Full disclosure: A review copy of The Forgotten City was provided by Taiwan Board Game Design Group.
Essen’s over, yeah, but even that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about some more Essen releases (just like I’ll be talking about Gen Con 2018 releases until 2025, probably, at this rate). To that end, let’s take a look at The Forgotten City, from TwoPlus Games, which would definitely win the “Best Board Game Box Art” award if one existed, or at least be in serious contention.
In The Forgotten City, you’ve awoken in a mysterious city without much to your name, not even really your memories. Thankfully, some helpful forest critters / fairies / whatever are here to help you rebuild their city so that you at least have a place to crash while you piece everything back together. Discover Monuments, harness the power of the weather, and produce Miracles to try and build up this lost land, but be careful! It’s not always good things that lurk unseen in the forest…
Setup takes a bit, but I’ll walk you through it. So, set out the board:
Give each player a player board, as well:
Give them the matching meeples as well (the one with the sticker on it is the Leader, but you may need to apply those stickers yourself if it’s your first game; choose a meeple to promote):
I’m going to be real, your guess on which meeples match which mat is as good as mine. Do you go for complementary colors? Try to match the tracks? Try to match the board? Who knows; it’s a mystery with no clear answer. You can have your player markers, as well:
Place one on each 0 on your track, fill up the bottom-left track, and place one on the “10” on the board’s victory track. You should have seven left, after this; I’ll talk about what to do with the remainder once the board is set up. To do that, shuffle the six Terrain Tiles, first:
Place them such that each of their “stone” spots matches up with a stone space on the game board. Some of the stone spots are Portals; more on that later. Now, shuffle the White Miracle Tiles:
Place six of them on the spaces on the gold circle, face-up. Shuffle the Grey Miracle Tiles, next:
Place five of those on the spaces on the red circle. You may return the rest to the box; you won’t use the Grey Miracle Tiles again.
Shuffle up the Nightmare Cards and place six, face-down, on the right side of the board:
They’re friends who visit you between rounds and try to murder your life points directly. Try to not die.
Give each player two of each color resource:
I’ve currently been calling them cherry, lemon, grape, and blue, but honestly kinda call them whatever makes you happy. Odds are it’s probably whatever the tiles are called (sun, lightning, storm, rain), but I’m not here to tell you how to live your best life. Just making reccomendations.
Now, decide player order, and place your tokens in player order on the spaces on the top row of the board, starting with the rune. For a two-player game, use two each and alternate them. Fill the remaining spaces with Monument Tiles:
This means you should use these:
- 2 players: Use 4 Monument Tiles
- 3 players: Use 5 Monument Tiles
- 4 players: Use 6 Monument Tiles
Give each player 6 coins, as well:
Once you’ve done all that, you’re pretty much ready to roll! Put each player’s Leader Meeple in the center and start Phase 1 with the player whose Player Marker is on the Rune:
So, as mentioned, you’ve arrived in the Forgotten City with no memories and only these weird meeps to help you build up this city and protect it from the Nightmares. As you construct Monuments to gain resources, power, and Inspiration (not to be confused with Determination) you can fight off these monsters, perform Miracles, and generally gain Victory Points. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins!
The game takes place in Phases, so I’ll talk about each in turn.
During this phase, players will collect Monument Tiles that they’ll aspire to build over the course of the game. The player whose player marker is closest to the leftmost space (the rune) will start this phase; I note this because player order changes based on the phase, so be careful! For each player marker from left to right, that player moves it to a space with a Monument Tile and adds the tile to their Player Board. Note that you can only have two Monument Tiles on your Player Board at a time. If you try to add a third, you must discard one of the three.
Once you’ve done that, place a coin on each unclaimed Monument (this is an easy rule to miss!) and proceed to the next phase.
Now, you’ll take actions with each of your Helper Meeples, starting with the player furthest from the rune space. See? It changes. You have four actions, each usually involving placing one of your Helper Meeples on the board. Note that there are some rules around this:
- You cannot place a Helper Meeple on a space with another player’s Leader, unless your Leader is also there.
