Name: Forbidden Desert
Played at: solo
Setup: 5 min
Time to play: 45 min
BGG weight: 2.05
BGG score: 7.1
Solo top 200 spot: 194 (Forbidden Island, but I don’t own that one)
The premise for Forbidden Desert is really simple: work together to escape the desert, before the sand buries you and/or your supplies run out and you die of thirst. It is a co-operative game and the sequel to Forbidden Island.
In Forbidden Desert you take on the role of brave adventurers who crashed their flying ship in the desert and must now recover all four missing parts to get the machine working again. This while navigating a sand storm and water reserves that always seem to be running dry.
Look and feel
The first thing I noticed is that this game comes in a tin. I don’t own any other tin games and having one of them is kind of fun. It doesn’t fit really well in my Kallax though so not great for storage. And I bought my copy second-hand and it arrived with some big dents in the tin which I haven’t been able to get out yet. This has never happened to cardboard boxes for me.
Inside this tin you find a plastic insert with all the components. These consist of 24 desert tiles, a large number of X shaped sand tiles with different coloured fronts and backs, a deck of storm cards, a deck of equipment cards, six character cards, a sand meter, six wooden pawns and the big flying machine with its four parts.
The components seem to be a bit hit or miss. The flying ship is really nice looking and having the engine part be real metal makes it feel really cool to pick up. The tiles, however, seem to be more fragile than they should be. Multiple tiles where scratched when I bought it (which could be a user problem, not a game problem) but multiple scratches have also been added since I’ve owned it. I always play on a playmat and handle my games with care so this feels like they haven’t been properly coated. This presents a slight problem because it should be hidden what is beneath every tile and with multiple plays back to back you can start to identify the tiles based on the scratches on their backs.
Forbidden Desert has a modular board made up of double-sided tiles. These tiles are placed randomly with the desert side up in a 5×5 grid with the central tile being an empty space. This empty space represents the eye of the sand storm you are facing and this will move around during the game based on the storm tiles you draw. One of the tiles is the crash sites, this is where all characters start the game. And three tiles show an oases, two of these will be real and have water for you to refill your container with, while one will be a mirage.
You take your character card and place your pawn on the starting tile. The storm cards and equipment cards are shuffled and placed face-down in two decks. You set the storm-meter to the chosen level of difficulty.
On your turn you have 4 actions, and then the storm deck is resolved:
1) Move to an adjacent tile for 1 action
2) Remove 1 sand (X) tile from your own, or an adjacent tile
3) Excavate a tile (turn it over)
4) Recover a piece of the flying machine
The goal of the game is to find and collect all four pieces of the flying ship, find the launch pad and get to that tile with all the adventurers to assemble the flying machine and get out! You must do this before any adventurer dies of thirst, there are no sand markers left to add to the board or the sand storm meter maxes out.
As with most coop games you play this game solo by playing two handed, so you play two (or more) adventurers by yourself. This works absolutely fine, there isn’t much administrative overhead to keep track of so managing multiple characters is perfectly doable.
Ease of learning
Before playing this I never played any of the games in this series of ‘Forbidden’ games but still was able to learn this fairly quickly. The rules are pretty straightforward and the rulebook explains them well.
Tactics and strategy
In this game it is important to visit the majority of the tiles, in order to excavate for clues, the launch pad and to find the water you will certainly need. But you don’t want to find the water to soon, when you can’s fit it into your container yet. You will also need to make sure you retain some mobility and not all tiles around you get so full of sand that you cannot pass through. And then there is also the storm which will move around and dump sand in its wake. If you stay to close to the eye you risk getting buried in sand in no time.
To win the game in my experience you have to divide and conquer, setting your adventurers on their own paths across the map and always carefully watching the storm and the sand build-up. There is also some luck involved, drawing a few bad cards after each other form the storm deck can really mess your strategy up. But it doesn’t make you immediately loose the game (which would be really frustrating).
I usually go for weightier games myself, so when I first got this I wondered if I would even like it. But it has proved to be a fun game to play when I have a little bit less time and still want to complete something. I like the fact that you can kind of think ahead and figure out a good strategy while also being at the mercy of the draw sometimes. The way the storm moves around the board makes it feel really thematic and adds some nice suspense to the gameplay.
At the start of the game you hop around the tiles, happily excavating everything in sight but as more and more sand gets added and water starts to become scarce you need to be more careful and puzzle out the best moves to get ahead while not getting dead. This makes for a fun 45 minutes, where the first part of the game flies by and the suddenly your thinking hard before every move and then like a miracle you collect everything and start a mad sprint to the launch pad.
Look, I play mainly solo (95%) and mainly difficult and long games, I have fun that way, don’t ask me why. Forbidden Desert isn’t particularly long or hard and it isn’t a true solo game. But I still enjoy it enough to keep it around (for now). It’s easy to set up, the rules are easy enough to remember between plays and it is simply fun to play. That should say something I think, so I’m going to give it a 7 out of 10. Better than average, pretty fun, but also not blowing me away completely.
Interested in more solo reviews? Check them out HERE