Pandemic Review

Pandemic Cover Art
Pandemic Cover Art
Released 2008
Designer Matt Leacock
Publisher Z-Man Games, Inc. (Website)
Players 1 – 4 (Easier with fewer characters)
Playing Time 45-60 minutes
Category Cooperative
Hand Management
Set Collection
Variable Player Powers
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

But I don’t want to take any cards

When you talk cooperative games to gamers, the first example from many players is Matt Leacock’s Pandemic.

It’s joked to be such a wonderful, team building experience – the world is dying thanks to the outbreak of four virulent viruses, and your 1-4 player team (usually at least 2) has to save the world.  No pressure at all.

Games of Pandemic can get tense, but usually only in a good way.  Trying to decide how four people can take on the massive task of curing four disease outbreaks is stressful.

But you don’t do it alone – you work with your team.  There is no single winner – the team succeeds, or the team fails.  There are not a huge variety of actions and strategies to keep in mind either, so it is a game you can teach in just a few minutes and refine as you play.

Pandemic Components
Now this is a mix of upgrades and expansion items, but it still can look intimidating to new players

There are many games described as ‘Pandemic Like’, including the Forbidden series from the same creator – Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky.  Pandemic itself has turned into a new yearly game thanks to the survival series tournaments.  But this is the game that started it all.

Playing Pandemic

When you see Pandemic setup for the first time, it can look incredibly daunting.  Piles of cards and heaps of little cubes surround a stylised world map (that still forgets places like New Zealand and Alaska!).

But that is part of the magic of Pandemic – there are a number of steps, but each step has very simple choices or clear instructions to follow.

Your goal is simple – cure the four diseases currently rampaging all over the world.  You do not need to get all of the cubes off the board, just find the four cures – this is something that sometimes gets confused.  But while the goal is simple, the strategies for achieving this goal are not always as straightforward.

The first thing I do when teaching Pandemic though is break down the three steps each player turn consists of – usually as I take the first turn.

Step 1 – Player Turn

On their turn, a player uses four action points to try and find cures or treat the sick.  Each Basic or Special Action costs a point, so it’s all a long way of saying you can do four actions.  It is easier to remember the things that don’t cost an action point than try to hit home the actions that do.

The basic actions deal with movement.  You can Drive (or Ferry) to the next town connected by a line.  You can discard a city card to fly directly to that city (e.g. Discard Atlanta to fly from anywhere to Atlanta).  If you discard the card of the city you are in, you can Charter a flight to anywhere in the world.  Lastly, you can Shuttle between two Research Stations without discarding any cards.

Pandemic Summary Cards
Make sure everyone has these cards! I normally go first and demonstrate each action to get the game started.

Technically you can also pass as a basic action, but generally I avoid this as an action by teaching that players can take up to four actions on their turn.  While I am not alone in this method, this is the most common ‘house rule’ I have heard complaints about, even though it is not technically changing any rules.

The Special Actions are the ones that will need to be carried out to win the game.  The most common is Treating Disease, that allows the player to remove one infection cube per action from the city they are in.

If players can remove all of the infection cubes from a disease that is cured, that disease is considered eradicated and infection cards no longer have any effect.  Infection cards will be explained later as they are drawn at the end of a players turn.

Another action that is used is Building a Research Station.  These are important as they can become movement hubs as shown above, and are also required to Discover a Cure.

The next special action is Sharing Knowledge.  When two players are in a city, the active player can give or take the card of that city to the other player once per action.  You usually want to share cards around for the big action – Discover A Cure.

The ultimate goal of Pandemic, to Discover A Cure you simply hand in 5 of the same coloured cards as the disease you want to cure at any Research Station.  Now, I say simply, but Pandemic has a 7 card hand limit, so it takes a lot of luck and management to get five in your hand!

Pandemic Discover a Cure
Do this 4 times to win. Simple! But it's sometimes as simple as finding 30 cents when you only use eftpos.

With one exception – Event Cards – this is all a player can do on their turn.  Each individual action is simple enough, but when you first look at a Pandemic board it can still feel overwhelming.  Knowing what you can do isn’t the same as playing, but I will talk about how I usually manage this later.

Step 2 – Drawing Cards

Drawing cards seems simple.  Once you have used your four actions, draw 2 player cards from the deck.  This is where you will get new city cards, and if you are lucky some Special Event Cards.

