My family got me Forbidden Desert for Christmas this year. At first look I thought it was just Forbidden Island with a facelift. It does follow the same theme; the goal is to explore a desert and find parts to an ancient flying machine so you can escape the storm. However there are a number of important differences that come out in play.
TL:DR It’s very hard and very fun; with a number of improvements over its predecessor.
Opening the Box
Like Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert comes in a tin box and all the contents are of a high quality. The game tiles are made of nice thick card and the artwork is fantastic. The production values of modern games just blow me away.
The contents themselves have a stamp of familiarity; there are counters, machine pieces, the sandstorm counter and desert tiles, which all have equivalent types in the first game. There are several new additions as well, water counters and the sandstorm tiles, these add a different kind of complexity to the game.
Differences in Play
I’ll start with the little differences, tweaks to the gameplay that add polish and elegance to the game:
- Player interactions do not use action points. This is huge. As long as you are on the same square you can swap treasure cards, give water, or save people, as free actions. This leaves your precious three actions for movement, getting water and fighting the storm. It also increases your ability to co-operate effectively, and boy do you need it, the desert is deadly.
- There is no special landing or take off square. You get the parts, get together, and get the hell out of dodge. Sounds simple right? It would be if the desert wasn’t trying to kill you.
- Finding the parts works differently. In Forbidden Island you explore and basically stumble across the treasure locations. In this game you stumble across clues to the location of each part. The part then gets placed on the board once you know where it goes. Then anyone can just cruise on over and pick it up, which is easier said than done.
Now on to the bigger changes:
- The Storm. Dun Dun Dunnnnn! If the storm was a movie villain then we would be facing off against Vader, in all his Empire Strike Back evil awesomeness. The Storm builds up and moves around the game board burying everything with sand. You can dig out buried tiles, or buried people for that matter, so no piece is permanently lost. This looks good on paper, but the storm build with a real intensity, and in practise you cannot keep up with it. There are a limited number of sand cards and the game ends when they run out. This gives everything a sense of urgency and fits the premise of the game perfectly.
- Water, you can die of thirst in this pretend desert as well. Each player has a water counter, when it gets to zero they die. You can get water from a few places on the game board, but they are few and far between.
Did we Enjoy it?
Yes, we loved it! We played four games and lost them all, either when someone died of thirst or the storm got us. In the first game we tried to be slow and careful, and just plain ran out of time. In our following games the storm seemed to take on a life of its own. It was almost like roleplaying with a malevolent GM who was determined to get a total party kill. In fact it was exactly like roleplaying with a malevolent GM, just without the bad feels at the end.
It sounds bad, but we had a great time losing. I’d recommend Forbidden Desert for anyone that like co-operative gaming.