Starcraft 2.0 Forbidden Stars

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.

20 thoughts on “Starcraft 2.0 Forbidden Stars”

  1. How would you rank the difficulty of the rules? Arkham Horror stupid or Chaos in the Old World deep? The former I have issues with (you can’t find ANYTHING you want when you need to), the later, while difficult, makes a sort of logical sense after the first few pages (and is ultimately much easier to reference later on).

  2. I’m really on the fence for this one. Every report sounds solid but I still haven’t had any great large 4x experiences. I love the shorter distilled games like Kemet, Quantum and Epic Kingdoms. But playing larger 4x games like Eclipse just haven’t drawn me in.

  3. Deep! EDIT:

    Adam Day this new deal where they provide an alphabetical rules reference is really smart. It was jarring the first time I was exposed to it, but this is how they’re doing it now and it’s good, especially for a bigger game. 

  4. Well Bret Gillan​​​ , first one of the baby orks pokes at the elf prisoner. Then some of the other ork babies start in on the poking. It’s all fun and games until the elf loses an eye, then they start to get a little out of hand. Ears get ripped off then an arm or two. Sooner or later the elf bleeds out and once the twitching stops the ork babies move on because its no fun poking a corpse that doesn’t scream. But then a momma ork comes by and sees the big bloody mess and so she eats the baby ork who started it all as a lesson to the others.

    And that’s how the orks play.

  5. Bret Gillan: Yeah, really orky. The color is strongly on the fun-loving psychopaths side of the equation. That said I haven’t actually played them yet, but I hope they’re next on my try list.

    Chris Groff: tbh it’s really a 3X — no meaningful exploration or discovery once the map is built. It’s not a huge map, and my feeling is that it’s actually a pretty fast game. There’s an 8-turn limit and your objective counters end the game well before you run out of time, I think. I’d say this is about 1/3 as sprawling as Eclipse.

    Ralph Mazza yeah, four thumbs up.

  6. How’s the combat? That’s the part of the Starcraft rules explanation I always dread; it’s way too fiddly. I like Starcraft a lot but almost never play it just because it’s such a pain to teach and set up.

  7. Smooooove. I think that’s enough o’s. 

    FS combat is way, way less fiddly. Also less swingy, and you don’t have to evaluate a billion interactions like in Starcraft TBG’s rock-paper-scissors-ground-air deal. 

    It basically works like this: Space combat happens in space, ground combat happens on the ground. There is no space/ground division at all. You roll a bunch of dice equal to the combat strength of all the present forces and those dice give you either an attack, a defense, or a morale. (I think it’s 3x attack, 2x defense, 1x morale on the faces).

    Then you draw 5 of your 10 combat cards — it’s always precisely 10 cards; you replace old cards with upgrades rather than just enlarging the deck. You have 3 rounds of playing cards and evaluating results. Attacks deliver hits, defenses absorb attacks. Cards give more of those symbols and they accumulate across all three rounds. Those cards also provide basic effects (roll another die, gain some tokens) and specific effects if you have a particular unit present. 

    So if you haven’t murdered or routed the other side at the end of 3 rounds, add up morale symbols. Highest morale wins.

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