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KING'S FORGE: STARLING GAMES
A Game for 2-4 Players by Nick Sibicky with Eye Catching Illustrations from Jonathan Kirtz
Just off of a very successful Kickstarter Campaign

KING'S FORGE is a Dice (rolling and manipulating) and Cards (collecting and spending) game. The cards represent the game's Crafting and Gathering skills and the dice are the Resources that are gathered and crafted. Each die colour is a different resource; 42 Black (Metal); 22 Green (Wood); 14 Red (Gem); 10 Blue (Magic); 2 White (Library): and 1 Purple (Cemetery). The Craft and Gather cards used each game introduce new aspects and although there is a 'bucket of dice' in the box this game uses clever mechanics for their use in play and it never feels like all you are doing is rolling and counting dice. 

Each of the Craft cards has a Rank Number which is used to stack the cards in low-to-hide order after they have been shuffled and the necessary number removed back to the box, not to be used this time. The Craft cards being used are placed on the board, spread out so the resource requirements (down one side) are visible. The three lowest ranked cards are placed in the store positions beneath the resource spread, these are available for purchasing by the players, using the necessary resources, and as the cards are taken they are replaced in rank order from the cards above.

Seven random Gather cards plus four cards - North Mine, South Mine, East Forest and West Forest, which are used in every game - bring the Gather card total to 11 cards per game no matter how many players there are. The Gather cards represent the stores and merchants where resources and abilities can be gained. Gather cards have two actions, top and bottom, separated by a beautiful illustration; these actions are options for the players, they may take one or the other but never both. Gather cards are also replaced immediately when bought, until the centre stack is depleted or plyers all pass. In the Gather Phase the first player to pass may take either a Metal Resource die or a +1/+1 silver token.

 

Players are peasants who are good at crafting and building - I would imagine it is quite unusual for any King to hire peasants or indeed for any peasants to be skilled enough to be hired, but then King Alphons Sedwickson III isn't just any King, he is actually a bit of a tyrant. He has just beheaded his flatulent Blacksmith (the King's Forge) so I'm not even sure why anyone, craftsman or peasant, would want to take the now empty position at the King's Court. But here we are, a right sorry looking lot (look in the mirror if you don't believe me), all vying for the job which may well result in us being some 10"-12" shorter in the near future.

To begin with, all us players have is a Smithy tile (aka Home or Storage but NOT Supply) which can be showing whichever of its two sides up the owner wishes as it makes no difference to the play, plus a Supply of 5 Black (Metal) Resource dice. The first few Rounds are slowish as you begin to build up the pool of dice you will need for success.

 

The game setup is more than adequately detailed in the rules booklet with illustrations and text and just two examples of play. There are four Dock spaces on the printed on the board and there are four Dock tiles with the same information. The rules book says you can use the Dock tiles instead of those on the board "to save space" but surely space would be saved by using those Docks already printed on the board rather than having additional individual loose tiles on the table? (or am I misreading/misunderstanding this?) There is also another part of the rules that I may be misunderstanding and of which I am happy to be corrected. I will mention this in a moment. We have found that the Dock locations aren't used too often to begin with but towards the late middle and end of the game they become extremely useful and important.

The Gather deck is shuffled and 4 cards from it are displayed for sale (they are replaced from the deck when bought and the Round ends when the last one is taken or all players have passed). The 4 Docks are available for use each turn though they have limitations, the second (or third) player to use each Dock in the same turn has to pay more resources. Each Resource used at the Docks is returned to the Stock on the Board, Resources used for other purposes are generally returned to the Player's Smithy at the end of the Round. I really like the idea that when you spend Resources in your turn you get them back at the end of the Round unless you have spent them on spaces that have an X through them, and then you don't get them back at all.

