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Forbidden Stars - Strategy

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Had a chance to play Forbidden Stars again last weekend, and will doing so again this weekend! For those of you who don't know, Forbidden Stars is a conquest style strategy wargame that takes part in the Warhammer 40k setting. However, it could easily be ported over to almost any setting, because while the 40k elements are a lot of FUN for those who know them, the gameplay itself is just so incredibly spot-on and generic that being 40k never really enters into it. If it wasn't for the pictures, you'd probably forget it even is 40k!


The main structure of the game is actually quite simple! You build a sector in space populated by some planets. As each player puts down a square tile (2x2 for a 2 player game, 2x3 for a 3 player game, and 3x3 for a 4 player game), that player may place some of their starting units on those planets, and places objective markers that belong to his or her opponent onto those worlds. So it is that you start already neighbours with just about every player, and you start with something they desperately want! Your goal is to claim a number of objective markers equal to the number of players in the game, meaning the fighting is going to have to be fast and furious to come out ahead. Here is an image of what is honestly an actual typical game:


The key mechanic in the game is the Order system. You have eight (8) order tokens to use, two (2) of each kind of order in the game. An order lets you do a certain phase of the game, and are what allow you to build new units (Build), research stronger strategies (Strategize), move and attack with your units (Advance), or extract special resources from the game board while allowing a special faction-unique ability to be used (Dominate). While you have eight of these, every round you will only get to use half of them, in any combination you wish! Additionally, you'll place these markers face-down in the sector where you want that Order to take place, meaning that your opponents won't know what it is you have planned to do! However, whenever a new Order Token is placed face-down in a system, it covers the Order Token below it, meaning that the hidden tokens can't be activated until the ones above them have been resolved. This allows you to force your opponent into sub-optimal plays, or you might make the mistake of thinking a system will be easy to attack when actually your opponent comes to that system's rescue before you even show up! There's a lot of drama in these Order tokens and in which order they resolve in.

The other key part of the game is combat. There are three combat metrics, and three ways to enhance those combat metrics. The first is your attack power, or "Gunz" as we usually call them. Having a high attack power will allow you to destroy or rout enemies. The second is your defence power, or "Shields" as we call them. These prevent your units from being routed or destroyed. Lastly, there's Morale. When one side is unable to entirely destroy their opponent's forces after three rounds of combat, whomever has the most Morale wins, making this your real "army health" metric, with your Shields preventing health loss. The only metric you start a battle with is Morale, everything else will be added to your army's abilities during combat. First, you roll dice. More and Bigger units will add more dice, but you're limited to a mere EIGHT (8) dice - you're not allowed any more than that! The dice also don't just succeed or fail, but rather give you an extra random power of Gunz, Shields, or Morale, and only give it at the start of combat (though they last the whole combat). In this way, it's impossible for two equally sized and powered armies to just fold against the other due to "bad dice" - rather, these dice results will shape your strategy during the rest of the combat. The second method of gaining these metrics is your Combat Deck, a deck of 10 cards (two copies of five different cards) that you randomly draw 5 cards from after rolling your dice. These cards will have a symbol in the upper left corner that shows how many of each metric they add to. Your initial deck won't give you many of these symbols, but can be upgraded to more and more powerful cards as the game progresses. When you play a card (and each player will play 1 card each combat round for a total of 3 cards played), you gain those combat metrics for the rest of the combat! Yup, as the battle wears on, it only gets more intense, with blow-outs against your opponent aiding you in each combat round remaining in that combat. Lastly, a number of cards will let you gain additional dice or tokens (tokens only lasting that single combat round) that allow you to improve your different metrics, many times in ways that may be far more powerful than whether or not you even win this combat!

I love this combat system so much, because it rewards building up your tech over the game, and combats are always interesting, even just to watch as two other players go at it. It may "pause" the rest of the game while you do this, but considering how important these combats are and the suspense involved, it's a real joy to watch.


