This week our On The Tabletop report is on Flying Frog Productions’ (FFP), Forbidden Fortress board game. Forbidden Fortress comes under FFPs Shadows Of Brimstone setting, where your party of adventurers explore the Weird West. Forbidden Fortress however takes the adventure to feudal Japan, with a mythical spin. Both Shadows of Brimstone and Forbidden Fortress products are completely compatible with each other.
On The Tabletop first impressions articles are usually preceded by an Off The Shelf preview of the product, but our very own Tabletop Editor Travis really wanted to paint the miniatures, so we’re combining the two into one article. This means that the start of the article will be an overview of the product, followed by details of our first play-through and then a report from the On The Tabletop team on their first impressions.
The On The Tabletop play-through articles catalogue our initial experiences with the game; as a result, mistakes will be made. On The Tabletop should also not be taken as a full review. These articles are simply our first impressions of a game.
All the miniatures in the above gallery were speed painted by TechRaptor’s Tabletop Editor Travis, who purchased his own copy of Forbidden Fortress.
Off The Shelf
Forbidden Fortress is a co-operative dungeon crawl board game, that can be played as a one-off adventure, or as a series of adventures in a campaign, with some roleplaying elements of character development. The box contains everything players need for a considerable amount of adventures, and also for their down-time between adventures.
The Forbidden Fortress box is huge. It contains 27 miniatures of different sizes, including the 4 adventurers, 18 medium enemies, 3 large enemies, 1 large mini-boss and an XL epic boss. The miniatures do require gluing together, but the connection points are large, so entry level hobbyists won’t find it too challenging. The miniatures are also made of a durable plastic, so feel quite solid once constructed.
The enemies include some undead samurai warriors, known as the Dishonoured Dead, some large club wielding demon warriors, the Oni and also a floating Harionago, a ghoul of Japanese myth. All of the miniatures are full of character and the four heroes’ poses have a great feel of motion.
Most of the box is made up of the huge amount of game boards, cards, tokens and reference sheets and popping them out of the card sprues takes some time. It’s worth taking the time as you unbox Forbidden Fortress, to sort all the tokens and cards as you go. It will make setting up your first game much easier. With the cards, divide them into several piles, anything with Forbidden Fortress, anything with Belly of the Beast, the player character cards and exploration cards (including loot, and encounters). All of these piles can be divided again, but having them divided and stored like this will make your game set up much easier. Likewise with the counters, bag them up in as many separate bags as you can, as it will make finding them much quicker during play.
The map tiles included in the set are double sided to allow players to explore two different adventure locations. The first side is the feudal Japanese architecture, with some great looking map tiles like the library, kitchen and koi fish pond. The reverse side is the Belly of the Beast adventure, that the heroes can find themselves in if they enter through a dimensional gate.
The game also includes a CD soundtrack, to add to the immersion of the experience. It would have been great if this included a download code for the music, as most of my group’s games are played at clubs and stores, so carrying a CD player on-top of the already sizeable box is not practical. If playing in the comfort of a home, or the store are happy for you to play music across their own system, it really is a great soundtrack to play to.
Forbidden Fortress includes two books, the first is the rulebook and details everything you need to play, including getting your first introductory game going. The second book is the adventure book and has background information on the setting, heroes and details of several campaign games to try out, along with details of the Shadows of Brimstone setting as a whole.
It’s also worth noting that included in the game are 4 player characters miniatures, 2 male and 2 female. Each player character comes with a character stat card for quick reference during play. These player stat cards are double sided, with the other gender of the character on the reverse. This allows you to play an all female, or all male group, or mix and match the genders of the characters as required. The other miniatures for the characters were available as part of the Kickstarter campaign, and are currently only available as a limited preview for Flying Frog Production’s own webstore.
On The Tabletop
As soon as we unpacked all the box contents for Forbidden Fortress, it was obvious it requires a lot of space. A game requires access to several card decks, as well as space for the player cards, tokens and then space to build the map as you explore. We were playing on a 4×4 table with three players, and it felt cramped. This is definitely something to be aware of if you’re looking to play Forbidden Fortress, as having that space does improve the experience.
When I unboxed the game, I hadn’t separated the counters or cards, so the first part of our session was spent doing that and is what led to the advice given above in the Off The Shelf section. Having the cards and tokens bagged and divided speeds up the set up time no end.
