Review: Forbidden Stars

Forbidden Stars review

In the 41st millennium mankind has traversed the stars. He has stamped his dominance on a million million worlds. Life however is not easy. Interstellar travel is only possible by braving the horrors of the Warp. The Harkeron Cluster has been cut off from contact, for years, by a massive warp storm.

The storm has finally cleared and the riches of the sector are ripe for plundering. The Imperium of Man is not the only one that has its sights set of the the Harkeron Cluster. The battle for the sector is just beginning, those who are successful will find rich rewards but the cost will be high and it will be paid in blood… In the grim darkness of the future there is only war.

Forbidden Stars is an intense action game set in the Games Workshop Warhammer 40,000 universe. Released by Fantast Flight earlier this year it’s still fairly new but it is making some waves. I for one have been waiting to get my hands on this game since it was announced.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the Box

Specs on the box:

  • 2-4 players
  • Ages 14+
  • 180 min (Yes, this is a big game. Expect an average of about 1 hour per player)

In typical Fantasy Flight style the box is filled to capacity with a host of goodies. There are 4 totally different races. Each has its own set of highly detailed plastic models, 4 decks of cards, a stack of tokens and their own unique player aid.

There are also tokens that all players share, 16 custom dice, warp storm markers and 12 detailed, double sided map tiles. finally, there are a pair of rule books. Before you cringe; they are actually 1 learn to play guide, with a tutorial game, and 1 alphabetically indexed rules reference book. So you can pick up and play a game fairly quickly without having to read all the rules at once.

Forbidden Stars review
The box is filled to the brim.

Theme

Games Workshop has been making games for a long time. Longer than I’ve been playing games. The Warhammer 40K universe has played host to an array of both table top and video games. There are also a series of novels, short stories and comic books. There’s even a full length animated movie. Of course there is also the highly successful wargame.

Fantasy Flight is no stranger to the Games Workshop IP. They have done a wonderful job capturing the flavour of each of the races both thematically and mechanically. One gripe that I do have is that the 2 smallest units of each race are represented by flags and banners instead of replicas of the models from the game. I know they are not individual units but rather whole armies but I just feel that they could have done something more.

Aside from that, the theme is fantastic and well represented.

Forbidden Stars review
The level on detail on the models is impressive.

 Gameplay

Setup for the game is not difficult. Each player selects a race and takes all of the components for their race, including their starting map tile. Then each player is given 2 more map tiles at random and then the players give each of their opponents 2 of their objective tokens.

Then each players takes turns placing a map tile and some of their opponents’ objectives and their starting units. It’s not a difficult process but it’s like a mini game on its own. You’re trying to place yourself within easy reach of your own objectives while making life difficult for your opponents.

Once you have the board laid out; each player, in reverse player order, places a warp storm between map tiles. These warp storms prevent travel through them! This radically changes the shape of the board. On top of that the storms move in an un-predictable pattern each turn. So you effectively have a different board to play on every turn!

There are 2 main phases to the game turns. During the first phase, players alternate placing orders on the board. There are 4 different orders and everyone has 2 tokens representing each of them. The tokens are placed 1 at a time on a system, with each player taking turns to place an order until everyone has placed 4 of their orders.

Forbidden Stars review
The command system is fantastic.

These orders allow you to do things like Deploy new units or Execute your racial ability. The Strategize order allows you to upgrade your Combat deck and your order tokens themselves, granting you additional abilities. The most important order is the Advance order which allows you to move across the board and engage in combat.

The 2nd phase of the game is the resolution phase. Each player takes turns resolving one of their orders. It’s important to note that during the orders phase, multiple orders can be placed in the same system. These will form a stack of orders, with only the top one being available.

If you find yourself with all of your remaining orders covered by your opponents’ orders then you have to pass until one of your orders becomes available! Placing your orders carefully is vitally important. You can use your orders to bluff your opponents or to slow them down as much as you use them to further your own plans.

