Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Friday 24 May 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Forbidden City

Game: Forbidden City

Publisher: Jumbo Games

Designer:  Reiner Knizia

Year: 2018

When we found out about Forbidden City we wondered if this was the game that forced Gugong to change its name after its successful Kickstarter campaign. Of course, Reiner Knizia has designed so many games that there's bound to be some you haven't heard of, and this was one of them. Then again I left behind a Reiner Knizia title on the thrift store shelves this week (Cool Catch, in case you're interested) because there's no doubt that he;s a prolific designer but that not every game is a hit.

As another game in Jumbo's relatively new line of strategy games, we immediately noticed a parallel with Overbooked, which we recently reviewed. Both have obscenely large and largely pointless cardboard components - in this case the temple that forms the central focal point of this tile laying game. So what more does Forbidden City have to offer?


In Forbidden City you will take turns drawing a single tile from your personal stack and adding it to an ever expanding central board. tiles must be placed in ways that make sense, preserving the 3 separate room colours. Whenever a room is completed it will score for the person who has the most advisors in it, and then half as many points for second place. In addition you also will score the points of every room connected to the current scoring room by a doorway. This allows you to create low value rooms tacked onto big, high value rooms and score a load of points.

Tiles come in three main varieties. Blank tiles simply add to rooms and are useful for closing off or expanding rooms you control. Dragon tiles score bonus points in whichever room they are placed, so you only want to put them in locations you are sure to win. Finally advisor tiles dictate who wins a room. The player with the most advisors in a room will get the full point reward when the room is completed. However if the room never finishes then they get nothing!

The game ends when every player has 2 tiles left, at which point you reveal your last two tiles, get a couple of bonus points if they had dragons or advisors on it and add that to the score you build up during the game.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Forbidden City does change the tile-laying formula up a little bit. By far the best aspect of the game is the ability to use doorways to connect rooms together. This lets you re-score an opponents room if they did particularly well, however you don't get to re-score the rooms surrounding that room, so there's still advantages to building expansive, well connected rooms. Unfortunately where the game misses out a little is on are style, while it's perfectly functional, it's hardly breathtaking, there are a lot of components that don't quite line up as neatly as you might like and the 3 colours of room could have used something other than colour to make them distinct.

Gameplay-wise there isn't a huge amount going on. You draw a random tile from your personal stack and add it to the board wherever you like. There's not a huge amount of decision making to be made there, often there is an obvious best place and even if you start trying to do something there is no guarantee you'll get the tiles you need to complete before your opponents rain on your parade.

Ultimately Forbidden City feels like a very bare-bones tile laying game. It's fine. The gameplay works OK, though there's so little going on that there isn't much that could even be broken! It just feels like it's missing out on an element of gameplay that could have made it great. It's like Carcassonne without meeples. If you are looking for a simple introduction to tile laying games then Forbidden City may be for you, unfortunately it's not for me

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Forbidden City is a very simple game to learn, and very fast to play. Much like Carcassonne or other tile-laying games, you're just picking a tile at random and placing it to try and score points. There is only one way to score points in the game, making it even more simple than most tile-laying classics.

What seems to be the unique selling point of Forbidden City is the way that completing a room scores for that room as well as any connected rooms. This means that you can benefit from the large or high scoring rooms that other players have created before you. There is probably a good use for the random tile you draw at least 80% of the time, if you are willing to spend the time looking for an opportunity to pounce on. That does mean that sometimes there's really not a lot you can do that won't just be a benefit for other players and that can be a little frustrating.

The mechanics of the game are sound, but it just does nothing revolutionary. Added to this is the fact that I really think it looks awful. Each player colour is a really ugly shade of the colour it is meant to be. There's no real art to speak of, and the way the room end up being laid out creates an ugly pattern on the table rather than a beautiful and impressive common landscape which is often the treat of this kind of tile laying game. If the game plays nothing more than average and doesn't look good on the table, it really has no place being there and unfortunately Forbidden City falls into that category for me.

You Might Like...
  • Forbidden City is a simple, accessible tile-laying game.
  • You can make some really clever high scoring moves, just by being smart enough to spot them.
You Might Not Like...
  • Artwork is definitely not Forbidden City's key feature.
  • If Carcassonne is a gateway game, then Forbidden City is just a bit too simple, especially when the artwork and theme don't seem to be for a family audience.

The Verdict
4.5/10 Forbidden City is a very simple abstract tile-laying game with some interesting area control type mechanics. It has a puzzly feel, but its ultimately a pretty boring puzzle with no real wow factor to enjoy. It doesn't stand out well enough from the crowd and it isn't one we'd recommend seeking out.

Forbidden City was a review copy kindly provided to us by Jumbo Games

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