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.
|Finding clues for the flying machine's parts|
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.
|The very pretty flying machine that serves no real purpose|
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.