Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s web page or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!
- For ages 10 and up
- For 2 to 5 players
- Approximately 90 minutes to complete
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Pattern/Color Matching
- Strategy & Tactics
- Hand/Resource Management
- Worker Placement & Area Control
- Child – Moderate
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Forge your family legacy as you help build a city from the ground up
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek mixed!
- Child Geek rejected!
When you arrived at Pueblo County, Colorado, there wasn’t much to look at. A few buildings, a budding factory, and a lot of space. But you saw its potential and the vast fortune that could be made. This town, you decided, was going to be your family legacy. From that day forward you worked to build an empire. Your children have done the same and their children will continue your legacy. History will look back and determine if you were a person of vision or just another dreamer.
Forged in Steel, designed by Wade Broadhead and to be published by Knight Works Games, will reportedly be comprised of 1 game board, 106 Era cards, 100 House pieces (25 per player), 12 Mansion pieces (3 per player), 125 Ownership cubes (25 per player and 30 that belong to the city), 6 Civic Building pieces, 15 Commercial Building pieces, 15 Factory pieces, 3 Hospital pieces, 4 Park pieces (1 large, 2 medium, and 1 small), 4 Player Aid cards and 1 standard four-sided die. As this is a review of a prepublished game, I will not comment on the game component quality.
Game Set Up
To set up the game, first place the game board in the middle of the playing area. Place a city Ownership cube on the lowest value of the Era, Neighborhood, Mining, Industry, and Commercial tracks found on the game board. Note that the Mining, Industry, and Commercial tracks are collectively referred to as the “Prosperity track”, despite being 3 separate tracks.
Second, give each player 1 Player Aid card and all the Ownership cubes, Mansion pieces, and House pieces of the same color. Players should place these in front of them at this time. Any not used should be returned to the game box, but do NOT return the white cubes. These belong to the city and act as neutral parties in the game.
Third, establish turn order by whatever method makes sense and place 1 Ownership cube for each player in the appropriate turn order position track. The player in the last position becomes the Mayor for the first era and places another of their Ownership cubes on the Mayor Role space.
Fourth, take the Era cards and divide them up into 3 piles. Each Era card has an era value that should be used when dividing the cards. Shuffle each pile when done and place the piles face down in a row to create the Era draw decks. You will have a draw deck for the 1890’s, the 1900’s, and the 1910’s.
Fifth, place a Civic building on the “City Hall” space and then in reverse turn order each player will take a House piece and place it on the game board. The Mayor goes first and must place their first House piece on the “El Pueblo” lot. The next player in reverse turn order now places a house in any empty lot that is orthogonally adjacent (up, down, left, or right – not diagonal) to any previously placed house. This continues until all players have placed 2 House pieces each. Then the Mayor takes 3 city Ownership cubes and places them orthogonally adjacent to any previously placed player Houses. Thematically speaking, the players are arriving to the city after it has already started to grow. Although, it’s more of a town than a city at this point.
Note: Forged in Steel uses the terms “lot” and “block” to identify different sizes of squares on the game board. A “lot” is a single square. A “block” is comprised of 4 adjacent squares. A block is also completely enclosed by roads. Depending on the size of the buildings and cubes being placed, one or more lots will be taken up.
Sixth, deal 8 cards from the 1890’s Era draw deck to each player. Players can look at their cards, but should keep them hidden from their opponents until played. Players must now select 1 card to discard. This card is placed face-down in the discard pile. Then the player must select 2 cards to keep for later. These are also placed face-down, but are kept by the player. This pile of cards is referred to as the “Bank”. Cards played to the Bank can be looked at anytime by their owning player, but they will not be played until the last era. The remaining 5 cards are kept in the player’s hand and will be played during the current era.
Note: Cards placed in the Bank will be included in the player’s last hand of the game. As such, players need to consider what their goals are for the current round and how the cards in the Bank can either further that goal or benefit from it. Tricky…
Seventh, have each player select 1 of the roles in the game. The role of Mayor has already been assigned to the last player in turn order sequence. The roles remaining include Tax Official, Immigration Official, Black Hand Mafia, and Customs Official. Each role has a perk described in detail next to the role spot on the game board. When a player selects a role, they place an Ownership cube on the role spot.