The Special Event Cards are the player actions that universally break the Action Point rules.  To a degree, they can be played at any time with no action point cost.  The only time they can’t play Special Event cards is when they are in the third Infection step, so it’s a little timing to learn.

Special Events are generally powerful, but not always obviously so.  One Quiet Night allows you to skip one Infection step, or Forecast lets you see the next 6 cards in the Infection Deck.  Airlift allows you to move a character to another location for free, which has allowed me that crucial extra action many times.

Pandemic Special Events
These cards can turn the tide of a bad draw. They can also be used easily at the wrong time.

The hardest thing to remember is you always have a 7 card hand limit.  Unlike many games, you don’t draw up and then discard.  If you have 7 cards in your hand before you draw, you have to discard one card before you can draw the second card – no looking ahead to decide with!

The exception to this rule are the Special Event Cards – you can play them during this time instead of discarding them.

The cards that change everything though is the random cards in the deck known as Epidemics.  These are the cards that at best just make things harder, at worst can lose you the game.

Like most parts of Pandemic, and Epidemic has some simple steps and are all printed on the card.

Firstly, you increase the Infection Rate – you now put out more infection cubes each turn.

Secondly, take the card at the bottom of the infection deck, and place 3 cubes on it.  There would never have been any cubes beforehand.

Lastly, shuffle the cards that have been shown already and place them on top of the deck.  This is the part that makes Epidemics so dangerous.

Pandemic Epidemic
The most dreaded card in the game. It is universally recognised that if drawn on your turn, it's your fault :p

Each city that has already been infected is now queued up to be infected again.  Areas you thought were clear now run the risk of becoming hotspots.  Hotspots you thought left as a calculated risk can now come back to bite you.

It’s amazing how quickly this changes the game.  While you know the cities under threat as they have already been played, you now have to juggle the odds and decide which cities are safe and which you may just have to accept is going to hurt soon.

Either way, if you pulled an Epidemic card or not, the final player phase begins.

Step 3 – Infection

While the Epidemic cards can set up catastrophe, the Infection Deck is where all the bad things come to pass.

Draw one at a time a number of infection cards up to the Infection Rate.  This starts at 2 but can increase quickly.  For each city shown, place one infection cube of that cities colour.

The only reprieve is if you have eradicated a virus – that colour becomes a ‘dud draw’ and gives you much needed breathing space.

If you need to place a fourth cube of any one colour, this starts an Outbreak.  This is where things go from bad to worse quickly, as a chain reaction of infection begins.

Pandemic Infection
Draw one card, add one virus. Unless you have extinguished a virus, these always add bad.

When an Outbreak occurs, increase the Outbreak counter and then place one infection cube in each connected city to where the fourth cube was added.

This can lead to other towns having a fourth cube added as well, causing further Outbreaks.  The worst case we have had was chained four Outbreaks in a single turn, turning the game from doing OK to instant loss.  Hence, draw a card and lose!  Speaking of losing…

How to Win / Lose at Pandemic

As mentioned, winning is simple – cure all four diseases.

Losing though, well that’s even easier.

You will lose if any of the below conditions are met:

  1. You cannot place a required infection cube onto the board
  2. You cannot draw a player card in Step 2 (Note – running out of cards doesn’t end the game, just not being able to draw any!)
  3. The Outbreak Marker reaches the 8th Outbreak.
Pandemic Outbreaks
No guys, yellow is fine over here. Stay over in Europe, what's the worst that can happen?

It may sound like Pandemic is easy to lose, and honestly, it is.  But the feeling of satisfaction when you win is outstanding!  One of my favourite endings to a game of Pandemic is watching new players exclaiming they won.  Not because of the victory, even though it is deserved.  It is almost always ‘We Won’ rather than ‘I Won’ at Pandemic, and I love the camaraderie that builds.

So who would want to play Pandemic?

Well, a whole lot of people.  Forgetting about the huge number of spin-off games and the annual world championships, Pandemic is one of my go-to games if a group wants to learn board games.

Pandemic was a game that popularised a fairly common board game mechanic today – cooperative gaming.  Put some new players down around a Pandemic board, and instead of the winner being the one that catches on the quickest or had the luckiest draw everyone wins or loses.  Each player has an equal chance of helping the table win, not just themselves.

Because Pandemic is a game of cooperation, each player can ‘play’ each character turn at all times.  The best games of Pandemic are the ones where the table actively talks about and plans actions, and adapts when the cards change those plans.

