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From the mind of Matt Leacock comes the virtual board-game Forbidden Desert, a race against time as a handful of players (up to 5) try to beat the unforgiving sands and escape the dry wastes. Fortunately for us, playing in this desert isn’t forbidden, so we get to see what it’s all about.
This game is all about the deep challenge of facing a board that’s against you. It’s classic board game goodness, where random scenarios keep you on your toes mixed with a bit of party management. Now, this game is nice and complex with a solid rule system and interesting mechanics, so for practicality’s sake not every detail will be covered. Nevertheless, I should hopefully give a firm idea of what you’ll be in for, facing against an almighty desert.
As a swift rundown of mechanics, the game as you might imagine is board game-styled, separated with square tiled pieces. Each piece is basically sand, which must be dug up by one of your party members to reveal something. The goal is to find and reveal four air-machine parts and get the holy heck out of the sandy wastes before it becomes your party’s tomb.
Of course, the desert won’t let you go that easy. For starters, when I say the board is against you, I mean it’s a throwback to randomized card draws which cause things to happen, creating challenges to overcome. For example, when the player’s turn ends, several things will occur. Firstly, the “storm deck” will draw random cards. One kind blows wind and sand on board tiles; another card is “Sun Beats Down”, which forces your team to use 1 water (more on this in a second), and one other card draw is the storm worsening, whereby a value at the top left rises to cause more trouble.
To explain further, recall how I said sand has to be dug up in order to find things on the board. Those things are good, and are often valuable trinkets to help you survive. But, when the wind “blows” in a random direction, it adds sand to a tile. So, when a team member uses an action point (of which you only have 4) to remove the sand, they might have to do it again if there’s a “1” value on a tile. Or more. That nasty sand stacks, and can even cause your team to get “dug in” where they’re stuck until sand on their tile is gone.
And what of water and things? Well, there are five players in total, but each player will take on a class, such as a Meteorologist, or an Adventurer. They have abilities, like the Water Carrier’s ability to…well, carry and distribute water. This helps, but each class has a water value too (this varies, so some may have “3” while others have “4” , etc.) Now, depending on the random storm deck card, water might need to be used, and if ANY of your teammates runs out, they die. Which means, in respect, everyone fails.
Lastly, there’s a meter at the top left representing the power of the storm, with values ranging from 2 to 6. The values represent how many storm cards are used on the board’s “turn”. The more the cards, well, the worse off everyone will be. So, dealing with all this, everyone has to get out alive on their fancy sand machine. Furthermore, everyone has to make it to the port together, as any stragglers will mean everyone faces doom.
I must stress that a good deal of planning was needed for my playthrough, as I’m not a clever fellow. So for the review’s sake, I ran a few games with me controlling the whole team (versus the option of playing with others) and well, maybe I could’ve used a few friends. From managing where everyone would be, combined with constant sand threats, to not knowing if digging here or there was wise, making sure everyone had water…the desert is not to be trifled with, let’s just say. However, that’s great in long term. This is a real classic board game challenge for those who want it. You’re in the desert, don’t expect to be treated like a guest.
You aren’t totally helpless, however. I mentioned briefly that each player piece has abilities, of which helps traverse the dangerous sands. But, there are other helpful trinkets too. Amidst your virtual digging, some board tiles will reveal steam-punk like gadgets and tech. For instance, you might find a sand-blower, which lets you clear a tile of sand without costing action points. Or, you could find a jetpack, getting you to another board tile that you couldn’t normally get to.
All this combined meant there was indeed a great divide between novice and veteran. It’s details like these which make virtual board games so endearing and fun to play!
Forbidden Desert is a beautifully constructed game despite just emulating a board. The graphics are crisp with clear presentation of information. Shades of rustic reds and dangerous oranges make up the desert landscape, versus dull browns. The world, as it were, also has a great deal of steam-punk influence, with board pieces revealing fantastic artwork of technologically grandiose cities (yet still looking ancient all the same). Animations are nifty when board pieces perform an action, and many distinct visual elements, such as the “storm picks up” card are genuinely intimidating, but also fun to look at.
Audio-wise, the game does a good job of drawing you in its sandy clutches, though I think you’ll hear grunts of frustration or sighs of relief more often. The desert sounds like you might imagine, shuffling about its hot landscape, only broken by background ambient music and joyful discoveries.
Control-wise, of course, the game was designed for mobile tablets, and it works as it should. Performing actions during gameplay is easy, done so with taps and swipes. Sorting through information like Forbidden Desert’s expansive rule set is also no hassle, which might be useful in times of gameplay trouble.
“Players versus the Board Game” is one of my personal favorite categories, virtual or not, and Forbidden Desert delivers on that premise incredibly well. Even on normal difficulty I was blasted by merciless sands, with the clock ticking, managing thirst, and awaiting my inevitable failure. Ideally, the game should be played with other people I think, but even alone, pitting yourself against dire odds is fun on its own.
Anyone looking for classic board game goodness should grab this. Despite my team dying of thirst every other turn, it was a joy to face down new challenges!
- Great immersive sound, artistically impressive visuals, striking colours
- Challenging randomized scenarios with complex board game mechanics
- Great for solo or multiplayer, interesting class abilities
- Both challenging and fun, rewards forward-thinking and cooperation
- May be best suited for multiplayer, which doesn't work for everyone