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FORBIDDEN

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Winning Moves Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 35-60 minutes; $7.95)

 

Phil Orbanes has a game design resume about as broad as you can get. He designed the first wargame on Vietnam (Vietnam by Gamescience back in 1965), the brilliant business game Cartel (by Gamut of Games) as well as lighter fare such as the very successful Trumpet (International Games and featured in the Spring 1991 GA REPORT). Now, Mr. Orbanes turns his talents to a new and different card game: Forbidden.

The blister style packaging of the game holds a box containing 104 cards: 84 number cards in three different suits, 9 Forbidden cards and 7 “special” cards. There is also a red envelope (the “Treasure Chest”), 4 scoring cards and a small, but complete, rules folder.

A scoring card, for easy reference, is given to each player. The deck is shuffled and 2 cards placed inside the Treasure Chest. Each player is dealt a hand of 13 cards. The remaining cards become the draw deck and are placed on top of the Treasure Chest.

On your turn, you first draw a card, either from the draw deck OR from the top of a discard stack (from one or more of your opponents’ individual discard stacks). If drawing from an opponent’s discard stack, you must then play a meld. Melds come in three varieties: sets of three or four of a kind or a sequence of three or more numbers in a row. In ALL cases, sets and sequences must contain only cards of a single suit (color). You end your turn by discarding one card onto your own individual discard stack. Now, if that was all there was to the game, you could safely pass it by. But there are a few twists here that give the game a life of its own.

Let’s start with the simple. Card values run from 2 through 9 EXCEPT there is NO 6 or 9! Instead, you have a yin/yang card that can be used as EITHER a 6 OR 9. There are THREE Wild Cards which may be used in the place of any number of any color and FOUR Royal Cards (Emperor, Empress, Rooster and Monkey) which play special roles (more on that later). And, then, of course, you have the cards that give the game its name: Forbidden cards.

Forbidden cards have multiple uses. As mentioned, when beginning your turn, you may, instead of drawing a card from the draw deck, take the face up card on one or more individual discard stacks. But ANY opponent may play from his hand a Forbidden card which not only blocks you from picking up the card(s) but ends your turn immediately! Once a stack has been Forbidden, however, it may not be blocked again. So cards discarded on TOP of the Forbidden card MAY be taken with impunity. You may, if you wish, simply discard a Forbidden card. Forbidden cards, discarded voluntarily or played as a block, may be taken into a player’s hand if he so wishes on his next turn as his draw. But using Forbidden cards in this way deny you their other benefits.

If you are the first to go out (“Cheng” in game terminology) by melding all your cards, the number of Forbidden cards held in your hand act as a score MULTIPLIER. Go out with 2 Forbidden Cards and your scored is doubled; go out with 3 Forbidden cards and you’ve tripled your score! (You may go out with any number of Forbidden cards or even NO Forbidden cards but you may NOT go out with only 1.) But there is a flip side here. If you are NOT the first to go out, EACH Forbidden card held by you reduces your score by 5 points!

Once someone has gone out, that round is over. The other players may play cards from their hands as melds or onto melds already played (but NEVER on an opponent’s meld). Now, the effects of those Royal cards are felt.

The Emperor can protect you. If you hold him and are NOT the Cheng player, he will neutralize any Forbidden cards caught in your hand. If you ARE the Cheng player, the Emperor counts as an additional Forbidden card to multiply your score. In this way, you may go out with only 1 Forbidden card but still DOUBLE your score! But the Emperor is not invulnerable.

Should the Empress card be in play, the player holding that card forces a “royal marriage”. He takes the Emperor card and doubles his own score! (The player who loses the Emperor card does NOT enjoy any of the Emperor card benefits!)

The Rooster is a bonus card adding 10 points to your score if you Cheng, 15 points if you don’t! The Monkey card lets you claim the cards in the Treasure Chest at the end of the round and then apply them, if you can, to your hand to increase your score. (If the Monkey does not appear, 2 more cards are added to the Treasure Chest for the next round.) With the effects of the royal cards resolved, scoring occurs.

Each run or sequence of 3 cards is worth 5 points. A four card run or sequence is worth 10. Each yin/yang card in a meld is worth an additional 5 and the player going out first (Cheng) receives a 10 point bonus. As mentioned, Forbidden cards multiply your score if you Cheng or reduce it if you don’t. The Royal marriage will double your score.

Rounds continue until one player manages to accumulate 200 points (or more).

One of the challenges of the game is remain vigilant regarding the discards of the other players. You certainly don’t want to toss out what your enemy needs or discard the second card in a possible run or sequence. For example, if a black 4 has been discarded and you discard a black 5, another player holding a black 3 or black yin/yang card may pick up BOTH of those discards and meld a three card run! And Forbidden cards add a whole strata to decision-making.

Forbidden cards are extremely valuable in putting a needed discard out of the reach of your opposition But once a Forbidden card is played on a stack, that stack may no longer be blocked. Pull the trigger too early and an opponent is liable to pick up a more valuable card later! As in life, timing is everything. Forbidden cards are also potential score multipliers but there is a nice balance as the more of them you hold, the less melds you will be able to make. This keeps the “multiplying mechanism” from running wild and skewing scores too dramatically. But Forbidden cards can backfire on you. If present in your hand when someone else goes out, they lower your score. As the song says, “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em” is key to successful play.

Marketed as “Mah Jongg meets Gin Rummy, Forbidden is a card game with roots that justify the marketing slogan but adds a few tasty ingredients to the mix to create something fresh and original. With this entry, the fertile mind for design of Mr. Orbanes has presented us with another quality game that is truly a Forbidden pleasure. Recommended. – – – – – – – – – — – – – – Herb Levy


 

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