Okay, so that's the review of the main, critical, game parts. There's obviously a ton of other rules to the game, but from here in I'm going to talk some strategy. If you're going to be playing this game, here's some strategy tips! I can't guarantee that these tips are going to work against veterans of the game, but they will definitely help you through your initial matches


#1 - Be, Be, Be Aggressive:


Do NOT hold back in this game, unless it's for a VERY good reason! Most factions, save the Orks, have combat abilities that benefit not just that combat, but the rest of your force in the game. A good example is above with the Chaos "Dark Faith" combat card. This card doesn't give you a whole ton (a Morale symbol and a Morale die - no guns or shields at all!), but its effect is possibly more powerful than just winning or losing this entire combat! If you have more Morale dice than your opponent (much easier considering you first gain a Morale die), then you get to place a FREE Cultist in another Friendly or UNCONTROLLED world in the system! That's right! By fighting in this combat, not only did you just "build" something for free, if it went somewhere uncontrolled, it's also as if you attacked and took over a world! And this is at NO COST! Chaos is the best at this in the early game, with Dark Faith, Mark of Slaanesh (an early upgrade) and their Dominate action allowing them to rapidly expand to empty worlds.

Eldar and Space Marines have some cards that allow them to retreat units in a very controlled fashion, meaning that you can use combat with these units to quickly reposition them somewhere else where they will be more effective. There are times where you might do this even if you're winning the combat, simply because of how powerful that extra unit placement is! Space Marines later in the game also get Drop Pods (a combat card earlier, and another upgrade to their Advance order later in the game) that allows them to first reposition Space Marines, and then get FREE new Space Marines while bombarding enemy worlds!

Lastly, while the Orks don't get any of these "tricksy" combat cards or abilities, their combat cards are simply DEAD 'ARD instead, with a ton of Gunz and Shields that'll simply let you stomp your enemies into dust. Simply put, you're the meanest, toughest, killiest things in the game right from the start, and upgrading your deck only improves that. You should be able to take just about any world you can reach.

This means that all of the factions should be aggressive, even starting Turn 1! Chaos wants to attack because it gets free units, Eldar want to attack because they can reposition elsewhere rapidly to strike where least suspected, Space Marines want to take forward positions and then bunker down, and Orks just want to attack and jump from world to world to world!

If you are not being Aggressive, you must be trying to have an amazing turn where you're gaining a huge amount of Material (your "money" in the game), and just spending it to vastly upgrade and improve your army. If an opponent has a lot more wealth than you, taking turns not attacking is going to put you too far behind, as they'll be able to start teching up and building forces while still being aggressive.


#2 - Upgrade Your Combat Deck Every Turn


If possible, you should be upgrading your Combat deck every turn. I know you want to buy that Titan, but trust me, an upgraded combat deck is better. A single Space Marine Scout, with a fully upgraded combat deck, would easily defeat a TITAN without such an upgraded deck (though the first round of combat might be a nail-biter, depending on how the dice rolled), simply because by the end of 3 combats, your Combat Cards will matter more than your dice. To put this in perspective, let's look at a Scout vs a Cultist fight right at the start of the game, and each player draws 1 copy of each card (which is possible, if unlikely). In a fight against each other, both are rolling just 1 combat die. This means each side will get either 1 Gun, Shield, or Morale. Let's say the Space Marines get a Gun, while Chaos gets a Shield. In the first turn, Space Marines (we'll say they're attacking) play Ambush, gaining 1 Gun from the card, and choosing to gain 2 Shield tokens. The Chaos player plays Impure Zeal, gaining a Gun and Shield symbol, and a Gun token. This ends up with both sides having 2 Guns and 2 Shields, and bouncing off of each other, but next turn, the Space Marines will be starting the combat with just 2 Guns, while the Chaos forces will be starting with 1 Gun and 2 Shields, putting Chaos on the advantage! The fact that these extra combat symbols carry through from combat round to combat round means that cards with really high numbers of useful combat symbols will have a massive advantage against a deck without them come the second and third round of combat.

As such, upgrading your deck every turn to make sure you don't fall behind in this regard is essential, even if it means you eventually take out your favourite starter deck card.

Also, be mindful when upgrading your deck not to just go all-in on one type of combat metric. The dice rolls still factor into things, as there will be times when you don't care how many Gunz you have, you just need something to survive combat, or when your opponent and yourself are just equally matched in Guns and Shields, and you need to pull ahead in Morale to secure the victory. A varied deck with all three types of symbols is very useful. Cards with all of one symbol tend to be better near at the start of combat where you're already really ahead or behind, and better at the end of combat when you're about even and you just need to pull a bit more ahead in one aspect. Cards with a mix of symbols (like Chaos Victorious pictured above), are better at the start of combat when your two sides are about even in strength, or at the end of combat when you're already really ahead or behind.

