Matt Leacock has a knack for creating games about overwhelming odds. In Pandemic, players race against the advancing tide of infectious disease. In Forbidden Island, that race is against the literal tide as the mysterious island you are exploring sinks beneath the waves.
Forbidden Desert places the characters in a similar situation as desert sands threaten to engulf the party and bleach their bones dry.
Death by disease, death by drowning, and death by dehydration. Fun times.
Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game in which the players try to assemble a mysterious flying device so that they may escape the ravages of a desert storm. This goal is virtually identical to that of Forbidden Island. As a matter of fact, the game shares many features with Leacock’s previous cooperative games (Forbidden Island and Pandemic) but these similarities only benefit the game. If you have played one of the others before then your entry into Forbidden Desert will be that much easier. If you have not played the other games, the rules are easy enough and the instructions clear enough that you will still be playing in a matter of minutes.
The game consists primarily of tiles, cards, and pawns. The 24 tiles are shuffled and distributed in a 5×5 grid (there is no middle tile—this represents the sand storm). The cards are used to provide special equipment to the players and used to determine the strength and movement of the sand storm. Special sand markers are used to show where and how deep the sand is piling up around the board. The pawns represent the characters.
Each player controls a character. Each character can take four actions on their turn. Each character carries a certain amount of water and also has a special ability. For example: the Archaeologist can dig through more sand; the Meteorologist can help control the sand storm. In all there are six different adventurers.
The last major piece of the game is the storm meter. As the game progresses, the sand storm gets worse. The storm meter records the strength of the storm. If it gets too high, everyone loses.
If any of the characters runs out of water, the group loses.
If you run out of sand markers… yup, the group loses.
The only way to win is to gather the four pieces of the flying machine and make it back to its launch pad. Wherever that may be…
As it stands, Forbidden Desert has several things going for it. The way you find the treasure pieces is ingenious and does not require gathering cards. This is one of the big differences with Forbidden Island. The characters also have a wider range of actions—there are more choices to make which means there are more ways to die but a much stronger sense of agency. Finally, the sharing of water and items really emphasizes cooperative play.
I can’t recommend this game highly enough. It is exciting and endlessly interesting. The artwork is fantastic (although I think Forbidden Island would win that contest) and the game design such that even novice players will be immersed in the adventure with only a minimal amount of prep time.
It’s probably as much fun as you can have with sand that is not part of a beach.
2-5 players. Ages 10+
Forbidden Desert was designed by Matt Leacock and is © 2013 by Gamewright.