Eighth, the player who took the Tax Collector role now draws a number of cards equal to the number of players from the Era draw deck. The Tax Collector will choose 1 card and pass the remaining cards to any other player who has not yet had a chance to take a card. The player who was given the cards also selects 1 card and passes the remaining cards to any player who has not yet had a chance to take a card. This continues until every player has an extra cards. The cards selected are placed in the player’s hand.
Ninth, each player in turn order sequence now places 1 Mansion piece in any neighborhood they like. Mansions take 2 lots when being placed. Players should look at the cards in their hand before placing their Mansion to make sure they don’t cheat themselves of points.
That’s it for game set up. Time to make your name known.
Forging a Legacy
Forged in Steel consists of 3 rounds of play. Each round represent one of the three eras. Each round is divided into multiple phases, but they are not always played in turn order sequence. Each phase is summarized here, but before we jump into each, a word of caution to the players. At anytime the unrest of the city (found on the Unrest track) ever reaches “8” or more, all phases prior to the Riot phase are temporarily skipped. The game will resume after the riots have been resolved.
There’s a lesson here for the players: no matter how rich and influential you might be, you cannot withstand the raw power of an angry mob.
Note: This is a medium to heavy game which means there are a lot of subtle rules that depend on certain game conditions. This should not suggest that the game is complicated – because it isn’t – but it does make summarizing the game play difficult. Rather than list all the individual gotchas, piece placement restrictions, and conditional possibilities, I’m going to summarize the most important aspects of play. What rules and actions I am not covering are best explained and experienced with the game board in front of you.
Phase 1: Hand Assembly
During the first and second phase, each player is dealt 8 cards, discards 1, and banks 2. This phase was done during game set up and is skipped during the first era. During the third era, players are dealt 3 cards each. These are added to the player’s Banked cards. Then the player discards down to no more than 4 cards in their hand. Note that the Tax Collector will use their role during each Era.
Phase 2: Strategy (i.e. “Play Cards”)
The cards in Forged in Steel run the show. While every card is different (to various degrees), they do share common characteristics and can be used for 2 different actions. For example, you will need to play cards to build. To build, you need “Municipal Muscle” (MM for short) which is spent like money to place pieces on the game board. Or, if the player likes, they can avoid spending muscle and play the card for its Event. It’s also worth noting that this phase allows the players to target their opponents and inflict negative effects.
You play cards to buy, build, and seize property in the game. On these cards, there might also be an identifier. These identifiers are Headlines, Recurring, and Disease. As you might expect, Headlines spotlight specific events that happened during the era and go to a special Headlines spot on the game board. When the card is played, the Headlines is triggered automatically. Recurring cards are played and then placed back in the Era deck instead of being discarded. Finally, Disease cards effect all the neighborhoods on the game board except for those that have a Hospital piece on them.
In general, the cards will allow the players to do the following.
Buying Property and Building
If the card is played for Municipal Muscle, the player can use it to build next to previously placed buildings in neighborhoods they own. Players can buy lots and entire blocks if they have the ability to do so. Ownership is always tracked by using Ownership cubes and placing buildings in the lot or lots the player owns, but only if they are adjacent to other buildings. No building can ever cross over a street. Additionally, some buildings can only be built in certain zones. Factories, for example, can only be built in lots and blocks that have the Factory symbol on them. Other buildings, such as Commercial buildings, can only be built if the player owns the entire block in which the building is to be placed. As such, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s not only important to own real estate, but players must properly plan how their neighborhoods are being built to maximize points. For some buildings, such as Houses, players can build wherever there is space, but the player who owns that space will get points!
Mines are something of an exception, as they are not located in the city. Mines are located in the hills and are not subject to any zoning restrictions. As such, players can buy mines that are apart from each other since distance from one owned mine to another is not important. Mines are, however, limited in number. Mines immediately score points when purchased, but they also cause unrest which is recorded using the Unrest track.
