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Forbidden Desert

Entry updated 7 December 2020. Tagged: Game.

Board Game (2013). Gamewright. Designed by Matt Leacock.

Forbidden Desert is a tile-based game for 2-5 players taking the roles of Steampunk adventurers whose Airship has crash-landed in an inhospitable desert. Pieces of the ship have been scattered to the winds and buried under the sand. Players must work together to recover the various parts of their ship, rebuild it, and make their way to a safe take-off point. At the same time they must avoid dying of thirst or allowing the entire map to be covered in sand, burying them alive.

A successor to Forbidden Island (2010), Forbidden Desert is a Gateway Game: a game designed specifically to be easy to understand and play quickly. Such games are often used to attract new players to board-gaming, or, as here, to introduce them to games in the cooperative genre which also includes Pandemic and Arkham Horror.

Players move around a 5 x 5 grid of tiles comprising 24 cards and a blank space, initially in the centre of the grid, which represents "the eye of the storm" and moves about when "wind" cards are drawn. Each player may perform four actions during their turn, including removing sand, excavating a tile in order to flip it and see what is underneath, moving around the board, picking up a piece of the ship in order to rebuild it, and performing the action specific to the character they have chosen. As the tiles are slowly revealed, the desert becomes more populated with apparently deserted structures, all echoing a Ruins and Futurity theme of slightly art-deco yet futuristic design. Some tiles point to the burial places of crashed ship parts. Three tiles also purport to contain water which can be revealed for the players to replenish their water stocks, although one is a mirage.

After each player has moved, a number of cards are drawn from a deck, according to the intensity of the windstorm which is shown on a marker card. The cards show the direction of the wind (which causes tiles to be moved and "sand" markers to be placed on them), determine whether the storm picks up (the level of cards to be drawn increases over time as a result), or whether the sun beats down (all players not in shelter must drink from their canteens). These cards introduce a random element to the game, but can be planned for by experienced players. For example, players may want to anticipate some cards appearing and move accordingly, or make use of their personal abilities (each player has a unique action that they can take) to help other players overcome hazards of play.

Like Forbidden Island and Pandemic, Forbidden Desert is difficult to win but not impossible, and the game has a gradient of difficulty allowing novice players to start on a low setting. Close cooperation and discussion, as well as some luck, are required to succeed. There are many ways to lose the game by becoming overwhelmed by circumstances: if even one player dies of thirst, for example, the game is lost, so a degree of foresight and planning for contingencies is needed. However, the decisions players must make are relatively simple, and losing often results from a failure of teamwork or luck, rather than of in-depth strategy.

Forbidden Desert is recommended for children aged ten and upwards and has won several awards including the Golden Geek Best Children's Board Game and UK Expo Best Family/Children's Game. [EMS]

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