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Forged in Steel» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Building the West - A Forged in Steel Review rss

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Jack
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I’ve never before been inspired to review a game, despite playing on and off for about 20 years, and about 5 years ‘hardcore’ back in the hobby. Normally I’ve felt I would be needlessly piling praise on an already exposed game, or where it was one I didn’t like so much, I never really wanted to play it enough to feel I had enough experience to slate it.

However, having received Forged in Steel, I felt compelled to change this. Small publisher, barely scraped Kickstarter funding after years in development, and lack of reviews made me feel I had to say something. This game is wonderful (if you just want a conclusion, saved you a read), and deserves all the support and attention it can get.

First, a little disclosure. I’m a huge fan of Card Driven Games (CDGs) – probably, no, definitely – my favourite board game mechanism. Here I Stand, Twilight Struggle, Hannibal Rome vs Carthage and Sword of Rome is some of my very favourite games of all time. I stumbled upon the game entirely accidentally when reading through a geeklist on CDGs, and was intrigued, especially by CDG being applied beyond war games as was more usual. So I quickly ordered it, and have been waiting excitedly ever since. I’m also a big fan of the time period in the US, specifically from a labour history perspective, which has a good degree of crossover with the game (it has Wobs, the Ludlow Massacre and I can spit blood about Pinkertons!). I’ve also only played with the full count of 4, so I can’t comment on lower player counts.

Forged in Steel is a 2 – 4 player card driven city building game, set in the progressive era (1890-1920 specifically) in the city of Pueblo, Colorado. Players take the role of industrialist families building Pueblo from little more than a trading post, into the “Pittsburgh of the West” – and getting stinking rich in the process. Each robber baron will race to build houses, factories, mines, commercial properties, and even the occasional park or civic amenity as they connive to be the most successful by the end of the game.

After initial set up, and seeding the board with a small number of houses, the players mansions and a lone civic building, the game plays over 3 eras – 1890s, 1900s and 1910s, and in each era players will play a total of 5 cards. As is common for a CDG, each card can either be played for a specific event, or for a number of points, called Municipal Muscle (MM). Each card ranges from 3 to 5 MM - a range I like, as it seems more balanced and less prone to luck than the more common 1 – 3/4 of most CDGs, and can be used for a variety of different things such as claiming lots for later development, building house, factories or mines or seizing control of opponents buildings. Generally the event will let you do more than it’s MM would allow, but you are obviously much more restricted in what you can do, so success lies in finding a balance.

The game board shows the outline of the city of Pueblo with the city blocks (divided into lots) sorted into 5 neighbourhoods of differing sizes and with different opportunities for development.


an empty city ripe for development

Each turn players will select face down 1 of their 5 cards, and then take turns playing them in ascending MM order – so a player who selected a 3 would play before someone playing a 4 and so on. Ties are broken by influence order – more on this later. Once this has happened 5 times and a player has used all their cards, there are a few short phases - immigration, election and county assessment aka scoring – which I’ll cover in a moment, and then the era ends, and players get their next set of cards and do it over again.

In the county assessment phase (if you’re anything like me you’ll only call it this when reading off a card – it’s universally been called scoring in my games) you score for each of your houses, mines, commercial buildings, factories and mansions, with each one scoring differing amounts depending on which neighbourhood they are placed in, what they are placed near, and how developed their respective industry is. Each neighbourhood and industry (factories, commercial, mines) has an individual prosperity track that starts and increases at different rates from different events. The more developed each industry is, the more points each player with the respective buildings will get each scoring phase. This often means that as well as finding your niche, you can’t just stick to the old board game staple of “Do what other people aren’t” – if for example you’re the only person building mines, the mining prosperity track will likely stay low, and your mines won’t be worth many points.

So far, so simple. But there are several twists – many of which can seem admittedly a little overwhelming on first reading the rules or teaching – which I think really make the game work so well.

Firstly, is the mechanism for how you get your cards. I must confess that when I first read this in the rules (and I have to save I think this is usually the initial response I get when I teach it) that this seems clunky and overwrought, but honestly, it just works so well, and once you ‘get’ it – which will happen quickly, I promise, it just makes total sense.