Forbidden Stars review
Chaos (red) is going to dish out some hurt to the Eldar(yellow).

Any orders that you don’t want to, or cannot, resolve you can plan on top of your event deck to give you a bonus at the end of the round.

Resolving orders leads to combat. In most games of this type combat is usually resolved over rounds of dice rolling, with some modifiers for tech or cards that you can play. This one is different.

Combat starts with each player rolling dice for each unit that they have in the combat. These are custom dice; they have 3 different symbols on them. Bolt guns, represent a point of damage. Shields block damage and the Aquila symbol adds a point of moral.

After the dice are rolled each player draws 5 cards from their combat deck and then starts the first of 3 execution rounds. Each player selects a card to play and places it face down. The attacker reveals and resolves his card first. Each card can add to the symbols already rolled. They can give you extra dice to roll or change the faces of dice. You can spend dice to get extra once off bonuses. The card can also impact your opponent, giving them some tough choices or making them re-roll dice.

Forbidden Stars review
Eldar Upgrade cards.

In addition to all of that some cards have secondary abilities that only kick off if you have specific units in the battle. They act like upgrades to that specific unit types. In essence upgrading your combat deck is like building your tech tree. As it will influence which units you build.

Once both cards have been resolved each side compares bolters and shields and then assigned damage to their units. If a unit is killed it’s removed from play or if it is still alive then it is routed, placed on its side, and it will no longer contribute it’s morale to the final outcome of the battle. If no side is destroyed during the combat then the side with the highest moral is the winner.

After all the orders are resolved the round is wrapped up. Players check to see if they can claim any of their objectives. Routed units rally. Players earn income and then Event cards are drawn. The event cards add an extra surprise to the game. If you played the strategize order or chose not to resolve an order then you get to draw as many cards as order tokens that you placed on your event deck and then play 1 of them.

The Event cards can be a tactic which you play and resolve immediately or a scheme which you can resolve later. These can give you some quick boosts like extra units or upgrades or even extra orders during a turn. The one thing they all do is move warp storms.

Even if you could not play any event cards you will reveal a card to move a warp storm. Each storm can only be moved once per turn and each player can only move 1 storm at a time. You might be able to move a warp storm to cut someone off, or you might find a storm that was protecting your flank suddenly gone and now you have a 2nd opponent to fight.

The game can last for a maximum of eight rounds. At the end of which the player with the most of his objectives claimed is the winner. However should a player gain his last objective sooner, the game ends at the end of that round and he is the winner.

Forbidden Stars review
Each player has a full play area.

Conclusion

This is a big game, it’s a heavy box, it’s also very expensive. I usually end up having some regrets after a purchase like this. This time I don’t. The game is actually fantastic! It’s got layers of strategy. The board keeps changing and the races are totally different so there’s tons of replay value. Knowing Fantasy Flight, expansions with extra races should not be long in coming.

The biggest gripe that people have with the game is its duration. I played a 4 player game last weekend with 2 brand new players and it was just under 4 hours of play time. If you include teaching time and our lunch break where we went outside and had borrie rolls, and then we made coffee and went socialising around the hall at the Timeless Board Games- games day, then we hit the 5 hour mark. 3 hours for a 4 player game is not unrealistic.

At one point in the game the 2 new players were fighting each other. Even though they were sitting next to each other, they both stood up, to play cards! The combat was that intense!

It's a really good looking game.
It’s a really good looking game.

Of late I’m seeing more and more smaller, streamlined, easy to learn and teach, quicker games. I’m glad that Fantasy Flight made another heavy game. It’s a really good game; I’ll gladly play if anyone else is keen for a go. I foresee myself buying all of the expansions too.

Can I braai with this?

I actually think that is a great idea. It’s a good way to spend an afternoon with a few friends and maybe a few beers. I won’t recommend it for anyone that’s not familiar with the game though, as you might really want to keep an eye on what everyone else is up to. If you can swop braai master duties when it’s not your turn then things should run smoothly.

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