(2015 – Cephalofair Games)
As the initial release from first time publisher, Cephalofair Games, and first time designer, Isaac Childres, Forge War saw a massively successful Kickstarter campaign last summer (2014). Built upon the Euro-style assertion of minimized randomness and that players should have to earn their merit of victory, Forge War impressively delivers as a game full of variable, deep strategy, but not one that overwhelms players with an arduous ruleset. On his site, Childres discusses his love for games such as Yinsh, Trajan, and Tzolk’in, and how these games helped to inspire Forge War’s mixture of varying mechanics. Bits and pieces of these titles can be seen scattered amongst the 2-3 hour engine-building, fantasy-driven experience, making it, in my opinion, one of the best Euro-strategy releases in 2015, thus far.
In Forge War, players work as blacksmiths, working to create and arm their adventurers with the latest weapons, then send them out on quests. Gameplay is split into three main mechanics. Players will collect the resources needed to forge their weapons from the Mine by participating in a mini-game, using the abstract mechanics inspired by Yinsh. Players will then move to a worker placement mechanic, taking different actions at the Market in order to learn how to make new weapons, hire new adventurers (as well as leveling up current ones), and purchasing immediate and ongoing bonuses. Finally, players will acquire quests, equip their adventurers with weapons they’ve forged and send them on these quests, as well as manage their progress until they’ve either failed or completed the quests. The game will cover three Acts, in which players will see an improved array of weapons, increasing resource types, and more challenging and demanding quests.
During the game, each player will represent the head blacksmith of their associated guild, attempting to forge the strongest weapons needed to supply their guild’s adventurers with completing various quests for the King. Players must learn how to build these various weapons over time, by learning new design methods and schematics.
The main game board houses the Mine, the Market, and the various quests that each player can send their adventurers on. A full game of Forge War consists of three Acts, with each Act consisting of six Rounds (though a shorter, basic game can be played over the course of the 1st Act by itself). At the end of certain Rounds in the game, bonuses are awarded depending on if players have completed certain goals in the game. At the beginning of the game, these bonus tiles are randomly placed over:
– Rounds 4 & 5 of the 2nd Act
– Rounds 1 & 2 of the 3rd Act
– Rounds 4 & 5 of the 3rd Act
At the beginning of the game, the Round marker is placed on the 1st Round space of the Act 1 track. All players will also place one of their player markers on the start space of the Victory Point track.
Once the Mine has been constructed, players will need to place their Overseers in the Mine before the game can start. After determining player order, players will take alternating turns placing one of their Overseers on any empty hex space in the mine until players have placed all three of their Overseers. There’s some strategy in placing these Overseers, which I’ll discuss a bit later in the review. Beside the Mine is a turn order track where players will place a player marker in the space relative to the previously determined order.
– Green represents the cards that are placed during Act 1
– Gray represents the cards that are placed during Act 2
– Red represents the cards that are placed during Act 3
– Finally, Purple represents the cards that are used towards the end of Act 3. This is only relevant to Quest cards, there are no Market cards with a purple backing.
Market cards are separated into three types, as represented by the icon on the back of the card. Weapon schematics are shuffled and placed face-down on the Blacksmith forge space located right outside the Village Market. Inside the Village are four other card spaces. The Market Stall cards (represented by a booth icon) are shuffled and split in equal halves. These two decks are placed on the two left spaces of the Village Market. Market Stall cards will award players various ongoing bonuses to use during the game. The Banner cards (represented by a banner icon) are shuffled and placed the same way on the two Village Market spaces on the right side. Unlike the Market Stall cards, these will award single use bonuses that players will resolve immediately when purchased and then discard.
All remaining tokens (coins, gems, ingots, weapons, adventurers, etc) are placed near the board, in reach of all players. At the end of setup, the play area should look something like this:
As mentioned earlier, a game of Forge War consists of three full Acts, with six Rounds in each Act. Each of these Rounds will consists of five phases; the Replenish Phase, the Mine Phase, the Market Phase, the Quest Phase, and the Cleanup Phase. Players will ultimately earn Victory Points by completing quests. Points can even be earned when failing a quest, though only a fraction of what would have been earned had they successfully completed it. In order for adventurers to complete these quests, they’ll need to be equipped with strong and well-crafted weapons. This is where the blacksmith (the player) comes in. Efficiently collecting the right amount/type of ingots and gems will allow the player to learn and forge new weapon designs to send with his adventurers. What’s interesting about Forge War, is that the three main phases of the game (the Mine, the Market, and the Quest) mechanically play quite differently, almost as mini-games on their own. But we’ll cover them as we go. First, let’s take a look at the 1st phase of each Round.
