Every year the UK Games Expo brings with it a multitude of board gaming goodness. This year’s event was bigger and better than previous years and it looks like it’ll be even more spectacular next year when all of the trade stands move to the NEC and the Hilton becomes a purely community-gaming area.
Back in 2014, as I wandered around the halls, I came across the Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) stand, there was plenty games being demoed but not as many as I thought would be there after watching GenCon videos. This year, I was expecting a similar set-up – with a few already-released games on show. However, on arriving at the FFG stand I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried!
Fantasy Flight Games at the UK Games Expo 2015
This year FFG brought along a host of titles, all demoed by some fantastic demonstration staff who were clearly passionate about their work. There were a number of games on show at any one time – including Elder Sign and the newly re-released Tigris and Euphrates. However, the jewel in the crown was clearly the, soon to be released, copy of Forbidden Stars that sat at the front of the stand.
Over the course of the weekend the FFG area was consistently busy with people crowding around the Forbidden Stars board. Thankfully, on Sunday morning, before the crowds managed to reach the stand I was able to grab some seats at the demonstration table and play a couple of rounds with Nikki and Chris.
Typically a demonstration session lasts for a single round, but we were very fortunate to play through two rounds thanks to Sebastien, an extremely friendly and passionate demonstrator who I later got to chat to, at length, about numerous games and designers.
What is Forbidden Stars?
Forbidden Stars is FFGs new, two to four player, space combat, strategy game set in the Warhammer 40k universe. A full, four player, game lasts around three to four hours with a round taking about 40 minutes if you include rules explanation.
There are four factions included in the base game:
- Adeptus Astartes chapter (Ultramarines)
- World Eaters Warband (Chaos)
- Evil Sunz Orks
- Craftworld Iyanden Eldar
Our demonstration game had all four factions in play and because we were limited to two rounds we tried a little bit of everything, just to see how it played. Sebastien did an excellent job at explaining the rules and it wasn’t long before we were all playing with relative ease.
At the start of a round, players take it in turn to place a single, face-down order token. Orders are what drive the action of the game and each player places a total of four orders each:
Deploy: This order enables you to deploy new units to the board including planetary troops and buildings, or powerful ships of the void.
Strategize: This order enables you to gather new combat cards and generally improve your powers.
Dominate: This order enables you to do what it says on the tin. You get to exert your dominance – gathering assets from controlled planets and using your faction’s special skill if desired.
Advance: This order enables you to march, or rather, fly across the board, spreading your forces as thickly (or thinly) as you like and engaging in combat with anyone who stands in your path.
Once all of the orders are placed, players take it in turns resolving them one at a time. This process alone adds an element of strategy because, if you have an order token stacked on top of an opponent’s order they cannot resolve that order until you resolve yours. Holding off on resolving a command may be the very action that disrupts your opponent’s cunning plans.
Blocking your opponents orders doesn’t necessarily mean that they lose out completely because if you’re unable to carry out an order you’ve placed, you can opt to place your order token aside and use it at the end of the round to draw an event card per token. Events have a number of effects that impact the game in many fun an interesting ways.
Space and Planetary Combat
I’m not going to go through all of the game elements you’ll see in Forbidden Stars, in fact I’m not sure a short demonstration game could possibly teach me all of the intricacies that you’ll find within the box. However, aside from the order system I do want to touch on the combat system.
As I mentioned earlier, we dabbled in as much of the game mechanics as we could during our demonstration session, including an epic battle between myself as Chaos and Chris as the Orks, which we named “The Battle for the expanse of Rukstadt”.
Combat is simple! Each unit involved in the combat provides its owner with a number of combat dice. Each combatant rolls their dice which provide fire power, defence and morale levels for the combat.
At this point, each player can use reinforcement tokens to bolster their forces before entering into the combat card phase. During this phase, players choose and play a combat card from their hand. These cards have a standard action, and a secondary action that triggers if certain conditions are met. You’ll generally use combat cards to modify your fire-power, defence and morale values.
