Cardboard Children – Forbidden Stars

Hello youse.

Forbidden Stars is the much-anticipated board game of galactic conquest set in Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40K universe. It’s a game from Fantasy Flight Games, who used to do these big epic board games that shipped in what we called “coffin boxes”. Twilight Imperium III, Starcraft, Runewars, Descent First Edition – all these games came in big giant boxes, packed full of miniatures. These games launched before the current board game boom, when board gaming was still quite niche, and players were willing to plow through 40-page rulebooks before getting a game on the table.

But things changed. The audience expanded, and board games started to become more streamlined, more simple. The length of time you could expect to play a board game for started to shrink. Fantasy Flight released a Second Edition of Descent, and it was a prime example of how the industry was shifting. It was cleaned-up, stripped down, faster to run through. The rulebooks were improved and slimmed down. Descent Second Edition was a better game, probably, but it was definitely lighter. It had definitely lost a bit of that crunch.

And me? I was waiting for things to tip back a little bit in the other direction. I was waiting for the big, long, deep games to come back – with a little bit of that new-age streamlining in the mix. The perfect mix of the old ways and the new. And the wait, thankfully, is over.

FORBIDDEN STARS

Forbidden Stars is a game about capturing objectives from your opponents. These objectives are spread across the galaxy, housed on planets in sectors that are hostile to you. You will take control of one of four factions – Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, Orks or Eldar – and expand across the galaxy, growing in strength and number, until you can lay siege to the planets and objectives held by your rivals.

The galaxy is built tile by beautiful tile, laid by the players at the start of the game. This gives the galaxy a different layout every time you play. The galaxy itself is made up of spaces representing the void of space, and spaces representing planets. Planets can be mined for resources, and the void can be populated by ships, allowing ground troops passage across the map.

The game flows through an order system that shares some similarities with the system used in the brilliant Starcraft board game. Each player has a stack of 8 orders, two copies each of Deploy, Strategise, Dominate and Advance. These orders are placed face-down, in the middle of any sector on the board, in player order. You place an order somewhere, then the player to your left places an order somewhere – even on top of your order. As orders come into the same sector, stacks are created.

Once everyone has placed their orders, they are flipped and revealed off the top of stacks, in player sequence. You can only activate an order if yours is on top of a stack – thus, the timing of orders is a constantly shifting thing. It’s worth you noting at this point that, because your earliest placed orders often end up on the bottom of a stack, you’re often placing orders in reverse. If you want to build then move, you would be placing your move first then your build later.

The issuing of orders is fun, deep, and crucial to your strategy.

THE ORDERS

Deploy is straightforward. It lets you build army units (if you have a factory) and then you can build a structure – either a factory, a city or a bastion. Every faction has different units with different stats and costs. The structures are a shared thing – factories allow you to spit out units in a sector, cities increase your command level to unlock better units and upgrades, and a bastion is a defensive structure that protects your planet from orbital strikes and aids you in battle.

Yeah, I said “orbital strikes”. I’ll get to that.

Strategise lets you place an order token on your event deck. Cards from this deck give you tactics and schemes that will aid you, and you receive these at the end of the round. The strategise order is also how you buy upgrades, and upgrades are necessary in this game. In fact, these upgrades are the most exciting element of this board game – through the upgrades the player factions, already very different from each other, become further separated in play style. You can even upgrade these very orders I’m telling you about.

Yeah, we’ll get to that.

Dominate allows you to rip assets from the planets you control. Some planets give you forge tokens, used to build terrifying machines of war. Some give you army reinforcements that can be used to soak up bullets in the heat of battle. And some give you cache tokens that can be spent to reduce the cost of units and structures. It’s also through the Dominate order that your faction’s special ability activates. The Chaos Space Marines, for example, can spread their influence into neighbouring sectors, creating cultists on other planets. The Ultramarine Space Marines can upgrade their units. Yeah – think about this – the Space Marines, with their For The Emperor ability, are constantly growing in strength and zealotry throughout the game. Left unchecked, their weak units train and improve. And they are THE ONLY FACTION who can do this.

