#022 The Forgotten City (2018)
Designer: Anton Liu
Artist: Lauren Hsiu
Publisher: TWOPLUS Games
Player Count: 2-4
Time: 25 minutes per player
I love Studio Ghibli. I saw Laputa (Castle in the Sky) at a young age and was hooked. I had never played a board game that really captured the childhood experience of watching a Hiyao Miyazaki film for the first time until I played The Forgotten City. There’s a sense of wonder, mystery, and danger that journeys with you as you rebuild this lost forgotten city with the help of these strange hairy creatures. Lauren Hsiu really outdid herself with her art design. Chances are you’re here reading this because of her. Leave the real world behind, journey into the lost fantastical grove through that abandoned train station, and discover The Forgotten City.
The Forgotten City is played over 6 rounds. Each round is divided into 6 steps (or phases).
After 6 rounds, the game ends. Points are scored in real time through out the game and can be scored a number of ways: building monuments, other players using your monuments, activating certain purple monuments, acquiring miracles, and battling nightmares. Players check their acquired miracles on their player boards for any end game victory points. Each unused resource gives 1 VP, and each set of 5 coins gives 1 VP. The player with the highest score wins The Forgotten City!!
Components. The game board is gorgeous; the colors leap off the board! The monster meeples are thematic and great! I felt as if I awoke in a Miyazaki film where these curiously strange monsters slowly helped me rebuild this lost forgotten city. It’s one of many things that drew me (and you, I assume) to the game; however it falls victim to form over function.
As the game progresses, the city tiles get more and more crowded and the board gets harder and harder to read. This is a combination of the monuments (city tiles) being too small, the main board itself being too small, and the meeples being way too big. The folded game board is smaller than the box, so I’m not sure why they didn’t go bigger. The miracle (the tech) market is beautifully displayed on the board; however, it does eat up precious real estate. I don’t mind clutter or a busy board; I do mind not being able to read the board. Cylindrical wooden tokens for player markers and score trackers? No, thank you. I really hope and pray nobody bumps that table unless they desire to be murdered by the other players.
I’m not too sure why the corners of the monster cards weren’t rounded off. It felt like I was playing a prototype and not a final release. Curious. The thickness of the terrain tiles and monuments (city tiles) was too thin for my taste. I don’t mind thin cardboard; however, it it’s going to be stationary for most of the game, the thicker the better.
Game length. Do not believe the 60 minutes on the box cover. I would put this at roughly 25 minutes per player if and only if you’re not playing with Mr. or Mrs. AP. I’m also not entirely sure if the games doesn’t accomplish what it wants to do by round 5 instead of the full game play of 6 rounds. This, I believe, should be the stronger concern for timid buyers.
Rules. The rule book was great. Easy to read and easy to understand. There were some timing issues though that weren’t covered in the rules—specifically battling the nightmares. Do players have to place player markers on each nightmare card or can they commit all their player markers on one card and again the others? We house ruled the former whenever possible. After a nightmare is killed, when are the player markers returned to each player—immediately or at the end of the phase? We house ruled at the end of the phase.
In the realm of worker placement board games, innovation is in high demand. There are tons of good worker placement games that go unnoticed and under appreciated as they often have nothing new or innovative to offer. This, I think, is where The Forgotten City truly shines. The idea of permanence dominates each decision. Each monument built permanently alters the board and alters each player’s overall strategy.
I really appreciated some of the interesting questions The Forgotten City asked its players. As the city begins to take shape and more and more monuments (city tiles) appear on the board, there are also fewer and fewer tiles to excavate resources from. This forces players to really plan ahead and really think about which monuments to build, where to build, when to build, and to balance that with an ever decreasing number of resource tiles. I had never seen this in a game before, and I enjoyed exploring this new challenge.
This mechanic is accented by forcing players to chain their workers. Workers must be placed adjacent (or on top of) previously placed workers, so only a fraction of the board will be available to one player any given round. Placing the leader worker in its new location at the end of the round really tightens up the game play for the following round. How players build the city and how they chain their workers together is the heart of the game. Players are constantly paying close attention to the ever-changing board—trying to find (or create) the winning game engine hidden among the slowly expanding maze of city tiles.
I really enjoyed the nightmare mechanic in the game as well. By making certain tiles dangerous to be on, it added a nice extra level of tension and restriction. Players short on defense really needed to ask if the points lost for not battling were worth the points or potential future opportunities gained for accessing or building on a tile being attacked that round. The timing issues mentioned in the negatives section, need to be addressed though as it’s a major part of the game.
I didn’t feel all miracles (tech) were equally powerful, and I wish the cost of the miracles were scaled—newer miracles costing more and unpurchased miracles becoming cheaper round after round. I was hesitant to purchase a miracle, knowing that an even more powerful or useful tech would suddenly become available for my opponent. Not cool.
All of these tense decisions though eat time, and that 60-minute game time on the box cover can quickly jump past the 2-hour mark if players aren’t careful. This now begs the question if The Forgotten City outstays its welcome. There is a lot going on mechanically in The Forgotten City; however, it still feels significantly lighter than most heavy worker placements or the average Uwe Rosenberg game. It was incredibly easy to learn and the player aids, although double-sided, were incredibly easy to follow. So is it worth the potential 2-hour game time? This was divisive among my play groups. How much do you love worker placements—especially ones with boards that can be hard to read at times?
The Forgotten City is easily Anton Liu’s best design and one of the best in-house designs from Two Plus Games. Regardless of how players in my play groups felt about the game play, everyone acknowledged that Lauren Hsiu deserves a lot of praise for her brilliant art design. That box cover alone is a work of art and is hands down one of the best box covers you’ll see in Essen 2018.
Gamer: Cardboard East recommends The Forgotten City for gamers who love long worker placement games with easy learning curves and tight decisions—especially if you’re looking for worker placement games with different mechanics to explore. Lauren Hsiu’s art design is gorgeous and deserves notice.
Family: Cardboard East does not recommend The Forgotten City for casual gamers or family game nights due to the weight and length of the game.
Party: Cardboard East does not recommend The Forgotten City for the party environment. The readability of the board and the length of the game may prove difficult for gamers under the influence.