Lastly, try not to max out your dice, unless your deck doesn't add many dice, or you need lots of units there to win a morale battle. You max out at 8 and then can't gain any additional dice, meaning that cards that add dice lose a lot of their potency. If you attack with 1 fewer unit, but have a card that'll add that unit's dice in anyways, then save that unit's life and leave them behind.


#3 - Spaceships are Important, But Not That Important


Spaceships are great. They get a lot of high stats for low cost, but they only fight in spaceship battles or bombard enemy worlds. You need ships in these voids in order to keep your forces moving around the table. You can also use them to bombard enemies, though you'll need a big fleet for that to matter, unless you're Eldar (which can max out their rolls quickly, allowing them to more successfully bombard places than most other factions). For this reason, having a few sapceships is always a good idea. However, don't go overboard with them either! Spaceships can't take over planets, meaning you don't really gain anything when you attack somewhere with them, so they really will just be bridging the gaps between worlds and bombarding all game long. Also, your units can move directly to adjacent worlds if there's no void between them, meaning that if you build the map correctly (very useful for Orks), you'll be able to make sizeable gains even without a lot of support craft. Even still, you need ships, because sooner or later there's going to be a Void that you MUST cross.

Of special note to Orks, your ships look pretty bad at first, with just 1 attack power (they only add 1 die each, as opposed to the Eldar's 3 each!), but their toughness is actually a huge boon for them. Orks tend to win combat by out-lasting their opponents and winning on Morale and combat cards. Remember to spend those Reinforcement tokens to gain HUGE pools of additional and tough Morale. Orks may look weak in space combat, but it's just an illusion, one you don't want your opponents figuring out! Again, upgrading your deck every turn will help keep space combats going surprisingly in your favour.


#4 - Create a Disruption-Resistant Plan


Your opponents are going to try and mess you up, and you should be trying to mess your opponents up. Being last during a turn is great, as you get to place down the last order token, potentially delaying a critical turn for your opponents. For this reason, you should also be trying to craft a plan that's resistant to your opponents doing this same thing to you. To create a resistant plan, you want to remember the following tips:

i. Your opponents have a range limit to their tokens, so far away spaces are safer: You can only place an order token in a system with your units in it, or adjacent to such a system. If you're able to push your opponents out from a corner and you solely control all the adjacent systems, that system is safe from disruption. You should put your tokens in this system FIRST, and they should be the tokens you want to activate RIGHT AWAY. This will force your opponents to activate their orders before you, giving you the most amount of information when you make your other orders.

ii. Place your Advance orders LAST: Your Advance orders are the most susceptible to disruption, because they'll naturally be going into territories where you want to either be attacking or sending reinforcements to. If your opponent kills one of your forces before it would be moved, or if your opponent reinforces the location you're trying to attack before you get there, you're going to effectively have wasted that order. Give you get so few orders each turn, this is a really bad thing, and you'll feel the repercussions of that mistake immediately, and the echoes of it for a long time. If you place your Advance order last, this will lessen (or negate, depending on the turn order) the chance that an opponent will bury your order under one of theirs. Even if you don't want to attack that system right away (because you want to do other things first), having the Advance token be on top means that this system should stay pretty much the same before you attack it.

iii. Have a plan in mind where the order doesn't matter: Does it matter if you build first then strategize, or strategize then build, or dominate then attack? You probably want to try and maximize your turn by grabbing just enough extra stuff to make your successive actions that turn even more profitable, and while it's really useful when it works, it can become catastrophic if it gets disrupted. Say you need to Dominate somewhere to get the gears token (extra Material for purchasing units), then strategize to get an Order Upgrade, then Build (using the extra material and Order Upgrade), then attack with what was just built... This is a really strong plan. You are really getting ahead if this plan comes together. However, if any of the points in this plan get disrupted and you have to skip that step and do another step before you're ready, then your WHOLE TURN falls apart. If you have to build before you strategize, then you can't get the benefit of the order upgrade, meaning you won't have the special unit you were hoping to attack with. So, you can try to go for this really killer turn, but just know that if it goes wrong, it could go REALLY wrong. If you are just planning to build after you dominate though, and then can strategize either before or after building, and then finally attack, then there's far fewer ways that the plan can be disrupted. If you can't strategize, you can dominate, if you can't dominate, you can strategize, then hopefully the next order lets you do the other part of your plan.


I hope this (blog?)post helps you in your next game of Forbidden Stars!


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