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Subject: Andy's Review rss

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Andy Day

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Good morning,
Here is a quick and dirty review of Forbidden Suns. I don't often review games, ESPECIALLY after I've only played it 0.75 times. But hey here goes. So this review will be seasoned with my noob perspectives that may be deemed 'wrong' by seasoned vets. Also, I won't do any commentary of how the game is played. This definitely shouldn't be your first review to read for this game.

That said, before I get started I will point out that my group and I are all veteran gamers. We have earned our chevrons and purple hearts in the board gaming world. We play a vast and diverse swath of games, from non-aggressive euro worker placement games (which I like to call 'total crap games') to heavy ameritrash conflict games, and everything in between. As board gamers we love to jump to premature conclusions and make sweeping assumptions, that's the cool and trendy thing to do. But we aren't idiots, we know what we're talking about.

The summary of this review is this: on a scale of "Legendary" to "Horrible," this game got a resounding "Meh+" from my group. I personally liked the game quite a bit more, I'd probably give it a "good times" or "thumbs up." However, I think a big part of that is that I shelled out a bunch of money to buy the game. If I had played somebody else's copy, I may be "meh+" as well.

THE GOOD STUFF
There's a lot to love about Forbidden Stars, first and foremost being the story. I am a lover of theme-heavy games, which is why FFG gets so much of my money. Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition is my all time favorite game, if that puts anything in perspective. FS delivers on the theme front in spades. The graphics are awesome (though putting a legible font on the map would've been nice). The cards are gorgeous. The bits are great. The plastic is fantastic. Just looking at the game is a joy. In fact, just looking at the game is likely a large reason why it will make it back to my game table again soon (well, that and the dent it put in my retirement account).

I really like the resource management. The balancing act of materials vs cache, and milking planets for reinforcements and forge tokens, was great fun. Should I conquer the materials heavy planet or the planet with some really cool assets? This leads to fun and interesting choices.

I LOVED the action economy. Holding my actions in my hand and weighing the pros and cons of their use was great. Should I build more units or buy more cards? Should I invade, or build up and THEN invade, or go in a different direction? This was fantastic.

This isn't just an economic XX game. It is a wargame. It needs a cool combat system. And it delivers. The combat system has been derided as confusing and slow. And while it isn't as fast as most combat systems, I found combat to be very intuitive and exciting. There were several surprises when a seemingly superior force was turned back. It's too simple to say that the defender just 'got lucky.' Saavy card play can win the day. Good times.

I admitted at the top of this article that we didn't finish the game. We were about 1-2 turns away from the end when we called it a night. That said, what I saw of the objective system was lovely. I liked how each player had to cut deep into the space of another player to get his tokens. This induced conflict in a way that is direct and intuitive. War war war, it was good. Also, unlike most of Corey's games, I don't see the end of this game popping out of the closet and surprising anybody. In TI and Runewars, you're playing and having a good time and then WHAM, somebody wins, and you're like "WHA?" That won't happen in FS, or at least I don't think it will.

Warp Storms = excellent. They are a quick, easy, and thematic way to dynamically adjust the board. This kept the relationships between players shifting around. One moment I'm concerned with the OrkZ at my doorstep. The next, I tactfully slide a warp storm over, and those OrkZ are forgotten... for the moment at least.

One of the things I love about a good board game is that I'll find myself thinking about moments in that game later. This happens all the time with epic games like Twilight Imperium. I definitely see Forbidden Suns delivering some great memories.

THE BAD
With so many great things about the game, why are me and my people so unenthusiastic about the game? While I cannot speak for my team, I can say that my main gripe about the game is it's core mechanic: they placement and use of orders.

I mentioned that I love the action economy of the game. But HOW those actions are placed and used is just awful. My group of smart, seasoned gamers found ourselves stumbling over our own ability to plan out our turns. To succeed, you have to plan out your entire turn, then reverse your plan and lay out your tiles backwards. This is not intuitive. As Yoda aptly put it, "you must unlearn what you have learned." If this isn't brain-burner enough, your opponents will lay down orders in your systems, which can easily kibosh your plan. As first time players of the game, my group didn't really intentionally use the action laying mechanic to block opponent moves, but it did happen as a natural course of planning. I didn't find this to be a satisfying "screw you!" experience. I found it to just be annoying.

