Co-Optimus - Community Blog - Forbidden Desert at PAX East
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Forbidden Desert at PAX East

I was pleased to see an increase in boardgame love while attending PAX East this year. There were tons of games being demoed by the developers, and one of the games that caught my attention right away was Forbidden Desert. If the titles sounds familiar, chances are you've played Forbidden Island, the previous game from Gamewright. Forbidden Desert is more than just a reskin, and while the co-op roles of the previous gamer remain intact, there are other changes made that have improved upon the product. My friend and I sat down at the Gamewright booth and got to play a quick game.

The basic premise of the game is that you and your team of adventures are searching a desert for an ancient flying machine when your helicopter goes down, stranding you in the desert. The only way to escape the harsh environment is to dig up the various pieces of the flying machine, bring the parts to the base ship at the ancient launch pad, and then fly off into the sunset after repairing the machine. Unfortunately the parts are all buried under the sand, so you and your team will have to venture around the game board (made up of twenty four tiles that are randomly placed with each new game) and to dig up what's underground. Once you manage to reveal the two clues to the location of a machine part, the piece can be placed on the board where it can be picked up. There are also gear cards located under the sand, such as the jet pack that allows you to move to any space on the board. 

You start the game by selecting a character, who each have their own unique powers and abilities. Since we were in the middle of the desert I opted for the water carrier, who could share water with other players as well as draw extra water from oasis (as long as it's not a mirage!) My friend went with the explorer who could move across the board diagonally and move across built-up sand piles with ease (other players cannot move through larger sand piles.) The great thing about the game is how open communication is, as all the players must work together in order to survive. You can plan out strategies on how to travel the board and advice each other on whether to take a specific action or not. Having more friends handy will allow you to utilize more special skills as you all traverse the desert, be careful...the more players there are, the quicker the sandstorm will punish you.

Just like in Forbidden Island, there is a meter that determines your impending doom at the hands of nature. Rather than sinking tiles and removing them from the board, Forbidden Desert has a sandstorm that applies sand piles to individual tiles after shifting them across the board. Once a tile has two sand pile counters on it, players cannot cross that tile unless they spend an action to remove a sand pile by digging out. This is necessary for two reasons. First, the clues to the location of the airship pieces may be hidden under the tiles, so digging out is necessary to uncover what is beneath. But perhaps the biggest motivator is the fact that if you do not escape before the forty eight tiles are scattered across the board, then it's immediately game over. Sand piles and tile movement are directed by x number of cards drawn after each players turn, where x is equal to the level of danger your crew are on according to the sandstorm meter. The other hazard to be aware of is that occasionally you will draw a card titled "Sun Beats Down", which causes every player not in shelter to lose one water bar. If any players bar reaches zero, then it's game over for everyone...and this is why having a water carrier around is so important!

We really enjoyed the game and had a blast trying to escape the scorching sands. We did fairly good, and managed to recover three pieces of the ship, as well as the location of the ancient launch pad, before we got overrun with sand piles and became the desert's newest set of victims. With so many random factors in the game, each time you play is a new experience, which really adds to the replay value. The game is quick to learn and up to five players can expect to spend between thirty and forty five minutes per game. The game comes out in about two months, but they did not have a set release date yet. If you liked Forbidden Island, you are going to love Forbidden Desert!