- If you place a Helper Meeple on a space with any number of other meeples (Helper or Leader), you must spend 1 coin for each meeple already on the space. This counts your meeples as well. Bandwagoning can get super expensive; be mindful.
- You may only place a Helper Meeple in a space with or adjacent to an existing meeple of your type. This means your first meeple must be placed adjacent to your Leader (or on the Leader’s space).
You may perform these actions:
- Build a Monument. You may pay the resources pictured on the Monument to build it on any space of the same color (or one of the two non-Portal stone spaces). When you do that, take the leftmost player marker from the bottom-left track and place it on the space to show your ownership of that Monument. You also gain the VP pictured on that now-empty space on the track. Place your Helper Meeple on that space.
- Activate a Monument. You may pay the resources pictured on a Monument to use its ability (and place your Helper Meeple on that space). If that Monument belongs to another player, they gain 1 VP (you don’t lose any; it’s just a bonus for that player).
- Excavate. You may place your Helper Meeple on a space without a Monument to receive one (or two, depending on the space) resources of that type from that space. Note that you cannot Excavate on a space with a Monument (though word on the street is that certain Miracles may permit such a wondrous act of … excavation, I guess).
- Rest. You can tip your Meeple over (they don’t go on the board) to gain 2 money. I’ve never seen anyone do this.
After you’ve used all your Meeples, move on to the Recollection Phase.
This phase has two steps (seen on the Player Aid), performed as follows:
- Income. Over the course of the game, several different Monuments / abilities may increase your Inspiration, Defense, or Money production. Those are marked on the three (non-linear, mind you) tracks on the right of your player board. Now, check each of those values and gain that many of that resource.
- Miracles. In player order (starting again, with the player whose marker is furthest from the rune), each player may buy as many Miracles as they can afford with their current Inspiration. When you do, spend the Inspiration printed on the bottom-most free space on your Miracle Tree (left side of the player board), gain that many VP, and add a Grey or White Miracle Tile to your Miracle Tree. White Miracles give you an immediate special ability, and Grey Miracles give you end-game bonus VP. Note that Grey Miracle Tiles require that you have a certain number of White Miracle Tiles in your Miracle Tree, otherwise they are worthless. Once you’ve bought all your Miracles (or declined to buy), refill the White Miracle Tiles (not the Grey; once they’re bought they’re bought) and play proceeds to the next player. Once everyone has had a chance to buy, proceed to the Nightmare Phase. Sounds fun.
Now those Nightmares I mentioned earlier? They attack! The player with a player marker furthest away from the rune gets attacked first.
- Check Nightmares. Nightmares only attack you if you have a Helper Meeple on one of their Threatened Space types (top-right of the Nightmare Card). If you do, all Nightmares who threaten that space type attack.
- Fight Nightmares. You may pay 1 Defense to deal damage to a Nightmare. If you do, if you have any spare Player Markers, you can place them on the Nightmare. If you place them on a numbered space, gain that many VP; if you place them on the last space (light grey at two players; dark grey at three players; black at four players), you’ve killed the Nightmare! All players gain the player markers they placed on that Nightmare back and you get to keep the card (usually worthless, but one Miracle gives you bonuses for it). Also, give a resource of the matching color(s) to the player who had the most markers on that Nightmare. If there’s a tie, the player who placed their player marker first gets the resource(s) for killing the Nightmare. If you don’t have enough player markers, you can still attack the Nightmare (so that you don’t take damage), but you don’t make any progress towards killing it / gain any VP.
- Take Damage. For every nightmare you dealt 0 damage to, you lose 2 VP. If you have 0 VP, somehow, you pay with resources. If you have 0 VP and no resources, you pay with money. If you’re completely broke, well, the Nightmare just feels bad and lets you live your life.
After the Nightmare Phase, enter the Cleanup Phase.
This phase is pretty straightforward.
- Reveal a new Nightmare Card. Now you have a new friend who also wants to kill you.
