Thirst for Survival.
Style of Game: Family, Cooperative
Play Time: 45 minutes
Theme: Desert Crash Site
Number of Players: 2-5
Main Mechanics: Action Point Allowance, Grid, and Variable Player Powers (And others)
Components: Nice quality
Weight: Low end of medium weight
THEME AND MECHANISMS:
- This game does a surprisingly good job or integrating the theme into the gameplay. It's not that this particular theme isn't doable. There are other games that are set in deserts but Forbidden Desert does a nice job of making you "feel" the hardships associated with deserts.
- Mechanisms that enhance the feel of the theme include the use of sand tiles that are added to the game as the storm in the desert worsens and moves, and a stress-inducing necessity for water that can end the game if you fail to stay hydrated.
- The other elements do a nice job of complimenting this major mechanisms as well.
GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW (In five sentences or less):
You and your fellow explorers have crashed landed in a desert. To save yourself you will have to work together to explore the nearby area to find pieces of an old ship that will fly you to safety. Players will use four actions per turn to explore (move), clear sand, and excavate sites in an attempt to find these cherished pieces of the ship. The entire task will also be a race against time and the increasing severity of the storm that is moving around the desert, adding sand to different tiles, making it more and more difficult to clear enough sand to excavate effectively. If the players can work together quickly enough to find the pieces and deliver them to the new launch pad site they will win.
- There is a deck of cards that will worsen the storm's intensity (gradually causing more cards from the deck to be drawn each turn), dehydrate the explorers, and move the storm around the board.
- As the storm moves sand tiles will be placed on the exploration tiles that have moved around the modular board (made up of 24 tiles). As more sand tiles are added to an exploration tile it will become illegal to move to that tile or excavate there before removing all but one of the sand tiles.
- There is a use of the grid that is created as a board to determine where the pieces of the ship are located. Two matching tiles for each piece of the ship will cross-check the location of the piece and the piece will be located on that tile. That tile, and the piece, can still move around the board according to the storm cards.
My assessment of board games is broken into three core areas: Quality of Design, Depth of Strategy and/or Tactics, and Replayability.
Action Point Allowance: Nothing unique going on here. 4 actions available on your turn and special cards that can be used to perform additional tasks on a turn.
Grid: There are several uses for the grid that is created in Forbidden Desert, from restricting movement of the explorers to determining where there pieces of the ship are located, the grid is a brilliant mechanisms laying at the base of this design that allows this simplistic gameplay to feel engaging.
Variable Player Powers: Each player power tweaks a particular rules in the game just enough to make each character feel unique. Some of the powers feel a tad more useful than other buts nothing feels awful to have to play with. There isn't a "cool" factor associated with the powers in this game because they seem to be overshadowed by the other mechanisms but they are definitely well-done.
Quality of Design:
3.5 = A good design that engages the players for more than just a few plays.
Depth of Strategy and/or Tactics
This is where the game begins to lose its momentum with me. I recognize the game isn't easy to win, but I am not a huge fan of when cooperative games feel strictly like a race against time and Forbidden Desert creates more of a move and dig as quickly as possible feel than a solve a puzzle that creates some interesting decisions feel for me. Starting on a higher difficulty level is necessary after the first play or two. I don't mind having to play on a higher difficulty level to play a cooperative game and sometimes I don't even do it because I find the game to be plenty difficult at a lower level. I am not looking for the thrill of an extreme challenge, but Forbidden Desert doesn't create enough of a thrill when playing on lower levels and the higher levels just speed up the storm's assault by adding more storm cards each turn. Something I have already stated isn't engaging to me.
As for trying to beat the game. There are times when you will have to communicate with each other but for the most part you will just look for the most efficient way to spend your 4 actions (and special cards) to excavate 1 or 2 tiles on your turn. There are some times when you will need to finish your turn in a tunnel to protect from the sun and dehydration, but other than that there isn't much thought put into your turn. Now, I am going to say this, not as a criticism, but as a measurement for those researching the game. On a lower level of difficulty I can play this two-player with my eight year old niece and let her Alpha-Gamer my turns and we will still have a decent chance of winning. She is not an above average gamer or anything special. It just isn't the kind of game that forces you to overthink your turn.
Now, with that said, the game is going to offer more advanced players an opportunity to try to plan out a path to victory or make subtle moves on their turn that may maximize their turn a little better, but there aren't too many situations that aren't easily recognizable.