And tedious. And fiddly. I love brain burning games, but they have to deliver a result that's more exciting than the effort put into it. This element of the game fails to do this utterly. Painstaking minutes are taken with each and every order placement, and often with subsequent order retrieval. It isn't a satisfying strategic experience, it's really just a tedious grind to get to the truly fun stuff in the game.

As a counterpoint to this, buying upgrade cards is likewise a mentally heavy exercise. However, I found the end result to be fun. What self respecting Dungeons and Dragons fan doesn't love going through lists of stuff and picking out upgrades? You get to design and adjust your strategy and then watch it flourish. Picking the cards takes a long time, but the end result is exciting as you get to see your cards in action.

So, planning is a long exercise. Buying cards is a long exercise. Battles take a while. This is not a fast game. We played for 4 hours and had to quit before the game was over. Based on other reviews, I had hoped the game would be faster. Its length, more than anything, will likely keep it from seeing a lot of action with my group. Even my hardest core gamer buddy found the pace to be slow.

THE UGLY
One of my buddies bought an order upgrade card, and consequently used it to slaughter his opponent. Baring witness to this, I purchased an order upgrade card, and defeated the same opponent in a battle where he had a superior force. The writing was on the wall: order upgrades aren't just a cute boon, they're necessary. So necessary that it appears fighting a battle without one is utter suicide, even when your army appears significantly better.  I don't particularly like it when a game is chalk full of choices... but if you don't make one choice, you lose. That actually means you have no choices at all. Unless you enjoy losing. Ergo, I put this in the 'ugly' category.

Remember how I hate the order system and the game got a "meh+" grade? In a gaming group where every person owns 30+ games, a "meh" grade means the game might not get played again. Except I'm my group organizer and most opinionated player, so what I say goes, and I'll say 'let's play again.' So we'll learn and get used to the order system, and then we'll fall head over heels in love with the game (or so I hope). That's a good thing. But woe be to the new person who hasn't played the game! All games have a learning curve and all noobs will get thusly schooled. But this one will have a learning slope so steep it might be insurmountable when pitting experience against inexperience.

I am pretty concerned about dynamic board balance. I can totally see how laying out tiles in a slightly poor way could utterly oust a player from the game. This happened a lot in Twilight Imperium, to the point where I only used preset maps. I'm thinking that might be the case in FS as well. Bring on the published maps!

THE DISCLAIMER
I know that I have to play the game more to "get it" and get over my distaste for the order system. So all you BGG purists, stop typing your rebuttal to this review that says 'practice makes perfect.' I know. I get it. I just hope that the other players are willing to spend their time learning a game, rather than playing one of the vast bevvy of other games we have that are tried and true.

HAIL CHAOS
"My brothers, it is time for us to spread our impure faith across the galaxy. Woe be to those who stand against the dark tides of Chaos!"

"HAIL CHAOS!"

"We shall set our imperial aspirations in motion by conquering the neighboring planet of Sha... Schm... Sk..."

"Shmag, my lord."

"Yes yes the one with the hammer and the green gear. CONQUER IT WITH EXTREME FORCE!!!!"

"Hail Chaos! We shall issue the order to upgrade our army's righteous guns."

"You must have misheard me. I said I want to conquer Skepuzle."

"Yes my lord. Therefore we shall build troops at Bl... Bur... Ba..."

"I don't want you to build troops. We have a giant army. Right there. I'm pointing at it with my flaming red finger. If we build more troops there, we will run out of skulls to feed them. Use that army to conquer Shickandy before they reinforce themselves."

"Indeed my lord, we are tracking along the same line of thought. Hail Chaos! Issue the order draw from the forges and weapons caches immediately!"

"Are you deaf? Mayhaps braindeaf? I said attack. ATTACK! ATTACK!"

"Yes my lord..." *whispering* "build a city."

THE ULTRAMARINER
"Why haven't you launched the invasion of Burbelbuzz yet?"

"Sir, by my most holy battle armor, we cannot do that!"

"What? Whyfore?"

