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Review: Forbidden Desert

Review: Forbidden Desert
  • On September 18, 2015

I grew up playing board games. In my family, it was common to pull out a game on Christmas and spend a few hours competing in games like Life, Trivial Pursuit, or Sorry. No one will play Pictionary with me anymore because I am weirdly good at it (the secret is to accept your terrible artistry and go for the quickest route to the answer).

I don’t remember any board games growing up that were cooperative in nature, though. Now that I’ve played a few co-op games as an adult, they are by far my favorite genre. Instead of competing with each other, players compete with a hostile world and work together to beat the ancient evil, cure deadly diseases, or simply escape from a harsh desert alive.

Heh. Simply.

Forbidden Desert is a co-op game for two to five players, although I cannot imagine playing it with only two people. The gameboard is made up of 24 tiles arranged in a grid. The tiles represent locations in the desert, an ancient city hiding beneath the sand. The players have crash landed in this desert and must find a way to escape before they are buried themselves.

Each of the players starts out with a special ability: Some can cross the desert faster, help others move, dig out sand faster, and other helpful things. These abilities are desperately needed, because the minute the game starts it begins to work against you.

The desert is filling up with sand from a massive, swirling sandstorm in the center of the board. The players must move from tile to tile and excavate an ancient flying machine that will allow them to escape the rapidly disappearing desert. Making things worse, the sun is a brutal enemy in the desert–each time you pull a Sun Beats Down card, the players lose a sip of water and edge ever closer to dying of thirst.

The gameplay is simple. Each player has a turn where they can take up to three actions (move, dig out a tile, pick up a piece of the machine, trade a piece with another player, etc.). After a player moves, the desert gets a turn. You draw cards to see if tiles get buried in sand and whether the sun makes an appearance. The desert gets as many turns as there are players, so it always seems to have the advantage.

You guys, we have never beaten this game. I think we’ve played it four or five times, and we cannot figure out how to win. For me, this does not make the game less fun. In fact, I’m only more determined each time to see if we can outsmart the various deadly mechanics and build that stupid flying machine.

I also liked its predecessor, Forbidden Island. Island was a slightly simpler version, featuring a rapidly sinking island and a team of players trying to find artifacts and get out before it did. We beat that one, so Desert is our new Everest.

Simple mechanics, a devious enemy, and elements of pressure and teamwork are what make Forbidden Desert one of my favorite games to play. It’s fun for families or a group of friends and makes a Saturday evening a frustratingly good time.


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  1. Virus

    I really liked the precursor to this game, Forbidden Island. My friends have a blast and we usually play 2-3 times in a row. These games are simple to learn, and fun to play.

    • We like that one too! We can actually win that one once in a while.

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