A long time ago, I reviewed Matt Leacock’s cooperative board game, Forbidden Island and more recently, his classic game Pandemic, but I’ve had this one for a while and am finally getting around to posting a review.
This is Forbidden Island on steroids, a much more difficult task where you traverse the shifting sands, looking for the parts of your airship before the sun and the sand finally do you all in. Can you survive? Let’s see as we take a look at Forbidden Desert.
I guess the first thing we need to address is whether this is just a retread of Forbidden Island and the answer is no. Sure, there are a lot of mechanics that are the same, if you’ve played Forbidden Island, you’ll be familiar with a lot of the mechanics in this game, but there are massive differences as well. In Forbidden Island, you were constantly worried about the island sinking beneath you while you fought to recover the treasures. Here, however, there is a constant sandstorm that moves around the “board” and covers up the tiles, restricting where you can go. If the sand fills up too quickly, you lose. If you can’t find the parts to your ship, you lose. And with the sun beating down on you constantly, if you use up all of your water, you die and the team loses. If even one player dies, everyone fails. That might sound like it’s hard and it absolutely is, but it’s also a ton of fun, even if you end up losing.
This isn’t a game to be rushed through, each turn, the group needs to decide what it wants to do collectively because only by working together and playing to the strengths of the different “characters” can you hope to survive. This game, which plays from 2-5 players, scales wonderfully, it feels like the same difficulty no matter how many people are at the table, something that often isn’t true of other games. Where many other co-op games don’t force you to take care of other players, here it’s essential. If anyone dies, everyone loses immediately. There are many different things to keep track of at all times. You need players searching the dunes for parts, you need players clearing sand tokens all the time because if you ever run out of spare sand tokens, you lose. You need players watching the launch pad space, keeping the extremely limited water supply tiles accessible, finding ways to dive into caves to save you from the sun, etc. It’s a multifaceted game that might look easy on the surface, but has a surprising amount of depth.
For those who are new to this kind of cooperative gaming, I wouldn’t really recommend starting with Forbidden Desert. Forbidden Island is a perfect starting place, get used to the mechanics and the idea of working cooperatively, then leap into the sandstorm.
The only potential negative I see here, and it’s very personal, is that the game only plays up to 5 players and I occasionally have a group of 7 people who I’d love to pull this game out for, but it just doesn’t work. Outside of party games, finding anything that plays that many and is also simple for non-gamers is really difficult.
Designed by Matt Leacock
Published by Gamewright
45 minute play time