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Forbidden Stars» Forums » Variants

Subject: If you could rework FS's combat system, how would you go about it? rss

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Nick Knack
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On the whole, I enjoy Forbidden Stars.
The rules are complex, but flow well during play. The path to victory is an ever shifting narrative of friendship, betrayal, civilization building and strategic cunning. The tactical depth to the orders system is pure genius. And the combat... well, to be honest, the combat can go **** itself.

Now, I abhor dice rolls and random card draw at the best of times in my large time-sink strategy games, but Forbidden Stars manages to kick it up to a whole new level of obtuse bureaucratic random bull.
A solid half of gameplay time for any given session always comes down to a series of extended fights between two players where everyone at the table (including those involved) are bored and wishing for it to end. And the result often feels arbitrary. What goes into the fight often doesn't determine what comes out of it, tactics be damned.

In the end, Forbidden Stars - this massive, beautiful, complex, thoughtful masterpiece - ends up feeling akin to a game of basic Risk.


But what if you had the chance to change all that?
What mechanics would you introduce/scrap/tweak to streamline/complicate combat?



For my part, the very first (and perhaps not actually very good) idea is just to steal a page out of the Game of Thrones handbook, as the games are already very similar.

Units would no longer have health and attack dice, but rather be of a singular value.
Each faction deck would be greatly reduced to hand of ~7 cards, each of which provides a faction specific strength bonus and/or special effect for the battle which are discarded after use.
Whoever ends up having the strongest combined unit+card strength routes all enemy units, unless they have no where to go in which case they are destroyed.
Some of these cards will have printed on them weapons, which allow you to kill one enemy unit per weapon present. Some of these cards will have shields, which cancel out enemy weapons, if your opponent played any. To hell with morale.
I imagine these faction cards start off fairly simple and weak, but can be upgraded over time with better versions of themselves, allowing players more room to tactically adapt to whats happening on the board and grow in strength.


What are your ideas?
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Felipe Bulhões
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To me, it's already the best combat system in a board game.

Seems by your suggestion that you would be better served just playing Kemet or Game of Thrones instead of Forbidden Stars.

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Steve Hope
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I love the combat system. With four people it drags, but it's tactically very satisfying.
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Scott Vranes
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I like the chatter, but I'm afraid, for this post, I'm definitely in the camp that loves the combat system. To me, it's deep and a "game within a game."

I like it.
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Frank La Terra
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Without the combat system you may as well play something else.
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Nick Knack
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Fair enough! I may well be a minority, and I'll definitely have a look at Kemet! thanks for the suggestion.

Perhaps I added a little too much vitriol to my words above.
I just wish that the combat was as smooth and thoughtful as the rest of the game.
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Jeff Connell
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The combat system is one of the best core parts of the game. If you don't like it maybe Small World or something like that would be better for you.
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Felipe Bulhões
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realityfoible wrote:
Fair enough! I may well be a minority, and I'll definitely have a look at Kemet! thanks for the suggestion.

Perhaps I added a little too much vitriol to my words above.
I just wish that the combat was as smooth and thoughtful as the rest of the game.


I believe you will just love kemet
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Paul Ferguson
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The combat system can bring the flow of the game to a halt, but it is one of the best systems i have played. The card play is clever and you can swing what looks to be a white wash into an awesome defensive move. I wouldn't change it, as the cards can mitigate a bad dice roll or use the dice roll to your advantage and hold out for a morale tie breaker.
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Richard Hammer

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realityfoible wrote:
Fair enough! I may well be a minority, and I'll definitely have a look at Kemet! thanks for the suggestion.

Perhaps I added a little too much vitriol to my words above.
I just wish that the combat was as smooth and thoughtful as the rest of the game.

After my first session of Forbidden Stars, I too was struggling with the combat, but I have a few games under my belt now and my opinion has changed. I find the combination of dice and cards and unit allocation to be incredibly satisfying and thought-provoking. I would even dare to call it reasonably smooth, now that I've gotten acclimated to the systems.