To help with this, each character has a special rule-breaking power.  The Medic, for example, can treat (remove) all the cubes of one colour in a single action in their location.

The Dispatcher can help move other characters to where they need to be by moving others on their turn.  The Scientist only needs 4 cards instead of 5 to Discover a Cure, and so on.

For a family games night, an ice-breaker with strangers, or even a great challenge for veterans – Pandemic is a game that will always be in easy reach on my shelf.

Pandemic Characters
Some powers are definitely more subtle than others, but people that say it's too easy tend to only play the one character every time

Pandemic changes with you

A gripe I hear from a lot of ‘veteran gamers’ is that Pandemic is just too easy.  This is true, but in my opinion only to a degree.  When I ask a lot of these players why it is so easy, it soon comes to light that they only play one set of characters on a usually lower difficulty.

The quickest way I have found to change the challenge is randomly assigning characters from the 7 available choices.  Some players (like in many games) get comfortable with a specific character, race or class and this forces a change in thinking.  It doesn’t detract from the game though, as collectively the table will be helping each other. So a player with more experience with the Quarantine Specialist will usually point out where powers could be better utilised.

The difficulty in Pandemic can be increased by adding more Epidemic cards to the deck.  This means that players have less time to set up, and also means that fewer cities get hit with infection much harder.

Combine the two, and you have many games before you to try and ‘solve’ every possible combination!

But something little known to even some Pandemic veterans is you can have new game modes without buying expansions to the base game.

Available for free from the Z-Man website, there are free scenarios that can be played for a similar yet vastly different experience.  To be fair though, for Scenario 2 you do need an expansion if you have more than 3 players, so keep that in mind.

While the game is played the same, preset character configurations and some changes to the board (such as some cities no longer exist) change the flow of the game drastically, and all it costs is a print out if you want to leave it in the box.

Pandemic Scenarios
Want new challenges? These are just 2 official scenarios - there are plenty around!

Pandemic is also great for finding out who NOT to play with

Quarterbacking is a term people would have heard me use.  It’s when one player (usually the loudest and/or angriest) shouts down everyone else and tries to control the game.  They are the ones that claim sole victory if there is a win, and blame everyone else for not listening during a loss.

That’s why I tend to use cooperative games as a litmus test for new players to a board game group, especially if they know the game.  Do you really want to play with people like that?  If someone tries to take over a game like Pandemic and doesn’t listen to or help others, they tend to not be invited back.

Did you say Spin Off’s and World Championships?

Yep.  Pandemic Survival Series has been an international competition for a number of years now, with many countries competing.  In 2018, the Netherlands took the cup in Italy.

But the championship itself has been only part of the draw. There is a much more selfish reason the Pandemic world watches these events. Over the last few years, Matt Leacock has worked with a game designer from the host country to create a new game experience.

To date, these have been Pandemic: Iberia for Spain, Pandemic: Rising Tide for Amsterdam and last year’s competition in Italy saw Pandemic: Fall of Rome.

Each game shares many core Pandemic concepts but adds something unique.  Pandemic: Iberia took place in the 1800s and introduced railways.  Pandemic: Rising Tide replaces diseases with fending off the rising waters around The Netherlands.  Pandemic: Fall of Rome has you facing various armies trying to take advantage of a weakened Rome.

Pandemic Collection
And this isn't even all of my Pandemics! If anyone wondered if I thought them all worth it...

And that’s just the ‘official’ championship games.  Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu has you exploring Arkham and stopping various Lovecraftian dangers.

Most famously though are the Legacy games, Season 1 and Season 2 (with Season 3 in development!).  These are games that many players try and start with, but may not be the best starting point.

But if you are interested though, the first game series I tried a few years ago was Pandemic Legacy Season 1.  The first game is the most ‘Pandemic’ like though, so if you wanted to have a watch you can see it on the YouTube channel.

But 10 years later (11 now technically?) Pandemic is not only still being played, but still being improved upon.  Not many games reach this status, and Pandemic definitely earned its spot as a modern gaming classic in my opinion.

Until next time,


Final Thoughts

What can I say – I love Pandemic.  As a cooperative game, it’s great for introducing new players to the hobby.  Having everything open is a great way for everyone to learn the game, and the shared victory and lose conditions puts everyone on equal footing.

Yes, quarterbacking can be a problem.  Having the loudest person run the game can destroy the experience for people.  But to blame Pandemic for this isn’t fair, that is very much a player thing.

