Forbidden Island, Desert or Sky?
- Adventure... if you dare
Grab a drink and prepare for a review taken to new heights. I'm going to be looking at all three games in the Forbidden series and talking about different themes and mechanics so you can decide which one is better suited for you. If you're like me then the answer will probably be all of them.
The Forbidden games are notorious for being visually stunning survival cooperative games. There are currently three different themes to choose from in the series with hopes that there will soon be a fourth. Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky each play with a slightly different set of mechanics but all of them are quick, easy to learn and fun to play.
Players: 2 - 4
Playing time: 30 minutes
Designed by: Matt Leacock
Published by: Gamewright
Forbidden Island is the first instalment in the series. It was a massive hit due to it's cooperative elements and went on to win a ton of awards including the 2010 Mensa Select Award.
What's in the box?
- or should I say tin
- 58 cards (flood deck, treasure deck & adventurer cards) - 6 wooden pawns
- 24 double-sided Island tiles - 4 treasure figurines - 1 water meter & water level
Forbidden Island is stored in a different way to a lot of other games. It comes in a compact tin that is wonderful for storing and looks great on a shelf. The components are also snuggly packed into a plastic insert which I find a lot of other smaller games seem to be lacking. There's nothing worse than closing the lid to a game, placing it on a shelf and hearing all of the components falling around.
The four treasure figurines are a great addition to the game. They could have been supplied as wooden tokens or even represented as cards but the physical treasure element allows you to fully immerse yourself in the gameplay. I'm always hoping that I'm the one to capture the treasure in my team as I want to have the fancy figurine. All of the figures are made from a strong plastic, but the Crystal of Fire is slightly different as it has a shine to it. This gives it a high quality finish and I wish that all of the figurines were in this style as the gloss finish adds a more treasure-y feel. The only other issue I have with the components is that the water meter doesn't have a stand so I usually find myself trying to prop it up against something on the table or eventually giving up after it keeps falling over and lay it flat on the table. Designer Matt Leacock must have seen this as a flaw in the design and a stand was added to the next instalment of the series: Forbidden Desert.
So you've seen what you get, but what do you actually do? Each player takes on the role of different adventures who move around the Forbidden Island looking for the four sacred treasures left behind by the long lost Archean Tribe. Each adventurer has a range of special abilities to help you on your mission and as the Island slowly starts to sink, everyone is required to survive. Can you retrieve all of the treasures before the Island completely disappears?
At the beginning of your adventure, 24 Island tiles filled with beautiful artwork are placed down. Throughout the game these tiles will be flooded by the sea and if you and your teammates can't do anything to save the tile, it could be lost forever. Players start with two treasure cards each that are used to capture available treasures. The four treasures are then placed in each corner of the grid waiting to be retrieved.
On each player's turn they can choose to perform up to three actions: move, shore up (flip over) a flooded tile, give a treasure card to another player or capture a treasure. Players can choose to perform the same action three times if they wanted to. They will also have the option to use equipment cards that have been gained throughout the game. These can be things such as using a helicopter card to fly to certain parts of the Island or use Sandbags to shore up any tile on the Island. This may be counted as an action but it will be stated on the equipment card itself. Then players must draw two cards from the treasure deck which contains both treasure cards and equipment cards. Four of the same treasure cards need to be obtained to capture a treasure on the grid.
After drawing the treasure cards, you must now take over the role of the Island and see which areas are going to be flooded. Refer to your water meter and depending on what level it is on, draw that many flood deck cards. As these cards are flipped over and placed into the discard pile, flip the corresponding tile in the game area to show that the tile has been flooded.
So, you may think that this is fine and the Island flooding isn't a big deal because you can still access those tiles? Well, that's where the Waters Rise! cards shake it up a bit. These can be drawn from the treasure deck and means that the water level meter must rise and all of the tiles in the discard pile should be shuffled and placed back on top of the flood deck.
Tiles that are drawn from the flood deck that are already flooded will then be classed as sunk and will be completely removed from the game. Players will instantly lose if the tile Fools Landing is sunk as this is the helicopter pad that adventurers need to escape the Island. If a player is on a tile that gets sunk, they can swim to an adjacent tile, but if there are no tiles to swim to the player drowns and the game is lost.
The only way to beat the game and complete the mission is to collect all 4 treasures and return to Fool's Landing to escape the Island.
Forbidden Island is a simple game to pick up, it's not overly complex and can be learnt in 5 minutes and played in about 30 minutes. Great if you don't have a lot of time or if you are looking for a filler/warm up game.
It's great for beginners and kids as it's easy to learn, a great starting point to lead into heavier games while teaching mechanisms such as grid movement and hand management.
The artwork in the game is wonderful and really adds thematic value to the game, it's a survival cooperative game that really feels like one as certain areas start to sink and players are discussing the best series of movements to prevent them from being completely lost.
There is a decent amount of replayability as the tiles are laid out differently in every game and different characters allow the use of different abilities which change the way you play the game.
It's a great family game and encourages communication between players.
If you're used to playing heavier games with complex strategies, you may find this game too simple.
Playing with a group of people can lead to one person becoming the leader and try to tell other players what to do on their turn when it's supposed to be a group effort.
Some turns there isn't really a lot to do, you could be waiting to pull treasure cards while all of the tiles are not at risk and you're already standing where you need to be. This can be frustrating and you usually pass to the next player.