To start with, each era you get dealt 3 more cards than you’ll be able to keep for the era. One of the cards dealt you just discard - giving you a little control over luck of the draw – and others (2 in the first era and 4 in the second) go in the bank. Banked cards are put aside until the next era - so you can hold cards that aren’t particularly useful now, but might be in future; or just hold back a really good hand for your find turn and not give your strategy away. You get the cards you banked in the first era back at the start of the second, and can ‘rebank’ one or both of them if you so desire, or put an entirely different 4 into the bank for the final era. In the final era, you’ll have 4 cards that you had banked, and get dealt 4 more – you then discard half of these 8 to get your final hand (no more banking in the last era obviously), meaning you have quite the ability to determine your final hand. This all sounds far more complicated than it really is – in practise it just works and really helps in mitigating the luck of the draw.


phases steps on the player aid explaining this far better than I manage

Eagled eyed readers (probably flattering myself here!) might have noticed that I said you keep 4, whereas earlier I mentioned each turn you play 5 cards per era. This brings us on nicely to the role selection element of the game. At the end of each era, there is an election and each player determines who wins the most votes across the city in an area control fashion, based on who has the most of certain buildings in different neighbourhoods - depending on factors such as how prosperous the neighbourhood is and where civic buildings have been placed, neighbourhoods are worth different numbers of votes. Based on votes received, the player influence track is rearranged (this is done randomly at the start of the game, one of the very few issues I have with the game – more on this at the end). Whoever comes top becomes mayor (breaks ties and gets points when anyone builds on city built lots) and the remaining 4 roles are then drafted in influence order.

These roles are: mob boss (destroy 1-4 opponent houses once per era); mining official (more points from mines); city planner (finally made it back to my weak segue – after each player has banked their cards, the city planner will draw 1 card per player, choose 1 to get their 5th card, and then pass on the remaining cards to another player in ascending influence order; who then passes them on again until finally the last player gets whatever everyone else rejected) and immigration official (in the immigration phase you get to go first and get to place an extra free house). Every role is filled, so once everyone has a role it goes back to the mayor who chooses from the remaining ones. All these roles are useful in their own ways, some more so than you might initially realise – especially mob boss!

Next, we have the unrest track. Certain actions will give you unrest - seizing an opponents building will always give you unrest, building a mine can, not being able to build houses for incoming workers in the immigration phase can give you a LOT and some events will add or remove unrest from yourself or opponents. Whenever you add unrest, you put a cube on the 8 spot unrest track. Whenever it gets to 8 or more, whoever has the least unrest gets to direct a very destructive riot against whoever has the most. The riots can be absolutely brutal – although my experience has been fear of them has often been more effective than the riots themselves.

The final mechanism that I love is the headline events. Around half the cards will have a headline attached, which will active after a card has been played for an event (not MM). This headline will sit in 1 of the 3 headline slots until pushed out – each headline pushes the previous ones along, once out of the last 3 it’s gone. These headlines will provide an ongoing effect – for example, more points whenever a certain building is played or in the scoring round. Some just provide an advantage for the player who played the event, but most effect everyone. Many events in the game are more powerful if a specific other event is currently headlined. Especially when these headlines chain together in a powerful combo they can be game changing, so you need to be constantly aware that you might need to change you strategy. I suspect headline strategy would change quite significantly in a game with 2 – while the headlines cycle quite speedily with 4, with 2 you are almost guaranteed to be able to build yourself a combo that you can take advantage of before the cards are scrapped.

The game is absolutely smothered in history, and is clearly a work of passion and almost a love letter to the small city of Pueblo. I certainly didn’t expect to be enthralled by the tale of a city I’d barely heard of on another continent, but the designer has absolutely achieved it. This comes over even better with the companion guide (free black and white download or $8 full colour printed from the publisher – well worth it) which contains historical background on many of the events contained within, as well as rule variants.

It also looks great – don’t be put off by some of the pictures on BGG – many of them are of prototypes and early versions. To look at it, you wouldn’t know it was from a small publisher, so Knight Works deserves massive kudos – they’ve put together a brilliant package.



end of the second era and the city begins to fill up

So now I come to my (few) complaints with the game. Firstly, the scoring (and to a lesser extent, the election) can be a real pain. It takes ages to score each category in each era, and it’s very easy to make mistakes. I really don’t think much can be done about this – it’s a consequence of all the varied ways of scoring and the differing paths to victory. I definitely would NOT want it to be simplified – so it’s more just something to be aware of, and grumble as you go along. It’s certainly not a significant downer, but it has been cause for comment on all of my games so far.