But it’s been 10 years, and I will still happily play the base Pandemic and pull it off the shelf to teach others over a lot of newer games.  And for that achievement, Pandemic has earned first confirmed 10 rating from



  •  Game that can scale with player experience
  •  Great medium weight game to show players new to gaming
  •  Cooperative nature of the game makes even tense games social


  •  More experienced players would not have the same challenge
  •  Quarterbacking and similar behaviour can put off new players

3 years later, Let’s Play Pandemic Legacy Season 1

The Legacy Crew

Longtime followers will remember this one

It has been 54 weeks since I relaunched  It’s been a great time, and as other things in my work and personal life are settling nicely, I am looking forward to bringing back a lot of my original ideas.

Today was actually going to be a review on Pandemic Legacy Season 1, but unfortunately, this week has gotten away from me.  And no, it wasn’t playing Kingdom Hearts 3 – I didn’t have that much fun!  Instead, I’m going to take you on a great experience on the first form of the site, at

Way, way back in 2015, I first started  There was a whole thing with someone nabbing, it was a whole thing, but I started creating my site.

About this time, the web series TableTop with Wil Wheaton was making serious headway into mainstream popularity.  As a gamer, I was overjoyed.  People wanted to know what those cardboard boxes I was always trying to get people to look at actually were.

As much as I enjoyed the series though, there was one thing that bugged me a bit.  The shows were well presented and well edited, but they didn’t really reflect what playing some of those games were like.  Settlers of Catan (or just Catan now) for example does not tend to go anywhere nearly as smoothly as TableTop presented – especially new players.

New players tend to have to look up what the trading values are.  Questions are asked about timing for the robber.  The biggest thing that happens though is sitting and trying to work out what to try and accomplish, and most of all why to accomplish it.

As Seen On TableTop
The web series TableTop drove many people to board game stores

Now don’t get me wrong – they weren’t misrepresenting games or anything like that.  Yes, there were a few famous rule goofs and a bit of controversy involving a producer.  But on the whole, the enjoyment of gaming came out, and that was their goal.

But a few people that wanted to play the games they saw on TableTop were a little disappointed when they actually played the game.

Lords of Waterdeep was probably the best example I have of this.  Now Lords of Waterdeep is a game I still enjoy to this day (it is my most ‘customised’ game), but it isn’t really a game for everybody.

Lords of Waterdeep is sold as having a Dungeons and Dragons theme, but it’s more abstract.  It’s a worker placement game with limited choices, but weighing up those choices can take new players a long time.  This is generally referred to in gaming as Analysis Paralysis.

Now on Tabletop, the players all joked and talked and then just had their turn – such is the magic of editing.

Lords Of Waterdeep Tablet
This is the Digital Tablet version, but it shows some of the choices on HALF the board

So I decided when I did a Let’s Play video (this was just before I really had no personal time at all, it was a good idea at the time), it would be ‘warts and all’.

And one of the hottest games at the time was Pandemic Legacy Season 1.  Released near the end of 2015, Pandemic Legacy was a game that was setting the board game world on fire.

And while I had taught a lot of people Pandemic, and still maintain the vanilla Pandemic is one of the greatest introductory or gateway games around, explaining to people if they should play a ‘Legacy’ game was really hard.

People that were enthusiastic and keen to try games were already balking at spending $70-$100 (Australian) for a game.  Explaining that Pandemic Legacy was a game you played maybe 18-20 times and that was it was really confusing to some.

And so a few months after the release, I felt it was safe to do my Let’s Play of Pandemic Legacy.

The first thing that hit me is that I had much shorter hair back then :p

Pandemic Legacy Season 1
This is what most players knew of Pandemic Legacy before it was released - it was an exciting time

But I didn’t want to play it on screen.  I do not like being photographed generally, but that wasn’t why.  I had already completed the entire campaign, and so if I was playing I was worried about steering the game for a better score.  The whole point in my mind was that I wanted to show real players and their honest reactions.

So some friends of mine decided to help me out.  The awesome Joel and Kristen, Pandemic veterans, are always fun to be around.  Nat and Elle rounded out the team by being new to Pandemic.

The Legacy Crew
The Legacy Crew - Left to Right Joel, Kristen, Elle and Nat

I just want to give a special shout out of appreciation to Elle – she was all in on playing and recording.  And she had her very first game of Pandemic just before shooting the first video!  Elle is always great to have around on a games night, and while I thank everyone for being involved and loved spending the time with them all, Elle probably had the least idea on what was involved!