At the beginning of each Round everyone rolls their Dice from their Supply and does not change any results, at least not at the moment of rolling them. The Dice on the Craft and Gather cards are shown in colour and each with a number. To be able to purchase Craft cards or the services of a Gather card you need to have the corresponding dice and each die has to show either the same number or higher that those seen on the card. However there is a 'but' and this is that anyone who also wants the Craft card you have bought can 'steal' it from you by paying its cost but with all dice at least equal to the results you have spent plus one that is higher. For example, if you buy a Gather card with two Green dice, a 2 and a 3 and two Red dice a 4 and a 6, it could be stolen from you by another player having two Green Dice both showing 3 and two Red dice showing a 4 and a 6, note that one of the Green dice is a 3 instead of a 2 and all the other dice are the same result. It doesn't have to be exactly like this, the 'thief' might have all (mostly all) dice higher than those use you rolled (obviously not the 6) or any combination. Stealing hasn't been used too often in our games mainly because there is generally something else to spend the dice on that can be just as advantageous for you.

This is where the second misreading or misunderstanding comes in. Players cannot use dice from their Smithy to purchase or Craft anything, in fact only dice from the player's supply (a space on the table in front of each player - no actual card or tile is named 'Supply') can be used for this purpose. All dice used are removed from the board at the end of each Round. Those from the Docks go back to the main warehouses, by colour, on the board as do any other dice played onto spaces with a X. Dice gained during the Round are placed on their new owners Smithy tile and all dice spent buying them or game services are returned to their respective owner's Smithy (exception those on an X space). 

The Cleanup Phase is getting ready for the next Round and the next Round begins with the Gather Phase. However nowhere can I find where it says that at the end of, or at the start of, each Round the Dice from the player's Smithy cards are placed into the player's Supply and yet they must be otherwise there would never be any dice to spend after the first Round (or the Round each player exhausts their 5 Black die supply). 

 

Pages 9,10,11 and 12 of the rules booklet are taken up with detailed explanations though the pict-o-grams on the actual cards themselves are generally good enough, especially after you have played your first game and read them through to ensure you know their meaning; after that it should be plain sailing. Try using as many of your dice each Round as you can, but by using I mean ensuring they come back to your Smithy during Cleanup. There are often times when you can spend dice to gain dice, sometimes this may mean losing the dice you spend but in general you should be getting an up-trade or at least the same number and type of dice back.

Rounds are played in three phases, each player performing all of one phase before moving onto the next. Phase one is the Gather Phase where four Gather cards are placed face up on display. Players, in turn order, can use their resources to purchase one of these, then they may go to the Docks if they wish and/or Pass. Phase two is the Craft phase where players have one opportunity to craft any of the Craft cards on the display. Finally there is the Cleanup phase where the game is reset for the next Round. Once you have played for a short while it gets to be a simple set of mechanics that gain in magnitude and momentum as you continue.

 

It is generally easier to gain Black and Green dice because they are quite plentiful. You will need these for the first couple of items you wish to craft but very soon you will need the Red and then Blue dice. The Purple and White dice have special effects, White (Library) dice are really useful and effective as they can take the place (colour) of any other dice - they keep their own number but are considered to be the required colour. Dice manipulation actions are not so easily come by, but can usually be gained from the Silver Tokens found down at the Docks.

Special dice, such as the White and Purple dice, are returned to their space/s on the board at the end of the Round whether they were used or not. It's no use working to get these dice if you aren't going to use them unless you can spare the resources to prevent someone else using their advantage - ie you buy them 'just in case'.

 

This is the first STARLING GAMES product I have played  and I have to say that I am impressed. Well to be honest I don't actually have to say I am impressed, but I truly am impressed. My first impression was "Oh! it's another dice rolling game" this was when I had just opened the box. Then I began to unbox it and saw just how much thought, work and planning had gone into it, far more than is often found in a game which is predominantly played by rolling handfulls of dice. Then the illustrations began to catch my eye and I spent some fair amount of time studying the cards before reading the rules, where the illustrations continue to brighten the pages which are of a glossy parchment style. 

I looked online to find the current retail price, seems to be between £35.00 - £38.00, and discovered that this is the third edition of the game. Nothing on the box or in the rules told me this but then it really doesn't have any bearing on my enjoyment of the game, except perhaps had I known of it earlier I would have been playing it earlier. It is a very good game that utilises the dice to very good purpose without being a dice-snooze-fest. 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015