We decided to start with the introductory mission from the rulebook, Lost Contact. Our adventures would be entering the Forbidden Fortress, looking for 2 clues to find the whereabouts of the missing garrison.
Games of Forbidden Fortress begin with building your chosen character. We had three players, James and Lizi both chose at random, using the character tokens, which are used in-game to randomly determine a character. Lizi chose the Travelling Monk and James the Sorceress. I wanted to play the Assassin, but suspected that we might need the muscle of the Samurai, but I also decided to leave it to fate to decide, and drew the Assassin random token.
With our character chosen, we started working through the available options. Each hero has their own options to chose from when building the character, and they all get a selection of starting equipment, a piece of disposable gear that goes in their pack, a randomly drawn personal item and then also a class specific option. The sorceress also gets to chose from a selection of spells, the Travelling Monk from a selection of abilities and the Assassin gets to chose a Ninja Clan.
This is your chance to either cover for some of the flaws in your character, or enhance their strengths. For the Assassin, I chose to enhance her strengths, choosing the Okasa Brotherhood as her Ninja Clan so that once per adventure, I could deal damage to every enemy on the same map tile. I also chose Running Assault as her Assassin ability, which meant that once per fight, I could ready an exhausted shuriken. The shuriken equipment allows the Assassin a free extra attack, at any point during her movement. Usually this ability can only be used one per fight, but with Running Assault it can be used twice. Her Ninjato also meant that her critical strikes happen on a 5+ (rather than a 6+), so that she can ignore a creature’s defence more easily.
Putting our characters together was very quick, as it’s just a matter of selecting from small selections of cards, rather than having to look through tables and various options, so even on our first go, we were ready to play quickly.
Our characters began their descent on the Entrance Map tile. Characters operate in a fixed initiative order, which meant that my Assassin would always lead the way. Movement is done on the roll of a D6 each turn (there is an option for fixed movement) and if you roll a 1, you recover a Grit (which is used to reroll dice during the game, like a luck or a fate point). The Assassin strove forwards in the first few rounds, as the Sorceress and the Monk rolled low. When a character reaches the join of their current map tile, they can search to discover the next map tile. This is done by drawing the top card of the exploration deck.
Characters can search the map tile they’re in if they’re not exploring the next map tile. To do this, they roll three D6 and draw a Scavenge card for each 6 rolled. Each map tile can only be successfully scavenged an amount of times relating to the amount of heroes there are. For us this was twice. On her first scavenge, Lizi rolled 2 sixes and drew 2 scavenge cards.
At the start of each turn, the hero with the Lantern rolls on the Depth Track. As the heroes progress, their marker moves on the depth track for each tile moved and if the roll listed under their current position on the track is failed, the Darkness marked is moved up from the other side of the track. Some spaces mean that events will occur, others, known as Growing Dread, draw a face down card into a pile, that are then all revealed when the final objective is reached.
Our group rolled well for the first few turns, but then began to fail rolls the further we progressed into the Forbidden Fortress.
When a room tile is revealed, a token is drawn from the encounter pile and placed on the map. It is then revealed after entering the room during the exploration phase and it’s actions completed. These can be attacks, or challenges. We found our first clue in the Fish Pond map tile, along with the Massive Statue challenge. Both the Monk and the Sorceress passed their Spirit checks, but my Assassin failed, taking sanity damage.
We then bravely explored two rooms in the same turn, meaning that we had two events turn over simultaneously. The first was a challenge, that the Sorceress easily met and the second, in the Kitchen was our final clue, and also our final challenge. Three Oni appeared and stormed towards the Assassin who had ranged ahead.
We thought that with the Samurai, our combat prowess would be hampered, but against mythical creatures, the Monk is a powerful weapon and he took the fight to them. The Oni are difficult to defeat, as they have a high defence value., meaning they ignore the first few points of damage each attack. But with the Monk leading the way, we eliminated two of them, and just as we were about to defeat the last, I failed to keep back the darkness at the start of the turn and we drew another Growing Dread card, spawning six Acidic Tentacles.
Acidic tentacles aren’t tough, but with their ranged attack they can cause bleeding, which is equivalent to three wounds that can’t be healed through in-turn healing, making them difficult to defeat in large numbers.
After we beat the last Oni, the Assassin rushed across the map, and removed an Acidic Tentacle with a critical hit. The Sorceress and the Monk then completed an incredible combo. The turn before the Sorceress had cast a spell turning one of the tentacles into a bomb, so when the Monk through his own bomb and detonated that Tentacle, the chain reaction then removed another two, it was then a simple matter of removing the last 2 to complete the quest and find the survivors.
