Thanks to Sam Stockton and BA Games for providing a preproduction review copy of this game.
Forges of Ravenshire is a 1-4 player game designed by Sam Stockton that is to be published by BA Games pending the successful completion of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is set in the land of Ravenshire, and you’re competing to become the new Forgemaster of the Blacksmiths Guild. The way you impress the Guild is by making the most money through a combination of dice placement and resource management.
The game comes with a main board showing six districts that have two spots for dice. These are seeded with one green, yellow, or purple die each at the beginning. There’s also a storage area for Guild Member tokens, of which six will be drawn at the start. Each player gets their own player board, three dice (one of each color), four coins, and an action token. The board has tracks for the different resources (wood, charcoal, ore, leather, and steel), and each is set initially to one using cubes of the player’s color. Players also get three level one contracts so they may pick one to be their starter contract. Players can optionally also start with an assistant that provides another die, allows them to start with their board upgraded, or give you a starting Guild Member and the ability to place them anywhere.
At the start of each round, players will roll their three dice. In the first round, the player with the highest total will go first, but after that, start player will rotate each round. On a turn, a player will perform three steps – place a die, take a die, and run a Guild. This is the Gathering Phase.
PLACE A DIE: Take one of your dice and place it in an empty space on the board. Each district will do something different – give you ore, wood, leather, charcoal, steel, or a Guild Member. Depending on the value you place, you may get extra resources or even Mystic tokens, special tokens used for various other purposes. Dice can be placed anywhere with no color restriction.
TAKE A DIE: Take one of the dice off the board, other than the one you just placed. You’ll get to take the benefit of the district based on the value of the die you take, as in the last step.
RUN A GUILD: The color of the die you took from the board determines the column it goes in on the board. Yellow is the Merchant Guild, Green is the Harvester Guild, and Purple is the Alchemist Guild. You put the die in its column, then run the Guild below – in other words, get the benefits in the spaces of that column. There is one printed on the board for each column, and Guild Members you collect will give you more. In general, Merchants give you Mystic tokens, Harvesters give you resources, and Alchemists either give you gold or give you things to do with your gold.
You also have action tokens you can spend during your turn. Each one can be spent to recruit a new Guild Member, get a new Contract, refresh a Contract row before taking a Contract, or building an upgrade.
Turns go around the board until everyone has done this sequence three times. Then, you move into the Production Phase, which is done simultaneously. Here, you’ll move your dice from the Guilds to the right side of your board. The top row of four spots has different things you can do based on the value of the die placed there. The areas below give you resources, but you have to spend stuff. The Charcoal Kiln gives you charcoal, but you have to feed in wood at a 1:1 ration. Meanwhile the Steel Foundry gives steel, but at the cost of a charcoal and an ore. The value of the die used here determines how much you can possibly produce in this phase.
Also during this phase, you can complete Contracts. Each of these has a resource requirement, and if you’ve got it, you can lower your tracks and finish the Contract. If you want, you can also spend two Mithril and a charcoal for a Mithril finish (which gains you a reputation), or two Embergems and a charcoal for an Embergem finish (which gains you four gold). You can of course complete a Contract without a finish.
It should be noted that the only way to get new Contracts is with action tokens, and you can only get Contracts up to the highest level your reputation allows.
Once everyone has done their actions, it’s time to reset for the next round. The active player rerolls the dice on the main board and redistributes them so there’s one in each district. The bottom row of unclaimed Guild Members is discarded, and a new row comes in. The starting player passes, and everyone rolls their dice again.
After four rounds (seasons), the game is over. Players add up their money, plus bonuses they got from their reputation. The player with the highest score wins.
I got a preproduction copy of this game, and while nothing is final yet, what they have is already very well produced. Double layer boards, nice art, and good thick cardboard. The rules are laid out in very large print with lots of examples. I think the final version of this game is going to look great.
Thematically, Ravenshire is what appears to be a land of cute forest creatures. It really didn’t need to be, but this is a theme that is quite hot right now. It’s not overly present – the player boards each have an illustration of a woodland character, and you can see various beasties all around the main game board. It’s not what I would call a strong theme – this is more of a Euro-style game that focuses on mechanics rather than theme. As such, it would have been nice if they had gone for something different than the cute woodland animals to make the game stand out more, but I don’t have a problem with it.
On to gameplay. This is a dice placement and resource management game. Dice placement is where you’re using your dice as workers, trying to put them in the right places to produce stuff for you. Here, you’re not only placing, but also removing the dice and gaining benefits. Then you’re placing them again in the Guilds for even more stuff. You really can produce a lot on your turn, so even though it’s only 3 turns per season, you can get a lot done. The dice placement and removal system makes me think of Raiders of the North Sea, though that game is about placing vikings and not dice. Having different values give you different things is one of the things that makes this stand out.
Resource management is really the key to this game, however. You’ve got to know exactly what you’re aiming for in completing your Contracts. You’ll be wanting to complete Contracts that give you lots of money, while not spending too much money on extraneous stuff unless you know it’s really going to be helpful for your long term objectives. Money being the goal AND your currency makes for a very interesting balancing act.
There are a lot of moving parts in this game – resources, Mystics, Guild Members, Contracts, Titles, upgrades, action tokens, money. It’s a lot to keep track of. Having the recessed tracks for the resources and Guild Members is very helpful. Still, I feel like there are some things in this game that could be excised without losing the speisential experience.
Let me give one example. There are five main resources in the game – wood, charcoal, ore, leather, and steel. Wood, leather, and steel are used for completing contracts. Charcoal is used for finishes and for producing steel when combined with ore. But this is my main problem – the ONLY use for ore in the game is in this process of producing steel. I initially missed this small detail, and though that, during the production phase, you could use a die to produce several more steel. I started wondering what ore did, because it wasn’t on any contract or anything else, and finally found this small little rule. It just feels like kind of a waste. Ore has its own district on the main board, and does nothing else. I don’t know, it just feels like this was maybe something that could be cut, or at least betagtered in some way.
But most of the game does really feel like you’re building something. The Guild Members form an schmaline you can run to produce more and more stuff. The contracts give you goals to work towards, and the money can’t be spent with impugnity because you’re dumping points when you do that.
I’ve only played the game with 1 and 2 players. The game doesn’t scale at all, so I would imagine that 3 or 4 players is just going to take that much longer to complete. It’s nice that the production phase can be done simultaneously, but the gathering has some major opportunities for Analysis Paralysis, especially as the amount of stuff you can do increases. The solo mode has a pretty good AI with it – priorities shift from game to game, and it runs pretty automatically based on what is written on a drawn card each round. There is a good bit of setup for the solo mode, as there is for the multiplayer game, but that doesn’t bother me – one of the reasons I enjoy board games is because I like setting up all the pieces and see what they do.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I like Forges of Ravenshire. It’s got a clever take on dice placement, as well as leaning heavily on resource management. There’s a lot of decisions to be made in the course of the game, and I think people are going to enjoy it. I do think there are a few rough edges to be worked out, but I also think that there’s plenty of time before it releases and I think it will be a good one. The game is going up on Kickstarter on 4/18, so be sure to check it out if you’re interested.
Thanks again to Sam Stockton and BA Games for sending a review copy of Forges of Ravenshire, and thanks to you for reading!