- Refill the Monument Track. This one throws me off a bit because it makes the most sense to slide the player markers down until the leftmost one is on the rune, then refill, but the game doesn’t seem to care about that distinction, so I guess just refill the spaces provided there’s no player marker there? It makes more sense to slide the markers down, imo.
- Re-place your Leader. You may place your leader in turn order (same as the previous phase) on any space where you had a Helper Meeple. You must move your Leader unless you placed 0 Helper Meeples last round (Rested them all).
After you do this, restart the round at the Planning Phase. After the sixth round, proceed to the End of Game Scoring.
End of Game
Alright, so, after six rounds, you’re going to give each player extra points where applicable:
- Score the Grey Miracle Tokens, if eligible. Remember that you must have at least the minimum number of White Miracle Tokens to score the Greys on your Miracle Tree.
- Convert Resources to points. Every 3 Resources is 1 VP.
- Convert money to points. Every 5 money is 1 VP.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
There are a few minor differences at player counts that you might see; these are small things like the Nightmares have more / less health, which, I mean, those are present for many games. Slightly more interesting is the number of Monuments that will get built. Technically, two players have the highest individual monument potential (they’ll get 12 Monuments over the course of the game, each), but the board real estate required is pretty high and you need a lot of resources to actually construct those, so you may see that number falling below 18, which is the maximum number of Monuments that three players can build. That makes that 1 point per tile with no Monuments Grey Miracle a bit more appealing, I’d wager.
The other thing you’ll notice is that since the game takes six rounds of four turns each, it’s liable to take a bit over twice as long at four players, especially for a learning game. I’d probably recommend not learning this at four players first unless you’re down for a 90 – 120 minute game, depending on how quickly your group plays. If they’re quick learners / play fast, I assume you’d be closer to the 90 side, but learning the iconography / rules / various cogs of the game is a lot for a new player. That said, once you’ve learned it, it plays pretty quickly (I’m relatively convinced that two players could power through it in about 30 minutes, setup time not included).
Yeah, my basic rec is learn it at two, play it at whatever you like.
- Manipulate that turn order. You really want to be playing hardball on the turn order. Sometimes you want to go last so that other players are forced to attack Nightmares and give you the chance for the finisher; other times you need to make sure you’re going first so you don’t lose out on prominent real estate to your upstart opponents. I mean, sometimes it also doesn’t really matter; those are the best turns, I’d say. It’s also sometimes worth it to go later in the turn order if there aren’t any White Miracle Tiles you want; they refill between players’ turns, so you have a chance of a lucky draw.
- Watch your resources. Resources can be hard to come by, especially as more players build (making excavation more difficult). I generally recommend picking up the Miracle that lets you excavate Monuments, but it’s totally possible that it will never come up over the course of the game, in which case, well, tough. If that happens, try to get a bunch of resources early and grab the Miracles that give you bonus resources for certain types of excavations.
- Always get at least one defense. You don’t want to take that -2 VP if you can avoid it. If you can’t, well, avoid the spaces that are being attacked this round. If you still can’t, at least try to make more VP than you’re going to lose. If you still don’t think you can, well, good luck.
- Be strategic about your Leader’s placement. Remember, other players cannot use that space unless their Leader is also on it (and then it costs 2 money, since two meeples are already on it). You can use this to block routes, deny access, or just irritate your opponents.
- Jump on Grey Miracles if it looks like your opponents are about to grab them, but don’t forget they have a cost. Yes, I’m partially talking about the cost of activating them at the end of the game (so remember that you can buy them early and then buy White Miracle Tiles to make sure they’re activated), but I also mean the opportunity cost. When you buy a Grey Miracle, you’re missing out on an ability that a White Miracle could give you, which may potentially slow down your Inspiration gains and ultimately block you from getting the White Miracles you need in order to activate it. That’s sort of an unfortunate outcome, but it definitely can happen. That said, again, sometimes you really want to swipe them before your opponents can.
