TableTopTakes: Forbidden Desert

Peder and I have played a number of long, involved, story-heavy games lately, and while they’ve been awesome, last week we decided to switch things up a bit. Peder got Forbidden Desert for Christmas this year, and we took it, along with a couple of other short, simple games, with us for our most recent Insight game night (our biweekly visit to Insight Brewery to play games and drink good beer).

Image Credit: BoardGameGeek

Forbidden Desert is a spinoff of Forbidden Island — in the original game, the players play cooperatively to collect parts for their crashed helicopter so they can fly away from a volatile tropical island before it sinks. Forbidden Desert’s concept is similar, but is, of course, set in a desert instead of the middle of the ocean. But the differences don’t stop there — Forbidden Desert incorporates new mechanics, new ways to scale the difficulty level, and new ways to strategize that, in my opinion, improve upon the original game.

To begin the game, you set up a 15 x 15 grid of gaming tiles, each depicting a different section of the desert onto which you and your fellow players have crash-landed your magic airship. At the center of the grid, there’s a blank spot — this represents the storm that chases you and your teammates around the board, causing sand dunes to pile up and impede your progress. Before beginning the quest, each player chooses their role card. Each role has a different function as part of the team, and a different special ability. For example, the Water Carrier can carry a larger water supply than the other roles and can even give extra water to others, and the Climber can keep moving over tiles covered in sand tiles that would block other players.

During their turn, each player can take four actions — they can choose to move, clear sand tiles, excavate hidden tiles (in hopes of finding water, gear, tunnels in which to hide from the sun, or the all-important ship pieces), or some combination thereupon. Once they’ve taken their actions, they draw a few cards — the exact number is determined by the location of the marker on the difficulty level counter. The cards can cause the storm to move (making sand pile up), cause the storm to get stronger (making the difficulty level rise), or the sun to beat down (forcing players to use up some of their precious water supply). The players win by collecting all of the stray ship parts and making their way to the launchpad tile to repair their ship and escape the desert. And as with so many cooperative games, there are several ways to lose — if all players run out of water, if the storm gets so strong that all sand tiles have been placed onto the grid, or if the difficulty counter goes past the top mark, it’s game over.

Image Credit: BoardAgain Games

Like Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert is easy to pick up, has a simple concept, and requires a level of strategy that most players will find accessible. However, though I found Forbidden Island to be too easy and overly simple (at least for a two-player game), Forbidden Desert has no such pitfalls. Even for a strategy-averse person such as myself who nevertheless still wants to be challenged by games, Forbidden Desert has the ideal balance of strategy, luck, and cooperative play that all my favorite games have. It’s a fantastic game for when you want something fast-paced and high-stakes, but that you don’t want to spend a ton of time playing. Peder and I easily played through this game twice in an evening, and that was after we’d played a couple of rounds of another quick game. Forbidden Desert is one of those games that would be fun to play with just about any group — adults, kids, veteran gamers, and newbie gamers will all have a good time with this game, and nobody will get bored or, conversely, find the game to be too difficult. It’s a versatile, approachable game that you’ll most likely find to be as addictive as we did!

So how ’bout it? Have you played Forbidden Desert, or its predecessor, Forbidden Island? What did you like or dislike about either game? What’s your favorite setting in which to play games like this one? Talk about it with us below!

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