So this week, I finally got around to putting together the last of the Pandemic Legacy videos.  So almost 3 years later, for your viewing pleasure, the complete Pandemic Legacy Season 1 campaign is available!

With the rumours of Pandemic Legacy Season 3 being announced and possibly released this year, I feel that maybe the spoiler warnings may have lost some of their potency :p

But if you have enjoyed Pandemic Legacy, or you aren’t in a position to play yourself, I hope you enjoy playing along with the guys and enjoy the ride with us.

Video content is something I am going to be concentrating on this year, so I hope you enjoy these videos and keep an eye out for new content coming later this year!

Until next time,


Forbidden Sky Review

Forbidden Sky Feature
Forbidden Sky Feature
Released 2018
Designer Matt Leacock
Publisher Gamewright (Website)
Players 1 – 5
Playing Time 45-90 minutes
Category Cooperative
Action Points
Hand Management
Player Powers
Circuit Building
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Some things should remain off limits – but not this!

Just like Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert before it, Forbidden Sky takes a central theme of characters working together to achieve a common goal.

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?

Forbidden Sky Components
Mostly the same simple components that allow lots of gameplay, except everyone plays with the Rocket...

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!

Forbidden Sky Tile Placement
So this tile can be placed because the orange line matches the previous tile. This is your main placement rule - nice and simple.

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.

Forbidden Sky Connections
The joints are magnetised, but the constant bumping and knocking makes mid turn rebuilding the map a pain.

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.

Forbidden Sky Circuit Complete
When the board is complete, watching the Rocket light up is great! But when it doesn't work, well that is such an anti-climax

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).

Forbidden Sky Characters
Six Characters, with up to 5 at a time. But the more that come in, the easier planning gets.

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!

Forbidden Sky Storm Meter
Only playing with 2 Characters? Well you can start getting hammered straight away. Lightning and Wind ahoy!

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.

Star Wars Trilogy
I may be showing my age, but many would have seen these movies. And like all trilogies, one is liked less than the others

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 Island Something is Different
It's a small thing, but series defining - a 'Forbidden' game not in a tin! Still makes a nice pyramid though...

Until next time,

Forbidden Sky

Final Thoughts

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.



  •  It’s more Forbidden game
  •  Memory flip has been replaced with Carcassone style map making
  •  Still accessible for brand new players to the genre


  •  Rocket feels gimmicky
  •  Connecting ‘wires’ gets in the way and get knocked off a lot
  •  Inverting difficulty may put off some existing fans
  •  Doesn’t come in a tin – but that’s personal preference

Forbidden Desert Review

Forbidden Desert Feature
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!

Forbidden Desert Components
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.

Forbidden Desert Characters
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.

Forbidden Desert The Board
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.
Forbidden Desert The Skyship
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

Forbidden Island Review

Forbidden Island Cover
Forbidden Island Cover
Released 2010
Designer Matt Leacock
Publisher Gamewright (Website)
Players 1 – 4
Playing Time 30-45 minutes
Category Cooperative
Action Points
Hand Management
Set Collection
Player Powers
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

But the tin says 2-4 players…

In board gaming circles, Matt Leacock is considered the father of modern cooperative board gaming.  Depending on who you ask, he is also the father of the frustrating ‘draw a card – you lose’ mechanic as well.

All this started with a board game called Pandemic.  I am sure anyone looking at my site would have heard of Pandemic or one of its numerous spin-offs, most likely Pandemic Legacy.

New players looking into any Matt Leacock game will undoubtedly see comparisons to Pandemic and its mechanics.  The cooperative nature and randomised events by card draw ask for this.  But this review is for someone that hasn’t played Pandemic, so if you have – I apologise, there will be some information you already know.

If you haven’t played Pandemic, welcome to a review for you!

But how do you play a multiplayer game solo?  The official player count is 2-4 people.  And this is true.  It’s also a fully cooperative game with no hidden information, so good thing to remember is you can play a lot of these style of games solo with no problems – just control multiple characters!

It does take a bit of practice, but it can be a lot of fun as well.  So I won’t be talking about players so much in this review as characters, because it doesn’t matter so much how many players are involved as much as the number of characters they control.  I have played Forbidden Island and similar games a few times with two players at two characters each.