Next, I think this is probably just to avoid too much immediate complexity, but the way the roles are assigned at the start - influence determined entirely randomly and everyone chooses in that order – means that whoever is randomly assigned the mayor role seems to have quite an advantage. While all the other roles are fairly balanced, my experience is that the mayor is probably the strongest and also in a 4 player game with 5 roles it means the mayor is the only player who will get a second role. But fortunately, there’s a variant that helps get around this, the “power of elections” variant. When playing with this, the points the mayor gains for building on city cubes are taken by the next mayor elected at the end of the era. This means that the starting mayor won’t be getting these points (just breaking ties and taking an additional role) and also players will know in advance where there are likely to be a lot of points on offer, and can so really fight for it.

Personally, I think I will always play with this variant from now on. While I understand the designer making it a variant to reduce complexity and remove another different way that scoring happens (and I feel especially hypocritical here, given my first point was the speed of scoring!), my feeling is it would have been better as part of the core rules.

Finally – and I’m not sure this is so much a problem, as an observation is the difference in placement rules when playing with MM and with events. When placing a building with MM, there are quite significant restrictions where the various buildings can be placed – this takes up a fair chunk of the rulebook. However, many of these are completely scrapped when you place one with an event – it felt quite strange to teach a whole set of rules for placement, and then be “but half the time they won’t even apply!” But as I said, this is more an observation / strange feeling – in actual game play it doesn’t feel like an issue, and might even just be another layer of the strategy.

So to conclude. Well obviously, I absolutely loved it. I really think this is destined to be one of my favourites, and can see myself playing it for a long while. It’s a cliché, but every time I’ve played it time has really flown. It’s a solid 3 hour game with 4 (actually pretty quick for a multiplayer CDG!), but each time I’ve played it I’ve honestly been up for jumping right into more games as if I’d played for a couple hours, only to realise it was almost time to go home.

Other than applying the CDG mechanism to a new type of game, it’s not doing anything brand new. But what it does is combine a lot of other great mechanisms for other games and they just come together and it all really works. When I first read the rules, I did initially worry that it might be a bit of a dogs dinner – there’s a little area control, a bit hand management, a little drafting, some role selection and portion of simultaneous action selection. But it just all merges together well, and just really fits – in play, it’s like it has grown together organically. Every time I have played I am excited to play again – and I haven’t even touched any of the kickstarter expansion components within.

In short (as I said at the beginning, far too many words ago) this game is wonderful. Please rush out and buy it, and maybe we will see a reprint. I This is not a game that deserves to sink – huge thank you to the designer and publisher for putting it out there!
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Ugur Dönmez
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Thanks for this! I am interested in this game and my interest certainly didn't decrease after your review.

The only thing that slightly worries me is the mob boss; I generally don't like singular destructive elements in games that are otherwise mostly about building up things. How much of a disruption is it?
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Garry Rice
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Game Knight wrote:
Thanks for this! I am interested in this game and my interest certainly didn't decrease after your review.

The only thing that slightly worries me is the mob boss; I generally don't like singular destructive elements in games that are otherwise mostly about building up things. How much of a disruption is it?


The mob boss is able to choose to roll a die once per age after selecting a specific block, and then may remove that many houses from that block (die is a d4 and most blocks have 4 lots). If you spread your houses out you don't have too much to worry about.

Riots tend to be much more disruptive in this game than anything else (provided they occur...in my first game there were none as players played cards that neutralized them...sigh). Riots can destroy any buildings on the board and is controlled by the player with the fewest cubes on the unrest track. I find riots to be an interesting aspect of the game...you can generally keep an eye on the track and have an idea of about when one might hit...again you can minimize potential damage from riots by spreading your buildings out (if possible).
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Rahn
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20 yards of linen wrote:
So to conclude. Well obviously, I absolutely loved it. I really think this is destined to be one of my favourites, and can see myself playing it for a long while. It’s a cliché, but every time I’ve played it time has really flown. It’s a solid 3 hour game with 4 (actually pretty quick for a multiplayer CDG!), but each time I’ve played it I’ve honestly been up for jumping right into more games as if I’d played for a couple hours, only to realise it was almost time to go home.