Special buildings such as Mansions, Hospitals, Civic, and Parks are limited in number, can only be built if a card allows it, and provide not only points, but additional benefits to the player who owns them. For example, Civic buildings give the player who owns them additional points for every Commercial building that is adjacent to it and the Park gives the player 1 point for every House and Commercial building, as well as increasing the value of the Neighborhood track it’s placed it. Which, thematically speaking, is making the neighborhood more desirable. Which, in turn, scores the player more points. Players can also build Mansions for the very rich which will earn them points and votes.
If a player is unable to build or desires a building owned by an opponent, cards will allow a player to seize property. Seizing isn’t cheap (costs 4 Municipal Muscle), but it’s a quick and dirty way of swapping out ownership. Unfortunately, this type of aggressive takeover is frowned upon by the general populace. As such, Unrest will increase. However, if an event allows for property seizure, the general populace doesn’t seem to mind.
Municipal Muscle is great, but it isn’t the only resource at the player’s disposal. A player can choose to use a card for its Event. Oftentimes the events tend to have a much stronger effect on the game if they are played correctly. When playing the card for an Event, the player reads it out loud and completes the action described. The card is then removed from the game unless it’s recurring. Events do all kinds of things including the placement of buildings and shifting the Prosperity track values. Note that cards might have Events and Headlines.
Like Events, players can choose to use a card for its Headline instead of its Municipal Muscle. Headlines are, by and large, a specialized Events, but are more representative of trends and historical happenings that continue to impact the game long after the card has been played. Resolving Headlines is done in the same way as Events, but Headlines are placed in the Headlines space on the game board. When played, the player places an Ownership cube on it to help track of who played what. Headline cards will not stay for long, but they are not out of the game. They shift position in the Headlines space, and when bumped, are placed at the top of the game board. Future Headlines might reference previously played Headlines, further impacting game play.
Response (i.e. “Oh, No You Didn’t”)
Some cards contain a Response action. The Response can be ignored if the player wants to play the card for Municipal Muscle, Events, or Headlines if they like. Responses are always optional. If a player does choose to play a card for the Response, it must be played immediately and the Response resolved. Once the Response has been resolved, the player who played the Response now takes their turn regardless of the turn order sequence using the card the Response was on. This could be for Municipal Muscle, an Event, or a Headline. Kind of a one-two punch, if you will. However, no matter what effect is canceled, the player’s opponent can always use the card that was canceled for the Municipal Muscle value. You can’t stop progress…
Phase 3: Immigration Phase
All that building, buying, and seizing of property has made the nation sit up and take notice. People are now flocking to the city in hopes of finding work and prosperity. This is both a good and a bad thing as the players will quickly come to realize.
Count the total number of Commercial buildings and Factories in each neighborhood. Using the Immigration chart found on the game board, find the total number of immigrants to be added per player based on the total number of Commercial buildings plus the total number of Factories.
Players now take that number of House pieces and take turns attempting to place the House pieces in lots occupied by any Ownership cube. The player who currently has the Immigration Official role goes first by placing all their houses. Then the next player in turn order sequence does the same and so on. Note that a player is never required to place a House piece in a lot or block that would benefit them, but they must always play the House piece orthogonally adjacent to another building that has an Ownership cube.
Here’s where things get bad. For every House that cannot be placed, the Unrest track value rises by 1. The player places their Ownership cube on the track to mark the increase in civil unrest. If the Unrest track should ever contain 8 Ownership cubes, the Immigration phase immediately ends and the Riot phase begins.
Phase 4: Riots
Unavailable housing, poor work conditions, and growing dissatisfaction will eventually boil over and trigger a riot. In game terms, the game board is about to get really messed up and alter scores that players thought were a “sure thing”. Thematically, the city is going to get busted up, burned, and looted.
However, riots are only unleashed on the city if the Unrest track has 8 or more Ownership cubes on it. If the Unrest track has fewer than 8, no riots will occur, but the cubes and the civil turbulence will remain. It’s possible to have more than 8 Ownership cubes on the track. If this is the case, the extra cubes are placed below the track. These will be accounted for when the full force of the riot is resolved.
Riots are resolved by following a few sequential steps.
