Forbidden Desert

Forbidden Desert board game in play

The latest game in Matt Leacock's series of cooperative thrillers is Forbidden Desert.

In Forbidden Desert, the players are all archeologist-types (think Indiana Jones), and are looking to discover an ancient, buried, "flying machine."  (Which we now call airplanes, but, that's just being picky.)  However, they crash landed in the middle of a sand storm.  So, now they must find and rebuild the flying machine before they die of thirst!  How this works in game terms is that each player gets to take four actions per turn.  These actions can include any combination of movement, excavating an exposed tile, clearing sand off of a tile, and picking up a discovered part.  At the end of their turn, a certain number of sandstorm cards will be flipped, and each of these cards will cause the board to shift and for sand to blow onto the moved tiles (alternatively, the cards can cause the adventurers to all lose ("drink," if you will) some water).  If the players find all four parts of the ancient airplane and get to the runway in time, then they win.  If they get buried in the desert (run out of sand tiles), succumb to thirst, or take too long, then they lose!

My first pro for Forbidden Desert is that it has a very similar feel to his previous games (Forbidden Island and Pandemic) and yet truly stands on its own.  To be very honest about the matter, I almost decided to take a pass on Forbidden Desert, because I was expecting it to just be a rethemed version of Forbidden Island.  Fortunately, that is not the case.  Obviously one of the biggest differences is the theme.  But in the gameplay there are also a few major differences - specifically players are no longer drawing and matching cards (which was the crux of the past two games), and also the shifting board is a nice touch (similar to Forbidden Island's sinking tiles, but quite different).  I am glad to see that the comfortable feel of Pandemic has been taken and molded into a new experience with Forbidden Desert.

board closeup on Forbidden Desert cooperative game
Finding clues for the flying machine's parts
The next pro that I have for Forbidden Desert is that I like how players find the parts of the flying machine.  Some of the tiles, when excavated, give clues as to a part's location.  Specifically, there are two clues per part - one clue will give you the row for the part, and the other clue will give you the column.  Thus, once you have found both clues, you may place the part on the board.  (It then can shift around, but will stay on the tile that you "discovered" it on.)  This is an interesting element, and I think that it fits well both thematically and mechanically.

The next pro that I have is that I like how the shifting sand works.  To start the game, you create a 5x5 grid of desert tiles, with the middle tile missing.  This missing tile is the center of the sandstorm.  At the end of each turn, when you are flipping storm tiles, the cards will show a certain number of tiles and point in a direction.  This describes how many tiles move towards the center of the storm, and also which direction the tiles come from.  Thus, the center of the storm is constantly moving.  This does a couple of things.  First, it can cause problems with your movement, if suddenly the center of the storm is adjacent to a player who was planning on moving into what is now an empty tile.  Second, it can potentially block a lot of tiles very quickly, as it is very possible for the same tile(s) to be moved multiple times on a turn.  (A tile is "blocked" if it has two sand tiles on it.)

Though I was quite pleasantly surprised by Forbidden Desert, there are still a couple of cons that I will mention for the game.  The first one is that Forbidden Desert still suffers from the "alpha player" problem.  Basically, what this means is that if you play with a very opinionated player, it can turn into a game where one person is playing the game, and everyone else is simply taking the actions that this player is telling them to do.  Yes, I realize that part of this is a problem with that player, and not necessarily with the game itself.  Yet, there have been several cooperative games recently (Hanabi and The Lord of the Rings LCG come to mind) that have found ways of mitigating this problem.  Forbidden Desert actually went the other way - the minor amounts of hidden information that were found in Forbidden Island and Pandemic (a player's hand) are no longer present in this one.  This time around, all information is public.

Flying machine part of Forbidden Desert game
The very pretty flying machine that serves no real purpose
The other con that I have for Forbidden Desert is that it struck me as a bit more luck based than I would have liked.  Now, I realize that any time that you play a game with a deck of cards, there will be a luck of the draw element.  Yet, in Forbidden Desert, I had at least one game where the adventurers succumbed to thirst within the first 3-4 turns because all of the "Sun Beats Down" cards were stacked near the top of the deck.  There are ways of avoiding losing water - Solar Shields and Tunnels.  But, if the Sun Beats Down cards are at the top, then it is quite possible to have an adventurer (one of the ones that has a lower amount of starting water) die of thirst before you are able to successfully find either of these defenses.  Additionally, there is a decent amount of luck around how the storm moves.  Sometimes you will get a lot of "reprieves", where the tiles indicated can't actually move, and so nothing bad happens.  Conversely, you might not get any reprieves, in which case you probably won't win.

Overall, I give Forbidden Desert an 8.5/10.  It was a very pleasant surprise for me.  Whereas I was expecting to have a re-skinned version of one of my other games, I was happy to get an entirely new playing experience.  My biggest complaint from my experience with the game is that FedEx beat up my game before it ever got to me - and that's definitely not the game's fault!

If Forbidden Desert sounds interesting, you should also check out Wok Star, Castle Panic, and Flash Point.

I would like to thank GameWright for providing me with a review copy of Forbidden Desert.

1 comment:

  1. We've loved Forbidden Island and talk about how great a family board game it is every where we can.
    However, Forbidden Desert has now edged it out. We still love both, but Desert a bit more because of the shifting tiles and variable locations of the flying machine parts. And seeing the sand stack up on tiles is fun to boot.