“I hate sand – it’s dry and coarse and gets everywhere”
So who wants to play a game that defeats you over and over again, but because you KNOW you can beat it, you have to play again until you capture that (mostly superficial) sense of achievement that you BEAT it, YOU did, yeaaaah! Hooray for teamwork *high-five*!
Forbidden Desert lands you and your party in a desert after your steampunk airship has crashed, the parts scattered across the landscape in unknown places. Water is limited, the sand storm and the desert sun press down on you – you’ll need to work together to beat this one.
The desert is comprised of X tiles laid out in an X by X grid with the storm meter in the middle and a minimal amount of sand already spread on some tiles. You start at the crash site..
You can play with 2 to 5 players – I’ve found through MANY attempts that whilst you can play with 6, the accumulation of sand per person makes it actually more difficult to win, so it’s easier to stick with 5. I’ve also played with many more people, controlling all 5 characters together, which works just as well if you have that kind of group. Each character comes with their own unique skill set that contributes to the overall team in a significant way.
Each turn is made up of 4 character actions followed by the revealing cards from the storm deck which dictate various things, (none of them good) that are going to make life harder for you. Character actions include:
Moving – costs one action per tile you move to
Removing sand – one action per sand tile
Flipping a tile – one action per tile flipped
Picking up a part of your airship
Special actions relevant to your character
The storm deck can:
Cause you lose water points (which will eventually result in death)
Cause the storm to move, increasing sand tiles in its wake (which will eventually result in losing when you run out of sand tiles, unless you can clear them)
Cause the storm to increase in intensity, which means you need to flip yet more cards from the storm deck (resulting in more chances of death – see above)
Flipping a tile will reveal either an indication to where an airship part may be, a tunnel entrance, a watering hole or a piece of equipment to help you survive the desert. A lot of success in this game depends on where your tunnel entrances end up – the more widely spaced the better, but because the tiles are placed blindly face down, this is mostly based on luck.
Why should you play?
Despite being incredibly mean in places with the odds stacked against you (spoiler – one of the watering holes is a dud), Forbidden Desert is quite addictive, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to win.
It’s relatively simple, promotes co-operative play in a clever way (which is increasingly rare in good board games) and can bear repeat playing (even if you do manage to win!).
On a personal note, I used this game as a team building exercise to demonstrate how people with very different skills can work together to achieve a collective goal by contributing in their own way. Yeah OK so we lost, but that was the desert’s fault …
Oh and you get to build an airship – provided you find the parts! The airship model is a lovely addition, so you’re not just collecting cards and using your imagination, but actual physical parts that slot into the model.
What might get on your nerves?
The element of luck involved can get frustrating. If your tunnel entrances are all grouped together, so you can’t range as far without risking death, it can potentially cripple your game.
If you’re playing with that one person who likes to lone-wolf it without consulting anyone, chances are they’ll die and you’ll lose. Maybe leave that guy out of this game session or give them a fidget spinner/cube to entertain themselves with while you play.
Appropriate Age to Play
This is mostly down to mental age to be honest. If you can’t play nicely and work together, then this isn’t for you. If you have the kind of children (or in fact, adult friends) who just cannot agree on anything, then it may be best to avoid this , lest it all end in airship parts being inserted into unpleasant places.
Genuinely a lot of fun to play. The co-operative element works very well, the quality of the game is sound and the artwork has a wonderful steampunk whimsy to it. Grab your shovels, your sun lotion and your patience and get stuck in!