Is there a lot of down time between turns? It looks like each player gets 15 turns per game (plus a couple of simultaneous card selection phases at the beginning of each round). Or is it the voting and scoring that takes up huge chunks of time? With 4 players 15 turns a game over 3 hours averages to a 3 minute turn, which means it's 9 minutes before you can take your next turn. I'm sure the scoring and voting phases would take up a communal chunk of time where everyone was engaged but this still seems slow. Are you usually very interested in your opponent's moves?
 
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Jack
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TumbleSteak wrote:
Is there a lot of down time between turns? It looks like each player gets 15 turns per game (plus a couple of simultaneous card selection phases at the beginning of each round). Or is it the voting and scoring that takes up huge chunks of time? With 4 players 15 turns a game over 3 hours averages to a 3 minute turn, which means it's 9 minutes before you can take your next turn. I'm sure the scoring and voting phases would take up a communal chunk of time where everyone was engaged but this still seems slow. Are you usually very interested in your opponent's moves?


I haven't had an issue with down time yet - and usually I am impatient and the fastest player at the table (generally to my detriment!)

Each turn all players are selecting which card to play simultaneously - this often takes at least as long as playing your card. At any point the game state can shift so you may want to play a card right now you previously hadn't planned on, and conversely by the time you play your card something may have changed which leads you to switch the use you initially had planned for it. For example, someone may play a cars with a headline effect that makes what was previously a fairly worthless card suddenly a lot more valuable - but only for a limited window before the headlines goes away.

The longest time you're every going to be between turns would be if you select the card that gets played first, and then you need wait through the other players until the next card selection. This isn't particularly long.

The other phase that takes time is selecting which cards you will discard, which you'll keep for the round and which you will bank - again everyone is doing this simultaneously so there's no downtime issue here at all (unless someone is very slow), but this is a fair chunk of the playing time over the game. It's a really important phase, and setting you up for the entire era, so you are making significant choices here - if it sounds like 'game admin' it definitely isn't!

Additionally, as you ask, you are most always very interested in what other people play. Not just for obvious reasons - you get VP if they build on lots you own, how the build may open up new areas for exploitation, they may add unrest that threatens you or gives you an opportunity to provoke a riot against other players etc etc - but also because of the headline mechanism. There's always a chance that a new headline effect will enter the game and change things for you - additionally, the headline effect you were counting on could be knocked off the table.
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Garry Rice
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What Jack said...I think the most time may actually go into the simultaneous card selection phase...everyone needs time to read through their cards and try to figure out what strategy they want to pursue this round (although this can be changed by cards other players play later in the round ). This is probably my favorite part of the game...there can be some tough decisions about which cards to keep as you weigh their potential effects.

Scoring can take a significant amount of time...especially the second and third ages as players have likely built up a number of neighborhoods fairly significantly.
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Wade Broadhead
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Jack,

Thank you for your first review, and a thorough and insightful one at that. There are a couple of things that can be tough upon the first play and I'd never design a game quite like this again. That said, once people make it through the first round, it usually clicks and it isn't really that complicated or time consuming. The game isn't short by any stretch of the imagination but my friends play quickly and we've never had an issue. It was designed so you have a nice evening, a memory, and hopefully a good session report afterwards. How many games can you win with the Beer or Kindergarten card! it's really nice someone across the pond is enjoying this rather forgotten period in America's past.

As for the mob boss, much devastation has been removed from the game but we all liked some take that element. The mob boss is your only special role this turn, so it should be powerful. It can sway an election, but rarely do you remove all 4 houses. Plus it's just fun, who didn't want to be a mob boss and get revenge on that person who just "accidentally" burned down your mansion.

You dove right into a couple of end design changes that we made but as you saw we allowed them to be variants. Games are more like open source code now so feel free to use whatever variant you like but I usually use the power of elections for every game. I love the tension of the last election where those points can create a delicious ending!

I don't think there's really that much downtime either. The SAS simultaneous action mechanic was a late invention which was funny because it's my favorite mechanics. Begin forced to choose that card significantly helped speed up play. Either it works out or it doesn't and you buy up some lots or get a questionable looking mine at the back of the mountain. Last month my good army buddy sat down, played and game and then played another one immediately, all in one night.

