Recently, I’ve been keeping a lookout for new games on the horizon. This means also watching places like Kickstarter, where smaller publishers, groups, and individuals attempt to launch their own ideas from a concept into reality. It’s a great way to discover a whole new world of gaming, as many of these projects try to innovate and stand out from the typical board games that already exist.
While looking for new games, I stumbled upon one new game project called Gloomhaven. It’s the brainchild of Isaac Childres, and is a new twist on dungeon-crawling and legacy gaming. Isaac also happens to be the creator of Forge War, as I discovered while looking over the Gloomhaven project. Isaac also has been gracious enough to provide free a print-and-play version of Forge War on the publisher’s web site to allow people to experience his game before buying a retail copy of it. I really love this approach, since it gets the game out there and makes a name for Isaac and his publisher, Cephalofair Games. I’d love to play more games this way to try them out, rather than paying a lot of money for a game I don’t know that I’ll enjoy. Games like these that have lots of components can cost anywhere from $50 to $100+, which can be quite a deterrent if you aren’t sure if you’ll enjoy it.
Anyway, let’s move on with the review itself. Fair warning, it’s bit lengthy, but hopefully it’s helpful for anyone interested in learning more about Forge War.
I only printed some items out in color that I felt were necessary. The cards have varying designs on the backs to indicate the phase of the game in which they’ll be required. Even though it would’ve been nice to have them in color, there were just so many cards that I didn’t want to use that much ink or toner. But, I did print out the player tiles, board sections, honeycomb mine tiles, and the various tokens in color.
In addition to the PnP files and rulebook, you’ll want to dig out some pieces to use for tokens. In the basic game, you shouldn’t need too many variations on tokens and tracking markers. For our game, we used colored cubes and money coins from Lords of Waterdeep for the resources and colored dice from Steampunk Rally for markers and adventurers. There were a lot of extra tokens on the table, but those would only be needed if we had played the “Epic” version of the game, which is significantly longer.
The instructions for the PnP version of the game are a little outdated and were written more with the retail version in mind. So some of the instructions were confusing or referred to items not present in the PnP version, like colored tokens or how the mine tiles should be placed (they’re cut into smaller pieces in the retail version of the game). I would highly-suggest that these rules be updated and clarified so new players don’t get confused. But, we were still able to work out how to play the game without too much trouble.
The standard game consists of 7 rounds, each with a set of phases. The first phase requires placing or moving workers and overseers within the mines (the honeycomb portion of the game board). The second phase will let players purchase items from the market. The third phase consists of acquiring quests. And the fourth phases is quest management.
At the beginning of the game, players get four starting wealth cards to give them a bit of resources to start things off. Each player also receives their starting weapon designs that they can forge right from the very beginning of the game. These cards are Copper Dagger and Copper Sword. (You could also just put each of these in the public weapon area, if you’re low on table space.) The starting wealth cards are extremely helpful and may provide money, copper, iron, emeralds, weapons, additional adventurers and adventurer level upgrades right off the bat. Players must each choose only two of the wealth cards and receive those bonuses. The wealth cards are then discarded and the game begins.
During the first phase of each round, the mine phase, each player may make a single movement with one of their overseers within the mine. (In this case, we used meeples from Lords of Waterdeep for overseers.) When an overseer moves, he leaves behind a worker that generates a resource for that round. Overseers may move any number of spaces in a straight line, hopping over workers in their way. If they hop over a worker (or multiple workers adjacent to one another, with no spaces in between), they must end their movement in the first empty space they come to. Any workers hopped over will change colors. If they were opponents’ workers, they change to the active player’s workers, and they will immediately generate one of that resource type for that player. But, if you hope over your own worker, they change to the color of the opponent with the fewest workers in the mines. So, this may not be a smart move, unless there’s a resource that a player desperately needs. Also, an overseer may not hop over another overseer.
Once each player has moved an overseer, the starting player may decide to take a second overseer movement. Doing so, however, will move them to the last place in the turn order, meaning they may not be able to buy cards they want during the market phase before another player does so.
The second phase will give each player one purchase or action from the market side of the board. There are five decks of cards that represent weapon designs from the blacksmith, market bonus cards, and one-time immediate bonuses. Players place a token on the space they want and pay the required cost for the card they buy. If a player does not have the money required, they cannot use that space. Or they can utilize the Merchant area of their player mat once each round to exchange extra resources for a little money or buy an extra resource they need. The Merchant is not an action and may be done at any time during any phase of the round. Some spaces have small closed circles, meaning only one player may use that space. A larger open circle means any number of players may utilize that action. If nothing can be purchased, a player can always pass and take a single gold token. Players may also choose the training action to either purchase a new adventurer or to level up an adventurer they already have, which can be done by paying the 4 gold for a new adventurer, or paying the cost shown on the board for the current level of their adventurer to move them up a level. This is important, as some weapons have a level requirement and cannot be used by lower-level adventurers.
