Game Length: 45 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 2-4 new boardgamers who want to work together
Forbidden Desert is a cooperative survival game designed by Matt Leacock, the designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Island, and borrows many elements from those games.
The players are stranded in the desert near the ruins of an advanced civilisation. The sun is beating down and there’s no shelter in sight, but if they excavate the ruins, they may be able to find the tools to survive – and there are even parts of a flying machine they can build to escape! However, impeding their efforts is a sandstorm that will bury the ruins and block their passage. They’ll need to work together, pooling their efforts and sharing their supplies, if they want to escape alive.
Each turn, a player may move around the desert, dig away sand and excavate tiles – or she may take a number of other unique actions, depending on her character. After taking her actions, a number of cards will be drawn from the Storm deck. These cards are always bad, and one of three things can happen on a given card – the storm can move, causing sand to pile up in its wake; players can become more thirsty, losing valuable water; or the storm can pick up – increasing the number of cards drawn per turn. If any one player runs out of water, all players lose, so it will be up to the team to make sure everyone stays hydrated.
From the start of the game, the pressure will be on. The longer players take, the more the storm will pick up and the harder the game will become. The storm deck keeps the pressure mounting – you know that each run through the deck, there will be exactly 4 ‘Sun Beats Down’ cards, that have the potential to cause a player to die and the game to be lost. When the deck runs out and is reshuffled, the suspense of not knowing where these cards are begins to mount again – and towards the end of the game, players can be one unlucky draw away from victory or failure.
Forbidden Desert, as a co-operative game, does suffer from the problem of quarterbacking. This is when one experienced player works out the ‘optimal’ moves and ends up dictating the rest of the group’s actions, which stops other players from engaging with the game. The game works best when players have similar levels of experience, and if they approach the game as a collaborative puzzle to be solved.
Forbidden Desert makes an excellent game for newcomers to modern boardgaming. The co-operative element allows players to work together against the game, instead of against each other, which is a great way to welcome new players without intimidating them. The rules are simple enough to learn and the game is very visually appealing, with the buildable flying machine and standing barometer that indicates the state of play. It scales well from 2 to 5 players and has an adjustable difficulty setting, meaning that newcomers and veterans alike will be able to get something out of a game.