The Advance order is how you move your units and fleets through the galaxy, and how you initiate combat. You place the order in the sector you’re going to, and then move your stuff in. Spaceships can move into any area of space. Ground troops need to move from planet to planet, crossing deep space over a path of friendly spaceships. So cool. If you don’t initiate any combat by entering an enemy space, you can make an orbital strike upon an adjacent enemy planet with your ships. You check your player sheet, see how many dice your ships will let you chuck, and you roll. This is how you attempt to weaken planets before you make a ground assault.

Does this game sound good yet?

Let’s go deeper in.

BEFORE WE GO AGAIN

Before a new round starts, players check to see if they control a planet that holds one of their objectives. If they do, they grab the objective and are on their way to victory. Then, all factions pull some sweet sweet cash from the planets they control. Then, those players who strategised during the round can pull an event card and move a warp storm.

Wait, what? Warp storms?

Yeah, those beautiful, brilliant, warp storms. Hold on.

The event cards are unique to each faction, and each of them does beneficial stuff. Tactics are cards that resolved instantly, and schemes can be held by the player until the time is right to enact them. The Orks, for example, have a wonderful scheme card that lets them tear down structures during combat. I watched as an Ork player lost a battle to an Eldar player who was desperate to capture their city. The Orks just tore that sumbitch down when the tide of battle started to turn. A beautiful scorched-earth style strategy that just suits that player faction perfectly.

And only the Orks can do this.

The Chaos Space Marines have a scheme that lets them fly their fleets through warp storms – we’ll get to why that’s so fantastic in a moment. The point is – these event cards are all so cool, so unique, and so flavourful.

Each event card, when drawn, instructs the player on how they can move a warp storm. Let us step out for a moment to talk about warp storms.

THE WARP STORM

The Warhammer 40K wiki says this about the Warp Storms – “The Warp is an extremely volatile medium. At times, disturbances can turn areas of the Warp into raging storms of incomprehensibly destructive fury that can breach the barrier into realspace. These storms can last for days, months, or even standard centuries. These “Warp Storms” can isolate star systems and entire sectors from each other, by making the Imperium’s normal methods of interstellar travel and communication impossible as the Warp surrounding those regions becomes too chaotic for a starship to safely travel through or for an Astropath to send or receive a telepathic message through the psychic “interference.”

When you set up a game of Forbidden Stars, you place some warp storms on the board too. These warp storms are barriers that separate sectors from each other. You can’t advance through them. They are, essentially, walls across the galaxy. They pen some races in, divide enemies from each other, create new battle lines. And at the end of every round, some might move. The event cards tell you if you can slide them horizontally, or rotate them – and then you choose one and do your best, or worst. Maybe you want to open a line of attack. Maybe you want to defend yourself, by sliding a storm into the path of an Ork onslaught. Or maybe you want to encourage two of your rivals to go at each other, by cutting them both off from the rest of the action.

The storms are a wonderful idea – an extra wrinkle of strategy, and an extra element of concern. And yeah, like I said earlier, sometimes the Chaos Space Marines can come flying through the things. Sometimes the Chaos Space Marines can draw POWER from the warp storms that surround them.

And only the forces of Chaos can do this.

This game just finds so many ways of differentiating the factions. It’s staggering.

On page two: combat, chaos, figurines and more.

38 Comments

  1. jeeger says:

    Damn, I’d really like to play this. But a) I wouldn’t find a partner anyway b) 100$ is a bit too rich for me. I think boardgames like this are probably really fun, but for me, computer games fill that niche better, cheaper and more conveniently.

    • znomorph says:

      I don’t think I could find people to play this more than once, so for the price tag I’ll probably pass (and I usually pass on games with minis. As awesome as they might be, I can buy 2 or 3 equally awesome games for the price of one minis game).

      The way my group plays games we don’t play any one game more than once or twice (with a few exceptions) anyway. And the length makes this a bit harder to get a group together frequently.

