- Jon Wooden(Emsdad)United Kingdom
Forbidden Island (or “Pandemic-Lite” as it is affectionately known by many) is the family-friendly, tin-contained co-operative game by Matt Leacock that was released in 2010. This borrowed several of the mechanisms from his earlier release, Pandemic, and has become very popular in its own right. However, we are now in 2013, and Matt has now released another co-operative game in a tin, this time borrowing 50% of its title from the previous game. So is it any good? Is it just Forbidden Island with a new lick of paint and a lot less water? Let’s find out…….
Tins get a lot of hate from some quarters (stand up Tom Vasel…) but personally I really like the shiny, embossed look to both the Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert containers. Admittedly, they can be a pain to stack (and the fact that Forbidden Desert is in a different sized tin to its predecessor doesn’t help), but the odd tin in my game collection doesn’t hurt, as long as everyone doesn’t start doing it…
Inside the tin, we have some really nice components. Firstly, a set of 24 thick desert tiles, which will be used to create a modular board (sound familiar?) They have a ‘buried’ side (mostly just sand, but 1 has a crashed helicopter and 3 have oases) and an ‘excavated’ side, revealing various locations and clues. So far so good.
Next, we have a large number of ‘X’ shaped sand tiles, which will be piled on top of the desert tiles to form sand dunes. They have a plain yellow side, and a slightly more orangey side with a small ‘x’ on them, which will be used to indicate that a particular tile is buried.
There is a deck of storm cards, a small deck of equipment cards, and 6 character cards. These are of the same Gamewright quality as Forbidden Island – not amazing, but completely fit for purpose.
Another component familiar to Forbidden Island players will be the Sand Storm meter, which now indicates the ferocity of the desert storm, as opposed the rising sea level. Either way, maxing out on this meter has the same result – you lose!
There are 6 wooden pawns representing the 6 characters, and some plastic indicator arrows which will attach to the character cards to indicate the level of water in each player’s canteen.
And finally, the real eye-candy is the collection of items which are the goal of the adventurers in their desert quest – 4 pieces of a legendary solar-powered flying machine. They also come with the main body of the flying machine (completely superfluous) which allows all the pieces to join on and create the finished article. The engine is made of fairly dense metal and is lovely to handle, and this attention to detail helps add to the theme of excavation and discovery.
The rulebook is clear and concise, and a single read-through should be enough to get you happily started without too many problems.
So how do all these bits work together?
At first glance, there appear to be alarming similarities between Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Island – a modular board made up of double-sided tiles, characters with similar-sounding special abilities, 4 objects to collect and the necessity to get to a certain location to be airlifted to safety. And yes, it would be foolish to suggest that the game was completely different, but I was pleasantly surprised that the overall ‘feel’ to the game is very different, and the strategies that need to be employed to win are unique to this game.
The initial set-up is that the tiles are placed randomly, desert side up, in a 5x5 grid, with the centre tile missing. This missing tile is the ‘eye of the storm’ and will move around during the course of the game. 1 tile will show the crash site, where the adventurers all start, and 3 will show oases, where there is potential life-sustaining water available.
The players are given a character and place the appropriate pawn on the crash-site tile. The storm cards and equipment cards are shuffled and placed face-down in separate decks and the storm-meter is set at the chosen level of difficulty.
On a player’s turn he has 4 actions, and then the storm deck is resolved. As with Forbidden Island, the actions are straightforward:
1) Move to an adjacent tile for 1 action
2) Remove 1 sand token from his own, or an adjacent tile
3) Excavate a tile (turn it over)
4) Recover a piece of the flying machine
At any time, the players can swap over equipment cards or water with fellow-adventurers on the same tile as them, or use an equipment card (think Sandbags / Helicopter Lift but with slightly more variety).
Players cannot move into a tile that has more than one sand tile on it (it is said to be blocked), and cannot excavate it until all the sand is removed.
The excavated tiles either contain a piece of equipment (a one-off special ability that can be used at any time), a tunnel (a neat way to shelter from the sun, and move quickly across the board), the Launch Pad (exit tile) or a clue to the whereabouts of the flying-machine artefacts. When both clue tiles for a particular artefact are turned over, this will reveal its location – essentially a horizontal and vertical intersection. The part is then placed on the appropriate tile and is available to be picked up by the adventurers.
Players can also excavate the 3 oases, and whichever characters are standing on the tile when it is located will receive 2 extra water for their canteens. However, 1 of the oases is only a mirage, and contains no water at all! This is a very neat mechanism, as it is obviously most efficient water-wise for all the adventurers to be on the same tile when it is excavated, to all receive the thirst-quenching benefit. However, this may not be the best thing to do in regard to the overall strategy, and could be an expensive waste of time if the oasis turns out to be merely a mirage!
Once a player has completed his actions, the Storm cards are revealed, which will add sand to the board, and move the storm (and tiles) around. I won’t describe the mechanism in detail, but it’s quite clever and gives a real feeling of shifting desert sands.
The Storm deck also has ‘Storm Picks Up’ cards, which increase the level on the Storm Meter, and ‘Sun Beats Down’ cards, which cause all players not in a tunnel, or sheltering under a Solar Shield (a nifty piece of equipment!) to drink 1 water. If any player runs out of water, everyone loses!