Throughout the game, our three characters had been gathering experience and gold. The end results were, Lizi 365 experience points, 3 Dark Stone, Adam 235 experience points and 2 Dark Stone, James, 230 experience points, 100 gold and 3 Dark Stone.
A huge part of Shadows of Brimstone and Forbidden Fortress are the between adventures town visits. We didn’t get a chance to do this during our On The Tabletop play session, so will begin with this during our next session Forbidden Fortress session and will report back as we continue our adventures.
Adam – The first thing I noticed about Forbidden Fortress, aside from how many tokens and card decks it has, was how well the rulebook is laid out. There is a lot of information to get across, and the rulebook guides you through it well. The sheer amount of decks, tokens and quick reference sheets are great once you’ve sorted them all, and as long as you have the space for them all for quick access, keeps the game fresh by varying the dungeon delves enemies and maps. Don’t let them put you off, as far from being complicated, they actually make the whole experience easier.
The character creation process is also great, giving some variety and self creation to each type. I loved the Depth Chart mechanic, with the parties track going deeper, and the Darkness track heading towards the entrance, eventually passing each other. The Growing Dread cards are also an interesting mechanic, letting players add to the pile of cards they know they have to resolve later on.
There are quite a few things to remember, throughout the game, so having at least one experienced player in the group is required. I wouldn’t recommend this game if this is the first adventure game for all players. It’s a great hybrid product that blends a board game, with the hobby requirements of putting the miniatures together, along with the light roleplaying elements of the character creation and between mission actions.
Adam is the righteous leader of the On The Tabletop Team and is an experienced tabletop gamer. He has played physical and online CCGs to a very high competitive level. He also has a background in roleplaying, board and wargaming and has playtested and produced content for several companies. A veteran tabletop writer who’s favourite games include Dark Souls the Card Game, The Legend of the Five Rings LCG, Shadespire and Bushido. You can read his work here on TechRaptor and follow his exploits on Twitter – @StealthBuda.
Lizi – It was an interesting game. I was quite worried when I saw the amount of different card decks lined up that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up, but the steps were simple and easy to follow. You just have to make sure you understand your own character and remember their different abilities, and then you’ve got it. You need to concentrate on your action plan and do what you can as the monsters start to appear. I played the Monk and we seemed to be a good combination of characters as I was able to do a lot of damage with my staff and didn’t take many hits. We were able to win the round without too much difficulty but I imagine deeper rounds will get a lot harder and take a lot longer too.
I’d happily play a few more adventures. If you’re not too quick at picking things up like me, maybe don’t start out as the sorceress; I couldn’t keep up with all the different spells James was casting and I don’t think I could have done the character justice.
Lizi is a mathematician, the closest she’s ever been to being a gamer is almost completing Lego Batman on the PS2. Her favourite games are Codenames and Zombicide.
James – So, Samurai skirmish combat? I’m in. RPG Elements? Sounds good. Mechanics slightly divorced from each other? I’m not so sure.
As ever the game was expertly explained by Adam before hostilities opened, but even then there was more ‘I’ll just check’ than usual. It seemed like a dungeon-dive experience but with quite a lot of extras which added complexity but not necessarily depth.
At one point I opened a second room to try and get some combat going; instead I found some black ooze that coughed up a corrupted gem. Fun storytelling, but also no combat. You can’t be a kick-ass sorceress drowning monsters in pillars of magic water and detonating their remains if there aren’t monsters to target. We did have fun when the hulking Oni turned up, but I could have done with more ramping towards it.
The non-combat stats were interesting, but we used them all of once each, and otherwise they seemed to mean very little which only added to the feeling of a split game experience. In a campaign setting they might mean more. But I wasn’t hooked enough to want to dedicate the time that this might need to really get the most from it.
James is a long-time tournament wargamer (but he’s not as horrible as all that), RPG and board game player. He works designing and producing games of all types, and is launching his own company Black Cats Gaming in 2019. Follow him on twitter @Guilensturn and @followblackcats and check out his company at Black Cats Gaming.
This copy of Forbidden Fortress was provided by Asmodee UK.
Have you played Shadows of Brimstone or Forbidden Fortress? What do you think of them? Who’s your favoruite character? What do you want to see us play On The Tabletop next? Let us know in the comments below.