Forbidden Desert Review

Forbidden Desert Feature
Released 2013
Designer Matt Leacock
Publisher Gamewright (Website)
Players 1 – 5
Playing Time 45-60 minutes
Category Cooperative
Action Points
Hand Management
Set Collection
Player Powers
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Going through the desert with characters with no name… It’s not the same is it?

Ahh, cooperative gaming.  Where would you be now without games like this?

Forbidden Desert is the follow up to Matt Leacock’s immensely successful and fun Forbidden Island (check out the review here!).  Like Pandemic and other cooperative Matt Leacock games, there are some similarities you will find between them – so much so that I suggest reading the Island review first if you haven’t already.  A lot of the comments hold for both games.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking they are both the same though!

The story continues – somehow?

Like Forbidden Island before it, there is a loose story happening here but it’s not really the main point of the game.  This time, you are a group of explorers sent to the desert to explore a buried city in the sand.

The Archeans aren’t really mentioned in Forbidden Desert, but now I am pretty sure that it is an Archean city you are exploring.  Unfortunately, the helicopter that bought you here has crashed, so you are stranded in the area of the city!

Or are you?  You need to find the ancient solar-powered flying machine if you want any chance of winning – and surviving!

Just like Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert has a small number of components that lead to a lot of gameplay

So is Forbidden Desert just more of the same?

Straight up, Forbidden Desert is very much its own game.  Once again everyone must work together to solve the ‘puzzle’ the game presents.  The central idea of Forbidden Island is still intact – find the treasures (in this case parts) and get everyone to safety with the booty.

This time though instead of being on a sinking island, you are fighting against a massive sandstorm in the middle of the desert.  So instead of tiles sinking, they are buried beneath piles of sand that you have to dig out to uncover the part of the lost city beneath them.

The flow of Desert is the same as Island – your character can perform 4 actions now, and at the end of your turn, you draw Sand Storm Cards.  Gear is now provided if you find areas of the city with a Gear symbol, so it’s not guaranteed you will get help.

So you think this sounds pretty basic – just flip the tactics.  Instead of stopping something from falling, don’t let it get buried.  Check.  Let’s play you think!

Hold on.  Firstly you are working in the desert, so you have to keep a close on how hydrated you are.  You don’t deal with health as such, just how much water you have.

Secondly, now the tiles move.  As the storm rages on, tiles physically start moving around messing with your strategies even more.

A few more characters this time around, but each has their strengths and weaknesses. The Climber isn't shown, instead showing the summary card on it's back

As I said the feel of the game remains the same, even with these changes – but if the changes were good or bad depends on the sort of player you are.

For some, it bought about the ‘required challenge’ missing from Forbidden Island.  For others, it made for too many moving parts and put them off playing.

So who should play Forbidden Desert?

This is a hard one.  Personally, at the moment Forbidden Desert is my favourite of the Forbidden Trilogy (Island, Desert and Sky).

Having to find areas Raiders of the Lost Ark style and lining up rows and columns is fun for me, and dealing with the changing game board always presents a challenge.

If you were just getting into gaming though, I would probably suggest staying clear of Forbidden Desert.  The rules and mechanics are easy enough to get into, but the Sand and Storm has put off more new players than I have seen be awed by it.

So I know I haven't gone too much into the gameplay, but I am guessing you can tell what's happening just looking at the game here

Now, this doesn’t mean it’s not a great game that new players couldn’t just sit and play.  If you are playing it yourself or with players of the same background, you are more likely to enjoy playing Forbidden Desert.

The other catch to Forbidden Desert can be the downtime when Storm cards are drawn.  Moving tiles and placing sand can be a bit annoying, even though it opens up great gameplay.  If you are playing with people that don’t like the flow interrupted, be prepared!

If you are playing with a group or even one player that knows the game well though, that Quarterbacking problem can rear its head.  Most people learning tend to defer to the ‘experienced’ players, and the tactics and reasoning used don’t always come across.

Ending the Game

Similar to Forbidden Island, you win if you get all of the Skyship parts to the Launch Pad, assemble the ship and fly away.  Except that the Launch Pad can’t have sand on it, that’s it!

Losing though is just as easy as well.

  • Thirst – if a character runs out of water, game over!
  • Buried – if you need to put sand down but don’t have any, the storm has buried you all 🙁
  • Swept Away – if the Storm intensifies to the top of the level, it’s game over.
The ancient sky ship - your treasure and your salvation. While it makes sense to be looking for it, the real reason why wasn't revealed until 2018...

It’s all a case of managing a lot of resources at once and preparing for the inevitable.  Unlike Forbidden Island, the difficulty for Forbidden Desert mainly comes down to starting with the Storm at a higher level – no fancy designs here!

Now I don’t think this is a bad thing, but just like Forbidden Island there are people that have ‘beaten’ the Desert and call the game out on it.  Again, most people I have met that say this only play one particular level and set of characters.

Playing with random character assignments definitely works, and as long as you enjoy the game does mean you can keep playing Forbidden Desert for a long time.

Until next time,

Forbidden Desert

Final Thoughts

If you have played a few cooperative games before, Forbidden Desert is a great choice for you.  Playing with more characters still makes the game more challenging as you have to cause more ‘bad things’ before a character’s role comes around, but that is where strategy comes into play.

The component quality is great, with the exception of the propeller – almost everyone I know has trouble getting the prop off again at the end of the game!  It’s a small price though, and the only real quibble I have with the game overall.

If you get the chance to play it, grab it – you will be pleasantly surprised 🙂



  •  Retains the feel of the original but is a completely unique game
  •  Component quality is great
  •  Random placement and tiles moving mid-game make the challenges interesting


  •  New players can find it hard to keep track of all the mechanics the first couple of games
  •  Between turns, management can put some people off
  •  Quarterbacking can still be a problem as with all coop games
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