Forbidden Desert is one of my favorite board games. I love the dynamic of all of the players fighting against the game, and this one handles that dynamic perfectly. It’s the sort of table top that is always first on my list whenever somebody asks me what game I want to sit down to play, perhaps in part because I don’t own it and have no access to it. Either way, this game is really well made, and once you understand the rules, I think anyone can really enjoy it. Well, anyone that is comfortable with losing and dying a horrible, dehydrated and sunburnt death in the desert over and over and over.
The game is relatively simple. You and up to four other friends are stranded on a desert, which looks like a five by five grid of sand tiles. In order to escape, you have to find and gather all of the pieces of the… airship? …sandboat? ….magical barge of adventure? Anyways, you do this by uncovering these sand tiles and finding clues to where each piece lies. More often than not you’ll end up uncovering all but a few sand tiles (should you survive that long) but if you’re lucky you can find the tiles pretty early, as they are randomly placed when starting the game.
Said game, meanwhile, is trying its best to murder you in the face. There are several ways to lose in this game, and while some dangers are more pressing than others, all losing conditions make you lose just as much. You can die of dehydration, you can let the storm pick up for too long, and if you let the sand pile up you can lose simply by running out of sand to place on the board.
Experiences may vary depending on the group of people you do it with, but my experience of playing the game in a nutshell amounts to every person discussing how person X should take their turn. We decide where to move their piece, whether or not they should dig up some sand or stay near a teammate, but in the end that player has the final say. There is a lot of things one can do in this game, but mostly every character has a role and should dedicate a lot of their turn filling out that role. For example the water carrier should focus on making sure everybody has water, and wouldn’t really go off on their own unless everybody was secure and there was virtually no risk of anything awful happening. Of course, awful things happen whether or not you’re prepared for them (you can never be fully prepared in this game, though).
My favorite thing about this game is that even on the ‘normal’ difficulty set up, I lose around eighty percent of the time. It’s a difficult game, to be sure, but that’s the challenge of it. And if you somehow get good enough to start winning fifty percent of the time, you can turn up the storm meter one notch and go back to one hundred percent loss rates. This game is incredibly hard, but it makes winning feel like so much more of an accomplishment. It means you and your friend did something, and if you sat down and played again, more than likely you wouldn’t be able to repeat your success.
Forbidden Desert: the game of the masochistic and the ignorant. Would highly recommend. Plus this game isn’t so hard to learn that you need a veteran with you to get started! Always a positive note in my book, since many games require a seasoned person to join in in order to have a chance of playing it right.