Ages 10 and Up
Playtime: Approximately 45 minutes
“Gear up for a thrilling adventure to recover a legendary flying machine buried deep in the ruins of an ancient desert city. You’ll need to coordinate with your teammates and use every available resource if you hope to survive the scorching heat and relentless sandstorm. Find the flying machine and escape before you all become permanent artifacts of the Forbidden Desert! ~ Gamewright”
Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game for two to five players which pits a team of adventurers against a sandstorm in a burning hot desert. The sandstorm threatens to block players from successfully locating the parts to a flying machine that they need to escape the all of the sun and sand.
It sounds a lot like another game we reviewed, right? Forbidden Island, perhaps? Well, it is similar in a lot of ways, but it is MUCH more complex.
Much like Forbidden Island, the game “board” is actually a series of 24 tiles shuffled and laid out to form a 5×5 grid with a hole in the center. That hole represents the eye of the sandstorm. Orientation of the tiles to form the grid is VERY important. Read the rules. Seriously. If it is set up incorrectly, it will really confuse gameplay. Also, unlike Forbidden Island, where the tiles just look pretty, these tiles actually do something! They’re pretty, too. But actually interacting with the tiles beyond just moving them around or flipping them over adds to the sense of adventure and makes you really feel the archaeology/Indiana Jones aspect.
The game also includes 31 storm cards, 12 equipment cards, 6 adventurer cards (these determine a player’s role in the game), 48 sand markers, 6 pawns, 6 meter clips, 4 flying machine parts (propeller, engine, solar crystal, navigation deck), 1 flying machine model, 1 sandstorm meter, and 1 sandstorm meter stand, and a rules booklet.
Much like Forbidden Island (or any cooperative game), gameplay consists of a sequence of turns. First, the adventurers take their turn. Then the environment takes its turn. On their turn, each adventurer has a series of 4 actions that they can complete. Adventurers can Move, Excavate, Remove Sand or Pick Up a Part. If an adventurer is on the same tile as another player, they can Share Water or Pass Equipment. After each adventurer completes their actions, the environment gets a turn. The adventurer draws storm cards (which increase as the game goes on) that direct the storm to move one to three spaces in a given direction. The tiles move to fill in the hole where the storm was, depositing sand and possibly cutting you off from water or your team members. The complexity in this game is more significant than Forbidden Island, because in addition to the sand cutting you off, you also have to deal with the burning sun from the storm card deck. Add in the need to find wells, gear, location clues, tunnels, and mirages and you end up with a myriad of decisions to make each turn that can cause your group to win or lose the game.
Players WIN when all adventurers get to the Launch Pad! Once you have the four necessary parts, all players must find their way to the Launch Pad tile where everyone can insert the parts into the flying machine, start the engine, and escape for the win. Remember: The Launch Pad tile MUST be unblocked in order to enter it and/or take off for the win.
Players automatically LOSE if ANY player reaches the skull and crossbones symbol on their canteen. Players also LOSE if they get Buried (If you need to add a sand marker to a tile but there aren’t any left in the supply). Players LOSE if they get Swept Away (the sand storm meter reaches the skull and crossbones symbol).
Is the game any fun? Of course it is! The atmosphere is cool. Who hasn’t dreamed of exploring and finding buried treasure? The mechanics are complex, but after a play-through, simple to learn. And, most importantly, the play is challenging and requires thoughtfulness, cooperation and decision making. Being a co-op game that really relies on teamwork, this can be a great break from other more cutthroat games to get the family working together.
Gamewright recommends ages 10+ for the game, and we think that’s spot on for independent play. We played through with 1 adult, a 9 year old and two 8 year olds and it felt like barely controlled chaos. We also played through with a group of very overtired adults and kept confusing the direction of the storm movement because of player orientation around the table. It is probable that younger players certainly can grasp and enjoy the game when playing with the help of adults, but they probably wouldn’t be able to “lead” the team to success as their are too many variables to keep track of.
At a price of $24.99, Forbidden Desert is a great deal and a fantastic second step in the co-op board game genre. Just like Forbidden Island, the randomness of the tile layout as the board leads to huge variety and replay value, as does the multiple combinations of adventurer play styles (especially in combination). The difficulty can be scaled to all abilities based on the sandstorm level set at the beginning of the game, and even at the easy setting can provide a decent challenge for some of the most experienced gamers. This is another win from Gamewright!