I. The Replenish Phase:
At the beginning of the 3rd Round of Act 1, we can see that there are three empty Quest space (as seen above). After these Quests have been shifted to the left (as seen below), three new Quest cards will need to be drawn next to fill these remaining spaces (seen below). Since all three of the new Quests would be placed in the bottom section, they will costs 2 gold to obtain. Some of the Quests that were shifted however are now cheaper than in the previous Round.
II. The Mine Phase:
The crucial mechanic of this mini-game however, is that an Overseer may move through spaces containing workers (pick axe tokens), whether they are the player’s workers or not, as long as they stop at the first empty space after moving through these workers.
– If the passed worker is that of an opposing color to the Overseer’s color, that worker is then converted to the same color of the Overseer. Because of this, the player who moved the Overseer would replace the current pick axe tokens with ones of his own, then gain a resource for each of these spaces.
– If the passed worker is the same color as the Overseer, that worker has become disgruntled by the extra workload and will convert to another color. The player who currently has the fewest number of workers in the Mine (pick axe tokens only) will replace the Overseer’s worker with one of his own, then gain a resource represented on that Mine space. If there is a tie when determining which opposing player has the fewest workers, the player higher in turn order will get to switch.
Finally, Player A places his Overseer in the next adjacent space. After his movement is complete, Player A receives an additional Iron and Copper ingot (collected from his newly placed workers on the iron and copper spaces), and Player B receives an Iron ingot (collected from his newly placed worker on the iron space).
Each player, in turn order, is allowed to move one of his Overseer’s every Round. At the end of the Mine Phase, the player that is currently 1st will have the option of taking this movement action again. If he does however, he must move his player marker to the bottom of the turn order, thus shifting everyone up a space. So, he’ll get an additional turn in the Mine, but he will go last for the remaining phases of the Round. Whether the 1st player took this additional action or not, the new turn order is then determined by the player’s current number of workers in the Mine. The player with the fewest becomes the new start player, the next fewest 2nd, and so on. If the old start player took the additional Overseer action, he will be last in turn order no matter what.
III. The Market Phase:
The Bone Biter (seen above) is a weapon schematic appearing in Act II and will cost 8 gold for a blacksmith to learn. It can be equipped by an level 3+ adventurer and requires an Iron ingot, Mithril ingot, Emerald, and Ruby to forge. It is considered an axe weapon and will add 9 strength to the equipped adventurer. At the end of the game, a player that has learned how to make the Bone Biter will earn 5 Victory Points.
The Clerk Shop
There are two different types of Booth cards in the Bazaar. Market Stalls will allow will allow players to convert one type of resource into another type of resource, once per Round for the rest of the game. Savvy cards will allow players to take additional actions, depending on the type of savvy. As seen above, the Market Stall on the left costs 5 gold and will allow a player to convert a Copper ingot into an Iron ingot, once per Round. This Market Stall also awards 2 Victory Points to its owner at the end of the game. The Savvy card on the left is called a “Trader’s Savvy”, and costs 4 gold. It will allow its owner to perform an additional action with one of his stalls, once per Round for the rest of the game. It is also worth 2 Victory Points at the end of the game.
So, if a player owned both of these cards, he could convert two Copper ingots into two Iron ingots each Round, because the Trader’s Savvy would allow him to use one of his Market Stalls twice in a Round. As the Acts increase over the course of the game, Act II and Act III market cards will be introduced. They will include improved Market Stalls (convert higher end resources) and Savvy cards that will cost less to acquire and provide more Victory Points at the end of the game to their owner.
There are multiple types of Banner cards, though a majority will include Surplus cards. When purchased these will immediately add the listed quantity and type of resource to the player’s board area. As seen in the picture above, by paying 2 gold, a player can purchase a Emerald Surplus card, immediately gaining him 1 Emerald gem. The rest of the Banner cards involve moving the Mine overseers and workers, as well as leveling and acquiring new adventurers. Listed below the surplus card, the Training card costs 1 gold and will allow the player to level up on of his adventurers. This can be a huge advantage in leveling an adventurer from level 3 to level 4, as this action would normally costs a player 3 gold on the Barracks space to complete. Since Banner cards are immediately discarded after use, they do not provide Victory Points at the end of the game. Also, unlike the Booth cards, they will increase in cost from Act to Act. For instance the cost of Training in Act I & II is only 1 gold, while Act III Training card costs 2 gold.
IV. The Quest Phase:
In turn order, players will have the chance to acquire one new quest. There are three sections of quests on the game board (those costing 0 gold, 1 gold, and 2 gold). Once a quest is taken, it is considered active and the player must place a Quest marker on the 1st step of the card. Each quest has a number of steps and legs that an adventurer or set of adventurers must complete. A Quest marker is used to show which step of the quest the assigned adventurers are on. Once they have completed all of the steps in a particular leg, they will then move to the next leg of the quest. Some rewards are immediately gained when completing a leg. Victory Points are earned when the quest has ended, either when failed or successfully completed. When adventurers fail a quest, the player earns the Victory Points listed at the end of the previously completed leg of the quest. If the entire quest is completed, the player will gain the full amount of Victory Points listed at the end of the quest line.
