(Part of a series, reviewing games I played in September 2013 at That Board Gaming Thing.)
(Image courtesy PurpleHeather@BoardGameGeek)
Forbidden Desert is the latest cooperative game from the brain of Matt Leacock, creator of Pandemic and Forbidden Island. The concept is that you have crashed in the desert near the ruins of an ancient civilization. You need to explore the city, collect the parts of a mysterious flying machine, assemble them and escape before any of you die of thirst. The sun and the blowing sands are your enemy, but with luck and cooperation you might all make it.
The board consists of 24 tiles with a desert theme on one side, placed in a 5×5 grid. As you proceed through the game, you can explore the tiles and flip them over to reveal either part of the city (which allows you to pick up gear, or move around via tunnels), directional markers indicating where the parts of the flying machine are, or oases (one of which is dried up), which give water to whoever was there when it was explored.
However, the placement of the tiles is not static. At the end of your turn, you must turn over sand storm cards which can reveal either a wind event, a sun event, or the storm picks up (this mechanic should seem familiar to Pandemic players — think of the infection cards). If the wind blows, then the “hole” in the board (remember, there are only 24 tiles) will move with the wind, and sand markers will be placed on tiles. More than one sand marker, and you must dig the tile out before you can excavate it. If you run out of sand tiles, then the game is over and you lose.
If the sun beats down, then you must use up some water, or hide in a tunnel, or use an artifact. If any character is out of water when the sun beats down, then he or she dies and the game is over. Finally, if the storm picks up, then the storm marker ticks up, which as the game progresses will lead you to draw more and more sand storm cards, thereby ratcheting up the tension as the game goes on. If the storm picks up too much, then again the game is over.
To help you combat the sand and sun, each person gets a role card, which give you special abilities, and as mentioned, you can also can collect gear such as jet packs and (if I recall correctly) water rations. In our game, we didn’t use our gear or our abilities enough and we ended up losing. But if you are cleverer than us, manage to collect all the parts of the flying machine, bring them to the launch point and get everyone there in time, then you can take off and return to civilization and win the game!
I played Forbidden Island when it first came out, and while I thought it did a good job of taking the gameplay mechanics of Pandemic in a different direction, my memories of the game are that I also felt it was a little too light for me. Forbidden Desert, on the other hand, hit the spot just right. This time I thought there was enough going on, with the desert exploration, the shifting tiles and sand, and of course the collection of the bits of the flying machine. There’s a lot of nice stuff going on here, and I highly recommend it.
Final verdict: Buy.
Oh, and as a side note, if you have an iPad, Pandemic is now available on the App Store — check it out, it looks pretty good.