I’ve always enjoyed co-operative games, in my family games with lots of take that end up in arguments. When my sister bought me Forbidden Desert as a present I was excited to give it ago, playing as adventurers in a mysterious land sounded exciting. Did this offer excitement rivaling Indiana Jones? Read on to find out!
Forbidden Desert is a cooperative survival game where everything is trying to kill you and your stranded friends. You have crashed in the Forbidden Desert, you now have to find the pieces of a legendary flying machine. Once you and the other adventurers have found and assembled the pieces you can escape this horrid place. You may be thinking why would I want to play this game where I’m quite likely to die or watch my friends die around me? Well for me it’s the satisfaction of beating the game, working together with your friends to make it out before you’re all buried alive is a great feeling. This is the second instalment of the Forbidden games, designed by Matt Leacock, the genius behind Pandemic, so I expected quite a lot from this game and was not disappointed!
This is a tile based game; you make a random 5×5 grid of tiles with the sand face up, and a space in the middle for the eye of the storm. You and your friends need to excavate these tiles by flipping them over to try to find a missing machine piece and an arrow. When you find 2 of these arrows the point where they cross reveals the location of the machines missing piece, you need to repeat this for each piece. Find all the machine pieces, put the machine together, you get a little version that you assemble as you find the pieces, which are descent quality and fit together well. Then locate the landing pad to escape this pesky desert, simple. Well it would be except for all the things that are trying to kill you. There is the sun, which drains your water, sand, which can bury you alive and the storm track that can get too vicious and kill you and your friends. If one player gets overwhelmed and killed in this game then it’s game over and you lose.
There are a couple of other types of tiles, 3 of which have a tree on which symbolise that water MAY be available, one of these is a mirage of course. There are also tiles that flip to reveal tunnels, these directly link to each other and protect you from the sun. These and the other tiles reveal gear which allows you to pick up one of the special gear cards that provide many helpful items, these affect all on your tile. These items can be used at any time through the game so be warned not to use them too soon. The other cards are the storm cards these are played at the end of each players turn and the number is decided by the storm track which advances when you draw a gathering storm card from the deck. You start the game by only drawing a couple each time; this goes up when you reveal a ‘storm picks up’ card from the storm deck. The storm cards show an arrow and a number of tiles which symbolises where the eye of the storm is moving and by how many. On each tile that gets moved a piece of sand is placed on it. The other card to watch out for is the ‘sun beats down’ card which makes every player drink unless they have some form of protection.
You and your friends have many ways of keeping yourself alive; you play as different roles that get randomly determined at the beginning of the game. There are 6 different roles all with a unique ability, which range in helpful-ness. Your turn is made up of up to 4 actions. The actions are as follows:
• Move to one of the adjacent tiles
• Excavate – flip over a tile
• Clear sand – remove one or more of the sand on your or an adjacent tile
• Pick up an item
You can also give water and pass gear cards to other players on your tile for free. Your special ability as part of your role may change how many sand you can move, or water you can take from the well etc.
I really like this game, I think the theme is fantastic, it works very well, you see the ever decreasing pile of sand, and your small amount of water and you can feel the tension through the group. When you do win this game together it feels really satisfying to win as a team, it’s a great challenge. I’ve played a few times with different groups lost and played it again straight away as we were determined this time we would beat the game. I think the art on the tiles is great by C. B. Canga and Tyler Edlin, and because of the random tile placement and random role selection this game can be replayed many times over.
This game however isn’t perfect, some of the roles are a little unbalanced, and the special abilities of some far out way others. For instance I have never won a game without the water carrier, the climber can ignore the sand piles but then as you don’t need to move the sand you can see the pile decreasing very quickly. There can also be the problem of bossy team mates, who try to dictate your turn which makes it feel a little like your moving your piece for them, this is a problem with many co-operative games it comes down to the group you play with. I do think this problem is slightly more prevalent in this game as there is nothing to do when it isn’t your turn except watch the other players and give ‘helpful’ advice. Giving advice to each other is encouraged in the rule book but it can be easy for some players to take over.
Overall I would definitely recommend this game, I have played with many different groups including newbies and it has always been enjoyable. I think this is a great game the rules aren’t too hard to get to grips with quickly, which makes it a descent gateway game. The price is fantastic value for money and I really like the tin box, it’s different and makes it stand out on your shelf. Also the fact that you physically build your ship is truly satisfying, and that is the feeling throughout this game and is why I will be playing it again and again.