Forbidden Desert – Worth it or not?

Forbidden Desert

Yesterday I got my grubby little hands on a copy of a new game called Forbidden Desert. This is a follow-on for the 2010 Matt Leacock hit, Forbidden Island. As of writing I’ve played Forbidden Desert once so I’m only giving my initial impressions here, as I play it more my opinion may change and I’ll update this if, and when, it happens.

In 2010 I purchased Forbidden Island, I knew nothing about it other than it was cheap and I didn’t have much money at the time. It turned into an instant classic in my house, it was simple, thematic, and charmingly beautiful in both game mechanics and graphic design. So, yesterday when I saw the new, younger, sibling sitting on a shelf; a hint of excitement crept into my mind. Making a split-second decision I purchased it, said goodbye to the friendly Rules of Play staff, and scurried off to play with my new little treasure.

Just like Forbidden Island it’s in a tin. It’s a bigger tin which may be a problem for the tin haters out there but it has some nice imagery and doesn’t seem to be a particularly odd shape, it fitted on my shelf quite nicely.

On opening the tin you find a series of tiles, cards, player pieces and collectible items etc. Taking a closer look at the contents I started to get a sense of déjà vu and started to wonder if this new game was actually much different to the first. With a cynical eye I began mentally comparing the two.

First off I looked at the objectives for the game. Those of you familiar with the first game will remember that you were searching for four artefacts hidden across the island which you then had to escape with from a helipad before the island sank. In Forbidden Desert you’re looking for four parts of an ancient plane that you must rebuild at a helipad of sorts, in order to escape the filling or sand-blocked desert. So in one game the land sinks into water, in the other the land gets buried in sand… I wasn’t really seeing much difference there.

Next I looked at the characters, there’s six different roles and each person selects one. Hello, this sounds familiar, in fact this climber fella, he can pass through blocked spaces… Sounds a little like the diver in Forbidden Island passing through sunken spaces. The seed of doubt was starting to sprout and push its shoots deeper into my mind. Had I just bought the same game with a new coat of paint?
What else do we have? The stick with which to beat us! Forbidden island had a measure which increased as the waters rose and the number of flooding cards you drew increased… Forbidden Desert has a measure that does exactly the same thing but increases the number of sand storm cards you draw. These two games appear to share the same core concepts, but there has to be something new here somewhere, doesn’t there?
For those of you reading this and starting to worry, then don’t! Although the core concepts are almost identical, the mechanics that determine the problems you face work in a different way altogether.
In the first game you drew cards and watched areas sink, however in Forbidden Desert the storm cards move the eye of a sand storm around the board. Tiles move like shifting sands and the play area changes nearly every turn. It’s certainly different, and seems to work quite nicely.

One thing that appears to be an entirely new and interesting element to the game is the concept of self-preservation. Each character has a hydration level, if they ever hit zero they die of dehydration. In order to win the game everyone must survive! Water is scarce and as the storm levels increase the chance of drawing a card that reduces everyone’s water levels becomes a very real danger.

Finally I looked at how you locate the parts for your plane. This works somewhat differently to the first game. In the desert you must excavate tiles and reveal various symbols representing the different items you’re looking for. Once you have two matching symbols they provide the clues that unlock the location of an item. It appears on the board and can shift and become blocked by the storm if you don’t collect it soon enough. Although the mechanism appears quite different from the first game it ultimately doesn’t actually feel all that different when you play through.

A game round of Forbidden Desert boils down to players taking it in turns to perform a series of four actions from the available action types (Move, Clear sand, Excavate and Pick up items.) Followed by the active player drawing a number of storm cards equal to the number shown on the storm measure. I won’t go into detail on how the eye of the storm moves, but it does, and it leaves a trail of buried tiles behind it. I only played on the Novice setting, but towards the end of my play through the amount of sand spreading across the board was somewhat daunting.

Anyway that was my very brief comparison of the two games along with a whistle-stop summary of how this new game works in terms of gameplay. You might have read this blog entry and got the impression that I didn’t particularly like my new game, but you’d be wrong. Despite the glaring similarities between both new and old games, I still felt that it was giving me a little more than its predecessor. However, that “little more” might actually be the biggest problem with this game. It does a good job at what it does, but the difference between it and the first game is so slight that people may not feel that it’s worth buying the second game. I can safely say that personally I prefer Forbidden Desert, however if I’d played it before I bought it then I don’t think I would have purchased it. My general gut feeling is that if you already own Forbidden Island you might not really need this game in your collection, if however you don’t have the first game then I’d definitely go with Forbidden Desert, it has just enough to make it that little bit more fun than Forbidden Island.

One thought on “Forbidden Desert – Worth it or not?”

Leave a Reply