As the helicopter takes off from the Forbidden Island we are buoyed by our shared victory. Snagging all four treasures from the Archaens’ sinking island was quite the coup. As we soar over the ocean our navigator tells of another legendary treasure buried in the sands of an ancient desert city. In our revelry we change our course for the Forbidden Desert.
As blue sea turns into ochre arid desert below us, our foolhardy optimism starts to fade. Working out the rough location was surprisingly easy. As we near the co-ordinates, the sky darkens. An omnipresent concern fills the cockpit. This sandstorm was going to be a problem. The bleeping from the helicopter console didn’t help our mood, nor did the calls for mayday. We are going down. A crash-landing that everyone walks away from is a good one, we’re lucky. The helicopter was not so fortunate however. The satellite phone was not working through the swirling sand interference. So, we gather our water supplies and set off. Without radio contact the only way we’re escaping this place is on the legendary solar powered flying machine rumoured to be buried in the sand beneath us.
If that’s captured your imagination, you will probably want to read more of my review of Forbidden Desert, a family co-operative game for 2-5 players. If you’ve read our Forbidden Island review you may get the feeling of déjà vu. That’s because the two games are similar to each other in terms of shared mechanics. Read on to find out if you need both…
To win Forbidden Desert players will need to work together to collect the parts of the flying machine and escape before your water supply runs out. The co-operative nature of the game means that either you win as a team, or you lose to the game.
The 24 tiles are set up in a five by five grid with a gap in the centre. In a diamond formation eight tiles have sand markers placed on them. Each player is assigned a pawn at random which grants them special abilities. On your turn you take four actions from any of the four options available. These are: move onto tiles that are not too buried in sand; remove a sand token from a tile, excavate a cleared tile to turn it over and see what you have uncovered, or pick up one of the four parts to the magnificent flying machine.
You can also share water or pass any collected equipment at any time during the game for free, if you are on the same tile as another player.
The idea is to find location clues on the tiles. If you find two for a matching part the location is revealed in a grid reference kind of way – then you need to collect that treasure!
After this, you will draw two or more Sand Storm cards. These cause tiles to move into the space in the grid and have a sand token marker added to them. It is also during this phase that Sun Beats Down cards are revealed, this takes a water unit away from every player not sheltering. This deck also includes Storm Picks Up Cards, these intensify how many cards each player draws in the future.
Once you have captured all four components, all players must get to the Launch Pad to escape on the flying machine.
While there is only one way to win, there are three ways to lose. Firstly if any player runs out of water. Secondly, if you run out of sand marker tokens. Or, finally, if the Sand Storm meter reaches the death symbol. If any of these conditions happen, you lose.
Once you get the hang of Forbidden Desert you can also adjust the difficulty.
What it’s like
Forbidden Desert is a great family game. Just like its predecessor it can accommodate younger players below the recommended age of 10 because it is co-operative. Find out why in our review of Forbidden Island. Overall however, Forbidden Desert ramps up the difficulty ever so slightly. It’s a nice stepping stone to heavier co-operative games.
Just like Forbidden Island, the different abilities of the players will make a difference and alter your style of play as a result. Having the Water Carrier in your midst is a huge advantage. The modular board and adjustable difficulty also allow for plenty of replayability.
Some tiles grant you much needed equipment when excavated, ranging from solar shields to stop the sun beating down to jetpacks to transport you around. A few tiles are tunnels, providing shelter from the sun and much needed alleys around the board. If they are nicely spread out they can really help you out. Too close to each other and the much needed benefit is lost.
If you have played other co-operative games be aware this is an entry level option, from here you might progress to the next sequel, Forbidden Sky, and then to the various iterations of Pandemic, also designed by Matt Leacock. They all use similar mechanics but the difficulty ramps up through the titles.
Forbidden Desert will feel very familiar if you have played Forbidden Island, but it is surprisingly different at the same time. It feels like luck plays a bit more of a part in this one. The roles, where the sand gets placed and all the items locations being unknown slightly changes the strategy from its prequel.
The rules are clear and concise. The wooden player pawns are a bit bland and in an age of minis and meeples these seem a little mass market. In contrast, the flying machine is amazing! The player cards with their individual water markers are quite neat too.
The tiles have some nice artwork by Tyler Edlin. You rarely get to see it, as most of the game the good looking side will be face down and the rest of the game the tiles will be covered in sand. I understand it’s a necessary part of the game, it’s just a shame! The cards are more functional than beautiful and overall I think Forbidden Island is better looking. The Sand Storm meter has a handy base which is an improvement.
The game comes in a tin. Call me old-fashioned, but I quite like a cardboard box. Don’t get me wrong it all fits nicely inside, it’s just a bit harder to stack on the shelf. Tins tend to be prone to the odd dent or ding, now I know a box gets shelf wear and the occasional bashed corner, but tins just seem more fragile and more prone to the lid pinging off; leaving you with a mess of board game components on the floor. The box also doesn’t match in size or shape to any of the others in the series to date.
My difficulty is that it is hard not to draw comparisons with the earlier game in the series. Forbidden Desert is indeed familiar to its predecessor and a small step up in terms of difficulty. The artwork is good, but it’s often buried under a bewildering amount of sand. It feels a little more luck based than Forbidden Island too. If I had only played this I would think it was a brilliant and clever game, which it is. The problem being, so too was Forbidden Island.
It is different though. I like the way the two sort of link together as one continuous story. Knowing Forbidden Sky has also been released and Forbidden Stars has been announced, this series is growing, proving it is much loved.
Do you need to own both? There is an argument for owning each, but you will probably feel like you need to justify owning both in your head! As a family of five, sitting five players is a bonus for me and may be reason enough for you to edge towards this one.
This is another great co-operative game from Matt Leacock and Gamewright. My boys prefer the slightly harder challenge of this one and I sort of do too. I do however really like the accessibility of Forbidden Island, its ease of play and its artwork makes it a better first choice for me. If I want to ramp up the difficulty I would reach for a Pandemic title. Therefore adding Forbidden Desert shouldn’t be a ‘must have’, but it is certainly a game that is nice to have on the shelf to add into the mix.
I’m really pleased I have got to the end of the review without making one joke about being on a diet and eating a Forbidden Dessert. Dammit – so close!
This is a brilliant introduction to co-operative gaming, I prefer Forbidden Island as an entry level co-op but Forbidden Desert is a little more taxing. Cleverly balanced gameplay and plenty of tactical planning with a dollop of luck makes Forbidden Desert a very good game.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Great family game
- Co-operative Game
- Lots of interaction
- Entry level game
- Can seat five players
- You don’t get to choose the colour of your pawn
- Losing to the game can be crushing
- Quite luck based
- Can bring out alpha players
Need more games?
If you already own Forbidden Desert and enjoy it, or are looking for other inspiration, you might also like these similar games:
- Forbidden Island
- Forbidden Sky
- Flash Point
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