who is hogging them all for himself, naturally trading is something unheard of in the 40K universe! I find this differs a lot from TI3 as that game has all the politics and exploration on top of the combat and turtling is common place.

The game also has it's fair share of take-that moments when planning your actions. You have access to four different actions and have two tokens for each. You take it in turns to place one in the relevant system in preparation for your turn. However these orders stack on top of each other and resolve from the top to the bottom representing an army siezing the intiative. Therefore for example it is perfectly feasible to deliberatly block another player's order with your own just so you can finish deploying reinforcements before he flips his attack order to storm your world. You resolve them in any order you choose (providing they're not blocked) and this gives a neat layer of strategy to the game and also plenty of interaction between players. Now normally four actions doesn't sound like much for variety, but the ability to upgrade these orders with more powerful versions, all of which are unique to each race adds enough to keep things interesting. And of course, give it time for FFG to expand the game further with potentially more upgrades for each race - the box is certainly big enough to harbour them all!








How Long Has This War Been Going On?


The big elephant in the room with Forbidden Stars which I know many gamers will be stomped by is the length of the game itself. A game as big as this screams out that it's going to be a time-sink when you bring it to the table. And certainly for your first couple of games, that's going to be the case, as it takes a little while to become comfortable with the strategic planning aspects of the game, especially the order tokens. Accept that some rules will be missed, some errors in your planning will be made and just enjoy the experience. Certainly that's how I approached it and let me tell you, I would have been banished to the Warp by the Farseer for some of the mistakes I made with the Eldar on my first game despite winning.

Our first game took about 6 hours excluding set-up/explanations and that was with a full complement of 4 players. So we're talking Twilight Imperium 3 durations here. But that time drastically reduces as each player is taken out of the equation. A 3 player game takes about 3-4 hours and a 2 player game may only set you back 2 hours. It's like 2 hours per player which is extreme, but again with experience you can slice off whole chunks of the game length and enjoy the cake. . . . . my god what a strange metaphor! So the game will switch between an "event" game and a long game quite frequently and yet the game is still highly enjoyable with all player counts, though for the reason I'm about to delve into now, it moves towards its peak the closer you get to two players.

So why does the game take a while? Well the order planning phase can lead to some AP among even the most astute of us, but the biggest reason is combats. Combat is one of the best parts of Forbidden Stars, but it is also directly responsible for the TI3 durations. In combat you both roll the dice and then over 3 separate rounds, play various action cards from your hand which is drawn from your combat deck that you've customized as the game has progressed. The cards can manipulate dice, add more dice, screw your opponent up, boost your situation, all sorts and the fact that the deck is your own and tailored based on your own decisions really makes this one of the most involved and enjoyable methods of resolving conflict I've come across.

However it's a double edge sword and man is it sharp! Combat can take a while to resolve if it becomes drawn out over the 3 rounds and they can only ever take place between two players at a time so there's no multiplayer combat. In a 2 player game, that's fine as it's one big duel by nature, but you can see already how this becomes an issue with 3 or 4 players. Players will find themselves sitting there waiting for the combat to finish before the turn continues and that adds a significant length of time to the game. Now the combats are certainly more entertaining to watch than the average dice fest, but eventually you'll use them as a chance to hit the bathroom or boil another pot of tea . . . mental image of Orks sipping tea from china cups in slippers, Lol!



Verdict

Just as Chaos In The Old World in my opinion is the pioneer board game for Warhammer Fantasy, I feel that Forbidden Stars has earned a similar status for Warhammer 40K. The strategy is deep and the choices plentiful and with four races with different upgrades, the replayability is definitely there to last before any mention of an expansion comes about, which you know it will. It's no surprise that the components and artwork are of high quality with enough plastic to make you feel like you're playing the minatures game all over again.

That being said, there are some important caveats to note. This is definitely an "event" style game especially with 4 players. Repeated plays will shorten the time length no doubt and you could likely fit in a two player game within a typical evening, but for the first few games this will be a time-sink so if you're always constrained for time, this might not be for you. In anything above two players you will also run into the situation where someone is forced to sit and wait for a combat to end. They are certainly more entertaining to watch than typical combats in games, but it's downtime all the same. And once you're in combat, you have to accept that the dice chaos gods won't always smile upon you.

I wouldn't call it a Twilight Imperium 3 replacement as there's a lot that makes that game entertaining that isn't present here, but this is the closest I've come to experiencing TI3-Lite. It's a solid design with a strong theme that I will be making the effort to find the time for.

Find a copy of this at your local game store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You want an epic, thematic game with lots of variety that does the Warhammer license justice.

You enjoy in-depth strategy games - You have a lot of choices to make with planning, upgrading and combat.

You like games where you can play aggressively. This is not a game for turtling, you have to get in each others face.


YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You don't enjoy long games. Even with 2 players this can take a while, but with 4 you're looking at TI3 levels to start with.

You get frustrated by bad dice luck easily - the luck can be mitigated in many ways, but sooner or later it won't go your way.

You don't feel it will reach the table enough - it's got a heavy price tag so you best be sure it's going to get played!

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