- The player who contributed the least number of Ownership cubes to the Unrest track gets the title of “Riot Instigator” and gets to select the location where the riots starts. The starting location, in this case a lot, must be owned by the player who contributed the most Ownership cubes to the Unrest track. This unfortunate lot is now referred to as the “Riot Target”.
- The Riot Instigator now rolls the four-sided die and adds a +1 if the era is the 1900’s or a +2 if the era is 1910’s. The number rolled is the number of non-special buildings that are removed from the game starting with the Riot Target. All non-special buildings that are removed must be orthogonally adjacent to the previously destroyed non-special building. Non-special buildings include Houses, Factories, and Commercial buildings. No one in their right mind would destroy a Hospital.
- When the destruction, looting, and general unpleasantness that is a riot comes to an end, the Unrest track is cleared.
Phase 5: The Black Hand Mafia
Wherever you find civil unrest, you will find crime. The Black Hand Mafia is the face of crime in the city and it has plans to take over. The player who currently has the Black Hand Mafia role chooses one neighborhood and then roles the four-sided die. The player then removes a number of House pieces equal to the number rolled. Unlike the riot, the Houses that are removed do not need to be orthogonally adjacent or even in the same block.
Phase 6: Scoring
Scores are awarded to players based on how positive their influence was to the city for that era. Scores are calculated as follows:
- Mining: Count all the Mines on the game board. The player who currently has Customs Official role matches that number to the list next to their role title. Then all the players count individual Mines they own and multiply that number by the current number on the Mine track.
- Industrial: Each player counts the total number of Factories they own and multiples that number by the current number on the Industry track.
- Commercial: Each player counts the total number of Commercial buildings they own and multiples that number by the current number on the Commercial track. Then, for each adjacent Mansion piece the players has by another Mansion they own, they score 2 additional points. If the Mansion is adjacent to an opponent’s Mansion, they score 1 additional point. Additionally, for every adjacent Civic building, Hospital, and Park, the player scores 1 additional point.
- Houses: Players count the total number of houses they own in all the neighborhoods and multiply that number by the current number on the Neighborhood track. Additional points are awarded for adjacent Mansions, Civic buildings, Hospitals, and Parks.
- Headlines: If any Headlines on cards currently occupying the “Lead Headline” and “Headlines” space on the game board provide additional points, they are now included. If there’s a conflict between the two Headlines, the “Lead Headline” always wins.
After the scores are calculated, the players move their Ownership cube on the Score track (that looks like a railroad track) found on the border of the game board.
Phase 6: Elections
Now that the era is coming to a close, some players have risen and some have fallen in the general populace’s eyes. One neighborhood at a time, players will determine who has the most ballots in their favor. House and Commercial buildings provide 1 ballot each, while Mansions provide 2 ballots. This is done for each neighborhood and the player with the most votes wins the role of Mayor for the next era. This player places their Ownership cube on the last space on the Turn Order track and another on the Mayor role. As the new Mayor, they get the perk of awarding themselves points equal to the Score track value the City cube is occupying. The City cube is then set to zero.
The next era’s turn order is set based on the election results. The player with the least number of votes gets to go first, followed by the player with the second least number of votes, and so on.
Phase 7: Official Office Role
Players now select their new official role for the era. The player who is the last in the turn order sequence is Mayor by default.
Phase 8: Clean Up
Remove any cards in the Headline spots on the game board and place them above the game board with the other triggered Headlines. Then add the cards from the discard pile and the cards from the next Era together to create the next Era draw deck, giving it a good shuffle. The Neighborhood tracks and Prosperity tracks are reset back to their lowest number position.
This completest the era.
Ending the Game
The game ends when the last era is scored after the Election phase. The player with the highest score wins the game.
Peace in the Valley
This game variant removes the Mafia role and restricts players from targeting opponents. Specifically, you cannot remove an opponent’s building, cannot take cards from opponents, and the Unrest track won’t be much of an issue. Personally, I would suggest you avoid this game variant. While it does make the game less confrontational, the game board gets cluttered up pretty quickly. The Black Hand and Riots do a great job of opening up parts of the city that were otherwise unavailable to players.
