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Cardboard Children - Forbidden Stars

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ONLY WAR

We must talk about combat. The combat in this board game is just wonderful. It’s a mix of dice-rolling and card play, with both elements equally crucial to the final outcome. Forbidden Stars has found a way of giving a weaker force a fighting chance of victory – smart card play, and better cards, can help some cultists stave off some Space Marines.

Here’s how it works. Each player looks at the forces they have in the battle, and check how many dice those forces award them. The dice are rolled, and they will result in either offence symbols, defence symbols, or morale symbols. Each player collects these into sets.

Every faction has a unique (again, unique) combat deck of ten cards. These are shuffled, and five are drawn. Then each player places one face down. Down the left hand side of these cards there are additional offence, defence and morale symbols that will be added to the player’s pool. There are also special abilities on the card that might activate if the circumstances are right. Cards are revealed, abilities enacted, and then symbols compared.

Defence cancels offence, any offence left over is transferred into damage and enemies are either killed or routed if injured.

Then, if units remain in battle, another round is played. Another card is selected and laid down. This goes on for three rounds, and if units still survive, morale results are compared – from unrouted surviving units and any morale symbols in the pool. The highest morale total wins.

Now – I know this sounds complicated. And the first time you try a fight, you will be moving very slowly. But eventually it all clicks and the fights go as quick as a whip. And these are clever fights. So smart. So enjoyable. They’re even fun for other players to watch. The fights swing back and forth, with the combat pools growing and shrinking, routed units rallying – it’s exciting. It feels like a proper battle. Each faction’s unique cards are full of surprises – the Orks, for example, can steal combat cards from their opponent’s deck and use their combat symbols. The Chaos Space Marines (so cool this) can make the dark influence of their battle fury create new cultists on neighbouring planets.

And only the Chaos Space Marines can do this.

Combat takes a little bit of time to learn, like back in the good old days, but when you know what you’re doing it’s an absolute treat. And you know what? In games like this, combat is rarely a brilliant thing. Usually it’s all about overwhelming your opponent with numbers, flinging some dice, hoping for the best. But Forbidden Stars is full of surprises, everywhere, and particularly in combat.

UGH. SO GOOD.

AND WE’RE NOT DONE

And we’re not done. 2000 words in, and we’re not done.

Those upgrades I mentioned. Let’s go back to those. The deck of ten combat cards I just told you about? You can improve that deck. You can buy new cards for that deck, some of them supremely powerful. The Chaos Space Marines can buy chaos “mark” cards to tailor their forces to the vile touch of Tzeentch or Nurgle or all those good old boys. The Eldar Psychic Lance cards can just blast an opponent’s combat cards out of their hand and off the table. The Ultramarine Emperor’s Glory card can rally every Space Marine unit and convert dice into morale results, for an incredible late-combat roar of triumph. You swap these new cards in, ditch the weaker cards. You are ready to conquer.

But it’s the order upgrade cards that really blew me away. Because all those rules I’ve just explained to you? The order upgrades kick them into the warp, hard.

Orbital strikes can only be conducted if a combat isn’t happening, right? Unless you’re an Eldar with the “Corsair Raid” Advance order upgrade. Then you can do a combat and an orbital strike.

Factories let you build units, right? Well, if the Space Marine has the “Recruitment Worlds” Deploy upgrade, they can build units out of those big defensive bastions. Speaking of Space Marines – if they have the Advance order upgrade called “Drop Pods” they can use an orbital strike to fire Space Marines down onto the planet below.

And only the Space Marines can do this.

When you deploy, the rules dictate that you must build units first, then build a structure. This stops you from, say, building a factory then spitting units out of that factory in the same order phase. Unless, that is, you’re an Ork player with the “Werk Fasta!” upgrade. Then you can fling up a building first before you make any units. This, my friends, is how the green tide is created. Only the Orks can do this.

And money, crude material, is of no real importance to the Chaos Space Marines. With their unique “Dread Ritual” deploy upgrade, they can pay for a unit with the influence of their cultists.

Only the Chaos Space Marines can do this.

And so, a game that has such strikingly different forces at the game’s beginning, expands out and out and out until everyone is playing the game completely differently – making orders differently, growing their forces differently, fighting differently.

THE BEAUTY OF WAR

Only now, 2500 words in, do we come to the look of this incredible board game. Doesn’t that tell you something? We’re usually so obsessed with component quality these days, and here it’s the last thing we talk about. But man. Man alive. The board is beautiful. The cards are beautiful. Every faction has a big, gorgeous player sheet. And then there are the miniatures. Every unit is unique, beautifully sculpted, practical. Fantasy Flight Games has pulled out all the stops on this one. It’s almost as if they know how good this game is. This is a production for the ages.

And that’s all we need to say about it. This isn’t a game about toys. It’s a game about game, and man – has this game got game.

FORBIDDEN FUTURE

It’s important to be wary of hype, but the early word on this game was correct. This feels like a game years in the making. It has the ambition of games of old – an ambition to tell an epic, thrilling story over hours of gameplay – but it has the discipline of design more common in recent games. The rulebook is slim, easily digestable. The flow of the game is easily understood. There aren’t a million different tokens representing a million different things. Your units are your units and your cards are your cards and your assets are your assets. There isn’t a great deal of administration.

The game is all game.

As the modern classic Chaos in the Old World is to Warhammer Fantasy, Forbidden Stars is to Warhammer 40K. Here is your brilliant, beautifully balanced, asymmetrical, frankly batshit crazy board game about the 41st Millennium. If you have no interest in Warhammer 40K, I hope that you still check this game out – because I’m convinced that you too will be caught up in the sheer fuckingthrill of this old-school-new-school behemoth.

See – I’m thinking about it right now. I’m thinking about what my Chaos Space Marines should do next time. I’m thinking that I want to focus on my cultists, and their terrible influence, their wicked spread. My girlfriend, just this morning at breakfast, told me that she wanted to make a real sea of green next time – Ork spores and Ork production factories everywhere. Hey, maybe I should upgrade my advance order next time so that my mere presence above a planet is enough to send the units below crazy with fear. I’d like that!

How will you play it? How will you shape your storm?

Forbidden Stars is a game with a rich setting, a great story, thrilling gameplay, tons of variety and a level of production that is second to none.

Only Fantasy Flight Games can do this.

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Robert Florence

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