Saturday, October 5, 2013


Forbidden Desert
Designed by Matt Leacock
2 - 5 Players
Gamewright Game

Background and Introduction
Thirsty? Why wait? Growing up in the fine desert state of Utah, I have experienced some hikes in a scorching sun. I have tried to run up a sand dune as the hot sand seemed to grab on and not want to let go.

In Forbidden Desert, players have gone to excavate an ancient desert city rumored to have a legendary flying machine that is powered by the sun. As luck would have it, just as you are arriving to the area a sand storm picks up and your helicopter has to make a crash landing. Now, with limited water and resources, you must excavate the city to find that legendary flying machine and fly out before the desert kills you all. The city has some pretty nifty stuff that will be key to your survival. Time is of the essence and each player's special skills will also be essential to escaping the desert with not only the flying machine, but with your lives!

For those unfamiliar with Matt Leacock; Matt may just be the king of co-operative games. Matt is probably most well known for his game Pandemic, but may be just as familiar from his game Forbidden Island. Forbidden Island also produced by Gamewright games came out a few years ago and was a huge success. Forbidden Desert is a sort of sequel to that game. Some similar mechanics that keep the game somewhat familiar, while adding new roles (such as the water carrier and meteorologist) and game mechanics that keep the game fresh and exciting.  The game has a great theme and Matt with Gamewright games have produced yet another fantastic co-operative game in which families can either win or lose the battle for prestige and survival together!

Components / Rule Book
Gamewright always seems to do a fantastic job with their game components; from the nice collector's tin that the game comes in down to the cards, tiles, and actual flying machine that you will assemble from five fun parts.  I like the idea of tins especially since I consider them a little more durable than most game boxes. I may have also for some reason subconsciously inherited my mother's  love of tins.

Inside the tin, we find high quality cards (storm, item, and role cards), desert tiles, sand pieces, player pawns, the flying machine (with all the removable parts), clip markers, sand storm meter (with base), and an amazing rule book. All of the components fit well in the box, although I have a small tiny irritation with the card holding section as I am unable to easily get all of the cards out (always leaving one or two cards in the plastic base that I have to use a fingernail to get out - this may just be my own game and other plastic bases may not have the same issue).

The desert tiles and sand pieces are double sided and have great artwork (both relative to the game and not distracting). I love that the storm meter has a base which allows the meter to stand vertical. This allows all the players to easily see the meter. The meter is also double sided and allows for flexibility with the amount of players playing (it has a marks and sides for 2,3,4, and 5 players with different difficulties set for how many players you are playing with) and makes it appropriately adjustable.

I also really like the fact that the little clip markers that are used on the sand meter and on the individual
player role cards (to keep track of the amount of water a player still has) work perfectly with the cards and meter. A lot of games seem to either have the clips to hard to install, or they are too loose to stay where they need to (Betrayal at House on the Hill - great game - not so great markers). Forbidden Desert has somehow perfected the clip markers and they couldn't work any better.

Another thing that Gamewright does really well is make incredible instruction books. Really. It can be very frustrating when you open a game and it takes you forever to learn how to play or after you are done reading, you still don't know how to play your brand new game. This rule book does an amazing job presenting the rules and material in a logical order and with LOTS of diagrams and pictures to help show you visually how things are done or what the words are trying to say. Couldn't be happier with the rule book. You should be able to learn it quickly with no frustration.

With the step by step setup instructions and the picture provided in the rule book, setup is slick and quick. You shuffle the card decks and desert tiles, and then you create your desert. Placing the 24 desert tiles in a 5x5 grid with a tile missing in the middle (representing the eye of the sand storm) followed by some initial sand pieces. The sand meter is set and players choose role cards (either by random or by choice). The flying machine and parts are placed close by with the other cards and you are ready to play. The fact that the desert tiles are shuffled and placed randomly makes each game play differently and usually contributes to the difficulty of the game. Players place their colored pawn on the crash landing site and the game beings.

The thirstiest player always goes first (that's usually me since I'm always thirsty, in fact, my throat feels a little dry right now). A player on their turn takes up to 4 actions and then storm cards are drawn equal to the amount shown on the storm meter. The goal of the game is to find all 4 machine parts, and assemble at the landing pad before anyone parishes from the desert (I'll go over all the ways to lose in a bit, but there is only one way to win).

The actions are very easy to understand and perform. The player can perform any combination of the following actions:

  • Move - A player can move one tile left, right, up, or down (exception for the explorer) as long as there is a tile to move to and that the tile is not blocked (if a tile has 2 or more sand pieces, the tile is blocked and players may not travel to or from that tile until the sand markers are removed leaving 1 or no sand on that tile (exception for the climber).
  • Remove Sand - Players can remove a sand marker for an action from an adjacent tile or your own tile. 
  • Excavate - If you are on a tile with no sand markers, you can excavate a tile by flipping it over and performing the action associated with that tile (you may get an item card, or refresh your water supply, or you may have just found a clue to a flying machine part).
  • Pick Up a Part - You can a pick up a part if on the same tile and the tile is unblocked and has been excavated. One step closer to victory!
(Players may also share water or item cards with other players on the same tile - unless otherwise stated by a role ability. This will mostly be for sharing water with other players.)