"Observe sir. By my most holy helmet, the enemy is planning something at Burbelbuzz."

"All the more reason to strike quickly soldier. Deploy at once."

"But sir! By my most holy hammer, we cannot do that! The enemy is plotting in that region. We cannot dare stray anywhere near Burbelbuzz."

"Cripes man, perhaps you're right. We had best wait until the enemy has made his move, for that is the art of war. Lets shore up our defenses here."

"Sir may I speak freely? For it behooves me to warn you that we cannot do that either. By my most righteous holy bolter sidearm, we cannot shore up our defenses here."

"What? Talk plainly man."

"Sir, I am most humbly sorry, but the enemy activity in Burblebuzz prevents us from issuing orders to our factories here. We are too busy issuing orders to our factories on Burblebuzz."

"What? We don't even have factories on Burblebuzz. That's enemy territory."

"Exactly sir. Exactly."






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Roger Reisinger
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+1

Sounds like an interesting review, I wish I knew what was going on.
 
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Dan Heck
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Nice review.

I think there are a couple of strategic rules of thumb that can help new players get their heads around the order system. Still a learning curve, but they help.

1) Usually, start by putting a strategize and/or build order in a safe system that probably wont see action, where possible. If you have multiple safe systems, spreading orders between them can give you more flexibility.

2) If you want to attack a system, usually wait to place this order last. And consider waiting to next round if you are earlier in turn order and your opponent is likely to defend.

3) If you want to arrange a counter-attack, prioritize placing an advance order in the contested system.

4) If you have a sequence of things you want to do in a system, physically stack your orders and set them aside.

I get and appreciate the critique. Hopefully, some simple rules of thumb will help your group quickly get to the point that this is fun and rich, rather than annoying!
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CARL SKUTSCH
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I can completely see that if you don't like the order system you'll not like the game as much. Me, I like it. It forces you to puzzle over what you want to do and while it may seem silly that the enemy's orders can screw with yours I feel it reflects the way in which deliberate sabotage or random incompetence can mess with the best plans. I think that kind of frustration is inherent in war and I don't mind it in a game. (And, as others have said, with experience you learn to use it or avoid it, as needed.)

But it is an important game element and if it's not your cup o tea it's not.
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Ryan Caputo
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This game is ok, it's inferior to TI3 in every way, made me want to have a TI3 weekend.

Combat - sorta fun but the complexity cost outweighs the benefit.
Turn Order - counter intuitive
Down Time - yes every game like this has down time, but in this game you REALLY FEEL it. There is absolutely nothing to do in between your turns.

The one thing I do like and wish TI3 had is beening able to win combat without the army being completely destroyed, TI3 would be much more combat friendly with a survivors rule. I've always been afraid to go all combat, ill have to try it just to see what happens.
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CARL SKUTSCH
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ryolacap wrote:
This game is ok, it inferior to TI3 in every way, made me want to have a TI3 weekend.

It's simpler, which for some people is a plus.
It takes less time, see above.
It plays great two players, see above.
It takes up less table space, see above.

You're welcome to prefer TI3, I think it's a great game, but let's not go trashing for the sake of trashing.
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Ryan Caputo
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skutsch wrote:
ryolacap wrote:
This game is ok, it inferior to TI3 in every way, made me want to have a TI3 weekend.

It's simpler, which for some people is a plus.
It takes less time, see above.
It plays great two players, see above.
It takes up less table space, see above.

You're welcome to prefer TI3, I think it's a great game, but let's not go trashing for the sake of trashing.


I wouldn't say it simpler just has less options
You can play a short game in the same amount of time.
You can play TI3 with 2 players, but play better than this game with more, FS just plays its best with 2, which would be equal to a 2player TI3 game
Table space is not anything I rate games by.
 
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Andy Day

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I think it's natural to compare TI to FS. I find it far to premature to judge one better than the other though. And this from a guy that loves TI.

Or should I say, lovED. The game just takes too long. In a way I wish I had the time. But, if I did have time for a game day, I think I might prefer 2 medium length games rather than 1 huge long game. I guess I'm getting old.