Yes, I probably should start uploading better images, feel free to upload some yourself and feel free to post session reports. I would love to see how games are evolving.

Again honored to be your first review and delighted you're enjoying the game!

Cheers,
Wade
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Lior A
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Having played only 4p, how do you think the 2p game is?
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Jack
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Badigel wrote:
Having played only 4p, how do you think the 2p game is?


I played 3 player last night and that felt very similar to 4, so my guess would be very similar. Relative power of a few of the cards and seizing would probably change a bit, but I think it'd play fine. I was expecting the map to feel a bit empty at the end, but it really didn't - 2 neighbourhoods completely filled up.
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Jack
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denverarch wrote:

Again honored to be your first review and delighted you're enjoying the game!

Cheers,
Wade


Thank you - and thanks for a great game!
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Lior A
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Two questions:

1. How the game replayability and what it derives from?

2. From the few cards I've seen, the events all feel the same. Are they varied enough?

Thanks
 
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Jack
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1. High I would say. Firstly, you'll only see roughly half the deck played each game. Even cards that you do see again will often have different effects depending on what the current headline is - top of my head estimate maybe 30% of the events have a specific additional effect if one or more cards are currently headlined (this doesn't include events that for example let you place factories and headlines that give a bonus for placing factories.

Secondly, especially with the initial free placement of mansions by every player, the board can vary wildly game to game - different neighbourhoods will be built upon depending where everyone is placing.

Third, depending on what events are being played and which prosperity tracks and increasing, different strategies will have wildly varying value, and so people will want to build very different buildings. For example, my first game lots of cards that boosted the mining track came out, and the mine spots all filled up very quickly (right at the start of the second era iirc). So I pretty much assumed this was just what always happened, and when I taught everyone the rules on my next game, i mentioned that the mines would fill up quickly. And so of course, no cards that boosted mining got played that game, and there was a LOT of unrest going about, so very few people bought mines as they were risky and fairly low yielding and I looked like I didn't know what I was talking about.

I very quickly learned that what happens one game can be hugely different to what happens next!

2. I'd say they are fairly comparable to the difference in events in most modern CDGs. Certainly more variety than in (for example) Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage or Wadhington's War (not to slate them, both games I love!)

There's a good variety, and while there are a fair few "Place X building in Y location" cards, they definitely aren't all like that, and there's a lot of really interesting different ones.
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Lior A
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Thanks for the thorough answer.

One last one, please, can I play it with my girlfriend?

What I actually mean is, regarding cdg's, that she loves 1960,but I will have a hard time trying to get her to play Rome vs Carthage.

So is it a harcore/wargamer game or a a 1960/13 days type of cdg?
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Jack
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Hm, other than the card driven nature it's not that close to either, but more 1960 than Hannibal.

However I'd say the rules are probably easier to learn than either of the above. There's a fair bit going on and it might take a few cards to get your head around it, but none of the elements are really complicated. I am definitely able to teach it quicker than Hannibal or Twilight Struggle (the CDGs I teach most often).

One other thing, compared to 1960/Twilight Struggle/Hannibal - you definitely don't need to know the deck in the same way to play decently - there's no equivalent of the cards that you absolutely need to know about to not get destroyed, so it's good for semi-casual play.
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Dundy O
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I just received my Kickstarter copy tonight and am really looking forward to my first game. It's absolutely beautiful.

I think the designer or publisher could have and app created for the scoring. That would quicken, simplify and keep everyone's mind on the game with the next era facing them. I'm sure there are a number of gamers in out community who could create one.
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This game is awasome!
I am sure this game have potential as terraforming mars.But in these days people love space theme.

i love historical theme games.

This game need more attention and thanks for this review.
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Jack
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Since this review I've played a lot with 2, and have posted some thoughts here - https://boardgamegeek.com/article/24337971

tl;dr - it's different in a few ways, but still excellent.
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20 yards of linen wrote:
Since this review I've played a lot with 2, and have posted some thoughts here - https://boardgamegeek.com/article/24337971

tl;dr - it's different in a few ways, but still excellent.


Thanks. Bought the game following this review meeple
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