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Forbidden City

Updated: Oct 24, 2020

Reiner Knizia is probably the world's most prolific games designer. The majority of his designs are usually abstract strategy games with a thin thematic veneer. That's certainly true of Forbidden City, which is published by Jumbo.

The premise of Forbidden City is that the Chinese Emperor is too young to rule so his advisors are competing for power within the imperial palace. The art by Paul Windle is in keeping with this theme, there are cardboard Chinese coins to keep track of players' points and there's an attractive if functionally irrelevant cardboard temple to place in the centre of the starting board. This aside, you can think of Forbidden City as an abstract point-scoring tile laying game.

Players (2–4) each have their own identical stack of 24 tiles (30 apiece in a two-player game). Players shuffle their stack of tiles face down and they draw a single tile to their hand. Each turn they will place the tile and draw a new one for their next turn. Tiles of a particular colour can only be placed next to tiles of a matching colour unless the different colours are separated by a wall or archway (door). That means whatever tile you have in your hand you will always be able to place it. Ideally tho' you'll want to place tiles so that they score you points. Points are scored by closing off rooms (ie: creating areas of single or multiple tiles that have no open edges). When a room is closed off, points are scored for the number of tiles in that room plus the number of tiles that make up any immediately adjacent (archway connected) rooms, whether closed or not. Bonus points are added for any tiles with dragon icons. Many of the tiles have one or more advisors on them. Their presence determines who gets all the points...

What makes this game interesting is that the points don't automatically go to the player who closes off the room but to the player who has the most advisors in the room that has just been closed off; the player with the second most advisors is awarded half the number of points. This little twist opens up rich possibilities for tactical play: you'll try to keep open those rooms where you don't have an advisor majority and, more important, you'll be looking for opportunities to close off little rooms with only your advisor in them so that you score the points contributed by a large adjacent room where you might not even have an advisor at all.

Like Reiner Knizia's older tile-laying game Indigo (Ravensburger), players only ever have one tile in hand. This helps to reduce AP (Analysis Paralysis) and keep game play brisk but it does reduce the opportunities for strategy: in both games you can suffer from a frustratingly unhelpful draw. In normal play you can expect to complete a game of Forbidden City in 40 minutes. If you try house ruling a variant where players can choose between two tiles in hand, you can expect it to take the playing time up to around an hour.

If you enjoy abstract strategy games, there's enough novelty in the game play here to justify adding Forbidden City to your collection. However well you play, tho', you'll have some way to go to meet Reiner Knizia's apparent expectations for your high score: the game comes with coin point tokens totalling a whopping 750 points!

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