Like Forbidden Island, the adventurers have special abilities which can be utilised to help the team to victory:
Archaeologist – remove 2 sand markers for 1 action
Climber – move to blocked tiles (with 2 or more sand markers on them) and he can take another player with him
Explorer – move or remove sand diagonally
Meteorologist – can spend actions to reduce the number of Storm cards drawn. Can also examine the top few cards and place one on the bottom of the deck
Navigator – can move another player up to 3 tiles
Water Carrier – can take water from already excavated wells, and share water with players on adjacent tiles
These are all potentially very useful abilities, and it will be interesting to see how the different characters work together in combination (eg the Navigator can instruct the Climber to take him across multiple blocked tiles for just one action – a nifty move in the right circumstances).
The goal of the game is to collect all 4 pieces of the flying machine, locate the Launch Pad and gather all the adventurers on this tile where the flying machine can be assembled for a dramatic getaway! The adventurers lose if any player dies of thirst (runs out of water), there are no sand markers left to add to the board or the Sand Storm meter maxes out.
Despite the obvious similarities with Forbidden Island, this game does actually play out quite differently. Players are now obliged to visit the majority of the tiles, in order to excavate for clues and for the Launch Pad (as well as for the equipment cards which are invaluable for success), and the strategies employed to do this successfully are more involved than Forbidden Island. An isolated adventurer can end up at the mercy of the elements, and can die of thirst very quickly if they’re not careful, but if the group stays together too much, there is a risk that time will run out before they excavate enough tiles to achieve their objectives.
As with Forbidden Island, there is a healthy dose of luck involved. If you happen to excavate all the clue tiles and the Launch Pad early on, and the oases are located at convenient intervals across the board, then you may be in for a relatively straightforward win. However, I have played more than one game where essential tiles weren’t excavated until the end, by which time too much sand had built up and everyone became buried forever. The random factor is also what makes the game so replayable – each time it will play out differently depending on where the flying machine parts are located, where the oases (and mirage) are, and which pieces of equipment make it into the game. Even the way the storm moves is completely variable (and when the eye of the storm is in the corners, there is only a 50/50 chance of sand being added with the next card). I like this variability, and I think it will keep the game from feeling too ‘samey’ each time.
I love the way that the storm moves around the desert, taking tiles with it as it goes and dumping copious amounts of sand in its wake. Thematically, this works really well and is the part that, in my opinion, makes it quite distinct from Forbidden Island.
Despite being slightly more complex than Forbidden Island, it is still relatively simple to explain, and the publisher’s recommendation of ages 10+ is probably on the high side (my 7 year old daughter picked it up fairly quickly).
The components are mostly top quality, especially considering the relatively low price point of the game, which certainly gave me the feeling that I had got good value for money.
Any negative points? Well, I guess that its similarity to Forbidden Island will put some people off, but I genuinely believe that they are distinct enough to both warrant a place in game collections. Also, it is definitely still in the family-weight game category, so if you’re looking for a heavy game with in-depth strategy, then you’ll be disappointed.
As with most co-ops, Forbidden Desert can suffer from the alpha-player problem (one ‘experienced’ player telling everyone else what to do), although there isn’t necessarily always an ‘obvious’ best move, and I’ve experienced lots of discussion during the game about the best thing to do at any given time. Do you focus on keeping the sand at bay whilst slowly excavating for clues? Do you spread out and find the clues quickly, but risk dying of thirst? Do you stick together and grab plenty of water, but risk the sand building up on the other side of the desert? Do you use your equipment early in the game when it is often less efficient, or wait until the end, by which time it might be too late? Lots of options and lots of opportunities for true co-operative play.
Overall, I am really enjoying Forbidden Desert and highly recommend it. If I had to choose between this and Forbidden Island, then I would likely pick this game, due to the slightly higher degree of complexity and tactical choices, but to be honest., I’m extremely happy to have them both sitting on my game shelf – even if they are a pain to stack….
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- Bob(Ashitaka)United States“Failure isn't bad if it doesn't attack the heart. Success is all right if it doesn't go to the head.”
Thanks for the review!
Forbidden Island has been a favorite with my family and game group. We're eager to give this new game a try,
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- Jesse Carrasco(hpbruin)United States
- I'm glad to hear you can have both on your shelf. I love FI and was hoping this was different enough to keep as well. Great review!
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- Neil Horabin(neilhora)United Kingdom
Top review Jon... didn't know you had it in yer! Impressively put together and some great piccies too. Now we all just need to learn to defeat the storm.
(And you'll be pleased to know we've had to send Josie round to the corner shop for eggs; demand is high.)
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- Brian Robson(brainrob)Scotland
MidlothianGot a light, mate?
Excellent review of a very good game Emsdad wrote:Despite being slightly more complex than Forbidden Island, it is still relatively simple to explain, and the publisher’s recommendation of ages 10+ is probably on the high side (my 7 year old daughter picked it up fairly quickly).Totally agree with this ... my 7 year old son had no problems picking this up and now prefers it to FI.
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- Sara GraceUnited States
On an unrelated note, looks like you have a fantastic back or front yard there! Very jealous.
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- George BussUnited States
Indiana“Here is my secret. It's quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Petit Prince
- great review and great title!
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