    • webs1 says:

      You can preorder it for around 69$, or Euro here in Germany. Which is about the highest amount I am willing to pay for a game…hmmm….

  2. fuggles says:

    What happened to:
    “And only the Eldar can do this”

    Monkeigh!

  3. Dilapinated says:

    What a great review! You never let us down on these. :) I’m super-hyped, and almost convinced that I really want this. A couple of questions answered would really cement my confidence:

    a) Is this a well-rounded, complete boardgame in of itself, or am I buying into a taster/Core Set for an FFG regular-expansion-cycle game? I’m all for expansions, but.. There’s a clear difference between boardgames that are fantastic on their own, and then get a box or two down the years, and something like X-Wing & Netrunner, which assume buying-in to unlock the full experience. I love Netrunner! ..But I cannot afford another hobby mortgage, and FFG + GW are the reigning kings of this approach.

    b) It may be too early to tell, but are any of the factions overpowered? With such distinctive abilities it often emerges after a few games that one has a clearly superior set of abilities, and things get dull from there.

    c) Are you locked into a single playstyle for each faction? Do different games feel different in terms of stories, what happens & what approach you take, or does one game blur into another?

    • Rab Florence says:

      a) Is this a well-rounded, complete boardgame in of itself, or am I buying into a taster/Core Set for an FFG regular-expansion-cycle game?

      It’s very much a complete game. It’ll take some time to really bed in with the included factions, I think. And it doesn’t need expanded at all. But I hope it will be.

      b) It may be too early to tell, but are any of the factions overpowered? With such distinctive abilities it often emerges after a few games that one has a clearly superior set of abilities, and things get dull from there.

      Not that I can tell as yet – it’s a game very much about finding the strengths of each faction and playing to those, so time will tell. But I think a good player is always going to beat a bad player in this game – the cardplay and upgrade path selection will help a great deal.

      c) Are you locked into a single playstyle for each faction? Do different games feel different in terms of stories, what happens & what approach you take, or does one game blur into another?

      I’ve never had exactly the same upgrades with a faction yet, and the upgrades make you treat how you play very differently.

      • Dilapinated says:

        Thanks for getting back to me! This is really useful info. :)

  4. Xantonze says:

    I’m confused…. The game is not out yet.
    Have you actually played it, or is this basically some free advertising for FFG?

    • Rab Florence says:

      I was sent a copy for review.

      • Rab Florence says:

        I should add that I have never and will never do any free advertising for anybody!

        • mgardner says:

          Yeah! If they are not willing to slip you a nice bribe under the table, screw them!

          Just kidding, I know what you are trying to say. Thanks for the review.

      • Xantonze says:

        Thanks for clearing that up, and thanks for the review!

  5. latedave says:

    How long does it take to Play? If I want epic, twilight imperium does that very well and Game of Thrones is also still good with six but it ll be nice to have something that scratches the itch but is a little quicker? in regard to the comment above given the gf comments I assume Rab has played it somehow

    • Rab Florence says:

      Hm. I think early plays with a full 4 players will take about 4 hours. With 2 players about 90 minutes to 2 hours.

      An hour a player is reasonable, I’d say.

  6. Ergonomic Cat says:

    “Does this game sound good yet?”

    OMG yes. I loved the order system of Starcraft – it was my favorite part of playing – when you dropped an order you were just going to turn in to cards anyway on top of someone’s giant stack, it felt so very very good. And when you baited someone in to place orders to block all your stacks, piling up the cards, when all you wanted to do was build and research… So good.

  7. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    How exciting. I look forward to getting my terrifying clawed mutated tentacle-hands on it.

    • EhexT says:

      Cardboard for the Cardboard God! Miniatures for the Miniature Throne!

  8. Galdred says:

    How does it feel compared to Starcraft? The order mechanics is still there, but did you find the dice+card combat more elegant than SC card based one? Is “Strategize” the same as Starcraft “tech” order? And the structures? Are they placed on board or on a player map (the “base” in Starcraft)?

