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Forbidden Desert Review

Review of: Forbidden Desert
Board Game Review By:
Tony Mastrangeli

Reviewed by:
On Sep 24, 2013
Last modified:Jul 10, 2014


We take a look at the cooperative board game Forbidden Desert. Called as sequel to the hit game Forbidden Island, see how this new title fares against it's older brother.

Forbidden-DesertA surprise hit to come out of 2010 was the cooperative game Forbidden Island. Dubbed “Pandemic Lite” by many of its fans, Forbidden Island was a great little cooperative game that also played well with families.

Building on their success with Forbidden Island, Gamewright has recently released their follow up title, Forbidden Desert. Forbidden Desert shouldn’t be confused as an expansion for Forbidden Island; it’s a stand-alone game that is inspired by its predecessor. The question is, how well does it stand on its own and are you better off just sticking with Forbidden Island? Ready on to find out!

Forbidden Desert is a cooperative board game for 2-5 players that plays in about 45 minutes. Forbidden Desert plays best with any number of players.

Game Overview:

Forbidden Desert Game Overview
Your goal is to find all the parts and assemble the flying machine to escape the desert.

In Forbidden Desert, your plane has crashed landed in an inhospitable desert. You don’t have to be a seasoned traveler to know that’s not a good thing for your longevity. Since their plane is wrecked, the players must find a way back to civilization. Players must work together to locate the parts of an ancient flying machine before the desert claims their lives. On their turns, players will be exploring, digging, and collecting parts of the flying machine. Forbidden Desert has no less then three ways to lose, so the players must make wise decisions to escape the desert before any of those happen.


The components in Forbidden Island were pretty solid and I had no complaints. In Forbidden Desert, Gamewright has taken it up a notch. The components in Forbidden Desert are nothing short of stellar. The first thing that sticks out, besides the fantastuc insert to hold all the pieces, is the flying machine. The airship has 4 different parts that will get assembled together to take the players to safety. All the parts are high quality and it’s a a bit of a hoot to put the ship together and fly it around the board. Just try and keep your inner child contained when that happens.

Besides the flying machine, the game also comes with dual-sided cardboard tiles to serve as the variable game board. All are very well illustrated with thematic artwork. Along with those are many “X” shaped sand tile pieces. Finally, the game comes with two decks of high quality cards. I think any player will be pleasantly surprised with the quality of the components in Forbidden Desert, especially at its low price point.

How To Play:

Forbidden Desert How To Play
One notable change from Forbidden Island is that players can now find equipment to help them in their quest for escape.

Forbidden Desert takes things up a notch from the simpler game play found in Forbidden Island. After each player has chosen a character to play (each with their own unique powers), the next thing to do is setup the game’s module board in a 5×5 grid with a empty space in the center. Players then put their pawns on the crash-landing tile and are ready to play. Players will rotate taking turns in a clockwise manner until the game ends with a victory or defeat.
A players turn is broken up into 2 parts:
1. Take up to 4 actions.
2. Draw storm cards equal to the sandstorm level.

Players have 4 actions they can take on their turn:
• Move – Move to any adjacent tile
• Remove Sand – Remove one sand token from a tile
• Excavate – Flip over a tile to reveal its location
• Pickup a part – If a flying machine part has been discovered, then a player may go to that location to collect it. Unlike in Forbidden Island, where a player knows at the start where the trophies are, in Forbidden Desert players must discover the location of the machine parts. This is accomplished by finding the two marking tiles for each part. Once both are found, they will point to the tile location where the part can be found.

Drawing storms cards is the game’s way of fighting back against the players. Storm cards are all bad for the players; the only question is to what degree. The main storm cards are the wind blowing cards. This causes the eye of the storm (that empty space in the middle of the board) to shift around. As it moves, it leaves stand tiles in its wake. The other two cards are the storm increase card (which makes players draw more storm cards each turn) and the Sun Beats Down card. This causes all players to lose a water level (unless they are protected). You will learn to hate the sun beats down card.

Players will continue taking turns until they have found all parts of the flying machine and escaped or until the game has beaten them. How do they lose? Three ways:
1. Thirst: If any player runs out of water.
2. Buried: If the players run out of sand markers to place on the board.
3. Swept Away: If the storm meter reaches the top of the track.

Forbidden Desert Game Experience
Players will move around the modular game board, removing sand and excavating tiles in the hunt for the flying machine pieces.

Game Experience:

While I liked Forbidden Island, it was almost too simple for my tastes. This did have the benefit of making it a great family game though. With that in mind, I was really looking forward to seeing what was new in Forbidden Desert. I had heard that the complexity and difficulty had been ratcheted up a notch and was hoping that was true. Well let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Forbidden Desert takes everything I liked about Forbidden Island and really builds on it.

Forbidden Desert Player Card
Each player gets a card to track their water level and that also describes their special ability.

Players now have many things that they need to do on their turn to avoid defeat. Forbidden Desert is actually a bit of a juggling act as there are so many things that will need to be taken care of at once. This will cause the player to have to make some hard choices on their turn. Do you dig out that buried tile or head for water? Do you excavate that tile in hopes that it’s a machine part or do you head for the safety of the tunnel? These kinds of choices will plague the players each turn.

Another thing I noticed in Forbidden Desert is that players will have to work together much more than in its predecessor. Because water is so rare and vital to survival, players will be huddling up on the oasis tiles. And because many of the players’ abilities work with other players, there will be a great amount of team work involved. The water carrier is vital to keep the other players hydrated. Since everyone is working together so much, this has the added benefit of keeping the game fairly interactive. All these things together make for a fantastic cooperative game.

