Long before our current government systems, things were different. Before capitalism, socialism, globalism and all the other isms, it was very different. One person ruled a country. Be them a king, an emperor or a dictator, they ruled the lands of their kingdoms, empires and lands. They were respected. Top dog. They sneezed and people ran from miles around with tissues for them. People would bow before them, kneel at their feet, and beg for their blessings. Some of these folk were good individuals and were fair, some… not so much, but all had a network of supporters and advisors ready to help make the big decisions in the best ways possible. That’s where Forbidden City by Jumbo Games starts.
Set the scene! It’s a sad day in ancient China. A sad day indeed! The previous emperor is dead. They kicked it a little too soon, and now the new emperor is too young to rule. It’s up to his advisors to support him and ensure he is capable of ruling effectively. Being a faithful, devoted advisor to the emperor, you seize the chance to gain influence – a bit of a shady move in all honesty. But nonetheless! The aim of the game is to have the most influence before the end of the game across the Forbidden City.
To start the game, all players take a stack of tiles of one corresponding colour. This is the colour on the back of the tiles, not the carpet colours! In turns, player’s place floor tiles to build the forbidden city and compete for dominance across it. Tiles are placed orthogonally to existing ones and must match carpets. You can close rooms off, open up new rooms and can finish two room with one tile. The trick is to know where to place tiles based on who has controlling interest there.
Control is determined by how many advisor symbols are in that room when it is finished. Having the most scores maximum points, second scores half that. Joint first is split with no second place, and joint second scores nothing. It is possible to continuously be second and score mega points across the board due to the scoring system in place.
When a room is finished and sealed off, the room is scored. You score one point for every tile on that room, and one tile in every adjacent room! On top of that, you score a bonus 3 points for every dragon in any of those rooms. Crazy points. When you’ve done your equations, you take Chinese coins equal to your score. Scores aren’t kept secret but seeing the coins at a distance and calculating points may be tricky.
The game ends when everyone has just two tiles left. These are not played but score points dependent on what’s on them. Then, players add up their Chinese currency to get a final score. Unfinished rooms do not earn any points, so knowing when the game will end and even working with an opponent may score you something at least.
What It’s Like To Play
The game is really simple in its concept, but difficult in its mastery. Anyone can play tiles matching coloured carpets together… It takes a true tactician to know what to play where to either extend a room beyond completion, or dive into a room and claim dominance.
Players take tiles at random from their stack and have a full round to decide their placement. Having that perfect piece to claim the game is unlikely to happen, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be out on a limb. We found claiming or making small rooms inside clusters of huge ones scored the best with the least effort. In hindsight, we always competed for that one huge room but in reality it was futile. Were it to go unscored the tiles would be redundant.
The game was very easy to access. We’re not new to the hobby and wouldn’t consider ourselves amateurs! However, we could see how this would appeal to those less experienced! The simple concept with scope for planning means new players get it, and those with experience can do it well. For those needing more challenge, the starting board has two sides. One with wild floor colours (not distasteful, any colour!) and the other with specific colours. This means that it would introduce challenge in tile placement and may even force players to aid their foes. Using this side would require you to know the game and types of tiles in order to best score points.
In a Nutshell
Forbidden City would be a great game to introduce area management to a new player. The need to control an area in the right place is a good introduction on how to both manage the board and plan moves. It’s fine to help an opponent build a massive room, so long as you can get the cheap points from it too!
Forbidden City is not a long game, nor is it a complicated one, but it gets you thinking and scheming quickly. You’ll need to ensure you have an understanding of who controls where and how much their influence is worth. We enjoyed Forbidden City, but only play it as a warmup to get our heads working, but it’s works spectacularly!