    • Rab Florence says:

      It really doesn’t feel anything like Starcraft, order system aside. Starcraft is far more complex, while Forbidden Stars is cleaner – and yes, the structures are paced directly onto the board, and can be captured by opponents.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Maltose says:

    Am I the only one who read it as “Forbidden Stairs”?

  10. aepervius says:

    It sounds good, unfortunately I have trouble now finding people to play with for complicated board game IRL (sigh), and less trouble finding them over internet. I’ll check in a few month if there is a tabletop simulator mod, and if yes buy the real boardgame, store it in a closet, and play over internet.

  11. Dawngreeter says:

    As a Starcraft boardgame fan, this game excites the hell out of me. It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be epic. It’s going to be one of those games for which I will find enough people to play with exactly twice. But, fuck it, so what.

  12. Kefren says:

    The trailer got me thinking about _how_ to make a trailer for a boardgame. I don’t think this one works. Lots of flashy graphics showing spinning space and action packed words “Move fleets! Crush your enemies!” Then a shot of still pieces on a board, sat around disgruntled as if on strike against poor Imperium working conditions.

    The bass “boom” cliche sound at the end of the trailer is an auto-fail for me too.

    But what’s the best way? I don’t know. Animations of the pieces moving and fighting? But would that be misleading? Or just showing pieces move and follow rules of the game, people’s hands digitally edited out? That might give more of a flavour, and also have some action to back up the slap-talk.

  13. Loyal_Viggo says:

    GW needs to re-release ‘The Horus Heresy’ boardgame with the expansion, and also ‘Battle for Armageddon’ and expansions.

    They are SUPERB GW boardgames, and I have them in my attic gathering dust somewhere, but back in the day I use to love actually killing the god-damn Emprah and his cronies and taking earth for the Ruinous Powers or having my WAAAAAAAAGGGH finally kill al’ dem’ humies and take Armageddon.

    Considering all the HH books on the go (which are also excellent), a HH boardgame re-release now would sell like discounted briefcase-sized nukes at a Sunday carboot sale in an ISIS stronghold.

    • Kekswal says:

      There is a FFG version of the Horus Heresy: link to boardgamegeek.com ,
      but I have no idea how it compares to the GW game.

      • Loyal_Viggo says:

        I’ve not played that one either. The version I’m thinking of must be from around 20 years ago, from when I was a lad and when you didn’t need a 2nd mortgage to afford the GW hobby.

  14. Easy says:

    Rab – this needs a review a laSpace Hulk.

  15. Screwie says:

    Well this sounds fantastic.

    I’ve had Chaos of the Old World on my wishlist for some time, but should I get this first/instead?

    • Kekswal says:

      Chaos in the Old World with four players is brilliant, but isn’t half as good with just three. This game seems work with 2-4 players. So it depends on the size of your group which one you get first (CitOW is so good that you HAVE to get it someday)

    • Immobile Piper says:

      What Kekswal said. Except I don’t actually know how well Forbidden Stars plays at different player counts. Figuring that out will be a big factor in whether I get it or not.

      But also, you can snatch CitOW for 20€ used if you get lucky. Forbidden Stars retails for about a 100 at the moment. And then there’s of course the fact that the two games play rather differently.

  16. Radiant says:

    Ive got a cupboard full of king of tokyos and samurai spirits and Ive been waiting for a deep chunky strategic board game to get our teeth into. This sounds like just the thing im looking for.

    Any news on a release date? Bbg says 03/2015.

  17. aunshi says:

    has there been any hints at possible expansions? bringing in the other races would be cool…. Tau for me, but I’m sure the necrons and Tyranids would be appreciated too.

  18. aunshi says:

    has there been any hints at possible expansions?

  19. znomorph says:

    I’ve never been into the WH universe, but this game sounds pretty awesome! As I mentioned in another post, price is probably prohibitively high for me, but I still love reading these reviews. Keep it up Rab!

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