There are a few different types of desert tiles. Three desert tiles have a picture of a tree or oasis with a drop of water in the bottom right hand corner. These represent potential wells (2 of 3 do indeed provide access to water, but 1 of the 3 is all dried up. When these are flipped over by a player (if it is a well), everyone on that tile may increase their water marker up two tick marks (can't go past your capacity - and everyone may have different maximum tick marks for carrying water). The water carrier may revisit these wells and use an action to draw water from the well later in the game.

Some tiles when flipped over will have a gear in the bottom right signifying that you have found a wonderful device in the ancient city that will help you to either clear sand, fly to another tile, see through piles of sand, or be protected from the harsh sun. These special cards are very important to your survival!

Key to winning the game is finding the two different clue tiles for each machine part. There is a 'row' clue and a 'column' clue for each part. To find a part and add the piece to the board, both clues must be excavated to show where the part lies. As the second clue is flipped over, you can place the part on the tile in the matching column and row (now time to go get it!).

Notice the Orange Crystal appeared conveniently on the Landing Pad!

There are three tunnel tiles which can be very helpful as well. If the 'sun beats down' while you are in a tunnel, you do not need to lose any water. You may also use tunnels to travel a long distance to the other end of a tunnel tile.

The landing pad tile is also important as that is the only tile from which you can assemble and fly away!

Drawing Sand Storm Cards
Drawing sand storm cards is half the fun! This is where all your peril comes from. The deck is mainly comprised of 'Wind Blows' cards where the wind blows the tiles around using the empty tile spot and leaving piles of sand in its wake. If there are no tiles to be moved, you luck out and don't need to apply any more sand etc. This is one of the great things about this game! The game board is always changing and moving and it requires strategy to use this to your advantage. You draw cards from this pile equal to the number shown on the sand storm meter.

The real 'ups and downs' (puns intended) come from the 'Storm Picks Up' and 'Sun Beats Down' cards.

  • Storm Picks Up - This moves your marker up one tick mark on your sand storm meter, making you draw an ever increasing amount of storm cards leaving more sand and presenting more opportunities to lose water and increase the amount of cards you have to draw even more.
  • Sun Beats Down - When this happens, unless you have a Solar Shield or are in a tunnel, you lose one water from your canteen. thirsty.

Winning and Losing
When you have all four machine parts, race to the unblocked landing pad for a safe departure and grand victory!

There are three ways to lose the game:
  • Thirst - A player reaches the skull and cross bones on their canteen (just one player - remember, you are a team and if someone dies you all lose - probably dehydrate yourself with tears).
  • Buried - You need to place a sand marker, but don't have any left in the supply. You just have so much sand you all give up.
  • Swept Away - The sand meter marker hits the skull and cross bones. The sand storm has grown too powerful and it sweeps you all away (maybe you will end up on a yellow brick road somewhere if you are lucky - don't forget some bright red shoes).

Thoughts / Conclusion
With a great theme, outstanding components, and innovative Leacock co-operative game play this is a game not to miss! If you liked Forbidden Island this game will have a similar feel while adding some great new game mechanics. This is also a great game for those who have not played a co-operative game before. A great family game where the rules are easily understood and explained, this would be a great addition to any family game night. While remaining simple enough for the entire family to play, you can change the difficulty for more advanced players. The game makes you think and weigh out different possibilities making you decide between two different things that you need desperately. This critical decision making will challenge kids of all ages helping them learn this needed skill.

A quick word of comparison between this and Forbidden Island. I have both games and I'm glad I do. While the object of getting parts/relics and getting out remains the same, you do it in extremely different ways. Forbidden Island requires you to manage cards in your hand, collecting sets to get parts, while Forbidden Desert gets rid of that all together and you need to focus on the board and using your item/device cards. Forbidden Island with tiles being removed from the game seems a bit more scary feeling to me (the tiles sink away forever, while sand may always be removed - even a bunch of it by a dune blaster). I like the moving tiles mechanic and the many different types of tiles with the water, tunnels, and part location clues. Both games are great and I would recommend both. If you have to choose just one, I think I would suggest the Desert.

Forbidden Desert gets a big Thumbs Up from me or 10/10 Stars (check out my video review below)! The Forbidden Desert will entice you to keep going back for more, even if you have a dry mouth. Grab a canteen and definitely check out Forbidden Desert and that is How Lou Sees It! 

A big SHOUT OUT to Gamewright games for making this review possible and for making great games for the entire family!

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