After each player commits a card, and resolves its effect,you calculate your defence points and cancel out an equal number of your opponents fire-power points. Any fire-power left over hits the units involved in the combat.
If units remain on both sides, another round of combat card action begins until the third round completes. If at any point there are only troops of one side left, they have won the combat, however if at the end of three rounds there are units from both sides remaining, each player totals and compares their morale values with the loser forced to retreat from the area.
Despite the simplicity of the combat system it still feels exciting, you’re never sure what your opponent has up their sleeve and you can never be certain you’ll survive to the next round. In fact, in our epic Chaos Vs Ork battle, we ended up with a mutual destruction situation as the forces of both teams fell at the hands of the other.
Chatting with Anton Torres
After my demo session with Sebastien, I had a chat with Mike Budd of Esdevium who was working harder than any man I’d seen all show. He was busy guarding a room where an interview was taking place, but he took the time to say “Hi” and discuss how the show was going. During our chat he offered to introduce me to Anton Torres of FFG. I very much appreciated the opportunity and took him up on the offer to drop by towards the end of the day.
Returning to the demonstration area,, Mike introduced me to Anton who was one of the friendliest and most genuine guys you could hope to meet. His passion for the games FFG produce was clear and he was more than happy to have a quick chat about how the game plays. The photo below shows Anton and I taking a look at some of the components and cards as we chatted things over.
While I was playing the demonstration game, earlier in the day, the one thing that kept coming to mind was the similarity with FFGs Starcraft: The Board Game released back in 2007. I have a copy of Starcraft and its expansion Brood Wars and the order system seemed extremely similar. It was an idea that I perhaps latched on to a little too much. However, while chatting to Anton I asked him about the similarity and whether this was a spiritual successor to Starcraft. Anton was very open and agreed that the command system is very similar, but urged me to look beyond that and to consider everything else that the game has to offer.
On further discussion I found that Anton was, of course, quite right – Forbidden Stars has been three years in the making and offers a fantastic amount of game with some nicely streamlined mechanics. Using the Warhammer 40k universe, the FFG team have created an exciting strategy game with factions that are each uniquely designed and balanced to have specific skills and powers. Chris is a big 40k fan and was in his element reading all of the story and fluff that appears in the game.
It was extremely clear how excited Anton is about the imminent release of Forbidden Stars and one of the things that we both shared a love for was the ever-changing nature of the game board. Firstly, the size of the board scales with the number of players and secondly, as you play through each round – the players move a series of Warp Storm tokens which separate the different sections of the board. Anton mentioned that many people had wondered what would happen if a player were trapped by the other players, effectively surrounded by Warp Storms.
Anton was also very enthusiastic to point out that, if you’re playing Chaos there are ways around this, but in general, if you’re trapped you have a fantastic opportunity to build up your forces and strike out once you’re free, because let’s face it – if you can’t get out, your opponents can’t get in!
Forbidden Stars – Coming Soon
So there you have it, a very brief overview of Forbidden Stars from my time at the UK Games Expo!
After playing the demonstration game it’s a title I’m more than a little excited about reviewing and recording a video for. It’s releasing next week here in the UK but I’m not certain of the exact date. If you’re a fan of strategy games, like Starcraft the Board Game, or you’re just a Warhammer 40k fan, then Forbidden Stars is going to tick all the right boxes for you!
For those who are worried about the theme, don’t be! I’m not a 40k fan in the slightest, in fact I’ve never played it – however, I really enjoyed Forbidden Stars and strongly suggest giving it a try!
Finally, I’d just like to take a moment to thank Sebastien for doing such a great job at demonstrating the game, Mike for introducing me to Anton, and an extra big thank you to Anton himself for taking the time out of his busy day to chat to me!
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Driven Instructional Designer by day, board game fanatic by night! Tom has a long background in eLearning design and is a strong believer that story and narrative are crucial to creating excellent learning and gaming experiences. A passionate blogger, game reviewer and play tester, he enjoys spending his time playing games of all genres.