At a Glance: Forbidden Desert is a great high-stakes cooperative game with a sprinkle of unpredictability.
Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game for 2-5 players with the premise that everyone has crash landed in a desert and must explore and search for 4 parts to construct an ancient magical flying machine. All the while, unpredictable sandstorms are raging across the landscape and canteens are becoming empty. On your turn, you may do up to 4 actions. These are Moving, Removing Sand, Excavating, and Picking Up Parts. At the end of each turn, the Storm moves around the desert, leaving sand behind on the tiles it moved through. When there are at least 2 sand markers on a tile it is considered blocked and must be dug out before players can move or Excavate it. Excavating a tile allows you to flip it over and discover what is there. It could be a cool gadget, a well (Water is very important), or a tile that may help you locate one of the magical flying machine parts. Whenever you find the two matching tiles for one of the parts, that part is placed where the two tiles’ directional lines intersect on the grid. Sometimes the Storm picks up, in which case you increase the Storm Track which likewise increases the amount of Storm cards you draw each turn. Once players are able to find all four parts, they must all make their way to the Launch Pad, construct the magical flying machine and fly away to win. If you ever run out of sand markers, that means you’re buried in sand and everyone loses. If the Storm Track reaches the very top, everyone loses. Lastly, if anyone’s canteen reaches the very bottom tick (symbolized by a skull & crossbones), then they have died of thirst and everyone loses.
Forbidden Desert is the second game in the Forbidden series designed by Matt Leacock. And like Forbidden Island (and Pandemic which he also designed), there are multiple ways to lose but only one way to win. Leacock is a master when it comes to crafting tense, consistently challenging cooperative games and this is no different. I enjoy this one just a little better than Forbidden Island, which was #27 on my list. I enjoy the Excavating a little more than the set collection with the cards in Forbidden Island. This game is a bit more challenging and a bit less reliant on luck. That said, there is a sprinkle of unpredictability with the Storm and the hidden tiles. The difficulty setting is pretty variable, which is a great condition included in the rules. Even on the easier introductory difficulty level, the game can be a nice challenge. Also, every player has a role with a special ability, and seeing how these interact is intriguing and it just adds another interesting element to the experience.
The flying machine itself is such a great, unique component, one of the best in any game. And though it does not take a special action when all the players make it to the Launch Pad, it is cool to fit the parts onto the machine and “lift off” the board. Especially for the price, the quality here can’t be beat. Forbidden Desert breeds camaraderie, strategy, tense climaxes, and great aesthetics. This is one of the best cooperative games out there. In fact, it is one of the best games in general for me.
Check it out: https://amzn.to/2SSALQb