In the grimdark future of the 41st millennium, there are only hours long, complex strategy war games. Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad?
Forbidden Stars is 2015’s interstellar tribute to the Warhammer 40k universe, a grandiose battle across numerous planets and the space in between. I finally got chance to play it, in a two player game, and oh my chaos Gods, it still took us the best part of 4 hours. Now, we were both newbies, but that kind of play time is not for the feint of heart. Fortunately though, the game was absolutely amazing!
Forbidden Stars comes packaged with an incredible collection of very clever systems that turn every step of the game into an epic, grinding puzzle of the best kind, though maybe not for quick play on your first game. Players take turns placing command counters into systems to activate those systems and do certain things, maybe building new units if you have a factory, or building a factory so that you can build units there. But firstly you place these face down so your opponents don’t know what you’re planning. And secondly your opponents can slap their markers down on top of yours, meaning their marker will go first. Leaving you to immediately decide whether you need to respond to this threat.
Knowing that this is a risk, you plan out your turn accordingly, playing lower importance tokens first, making bluffs to try and get them to counter a worthless chip. Or just dumping stuff on top of your opponent to lock down their chips so that in the resolution phase, which follows a similar alternating process, you can control when their covered action activates. It’s an unbelievably clever system that I want to spend more of my life exploring.
All of this is in service to your pursuit of objectives. Each player has two objectives they are trying to claim and should they control both, they will immediately win. These will be placed on certain planets to bring everyone into conflict with one another. But planets themselves are worth controlling simply as a source of resources for the upcoming war. Thus you have all that you need for epic assaults, giant armies clashing, desperate last stands, orbital bombardments, opportunistic strikes on weakly defended worlds and everything you would hope to see from the Warhammer 40k universe.
Combat itself is an tussle of ridiculous proportions, involving dice, card play over multiple rounds and a resolution system that I still haven’t figured out how to exploit. You can spend resources to upgrade the combat cards in your deck, controlling certain worlds lets you unlock more powerful units and how the hell you capitalise on the effects of exhausted units is a layer of strategy that I can see but can’t even hope to grasp yet. There is so much to explore in this game.
But ultimately Forbidden Stars told a story I’m not likely to forget any time soon. My failed assault on an enemy base that left my forces weakened. The desperate defence of my only factory system and his objective world. The loss of my fleets leaving his ships free reign to bombard my defences. It was a brutal meat grinder of a war, yet it was brought to an end by the most innocuous skirmish as my tiny, unsupported cultist units squared off against a scout team to capture my final objective in a lightening raid. I had almost no other troops left on the board, but I won! Just awesome.