Forbidden Island Components
Simple but beautiful components will entertain players for many hours

The reasoning for wanting to play at the full character count I will talk about later.  As a general tip, keep that in mind whenever you look at a cooperative game, there is a good chance it will solo play well as well.

So what is Forbidden Island?

At its heart, Forbidden Island is a cooperative exploration game where you play as a team searching an island for four rare artifacts.  When I first played Forbidden Island, my thinking was basically ‘So a team of Indiana Jones/Lara Croft types’.

As usual, this was both correct and incorrect.  Each character has a distinctive role, represented by a different skill.  These skills are all rule breaking abilities, giving the character the chance to do one “That would be nice” thing.  For example, the Diver can swim through sunken tiles and the Navigator can move other characters on its turn.

Story-wise I was initially very meh about.  Legends of an ancient race called the Archeans that could control the elements – Fire, Wind, Water, Earth.  Fairly standard fare but it was as good a reason as any to be coming to an unexplored island.

Of course, this was 10 years ago.  The board game renaissance had not yet begun, and we were a lot more forgiving of a lack of good narrative experiences.  Little did we know that 10 years later, Forbidden Sky would come along completing a trilogy (so far) of games where explorers continue to chase down the Archeans!

Forbidden Island Treasures
The treasure - the ability to control the elements. Wind, Fire, Water and Earth - I still want to paint these years later.

Of course, just finding the island to search for the treasures wouldn’t be that exciting.  But what if the Archeans had booby-trapped the island to collapse if anyone set foot on it?

Playing the Game

And that is where the game of Forbidden is played.  Sure, you need to explore a randomly set out bunch of tiles, but you need to do it while parts of the island sink away beneath you.  The Diver doesn’t sound like such a strange ability now does it?

On your characters turn, you can perform up to three actions.  These include moving, shoring up a tile to stop it from sinking, trading treasure cards, or finding a treasure.

Most of these actions are self-explanatory.  Move your pawn one tile in any direction up/down or left/right (no diagonals!).  Flip an adjacent tile from flooded to safe.  Give another player on your tile a treasure card.

Forbidden Island Setup
A pretty standard setup. Some areas of the island begin flooding immediately, as you can tell from the blue tiles - they are going underwater.

Finding a treasure means being on a tile marked with the treasure you are trying to find and exchanging four matching treasure cards to receive the treasure piece.

You find treasure cards at the end of your turn, where you get to draw two treasure cards every time.  The only issue when doing this is you have a five card hand limit, so you need to work with everyone so that people can focus on concentrating on a particular treasure.

Also in the treasure cards could be special powers that can be used by anyone as a once off reward.  There is also the Water’s Rise! cards, but I will go into those later.  For now, they are worse than you are probably thinking.

It all sounds pretty simple and straightforward, doesn’t it?  It’s one of the aspects of many of Matt Leacock’s designs I really appreciate – the mechanics don’t usually get in the way of enjoying the game.  The players just need to concentrate on solving the ‘puzzle’ presented to them before a ‘You Lose’ condition is met.

Oh yes – Forbidden Island is not the relaxing zen-like puzzle you may be imagining.  After you have drawn your treasure cards, rewarding you with exploring for another turn, you get to draw flood cards.

You draw the number of Flood Cards currently shown on the Water Meter.  Most game modes start at 2, and you can draw up to 5 cards each turn.  In the flood deck, there is a card for each tile in the game.  Draw the card, and flip the tile corresponding tile to the blue ‘flooded’ side.  If the tile is already flooded, remove the tile and the card from the game – that part of the island has been claimed by the sea and can never be visited again.

Forbidden Island End of First Round
And one round in, we already found one Water Rises! card, leading to the Watchtower being lost forever. Luckily the Engineer had somewhere else to swim!

So now you can see where Shoring the tiles comes into play.  At the start of the game, you can let a water be around the island as the island is slowly sinking.  But as you pull Water’s Rise! from the treasure deck, you increase the gauge on the Water Meter.

Pulling more cards means getting through the deck quicker, meaning less time for a card that has already been pulled to appear again.  Letting a tile sink also means fewer cards in the deck, speeding up the island sinking!

Oh and those extra cards your pulling?  It includes the discarded cards straight away.  In Forbidden Island, you take the remaining flood deck and the discards and shuffle them into a Flood deck.  This way you have no way of knowing what is likely to be sinking next!

And this is where the ‘Draw a card and lose’ aspect of a Leacock game comes into it.