Because there are so many things that need to be done on a turn, it also helps alleviate one of the main problems with cooperative games: “quarterbacking” (those times when that veteran player takes over and starts instructing each other player on what to do). Because Forbidden Desert is a giant juggling act, there are usually tons of things that need to be done on a turn. This allows for each player to explore whichever strategy the feel is most important on their turn. While other players will often make suggestions as to what to do, most times there is no obvious/easy answer.

Forbidden Island Game Board
The empty space in the game board is the eye of the storm. It will move around during the game, leaving sand piles in its wake.

While Forbidden Desert is really a great game, it does suffer a bit from the luck-of-the-draw factor. The draws from the storm deck can literally make or break the games for the players. We’ve had five-player games where we lost in round 1 because we had three unfortunate draws of the “Sun Beats Down” card and a player ran out of water. It was an unfortunate and unfulfilling loss that will sometimes happen in Forbidden Desert. You will be at the mercy of the draw deck and a bad shuffle will really hurt the players. While increased randomness can ruin a game, it’s not that bad in Forbidden Desert. It ups the challenge for sure and the luck is mitigated some by the useful item cards. If you manage to find the right item, it can save you from a poorly-timed draw from the storm deck.

For players that love a good challenge, Forbidden Desert will provide that in spades. I was probably at a 75% win ratio at Forbidden Island (at least). I’m probably at a 30% win ratio with Forbidden Desert. And that’s fine by me. I want my cooperative games to be a challenge. That way, when I win, it’s so much more satisfying.

For people that enjoyed playing Forbidden Island with their younger children, they should be advised that Forbidden Desert kicks up the complexity a notch. Players will now find equipment that they can use and will have more options for what to do on their turn. For parents of young children, this may move it a few age ranges higher than you were hoping (as I don’t have kids though, I’m probably not the best judge). However for players like me who wished for a deeper game play from Forbidden Island, you’ve gotten your wish. Forbidden Desert keeps some of the same mechanics as Forbidden Island but builds on it. I love these changes in Forbidden Desert so much that I’ll probably always prefer to play this game over its older brother.

Final Thoughts:

Forbidden Desert Final Thoughts
The box insert perfectly holds all the game components. That’s something that feels like a rarity now-a-days.

Forbidden Desert takes much of what I really enjoy about Forbidden Island and builds onto that into a new, yet familiar game. While it doesn’t solve the cooperative quarterbacking problem, what it provides is enough things to be done on a player’s turn where there are always many paths to take. Players looking for a bit more complexity in their game should enjoy that. Speaking of complexity, I do like the addition of item cards. It adds a bit of flexibility to a player’s strategy and can help defend against an ill-timed storm card.

While Forbidden Desert isn’t the deepest of games, it is fun to play. It’s full of some hard decisions, fantastic components, and good player interaction. The randomness of the storm deck will suck a little bit of the fun out of the game, especially with some bad shuffling, but the game more than makes up for it with the overall challenge.

Combine all these factors with an absurdly cheap price point and you have a game that will make it to my tabletop again and again. For anyone that enjoys a good cooperative board game, Forbidden Desert is a must own for any players game library.

If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $25

Final Score: 4 Stars – Takes what I liked about Forbidden Island and builds on it into a satisfying cooperative game with some great components.

• Easy to learn game play
• Lots of things for a player to do on their turn
• Great components
• Low price point

• A bad shuffle of the storm deck and prematurely end a game.
• Can suffer from “quarterbacking”

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  1. I think that the win ratio for a coop at the easiest difficulty should be around 50%. I don’t see that ever happening with Forbidden Desert. With the two games that I played, we never even got close to winning. The ease of play for Forbidden Island is why I enjoy it. Going to pass on Forbidden Desert.

  2. I feel like there’s got to be a fair chance. I’m not looking for a cakewalk, but I’m not interested in a gruesome beatdown all the time. I feel like that’s what Forbidden Desert provides.

    • Alex, the game you played was not a very accurate representation of the game. The deck was really poorly shuffled resulting in a quick loss. After a bunch more plays, I’ve found that to be more the rarity then the norm. It’s worth another shot if you get the chance.

  3. . Don’t be discouraged, it’s not as tough as the commenters make it sound. My wife and I played FI a lot and it’s a favorite at fame nights but then her friends showed up with this version and we won 3 out of four game and I’m no mental giant 🙂
    It’s hard to go back and play FI now that we have played FD. Go get it seriously

  4. Santa brought this game for us for Christmas this year. We have enjoyed Forbidden Island and thought FD would be a good addition to the set. My kids are 12, 8, and 5, and we’ve played it twice. The first time we got about 25 minutes in before we lost. The second time, I’m pretty sure we won (there are a few questions we have about specifics in the rules.) My favorite part is that when we all work together, even the youngest can feel part of the game and when we win, they high five each other and it warms my heart!

    • Sure. Pretty much any cooperative game can be played as a solo game. For FI and FD, you can just control 2 hero’s yourself.

  5. Would you suggest getting one game over the other or in any particular order? We are a fairly well-versed board game family (our boys are 12 and 11). Thanks.

    • Forbidden Island is definitely easier and better for younger children. But with the age of your boys, you’d be safe with either. Getting forbidden island first would make learning forbidden desert a little easier, as the game play in that one is slightly more complex.

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