After players have acquired a quest from the game board, they immediately enter the management portion of the phase, which requires them to equip an adventurer (or multiple adventurers) and send them on the quest. After the management step, the quest is checked to see whether it has passed or failed the initial requirements to continue it. Each quest leg (row of steps on a quest) has a strength requirement listed at the front of that row. This is the amount of cumulative strength his adventures must have in order to pass this part of the quest. Sometimes there are weapon icons listed beside the strength requirement on a quest leg. This means that not only does this leg have a strength number requirement, but it also requires at least one adventurer to hold the listed weapon type. If no adventurer has this weapon type, the strength requirement is increased by +3.
If a player has started a quest but can not equip the adventurers sent with enough strength to continue, the quest will automatically fail and the player will lose 3 Victory Points for what the rulebook calls “severely disappointing the king”. This negative effect only happens when players are checking a quest they just acquired that Round. When failing a quest this Round that was previously acquired from previous Round, the player will not lose these Victory Points, and may even gain some depending on how far along they were on the quest when it was failed. We’ll cover this in just a bit.
Each adventurer can carry one weapon at all times. Adventurers are not equipped until they are sent on a quest, therefore once a character is done with a quest, his equipped weapon is discarded and a new weapon will have to be forged to equip him again when sending him out on his next quest. When equipping an adventurer, the player will choose which weapon to forge for him. Each weapon lists the resources needed to make the weapon and the “level” requirement for an adventurer to carry it.
He then decides to forge the Forest Warden with a strength of 4 (by paying an Iron ingot and an Emerald) and equips it to his level 3 adventurer (this spear has a level requirement of 3). This provides him with a total of 9 strength, including the required axe. This may seem like a bit overkill, but keep in mind that the strength requirements will increase for each leg of the quest, although you are allowed to add adventurers and even upgrade weapons during each management portion of the Quest Phase.
After a player has completed his management steps, his quests are checked to see whether they have passed of failed. If failed, all adventurers are removed from the quest and their weapons (resources) discarded back to the supply. If a leg had previously been completed before failing this step, the Victory Points listed at the end of that previous leg in parentheses is awarded as compensation for at least completing part of the quest.
If adventurers have enough strength to pass, the quest marker is immediately moved to the next step of the quest. Sometimes this will mean moving it from the end of one leg of the quest to the beginning of the next. When this happens, any rewards other than Victory Points in parentheses listed at the end of that leg are immediately awarded. These can include gold, free market cards, bonus Mine action, etc. In this case, when Player A moved his quest marker from the 2nd space of the 1st leg to the 1st space of the 2nd leg of the Enraged Forest Spirit quest, he would have collected 1 Emerald gem. Note that when a quest marker is moved to a new leg, the requirements for that leg do not have to be met until after the player’s next management step of the following Quest Phase. The only time quests are checked for pass/fail is at the end of that step.
You’ll notice that some quests have numerous legs and some may only have one or two. This is important in that players can level up adventurers based on the number of legs on a quest when fully completing it. For instance, if the Enraged Forest Spirit quest was completed in full, it would reward a maximum of three “level up” bonuses since there were three legs involved with the quest. Each adventurer can only use one of these bonuses at a time, so if there were only two adventurers on the quest when it was completed, each could increase their level by one, the 3rd bonus would be lost. Because of this, sometimes it may be a viable strategy to load adventurers onto a quest you are about to complete, just to level them up. Of course, you’ll have to pay the resources to equip them with a weapon, only to see it discarded as soon as the quest is over.
V. The Cleanup Phase:
After all players have finished resolving their quests steps, certain maintenance functions will need to be taking care of before moving on, depending on whether it is the beginning of a new Round, a new Act, or even towards the end of the game.
End of a Round
After all players have resolved their questing steps, the Round ends. Depending on the number of players in the game, a number of Quest cards will be removed from the left-most Quest card spaces on the game board:
– In a 2-player game, the cards from the three leftmost spaces are removed.
– In a 3-player game, the cards from the two leftmost spaces are removed.
– In a 4-player game, the cards from the leftmost space is removed.
Before moving the Round marker to the next Round on the track, players will resolve any Round bonuses awarded for the current Round. These are designated by the random tiles that were placed on the board at the beginning of the game. Some of these bonuses many include collecting an extra resource for every three resources of that type they currently hold, gaining an extra adventurer if they have the exact amount of active quests listed on the tile, or immediate gold/victory points bonuses for every active champion adventurer they own.