To win, you ‘just’ need to have everyone on the ‘Fool’s Landing’ tile with all four treasures, and a Helicopter Lift card to fly away to safety.

To lose, just one of the following needs to happen:

  • Fool’s Landing Sinks (No Escape)
  • It the Water Level reaches the Skull and Crossbones (Island Sinks)
  • If a character has nowhere to swim to if their tile sinks (Character Death)
  • Both Treasure Temples sink and the treasure is not collected (Cannot retrieve all 4 treasures)
Forbidden Island The Item Deck
The items giveth, and the items taketh away. Looking at the water level gauge, you think there is plenty of time to spare - but it's less than you think!

It sounds hard to win, and initially the random nature of drawing good and bad cards can seem unfair, but there are ways to win almost every time.  Rest assured there are definitely winning strategies that will let you win a majority of the time.

So there is a set way to win?

Yes and no.  This is probably the biggest difference of player opinion occurs.

The Treasure and Flood decks are fairly fixed.  Even if you are not a card counter, you get a feel for how likely a ‘bad’ draw is to happen.  Knowing these odds are a big help in planning your strategy.

If you play with the same team every time, even with the island tiles placed randomly you learn how the team works and how to get the most out of them.

There are also obviously ‘better’ characters to play early games with.  Better in this context means ‘easier to use their powers all the time’.  Playing a game without an Engineer and their ability to Shore Up multiple tiles is more challenging, but that doesn’t make the character superior over the others.

Forbidden Island Skull Island
Mastered the original island? Try variants like Skill Island! The different layouts change gameplay nicely.

You may hear reviews or opinions that Forbidden Island is too easy.  Most people I have played with or spoken to about difficulty have a caveat to this though.  They play the same configuration every time.  And not just the same characters – the same characters played by the same players, on the same difficulty,  in the same play order – every time.

Now, to me this is fine – people enjoy this style of play.  I am not one of them.  My only complaint is that I wish people that simply dismiss Forbidden Island with ‘Too Easy’ clarified this is how they play.

Think of Forbidden Island like a video game for a second.  Worked out how to beat easy every time with the same group?  Play with the two characters you don’t normally pick.  Mastered that?  Start playing at higher difficulties, and randomise the character selection.  Unfortunately not in my copy, but there are even official alternate island layouts you can play to increase your challenge.  Just finishing the game once doesn’t mean you ‘beat’ it – there are other ways of increasing the challenge for you.

Yes, there are more challenging games out there these days – that’s not in question.  If you are new to gaming or cooperative games, then Forbidden Island is a great way to start.  The challenge in Forbidden Island can be tailored to your wishes more than many people acknowledge, and I find that unfortunate.

Downsides to Forbidden Island?

Apart from difficulty, the other divisive item is the tin.  Yes – Forbidden Island comes in an embossed tin.  It’s pretty, it holds the components well, and I don’t mind putting it on other games or having other games on top of it.

I like the tin, but there are those that are very opposed to it.  That said, I hope that future reprints come in a cardboard box, because the third game has ditched the tin.  Unless something goes very wrong, I won’t buy another copy just for the box.  But if you are looking at padding your collection and want the Forbidden series, this may be a consideration.

Forbidden Island Something is Different
It's a small thing, but series defining - a 'Forbidden' game not in a tin! Still makes a nice pyramid though...

The other potential problem is common to all cooperative games.  While it’s great that you can play them solo, some players think they are playing it themselves even when others are at the table.  This little gem is known as Quarterbacking.

Quarterbacking – at least problem quarterbacking – is when usually one player dictates the actions of the game.  You think something else is better?  Too bad, they know the game better than you, so just do it their way or else.

Now that might sound childish and overly simplified, but I have seen Quarterbacks treat players like that – and much worse.  When you are playing with your friends, you can point out that they should probably tone it down, and all is well.  But Quarterbacks during gaming meetups and conventions have been known to bring the entire experience down for everyone.

If you are ever in a situation like that, leave the table and just let the host know what’s happening.  Don’t let Quarterbacks ruin your games.  Coming soon, I will be writing an article on Quarterbacking with some advice on defining it and how to deal with it, so keep an eye out for that.

The only positive to the experience is you can use it as a litmus test for a new organised games group – if they are a friend of the organiser and left alone, you probably don’t want to be with that group.  If the host takes it seriously and tries to work with everyone and handles it maturely, take it as a good sign.  Either way, let people know about your experiences – good game groups are hard to find!