- Conserving some resources isn’t always a bad idea. Inspiration and Defense don’t expire, so you can save them until the next round if you think you can get better draws / a more favorable turn ordering. Just make sure you don’t waste any by mistake.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art, hands-down. This is one of the best board game boxes I’ve seen since I got into the hobby. It’s just absolutely fantastically done, and the rest of the game art is particularly impressive as well. The board looks great, the cards look great, the whole game looks great. It’s also large enough that it has a really solid table presence; it’ll definitely catch the attention of passers-by at cons or at a game night, which is nice.
- I do love modular boards. It’s a nice way to subtly change the game with setup to keep things kind of interesting between plays; I’m pretty much always a fan. It would be nice if there were more modules than required, but it’s not a bad start, by any means.
- Seems expandable. I could see more nightmares, more board modules, more Miracles, and more Monuments being added to keep the game going, if people were looking for ways to add on to the game. It’s a nice core with a lot of ways to keep building off of it, which I always like.
- City-building games are always fun for me. I like that you can build out the Monuments and make it a bit more worker-placement-y as the game progresses, and the action spaces are wildly different every game based on what people draw / choose, with the Grey Miracles helping influence those choices somewhat. It feels like you really accomplish something with what you end up building after every game, which I really like.
- It’s just got a lot of variety, so every game’s going to be pretty substantially different. I usually opt for a specific strategy when I play, and not only was it not available on my last play, my backup strategy wasn’t available either! I basically had to improvise a completely new strategy from scratch, which was exciting. It makes it feel like it’s got more longevity, as a result. If they end up adding an expansion or more board modules I think they could go even farther with it, as a game concept. Like I said, the core’s solid.
- Coins that are all the same size for different denominations always frustrate me. I know that it cuts down on costs and I get it, it’s just that it would be nice to have a bunch of coins that are all different sizes for the tactile bonus and for making it a bit easier to discern which coins you’re grabbing and spending for things.
- I wish the Nightmares felt a bit more integrated into the game. They’re kind of their own self-contained loop (which I’m appreciating more on subsequent plays), but they feel kind of disassociated from the theme / the game. Why are the Nightmares attacking? Why am I fighting back against them? I don’t feel a ton of connection to that whole aspect of the game, so I’m usually a bit confused during play.
- I wish the resources were a bit less generic. I think I’d feel a bit more immersed in the game if they were certain shapes or something, but that’s also just generally something I like in games.
- The lack of scaling for player count just means it takes much longer at 4 players than at 2, generally speaking. Every player gets 24 actions, no matter how many players there are. This means that you’ll see 48 total in a two-player game and 96 in a four-player game, so you’d estimate that a four-player game would take twice as long. That generally makes me not want to play a game at its highest player count.
- Pretty long setup time. There’s just a lot of pieces that all have to go places, tiles that need shuffled. It’s sort of like Spell Smashers in that it’s got a lot of different things you can do, so trying to put everything in its proper place takes a pretty long time.
- The rulebook is pretty rough. I’m hoping I just got a draft or something, but there are a number of errors / flow issues. One particular note of frustration is that the Player Aid breaks up the Recollection Phase into two steps, while the rulebook does not. I’d recommend either doing so or not doing so, for consistency’s sake, as multiple players got confused with that.
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, The Forgotten City is really neat! I think that I probably like it a bit more than Mystical Seeds at two players, but Mystical Seeds wins out a bit at higher player counts (hence the rating), if I’m just comparing games that I received around the same time. It’s probably a smidge heavy, for my tastes, as well, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt. I think it’ll appeal to players who like a lot of impactful decisions that require careful planning but have some backup avenues in case they don’t quite go according to plan, which is a lot of gamers. For other people, the table presence / the art / the cute tokens are going to be something that’ll draw them in, which is also nice. My main critique is that it kind of has a lot of moving parts that don’t always seem to be thematically linked, so you’re kind of running a few completely disjoint systems simultaneously and trying to get points from all of them. The plate-spinning there doesn’t bother me, so much, but it might bother others, so it’s worth mentioning. Either way, if you’re looking for a cool spin on city-building with absolutely fantastic art, I’ve had fun with The Forgotten City, and I’d recommend checking it out!