My experience with board games in general is fairly limited, but I own Kemet and Star Wars Rebellion, among other games in the genre, and the combat in Forbidden Stars is the most fun and the most interesting.
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I would remove combat tokens and solely use dice as the 'currency' during combat. Of course, this would necessitate a review of how the dice limit (currently eight per side) works, else late game combats would always come down to who can get better results in an eight vs eight roll-off.
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Samuel Bailey
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I was brought on to the Forbidden Stars project originally to do the combat system, though ended up doing a lot more by the end of it all. My thought going into it was that since FS was primarily a combat game, it should have a combat system that was deep and interesting enough that it would be fun to play just on its own.

Like Starcraft we wanted it to have some deck building aspects, and to make sure that having certain types of units be as important as the number of units you had in a combat. But we also wanted there to be a fair number of dice to chuck since this was 40k and all. There used to be more dice in the game, but costs slowly reduced them down to 16 total and the combat system had to adjust accordingly.

The system started out with far more complexity on the cards (orbital strikes used to be resolved with the combat cards), but there was only a single resolution at the end of 3 card players. Slowly we removed complexity from the cards and added it to the rules, such as having damage resolution at the end of each round. While this made the system less complex, I was always afraid that it would be stripped down to something dull and uninspired.

Time and time again the system would get simplified almost to the point I was convinced it was terrible, and then we would find a way to make it interesting again. The addition to combat icons on the cards themselves was actually a rather late development, but it was the last piece that really brought the final system together.

Overall I am pretty proud with how the combat system came out, though I totally get the criticism that combat can be too long. I remember after a couple months of testing we were all familiar with the combat it all flew by really fast, but then one day we got a new group of interns to play the game and suddenly combat was taking 10+ minutes and we were like "uh-oh". That led to several more rounds of simplification!

I am not sure what else we could have done to speed up combat without sacrificing a lot of the complexity that makes it interesting. It's not going to be for everyone of course, but I think its one of the things that really makes Forbidden Stars unique among war games.

Truly I am sorry that you don't enjoy the combat system, Nick, and I hope you can find some compromise to make it more to your liking so that you can better enjoy the other parts of Forbidden Stars. To those who do like it, I am humbled by your kind words and inspired as well. It makes me think I might actually be a decent designer
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tibbles von tibbleton
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The combat system is the whole reason to play FS over say Game of Thrones. The order stacking is clever too, but it also opens the door to the whole player order balance issue that GoT doesn't with simultaneous orders. I think the FS combat is a great minigame and as long as I'm in the battle, I have no problem with a battle lasting 5-10 min. However, it's also very true that as an observer, 5-10 min battles are some serious downtime. You can't even fiddle with some dice while you wait, they're all in use. laugh
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Samuel Bailey
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This is one of the reasons I really started enjoying Forbidden Stars as a two player game. It ends up being a really tight chess match with almost no down time.

tibbles wrote:
The combat system is the whole reason to play FS over say Game of Thrones. The order stacking is clever too, but it also opens the door to the whole player order balance issue that GoT doesn't with simultaneous orders. I think the FS combat is a great minigame and as long as I'm in the battle, I have no problem with a battle lasting 5-10 min. However, it's also very true that as an observer, 5-10 min battles are some serious downtime. You can't even fiddle with some dice while you wait, they're all in use. laugh
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Jacek Deimer
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Samuel Bailey wrote:
This is one of the reasons I really started enjoying Forbidden Stars as a two player game. It ends up being a really tight chess match with almost no down time.

tibbles wrote:
The combat system is the whole reason to play FS over say Game of Thrones. The order stacking is clever too, but it also opens the door to the whole player order balance issue that GoT doesn't with simultaneous orders. I think the FS combat is a great minigame and as long as I'm in the battle, I have no problem with a battle lasting 5-10 min. However, it's also very true that as an observer, 5-10 min battles are some serious downtime. You can't even fiddle with some dice while you wait, they're all in use. laugh


I was just going to write similar comment.

Combat is great for 2-player. It is a nightmare for 3-4 player. It just breaks multi-player game, so 2-players can play mini-game on their own.
To be honest if there are several combats in 4 player game and you are not involved, you can go for a launch or do some shopping .
In the end, a great combat system, but horrible design choice for multi-player game.
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F. Alvin Truell
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I love the combat system in FS. I've only played the 2 player game though. Just between us, halfway through the second game we both had a handle on what our cards did and we were flying through combats having a great time.

If it was simplified it would be easier to learn but I really enjoy the depth that the combat system has. If I want to play something simpler and faster there are a lot of "dudes on a map" style games. Ideally I would have three friends with whom I could meet up with once or twice a month and play FS and we would all be getting better and faster all the time.