Until next time,

Forbidden Island

Final Thoughts

Forbidden Island was my second Matt Leacock game, and the first board game I played solo (that wasn’t a solo game).  It’s also a great game to introduce non-gamers too, as everyone is working together, you can talk through many standard game mechanics and help players get used to some now standard game mechanics.

The game to a degree will scale with your skill.  Too easy?  Play as different or random characters.  Check online (or the app) for different island layouts.  There are a lot of possibilities for replayability.

The randomness can get to some players, but to me, it just adds to the tension of playing and the theme.  While not a game for everyone, this is a game that a lot of people have played for many great reasons.



  •  A great introduction for non-gamers
  •  Simple yet challenging gameplay
  •  Beautiful art and fun components


  •  Some people get frustrated by randomness
  •  ‘Quarterback’ players can dominate the game experience

Wait, what about those other pieces?

You may have wondered about the meeples in the banner – these are an aftermarket set I bought from Meeple Source. I have a set for Forbidden Desert as well.

I am hoping that they do a Forbidden Sky set soon!  The pawns work fine, but I do like playing with the customised pieces and they take up much less room than minis.

Forbidden Island Meeple Source Meeples
They don't improve the game in any way, but the customised meeples are fun to play with 🙂

If you like the idea of sprucing up your games, give Meeple Source a look!  I don’t order much from them because of shipping, but every year they seem to do an upgrade Kickstarter and I can order in bulk whatever catches my eye.

Pandemic is turning 10 years old! Time for the anniversary edition

Pandemic 10th Anniversary Special Edition

It’s always fun watching the world get infected

Pandemic.  Arguably one of the best cooperative gateway games around.  I can’t believe it’s only been 10 years since it hit the market.  I have probably only been playing it for around 6 years, but I know it’s one of my most played games.

I started playing Pandemic before I started recording plays (and I still only do that half-heartedly), but I know I have played the base Pandemic over 100 times.  The amount of people I have taught Pandemic to is also likely close to the triple digits.  It’s just a great game.

It’s not a perfect game.  Pandemic has its faults.  But Pandemic is a game that I can pull out and easily 80{dfca638b9dbdbc1caf156b9b6679a983a965572ca56a786c9cf360ad3783820c} of the time find people enthusiastic for a game.

Becuase of this and current marketing trends, Z-Man have announced the Pandemic 10-year anniversary edition.

There are some really nice touches, such as the coming in an early20th-century style first aid kit metal tin.  The game also goes back to its first edition printing wooden cubes, but now with screen printed pictures of the virus in question.

But if you preorder, the biggest bonus of all is instead of meeples, you get prepainted miniatures of the characters.

Pandemic 10th Anniversary Painted Minis
The most visible change to the base game - minis!

The miniatures look fantastic and will answer what some people have been asking for in Pandemic for years.  In a well-timed how do you do, I just got my Kickstarted Viral Outbreak miniatures a couple of weeks ago.  I don’t regret buying them and I am looking forward to painting them, but yeah the timing was just right to make me say “Really?”.

I haven’t been able to see the board yet, but the components on display definitely have that vintage feel to them.  And not just the first edition wooden cubes, but the cards themselves have all been given a retheme.  The Anniversary Edition is a definite gift idea for any Pandemic collectors you know.

Because I have all of the second edition expansions (as well as spin-off games), I can’t see myself buying a copy.  I just don’t think I need another copy of the base game.

And I think this is a good thing because the preorder price on the Z-Man store is the tidy sum of USD$99.95.  If there was word on expansions getting a similar treatment, or the game had the expansions included, maybe I would think about it.

Pandemic 10th Anniversary Cards and Virus
A vintage feel is definitely what is being put out there with the Anniversary edition

This inability to expand a special edition is my only regret buying the 10th Anniversary Ticket to Ride.  It’s beautiful and fun and I love playing it, but I need to buy the base game again before being able to take advantage of a lot of the expansions available, and Pandemic will suffer more from this.

It’s a wonderful homage and I am really happy that Z-Man is releasing this.  The components involved and pre-painted mini’s to me justify the high asking price.  But as the miniatures are a preorder bonus, you will need to get in quick, otherwise you will just have a very expensive version of Pandemic.

Until next time,

Pandemic 10th Anniversary Characters
Pandemic Legacy style 'ID' cards are included, but they also get that retro feel treatment.