End of an Act
As mentioned before, a game of Forge War spans three full Acts (if playing the advanced game) containing six Rounds each. At the end of the 6th Round, a new Act will trigger. Players will need to do a bit of maintenance to the board and play area before beginning the next Act. This includes:
– All Market cards on the game board are removed from the game board, with the exception of any weapon schematic cards not yet revealed from the weapons draw deck, as well as weapon schematic cards already face up below the board. The new Act’s Market cards are then placed in their corresponding draw areas. There are a few Act specific rules for how the weapons card deck is configured for Act II and III. Some of the schematic cards are added to the area below the game board, while some of the regular weapon cards are randomly discarded before the Round begins.
– All Quests still in the Quest area that were part of the previous Act are removed, then eight new Quest cards from the upcoming Act are drawn and placed in the Quest area. These Quest will be harder and more difficult to complete, but contain wealthier rewards and Victory Points.
After the end of the 6th Round in Act III, the game has ended. While players accrue Victory Points when completing (and even failing) quests during the game, a large amount of Victory Point can be score at the end of the game. Player’s will add the following Victory Points to their overall total:
– All Victory Points from owned Market cards. These include Booth cards purchased during the game as well as any Weapon cards and schematic cards the player learn in the game. All of these cards have a listed Victory Point icon in the top-right corner of the card.
– Each Champion (level 4) adventurer a player has is worth 5 Victory Points. All other adventurer are worth 1 Victory Point per level.
– Players will sell all leftover resources per the merchant price. The player will then total all gold they have and gain 1 Victory Point for every 4 gold.
After totaling these items, the player with the most Victory Points claims victory, and is allowed to scoff at his opposing player’s collective ineptness.
Forge War takes a variety of simplistic mechanics, such as area control, worker placement, progressive engine-building, and resource management (to name a few), and combines them to create a deep and challenging strategy game. While the basic 7-Round game can be completed in under an hour, it is the advanced three Act experience where Forge War really shines.
Players begin with the lowly knowledge of making copper swords and daggers. Certainly nothing to write home about. Players are tasked with multiple engine-building undertakings, from learning new weapons (especially those of different types), collecting the needed resources for forging these weapons, amassing the gold needed for maximizing their action opportunities in the village market, along with managing adventurer’s and their levels, all while balancing the needed requirements for starting, continuing, and completing their collected quests. It can be a bit intimidating at first in trying to figure out the best balance in administering all of these at once. Yet, the mechanics are so simple and intuitive that players can focus more on the errors of their chosen strategy as opposed to worrying about their errors with the ruleset.
With each new Act comes new resource types in the Mine, new more powerful Weapons that can be forged with these resources, and more difficult and challenging Quests. While most of the Quests in Act I are fairly simplistic and manageable, the difficulty in completing these Quests increase from Act to Act. It becomes important to plan efficiently ahead of time for what you’ll need in the upcoming Acts. Poor planning in any one area can set a player back a few Rounds, trying to make up for the items he needs, whether it be more gold, a specific type of weapon, or specific resources. We found in our first play that it is quite easy to run out of gold, and can put one in quite a bind if spent poorly, being that the only main ways to gain gold are the “1 gold” action space in the village market, and by completing steps in a quest. Players can use their merchant, but are limited to selling one resource every Round, and being that resources are not the easiest
thing to collect, it becomes counter-productive to lean on your merchant for consistent income.
I’ve found it is then important to plan in a way that you are able to generate gold consistently from Round to Round. Many of the quests in Act I are short and will reward gold from leg to leg, so I find it important to focus on these types of quests first. Also, jumping on a few of the weapon schematics early on can gain you some income from other players when they need to learn them. Gold is used for almost everything, from gaining Quests, learning Weapon schematics, purchasing Market cards, and training new adventurers. Yet, it may be the hardest commodity to come by in the game. This results some steady and tight strategy from Act to Act.
For those that enjoy Lords of Waterdeep, Forge War can be thought of as its more advanced, scholarly brother with a doctorate. Thought the mechanics don’t necessarily resemble one another (besides the worker-placement aspect), its the feeling of generating adventurers and sending them out on quests that bring the two together in my mind. Forge War is deep, can be quite tough, and when playing the advanced game, fairly lengthy (pushing the 3-hour mark), but it’s one that I’ve felt fully invested in for all 3 hours, attempting to squeeze all the Victory Points I can out of my little raiding party of adventurers, with the shiny, metal laden instruments of destruction that I’ve equipped them with. I could go on and on about all of the different strategies and avenues I’ve found in this game, but for now I’ll just encourage you to give it a go.