Starcraft 2.0 Forbidden Stars
tl;dr: This is the Warhammer 40,000 board game I’ve always wanted.
Okay so Forbidden Stars, right? It’s a reimplementation of FFG’s super-great-yet-underrated Starcraft: the Board Game. SCtBG had some amazing killer apps for its time, including arguably the first deckbuilder mechanism. The most notable killer app of that game is present in Forbidden Stars: stacks of command chits that are resolved first-in, last-out: Earlier players get to put their tokens down early and then resolve them later. It’s a great head-screw, very challenging.
The game is pretty simple, although in FFG fashion it’s explained in the most complex way they could think of. Each faction (there are Ultramarines, Chaos Marines, Orks and Eldar in the box, but it’s fatass box so you know they’re releasing more later) is trying to secure a number of Objective Tokens on the board. Those tokens are scattered around the board during map creation, mostly in super-inconvenient places.
Most of the game involves securing control over planets and developing your assets. Planets provide materiel, which you use to build units and buy card upgrades. The tech tree is tied into your command level, which is a reflection of how many cities you’ve built. But you can only build one kind of building on each planet, so you have to decide whether you want a planet to pump out units (with a factory), improve your command (with a city), or just be tough-as-hell (with a bastion).
The various upgrades in Forbidden Stars make a compact little tech tree with a few obvious pathways through them. The Chaos Marines, for example, have paths through their card upgrades that nudge them more specifically toward one of the big four chaos gods. Each faction feels and plays way-different, which is something FFG has always been good at. I think they don’t get nearly the credit they deserve for crafting well-balanced asymmetrical play.
Hm what else…oh man, the production values. My god. My god. The plastic is gorgeous (although surprisingly limited — one problem with Starcraft was that they provided a billion different kinds of units, most of which you’d never bother building because the game didn’t last enough — let that sink in; a six hour game didn’t run long enough to deploy 80% of your possible stuff). The map is delightfully pseudo-naval, which in my head is a cornerstone of the 40K look/feel. My only qwibble, and it’s tiny, is that the planet names are in a script my eyeballs can’t decipher. Might just be me getting old, though.
Looks like the game scales very efficiently: the map grows to accommodate the size of the game, with objective tokens becoming ever more far-flung I think as the map gets bigger. Much like Starcraft, it’s also a very slippery game. Hard to turtle. I like the vibe! But some 4X folks might be allergic to the game’s anti-turtle measures.
I think you need to know how to read a FFG rulebook to really “get” how the game works right away. I know for sure my prior experience with Starcraft helped clarify some key concepts that are totally underexplained, stuff like how an attacker can land shittons of units on a planet but the planet’s capacity after an attack is limited.
This is another of their games where you get a “learn to play” book that’s like 80% complete, and a Rules Reference that includes everything but in alphabetical order. This annoyed the bejeezus out of me with Imperial Assault but I confess the approach is starting to grow on me. I really like how the Rules Reference entries each have “related topics” tacked on at the end as well. Makes for a good reference! And probably better, yeah better, than the traditional approach of totally linear rules. I’ve said shit about this in the past but I’m taking it all back. I’m a convert!
Anyway, rad game. Played a single two-player game that took about 90 minutes and I cannot wait to get all the factions out at once.