I love that very time I have played FS I have learn a little bit more about the each faction and the little tricks they have.
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Nick Knack
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Samuel Bailey wrote:

I am not sure what else we could have done to speed up combat without sacrificing a lot of the complexity that makes it interesting. It's not going to be for everyone of course, but I think its one of the things that really makes Forbidden Stars unique among war games.

Truly I am sorry that you don't enjoy the combat system, Nick, and I hope you can find some compromise to make it more to your liking so that you can better enjoy the other parts of Forbidden Stars. To those who do like it, I am humbled by your kind words and inspired as well. It makes me think I might actually be a decent designer


Oh my goodness. I never imagined one of the original designers would chime in, or that they'd be so incredibly kind!
I apologize if my words cut in any way. I do still regard the game in general as phenomenal, and fully realize how difficult it is bring such a complex beast to life. There is no doubt as to your remarkable credentials.

What I've been seeing though, is that I should give FS a shot as a 2 player game. I think one of my biggest hang ups comes from the rough emotional shift that comes when the excitement and drama of order placement gives way to deciding to go get lunch as a large fight takes place in a 4 man.
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Richard Sampson
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I love FS's combat system (great job Sam). I find it very satisfying and very strategic, and it is not at all like Risk. In fact, I find because the dice only set the stage for the battle, I don't even think there is a lot of luck involved and victory is more often determined by good card play (assuming a similar number of dice).

However, if you don't like it but enjoy the game, you could always try to do a step back to StarCraft: The Board Game. The two games are so close, you could pretty much drop the combat in from SC (though it would take some reworking of the cards/upgrades to fit the new units) with no other modification to the game.

Also FS is great at 2 and 3 so definitely try out lower player count.
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Andy Day

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I like Forbidden Stars a lot, including the combat system. This post will not sound that way though.
 
The game has a whole has some pretty chronic weaknesses that make it a rare appearance at my table. I think the OP alluded to one of the weaknesses with his post, but I’m not referencing how long combat takes. Rather, I’m referencing the RESULTS of combat.
 
See, with dice rolling and card drawing, the combat system is supposed to be a combination of skill and luck. And it is… but it’s sharply tilted to the luck side. We found that the skill of the card system was rather lacking. Typically, when a player drew a fist full of cards, he didn’t need to spend a lot of time deliberating over which card to play. His choice was obvious, in that he’d typically play his highest level card. That would yield the most symbols, which are one of the main drivers of combat (and is thus surprising to hear it was one of the last additions to the system).
 
See, the OP alluded to something that Game of Thrones has, that FS lacks. That is to say, in Game of Thrones, you can counter your opponent’s card, no matter what card it is. In FS, there really is no rock-paper-scissors. It’s a game of rock-rock-rock. When I was Chaos and I played against the Orcs, I knew they’d play Sea of Green (the card that gives them a reinforcement) pretty much every single time they drew it. The question wasn’t IF they’d play it, but rather the question was how many Sea of Green they drew. And even though I knew they’d play that card, I didn’t have/couldn’t acquire a card that would counter it. Well, sure I could, but we are assuming players with relatively similar skill levels, which obviates the tactic of me getting some super high level card to crush him with. Having relative parity in our decks, I couldn’t obliterate my foe even if I knew EXACTLY what he was going to do. That sucks.
 
Now, read back through the prior paragraph, and replace “Sea of Green” with any decent mid/high level card from any race. It wasn’t a cat-and-mouse game where you try to divine your opponent’s plan. It was just a question of how good the cards were that you drew. And of course, how good your dice rolls were.
 
This isn’t to say that there weren’t the occasional battles that came down to some brilliant tactics. Sometimes, a player would do something unexpected, and it would have a shocking result and turn the tide in their favor. Sometimes, a player would toss his power card, and then wish he’d thrown a different card instead. But those instances were pretty darn rare.
 
Due to this, somewhat early in our games, we implemented a house rule called THE BRIAN. In THE BRIAN, after you play a combat card, you discard it, and cannot use it future battles until your combat deck strays below 5 cards (meaning you are no longer able to draw a full hand of 5 combat cards). This is similar in a way to Kemet. The result was a lot more decision making during the combats, which we liked. You could lambast a foe with your power cards in a battle, but you’d be without them for another battle or two, depending on how things went.
 
