Some things should remain off limits – but not this!
Once again, each character has a set number of actions they can perform on their turn. Each character has special abilities that will break some limiting game rules and help the team. There is also the ‘Draw a card and lose’ actions in full swing.
Then the game changes
Normally characters are playing in a predefined shape of tiles in order to search for and obtain a certain number of items to win.
I bet you are already checking out the rocket in the picture though, aren’t you? We will get to it, I promise 😀
This time around, you have flown the Archean’s lost Sky Ship from the Desert to a secret Sky Station. Here you need to repair the station in order to allow the Rocket to hopefully take you to the Archean’s long-lost civilisation. Forbidden Moon is coming perhaps?
Gameplay wise you start at on a preset tile (complete with an image of the Sky Ship – glad the theme is starting to flow) but you have to explore the station. This is done not by tile flipping like in the Desert, but in collecting then placing tiles a la Carcossone.
If you have never played Carcassone, the placement is fairly simple. On each tile is a number of orange lines which represent wires. Each time you place a tile, one of these orange lines must line up with a tile next to it, forming a continuous line like a road.
Also on these tiles are various symbols, but I will go into these a little later. For the moment, you are concentrating on forming a circuit with a certain number of disks, physical wires and lightning towers in order to power the Rocket. And you will actually power the Rocket!
Gameplay vs Gimmick – The Rocket
Now the idea behind the game is simple and brilliant – build an actual electrical circuit to power the Rocket. When complete, the Rocket will flash and make noise as it simulates taking off into the unknown.
But to get there, you need to build a physical circuit with a number of components. The amount of items you need depends on the difficulty level you want to play at – the higher the difficulty, the more parts involved.
Now this challenge is both familiar and different to the other Forbidden games, which is great. Needing to find tiles to make the capacitors that act as wire joints, as well as lightning towers and the pad itself, makes this unquestionably a Forbidden game experience.
The play tiles are constantly being bumped. You are eventually placing different length wires in different places. Player pieces are moved around into wires or accidentally moving tiles.
All this means when you finish the game, you usually then have to nudge the pieces into place to ‘win’ and let the Rocket launch. The circuit can never remain in place during play, making this the fiddliest game to date – all for a gimmick light and sound show.
Now don’t get me wrong – I enjoy the challenge of the game, and making three similarly feeling yet completely different games is a massive task. Matt Leacock deserves every credit for making a fun game – it’s just the execution seems to be a bit lacking.
I really would have preferred a less finicky system for playing with. Placing plastic wires on discs (capacitors) would have worked without the magnets to form the circuit just as well, and maybe a little better.
Physically ‘building’ the Sky Ship in Forbidden Desert was fun, but not essential – especially as they just filled a set space. I rarely let anyone attach the propeller in my game because I had trouble pulling it apart again – but no one was disappointed the ship didn’t ‘fly’.
When the circuit doesn’t just work, the satisfaction of winning is dashed by the anti-climax of the Rocket not lighting up, and that actually detracts from a very fun game.
The Leacock Equation has been reversed
So the Leacock Equation is something I call it, but if you talk to a lot of players of Matt Leacock’s cooperative games most will probably guess what I am talking about.
When you play these cooperative games, if you want to make it a bit easier on yourself/yourselves, you play with fewer characters. The general theory is that fewer ‘bad thing’ draws happen between your turn ending and coming back to you. This also allows you to optimise strategy on using certain special skills over and over again with less cooldown.
Forbidden Sky does something different – I find the game much easier on higher player counts.
The reasoning is exploring the Station. Because Forbidden Sky is a cooperative game, everyone can see what everyone is holding (open handed play). When you have four or five players, you can see up to 15 tiles waiting to be placed.
Now some tiles have capacitors you need, some have gear available, some have protection from lightning and/or protection from wind (the ‘bad things’ of Forbidden Sky).
With this much information freely available and unlimited turn and planning time, you can lay out a lot of the Station very quickly and protect your characters nicely.
This is a little offset by the fact you have to survive at least an entire round to get to this position, and something bad will happen all but guaranteed each turn. But getting here isn’t uncommon and it’s quite an advantage.
I can see where the gameplay would be made a little easier when the ‘bad things’ became harder. Instead of fighting one peril (Water or Sun), you now face Lightning and Wind at the same time.
Lightning will do a point of health damage if you are on a square that connects to a lightning tower via a wire, and wind will blow you off the Station. You can survive both for a few ‘hits’, but you need to beware.
Now personally I think this is a welcome changeup in mechanics, but for some players, this could be a large negative.
I know plenty of couple players that enjoy a ‘quiet’ game of Pandemic or Forbidden Island/Desert because it’s a little easier. Only having a maximum of 6 tiles available to plan makes long terms strategising harder, and this may not be the instant difficulty spike they were hoping for.
It’s not the end of the world by any means – but beware if you think going in that the two player mode is the ‘easy’ mode. To really hammer this home, if you play 2 player you will start on 2 on the ‘Draw Bad Cards’ meter – no breathers for you!
So it really sounds like I don’t enjoy Forbidden Sky, doesn’t it?
Nothing could be further from the truth. Everything that makes me enjoy the previous Forbidden games is here, including the ‘fiddly’ between turn issues of Forbidden Desert.
Think of any trilogy you have ever experienced. I will pick the ‘original’ Star Wars for the example – Episodes 4, 5 and 6. I enjoy all of them, both for nostalgia and as a bit of fun on the TV in the background. Episode 4 introduced the story, Episode 5 set the stage and stakes, and Episode 6 bought it home.
Rewatching the movies now, I skip Episode 5 – Empire Strikes Back – almost every time. Not because I don’t like it, but because I don’t need it. I know the story, I know the twists, I don’t have to watch it again.
Forbidden Sky is a little like my Empire Strikes Back. It’s good, and if you haven’t seen it you should watch it – especially if you want the entire Star Wars story. Forbidden Sky is a worthy game for your shelf, especially if you are a fan. But in a year, will I be suggesting to play it over Forbidden Desert? I don’t think so. But I will always be willing to teach and play it with people that haven’t played it, because it should be played.
But why no tin?
My only real ‘Why?’ with Forbidden Sky is the packaging.
Forbidden Island and Forbidden Sky both came in nice tins that made them stand out on shelves. Now I have heard of people complaining of dents and lids distorting, but I have never had any trouble like this. I can always spot the Forbidden games on my shelf because I look for the tins.
Now Forbidden Sky is larger than the previous two games, and costs can be a factor, but I am disappointed that the aesthetic didn’t continue. However, for some people, this will be a plus, so go with what works for you on this one 🙂
Forbidden Sky is my least favourite of the Forbidden games, but that needs context. It’s like saying you like Rocky Road less than Café Grande or Salted Caramel – it’s not that you will say no to the Rocky Road, just that you might say no if others are on offer.
It’s not a bad game by any means, and the attempt to do some different things is very appreciated. If you have only played Forbidden Sky, you will most likely really enjoy it. If you played only one other Forbidden game, you may like this more, you may like the other – it’s a personal taste question.
That is both the beauty and curse of Forbidden Sky. It’s trying to be an accessible entry for new players while giving existing fans something new, and it almost gets there. But just not quite.
Play it if you get the chance, and there are certainly many worse games you can buy blind. But if I was standing next to you in the game store, I would say buy one Desert or Island first depending on your tastes.
Until next time,