During the third phase, players can pick up new quests from the upper area on the board. Some quests are free, but others will cost players money. As quests are purchased and rounds are completed, the lowest-cost quests are discarded, the remaining quests are moved down toward the free area, and new quests are placed in the highest cost locations, revealing new adventures for their team of adventurers to conquer. However, once a quest is purchased, it must be completed or it will fail and only yield some or none of the rewards on each card. I’ll explain in the phase four section. Players can only purchase one quest. When purchased, a tracking marker is placed on the first diamond of the top leg on the quest to symbolize has been started.
Phase four consists of quest management. This means assigning weapons to your adventurers and sending them on one of your quests to meet the requirements on each quest card. You’ll note that there are rows of diamonds on each card (see the quest card example above, click the image for a larger version). Some have more than others, and these represent how many segments of legs there are to complete a quest and get the reward. To the left of the diamonds, the number is the required level of power needed to take on that leg of the quest. This is met by assigning an adventurer to the quest that is carrying a weapon. Each weapon card will state how much power it gives to the wielder. For example, the copper sword has a power of 2, and the copper dagger has a power of 1. Adventurer levels do NOT count toward the required power to advance or complete a quest. And some quests require the use of certain weapon designs, or their level of difficulty (i.e. their power requirement) is raised by 3.
You can assign multiple adventurers to a quest to meet the necessary power to complete the leg of the quest, and only one of them needs to hold a weapon that may be required for a quest leg. However, once an adventurer is assigned, there will be a penalty for removing him from that quest. They will lose any weapon or item they are carrying, sending those resources back to the supply. You can always purchase a new weapon of greater power and give it to that same adventurer, but they can only utilize the power of a single weapon they are carrying.
To get weapons, you must first be able to make weapons. Weapons are forged using the resources gathered in phase one, the mine phase. You must also have the plans to make the weapons you need. Players can buy weapon plans from the blacksmith in the market phase. Or they can learn a public weapon design (they have a star or * on them, and get placed next to the board for any player to learn), also an action in the market phase. Unique weapon designs are more expensive, but they also have a higher power. Once you know a weapon design, it can be forged repeatedly during the quest management phase by paying the resources shown on each design.
So, to sum that part up: Players gather resources. They also buy weapon plans. During quest management, players spend resources to forge weapons for their adventurers to use on their quests.
If, by the end of the quest management phase, a player does not place adventurers (with weapons) that meet the power requirement to advance or complete a quest, the quest fails. If that quest never made it past the first leg, there is no reward, the quest is discarded, all adventurers assigned to it return to the player’s pool, and any weapons adventurers had are discarded. If only one or more legs are completed before a quest fails, the player gets the reward shown to the right of the last leg they completed on that quest.
If players place the necessary requirements to advance a quest, the quest tracking marker is moved one diamond forward on the quest. If it moves off of the end of a leg, then the marker moves to the first diamond on the next leg of the quest.
If a quest is successfully completed all the way to the end (e.g. there are no more legs and the marker moves off of the end of the final leg of the quest), the player gets the full reward shown to the right of the final quest leg. This may be points, as well as resources. The player gets their assigned adventurers back in their pool (though all weapons are lost and resources go back to the supply). And a number of adventurers equal to the number of legs on the quest completed will gain one level (to a max of level 4).
While this may seem like a lot going on, play went pretty quickly once we learned how each phase is played. And this is similar to other games we’ve played with multiple phases and complexity. (Some examples: Agricola, Terra Mystica, Steampunk Rally) Honestly, it’s really quite simple to play after you run through a couple rounds. But the complexity comes in when a player needs to decide how to move overseers to gain badly-needed resources. And managing quests can be difficult to do if too many quests are taken on at once. Players need to plan ahead, choosing quests they know they can supply adventurers and weapons to complete. If not, quests will be failed, possibly costing valuable points as well as a victory.
I’ve only played this game once, so far. But we thoroughly enjoyed the way it plays, with new mechanics and interactions from phase to phase. The planning and resource/quest management makes this game really interesting. There’s not a lot of player interaction, though. So, if you’re looking for that, this may not be the game for you. I also haven’t played the Epic game, which is significantly longer and requires 18 rounds of play. I’m looking forward to giving that a shot, though, as it dives into many more interesting aspects of the game, including new resources, quests, adventurer bonuses, and market cards that go unused during the standard 7-round game.
If you want to see examples of game play, check out the video series on YouTube from Rahdo Runs Through. He’ll explain setup, game play, and provide his own final thoughts on the game. It’s a great example of how to play Forge War.
Lastly, I’ve read that some people don’t think the mines work with the rest of the game, thematically-speaking. But, I don’t see an issue with that. Finding valuable resources and forging weapons makes complete sense to me, and I feel that it fits in just fine with the theme of the game.
Perhaps I’ll update this review after playing the Epic game to provide some additional thoughts on the longer version of the game. If we purchase the retail version of the game, I may also add thoughts on the quality of the components and packaging.
Whew! That was a loooong review! Thanks for reading this far. If you skipped all of the jibber-jabber to get to the conclusion, here’s the TL;DR version:
PnP requires you to supply various tokens and markers. Print quality is good. Rule book needs updating and clarification. Game play was fun and innovative. Definitely one to try for those that enjoy complex and strategic euro games.