Cam got Forbidden Desert for his birthday, and we’ve enjoyed our summer playing it. There’s nothing like spending the summer working out in the hot sun all weekend, then spend the evenings worrying about your hydration in a board game. We both really like this game. I personally fell in love with cute steampunk theme. It’s another cooperative game that we can play somewhat casually, but it is still a bit challenging.
If you’re also a fan of Forbidden Island, you’ll probably enjoy this one too. The mechanism is a bit different, but overall it’s easy to learn, especially if you have already played the former. In Island, players must collect artifacts and escape the island before it sinks, and you lose game tiles to move to. In Desert, a sandstorm moves the tiles around, and piles sand onto tile that you have to dig up. It is a bit more complex than Island.
You play characters who have crashed in a desert and to survive you must find missing parts of a flying machine that are hidden through the game tiles. The tiles are randomly laid upside down, with the eye of the storm starting in the center, meaning a tile is not placed there in the beginning. Each player can take up to 4 actions, such as move, excavate (flip a tile over to reveal what it is), remove sand, or pick up a missing part to the ship after it is found.
The different characters also have special actions they may take, such as removing an extra sand tile, moving diagonally, or jumping over tiles with two or more sand tiles on them (which are impassable by the other characters). The water carrier is pretty useful. All of the players track their water, and the water carrier can share water with other players.
When excavating tiles, you may find an interesting piece of a lost city. Most tiles allow you to take a gear card. These are useful cards that you can usually play at anytime, like a sand dune blaster (to get rid of a ever rising pile of sand tiles on a particular game tile) or a time throttle, which allows you to take two extra actions. The terrascope is particularly useful when trying to determine which of the three oasis tiles are true water oases because one is a mirage. Flipping over the mirage when you are nearly out of water may signal the end of the game, unless you have the jet pack, which can fly you and a passenger to any other tile.
The tiles you are looking for are the clues to where the missing parts are located. Each piece has two clues. Both have arrows on them, one has east/west and the other has north/south. Where the arrows intersect is where you’ll find that piece. You’ll have to move there and dig it out if it is covered in sand.
After each player’s turn the storm cards are turned over. The number of sand storm cards drawn are determined by the sand storm meter. Each time the “Storm Picks Up” card is drawn, you must move the the storm meter up one tick. If you are familiar with Forbidden Island, you know that as the meter goes up, the number of cards drawn after each turn does too. This means the sand storm moves the tiles around more after each player’s turn, causing more sand to build up, and the more likelihood of drawing a “Sun Beats Down” card, which means each player must move his/her water meter down one tick.
As with any cooperative game, there is one way to win. FInding all the missing parts and the launch pad and getting all players safely there wins you the game. Of course, with any cooperative game, there are multiple ways to lose. In Forbidden Desert, you can die of dehydration (letting your water meter get to zero), get buried (run out of sand tiles), or get swept away (reach the top of the sandstorm meter).
We may have had a bit of beginners’ luck with the first few games with just the two of us. Then, we broke it out at our game night, and lost. All of our games have ended with dehydration since. Despite that, we enjoyed the light atmosphere it creates. There are hard choices to make in the game, but none so grueling as Dead of Winter, and definitely not as time consuming for us. Overall, it’s a great and fairly simple game to share at your weekly game night, or just staying in playing with the family.