I would say this is more of a tactical game that offers some okay decisions on your turn. You won't rack your brains looking for unseen moves very often but you will have to think enough to make sure you are staying on par with the progression the storm is requiring.
The difficulty of Forbidden Desert lies solely in the speed of the game's aggression determined by the difficulty level and I think of the difficulty levels as a treadmill. You can jump on a low speed and get going right away, then you start cranking up the speed. You don't have to think much harder though, you just have to move faster.
Depth of Strategy/Tactics:
2.5 = The long-term strategy is clear. It is more tactical, and unfortunately, the tactical decisions are so-so for adults.
After the depth of strategy section it may sound as though I don't play Forbidden Desert very often, and if I didn't have a young niece I probably wouldn't, but the mechanisms and the accessibility of this game make this one of her favorites. So there is a little soft spot for the game with me because I love when she will suggest a game because she enjoys it and feels like she can contribute. I have played this game enough now that I have grown to appreciate what it offers and believe it does a good job of it.
It isn't just that the game is fun for kids though, it is designed in a way that will offer high replayability. The modular board creates a new guessing game every play, the storm deck creates a slightly different experience every play, and games that feel like a race against the clock intrigued some people enough to keep them coming back for more. So I see the design's potential and don't mind it as much as I just don't itch to play it a ton.
3.0 = Replayability is there in general but will thrive in family settings. .
As I mentioned I have a soft spot for Forbidden Desert but that doesn't mean I am sympathetic for it. It isn't a guilty pleasure by any means. It is a good game, it just wouldn't fit my fancy if I didn't have a niece that enjoyed it so much. I thought I would when researching it and saw it's potential for a good family game but upon playing it I quickly lost interest in it's ability to engage me and started to rely more on it's ability to engage my niece. The game presents a good idea, one that you would expect to be more engaging, but in the end I felt the gameplay was just average and was carried by the cool factor of the mechanisms and ideas the game offers.
As side note, I am not a huge fan of pandemic either which has some similarities so I am beginning to think my disinterest in the race against the clock concept is the issue, more than either game not being well designed and fun to play for TONS of people.
Overall Rating -
Forbidden Deserts still hits the table for me more than I would expect because while it isn't my cup of tea, it is a solid design that engages some people, especially kids. In my experience.
Overall Opinion: Just barely positive
One Positive / One Negatives
- (P) Solid cooperative family game that offers some fun ideas for kids.
- (N) At the end of the day, the gameplay is pretty average.
| | | | |
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | Ghost Stories
= similarity to two other games of its type in the genre.
*Forbidden Island has the same designer and is a step down in intensity from this game, so if you are intrigued by this game but your research has you wondering if it may be just a little too difficult for your younger kids I would check out Forbidden Island. If you came here hoping to find a good cooperative for you and your buddies but this sounds just a little too easy or not quite what you we're hoping for, I would take a look at Ghost Stories. Ghost Stories isn't commonly thought of as a similar game to Forbidden Desert but they have some similarities and Ghost Stories adds some areas of difficulty and gameplay that enhance the overall gameplay quite a bit without becoming too wildly different. There is a modular board, variable player powers, and there is a sense of a time track but there is an added element of conflict that adds to the gameplay. You'll notice the meter is tipped toward Forbidden Island because there are some difference between Ghost Stories and Forbidden Desert, but you may want to check it out.
Thanks for reading!
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Kevin B. Smith
My wife and I really enjoy this game, and I have played it 46 times.
We must not be very good at it, though. Yes, we have won 9 of our last 10 plays at normal difficulty. But we only won 6 of the 10 before that (and 6 of our first 10).
We are constantly trying to get creative about how to best manage water, gear, and sand. For us, there are plenty of interesting, if not super-deep, decisions.
Hey, thanks for reading. I'm glad you enjoy FD. When we started playing games it we also felt the tension the game can offer. It just isn't there lately at the lower levels and hasn't been in awhile. It is certainly a nice design. In the end I think a lot of it has to do with my preference for competitive games over cooperative at this point but I stand by what I said with the game not offer a whole lot more than just flip over the tiles as quickly as efficiently as possible. That's where the fun is I suppose but I don't enjoy quite enough to say I really enjoy FD. .