That said, TI's length is part of its charm. A short version (which I have designed and played) just isn't the same. I want a specific experience with TI: a slow burn buildup full of posturing by all parties, galaxy wide skirmishes, with a final crescendo of bloodshed and cursing. You cannot cram that sort of vibe into a 2-4 hour game. At least, not for me.

So when I go to other games-such as FS-I expect something different. And FS gives me that. They're both 4x games, but they're very different 4x games, which I find to be a good thing.

I really prefer the direct, simple to understand win conditions in FS. You play to win, and you win when you play. This isn't the case in TI, where the objectives often run against the grain of the rest of the game. You constantly have to make a choice: play the fun game on the space board with ships and chits and wars, or play the dull game on the victory point board so that you can actually win. This divide is very difficult for new players to bridge, and simply dull for me and my group. I have thus culled out most objectives in order to make sure that when somebody is playing on the board, they are winning on the victory point board as well.

I don't understand the complaints about combat in FS. I find it makes perfect sense. But it does take a while and leads to a lot of down time for other players. A wise player will review his decks and plan strategy, enjoy the art work, unload is bladder and reload his beer. A not so wise player will yawn, check his iphone and complain about down time.

That said, I suspect that combat in FS likely doesn't take a whole lot longer than combat in TI. TI is easier to understand, but still requires the physical act of sorting out dice, rolling for each individual ship, and assessing hits. None of these are hard, nor do they take a lot of time by themselves. But added together, and battles can take a while, especially when they have a lot of different ship types. After all, a computer just looks at binary 1's and 0's, but how long does your computer take to boot up? Come on computer, you're just adding 1's and 0's, you shouldn't take that long! But you do.

In fact, one problem with my combat-heavy objective decks that I use in TI is that it encourages combat, which makes the game take LONGER.

It's been said that changing the FS order system into something more intuitive, or changing combat into a straight dice affair, would make the game just like any other area control "dudes on a map" wargame. And I agree with this assessment. Put another way, the clunky combat system and backwards action system are what give FS its unique charm. For better or worse. Both could be modified, but once that's done, you might as well play TI, or Age of Conan, or Axis and Allies, or... you get the idea.

TI3 cannot be played with 2 players. There are optional 2 player variants of course, but those are both unofficial and ineffective. For as much as I love TI, I've found the necessity of the 3rd player, in order to keep the "balance." Because the game is very, very far from balanced. 1 action card can spell doom for a player, technologies are not all created equal, races are wildly swingy, political cards are just ridiculous, etc. The only salvation for a player on the receiving end of some wacky game element is the 3rd player, who will act as a counter-balance. That said, I don't know if FS is balanced. I suspect it isn't.

I have played TI so damn much that it's hard for me to say whether or not TI or FS is "simpler." I find both to be mostly intuitive, save for a few really odd rules exceptions. That said, TI has some rules that are painfully crunchy and tricky for new players to grasp. The idea of moving INTO a system rather than OUT OF a system is a seemingly simply affair that leaves a lot of players scratching their heads. Building a certain number of units vs. spending a certain amount of resources on said units can really be a brain burn when you're dragging into hour 7 of the game, even if you have experience. And let's not forget that everybody who reads "in the silence of space" the first time reads it wrong, even though it's worded very clearly.

TI does have something that FS doesn't though: surprises. It's common in TI for a command counter to hit the table and people say "WHA? Why are you going THERE?" "HOW did you do that?" "WHY did you do THAT?" The dice combat can lead to nasty surprises as well. "How did that destroyer beat my whole fleet?" It's those kind of WOW moments that really make TI stand out for me. It's the lack of those wow moments that makes FS (theoretically) more balanced. Again, all of this is IMIO (In My Ignorant Opinion).

Another boon to TI is that since it starts slow, it gives players a chance to acclimate to the game before game-breaking mistakes are made. A player gets to learn the core mechanics or re-acclimate to said mechanics while expanding and building his empire. This is something that really concerns me about FS. In FS, you're fighting from the very first round. Just setting up the galaxy can spell one's doom. This can be a serious problem, especially since my group will constantly have diverse levels of experience.

I should say that though I've been knocking on TI a lot, I love it. A bunch.

I'll know more after tonight though, I'll be playing a full game with some of my homies.
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