Even with THE BRIAN, I found the results of combat to be a crap shoot. Tiny forces could defeat enormous forces, forces with parity could wipe each other out or not kill a single enemy. It was chaos… which I suppose makes it appropriate for the theme. However, I don’t particularly care for a LONG combat system that comes down, ultimately, to luck. I find this distasteful.
 
Yet, without the card combat system, the game would lose a lot of its theme. That is reason enough to keep it I suppose. And it is original. If I wanted to chuck a mountain of dice I’d play Axis and Allies. If I don’t like luck (or fun) I’d play A Game of Thrones.
 
I do agree with the aforementioned consensus that the game is great with 2 players.
 
Kemet is one of my favorite games, but I caution using it as a model. Card-only, generally predictable combat gets a bit stale. My friends and I rarely play Kemet anymore, because we just want to throw some dice. That said, I tried (and tried) to figure out how to make FS combat like Kemet, but I couldn’t cook up anything I found satisfactory.
 
For my part, I’d rather leave combat as-is and redo the order system, which I HATE.
 
P.S. Thank you for the insight into the design process Mr. B.
 
 
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Frank La Terra
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What I do when two other players are having a 5-10 minute combat is.... watch the fight.
I understand some people get bored if their body is not in a constant state of movement, but I find watching other people fight an exciting part of gameplay whose results are going to impact me since they are both my opponents.
But then I'm Australian and over this side of the world we have this 'downtime' activity called TV which is enjoyed by many and involves a lot of watching other people do stuff. Some people watch entire games where they don't participate at all but just cheer a team! Odd I know.
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Alex Almond
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I do like the FS combat system though I do wish is was more flexible, it happens fairly frequently that you get stuck with nothing really useful to do due to the dice roll/draw.

I wonder if allowing the reroll of a die for each ability you can't do is a good house rule.
 
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steve mathers
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Gylthinel wrote:
 

 
For my part, I’d rather leave combat as-is and redo the order system, which I HATE.
 
P.S. Thank you for the insight into the design process Mr. B.
 
 


There are many ways the combat system could be streamlined and improved while still retaining the great things about it. But you would need to redo all the cards. massive effort, and almost a new game, you could say.

but lets discuss your hatred of the order system?
 
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Andy Day

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stevenmathers wrote:
Gylthinel wrote:
 

 
For my part, I’d rather leave combat as-is and redo the order system, which I HATE.
 
P.S. Thank you for the insight into the design process Mr. B.
 
 


There are many ways the combat system could be streamlined and improved while still retaining the great things about it. But you would need to redo all the cards. massive effort, and almost a new game, you could say.

but lets discuss your hatred of the order system?

I'd rather not derail the thread. Feel free to pm me or start a new thread.

And yeah re doing combat would be a huge endeavor.
 
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Richard Sampson
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Gylthinel wrote:
See, the OP alluded to something that Game of Thrones has, that FS lacks. That is to say, in Game of Thrones, you can counter your opponent’s card, no matter what card it is. In FS, there really is no rock-paper-scissors. It’s a game of rock-rock-rock. When I was Chaos and I played against the Orcs, I knew they’d play Sea of Green (the card that gives them a reinforcement) pretty much every single time they drew it. The question wasn’t IF they’d play it, but rather the question was how many Sea of Green they drew. And even though I knew they’d play that card, I didn’t have/couldn’t acquire a card that would counter it.
This part in particular illustrates a lack of understanding about the combat system. The FS combat IS very much a rock-paper-scissors game when it comes to the symbols.

Defense beats offense
Morale beats defense
Offense beats morale

The Orcs are extremely hard to wipe out and sea of green really hits this home, but they have very low morale (1 for their tier 1 units instead of the 2 of every other faction). So to specifically address your concern with that card, you should focus on cards that provide protection for your units while trying to get out morale symbols. This will give you a victory. On top of that, Orcs are pretty bad at building air units making them more easy to isolate so winning a morale battle without them having adequate space to retreat will effectively kill them off.

Now as to the order system, if you don't like that, you really should just play a different game I think.
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Austin Andersen
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I like the integration of dice and cards. I don't think anything is missing. If had to pinpoint something though, I'd include a sand-timer or two.
 
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