The Child Geeks did not enjoy this game. They found it to be too long and too difficult to keep track of everything they wanted to do and how it would impact the next phase. According to one Child Geek, “I find this game really frustrating. It takes forever to play and I don’t understand how I’m not getting more points.” Another Child Geek said, “I understand how to play, but I just think the game is too long.” Further compounding their frustration were the many little ways players can aggressively attack each other. This really took its toll on some of the younger Child Geek who never felt that they were given a chance to play the game. Even when we introduced the Peace in the Valley game variant, the Child Geeks never felt like they had a chance to have fun. So it would appear that total game play time, player interaction, and difficultly keeping track of the many different ways a player’s actions influence the game was just too much for the Child Geeks. They majority voted to reject the game as a result..
The Parent Geeks had mixed feelings about the game. While no stranger to longer and more complicated games, some of the Parent Geeks found Forged in Steel to be too “fiddly”, especially when it came time to place buildings and scoring points. According to one Parent Geek, “I really like how we can build the city, but it feels a bit too complicated at times.” Another Parent Geek said, “I find it impossible to accurately keep track of how many points I might have scored. I’m surprised at how well or how poorly I did every time we score points at the end of the era.” But the more hardcore Parent Geeks loved Forged in Steel, finding it to be an intriguing and complex city building game that offered lots of different opportunities. According to one of these Parent Geek, “This game is simply excellent. There is so much to do and so much to plan for, but you always have to watch out for that unrest or it’ll all come back and hit you in the face.” Final count of the votes revealed that the more experienced Parent Geeks who liked deeper and heavier games found Forged in Steel to be an excellent game, with the casual and non-gamers believing the game to be too much to enjoy.
The Gamer Geeks found Forged in Steel to be a challenging game to win, but not to play. According to one Gamer Geek, “I like how this game is set up. It’s easy to plan for and you can see how your choices are going to impact the rest of the game.” When I mentioned the unrest and Black Hand Mafia, the Gamer Geek responded, “Those are events that will happen, which means you can plan for them.” Well said. Another Gamer Geek thought that the most unique part of the game was the subtle balance between progress and unrest. “I like that aspect of the game. The more aggressively you build in the city, the faster the city grows and unrest builds. It’s a balancing act that all the players have to help with, to one degree or another.” When the city was built and the legacies were forged, all the Gamer Geeks voted to approve Forged in Steel.
Forged in Steel has just the right amount of luck, player interaction, and resource management to leave me satisfied. This is a card driven game, but you never have a bad card in your hand. This should not suggest you always have the cards you want, however. Regardless, a player is never in a corner, so to speak, and there are multiple paths to victory. Much depends on past plays, as present plays benefit from previous game decisions. This was an interesting aspect to wrestle with as it’s common to make game decisions based on current conditions. Players bank cards for future plays and can manage their hand so as to benefit from the past as well as the future.
While this game greatly pleased the Gamer Geeks, it alienated casual gamers and non-gamers very quickly. The game is just a bit too heavy for the inexperienced or for those looking for a smaller game. But there is an important point to make here. Forged in Steel is not a difficult game to learn how to play, although our Child Geeks did seem to have trouble with all the buildings and building rules (thus the moderate learning curve). Players must think ahead, but that is not difficult. What is difficult is simply staying in the game. Points will come and go, buildings will be raised high through Municipal Muscle and then razed to the ground during a riot. All the while, the players must keep track of multiple neighborhoods, mines, the city’s unrest, their election power, and the growing weight of the city’s industrial growth. If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, it is and that’s why all but our most experienced Parent Geeks and our Gamer Geeks had difficulty.
Is this game for you? That all depends on what type of experience you are looking for at your gaming table. I wouldn’t suggest Forged in Steel for families, casual gamer, and non-gamers. There is just too much game here. For Parent Geeks who like to play some “serious” games with other Parent Geeks from time to time, Forged in Steel would be a good choice. For the Gamer Geeks, Forged in Steel will offer some challenging game play, some fun twists, unique strategies, and dirty tactics. If any of that sounds good to you, then Forged in Steel is a game you should try.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.