Players: 2 - 5
Playing time: 45 minutes
Designed by: Matt Leacock
Published by: Gamewright
Forbidden Desert is the second instalment in the series being released just three years after Forbidden Island and the first of the series that I ever played. I picked it up in my local board game shop without knowing much about it and I loved it. It's a great cooperative game and just what I was looking for.
Adventurers are sent out on their second mission to excavate an ancient desert city and recover a legendary flying machine in order to escape before they die of thirst or are buried in the sand. Following in Forbidden Island's footsteps, it went on to win the Mensa Select Award in 2013.
What's in the tin?
- 49 cards (storm deck, equipment cards & adventurer cards) - 48 sand markers
- 24 double-sided desert/city tiles -6 wooden pawns - 6 meter clips
- 4 flying machine parts - 1 sand storm meter & stand - 1 flying machine model
Forbidden Desert is also stored in a compact tin, slightly bigger than Forbidden Islands to allow for the extra tiles and components, which makes it harder to store them next to each other but this is a minor issue. A plastic insert is used again to keep all of the components from moving around and if you're anything like me and took this game to the beach to play, it will be filled with sand! A stand is also included for the sand storm meter which is a small but great improvement to the game.
Compared to Forbidden Island I think the quality of the components have definitely been improved. The machine and all of its parts are so sturdy and fit together wonderfully, while the engine is even made out of metal. The cards and tiles are thick and show no signs of wear and tear after dozens of plays.
Luckily for those who have already played Forbidden Island, picking up the rules won't be too difficult as they are practically the same with a few exceptions. If it's your first time playing, it is recommended to take a look at the front and back of the game tiles to get a feel for what could come up but as soon as they're placed down with the city side up, no peeking!
To start playing place all of the desert tiles in a 5 x 5 grid, leaving a gap in the middle. This represents the sand storm that will move around throughout the game. Place sand markers on top of 8 tiles and then place the machine parts to the side of the grid as their whereabouts have not been discovered yet. The rest of the setup will then seem familiar to you: set the storm level (after placing the storm meter into the fancy holder), divide the cards into separate decks and assign an adventurer card to each player.
On each player's turn they can choose to perform up to four actions: move, remove sand from a tile, excavate (flip over a tile) or pick up a part. As you can see these actions are almost exactly the same as the ones in Forbidden Island with the exception that you can now perform four actions instead of three. I think this was an essential add on to the game as sand gathers on tiles very quickly compared to tiles flooding.
When the excavated action is used, players are able to flip the current tile their pawn is on. The players ideally need to find where all of the parts are located and these can be found when you flip over a tile and it has a picture of the part on. There are two of these for each part: one showing you what row it is and then the other showing you what column it is in. When both of these have been found you can then place the part of the machine on the grid. Bare in mind that this can change as the storm is able to move tiles to different locations.
When certain tiles are flipped over they may have a gear printed in the corner, which then allows the player to draw from the equipment deck. These cards can be passed around the players if they are on the same tile and can be used at any time in the game (even outside of your turn). Unlike Forbidden Island, there is no hand limit so you can possess as many equipment cards as you like.
After players have performed all actions it's then time to draw cards from the storm deck. These cards show you which direction the storm is moving and you will have to reposition the tiles as instructed. For example, when the game is first set up there is a space in the middle. If the storm card drawn shows that the storm moves two spaces to the right, you would make it so that the space is now two spaces to the right and the tiles that were in the way have been shifted to the left.
Any pawns, sand tiles or machine parts are also moved with the tile. A sand marker should then be placed on any tile that moved this round. There are no limits to how many sand tokens can be placed on a tile, however if a second sand marker is placed then it should be placed with the darker side placed up which means that players cannot pass through this tile as it has been buried. Players can use the excavate action to clear passable and blocked tiles so they are never fully lost. If all sand tokens are used, your team has been buried and you have lost the game!
Instead of the storm being moved about in this phase, the players can also draw two different cards from the storm deck. The Storm Picks Up, which is exactly the same as Forbidden Island's Waters Rise! and the Sun Beats Down which is a new mechanic for this edition.
On each adventurers card they have a canteen filled with water and a clip to show how much water they have left in their canteen. When the sun beats down they are required to drink one water and lower the water meter by one. If any player empties their canteen, they succumb to the thirst and the entire game is lost. There are ways to fill up your canteen including certain adventurers' abilities, gaining water from other players and finding watering holes on the tiles and ways to completely avoid drinking water by locating a tunnel tile and ending your turn on it.
Players take it in turns to complete these steps back and forth until all of the machines components have been found. Once they have, all players must find their way to the launch pad tile where everyone can place their components into the flying machine and escape the desert for the win!
Forbidden Desert is accessible to new and experienced players. It's slightly more complex that Forbidden Island but still easy to pick up and the reference cards explain everything as you play.
The equipment cards give agency. They can be used out of your turn so all players remain switched on and engrossed in the game, waiting for that perfect moment to use Sand Blaster!
Forbidden Desert is tough, but to me this is a great thing. The game is definitely winnable so every time you play and lose, it will make you think of a new strategy you can try next time.
It involves a higher level of teamwork than Forbidden Island as there is a lot more to do. There is also no wrong moves in Forbidden Desert as everything is viable which neutralises the 'one person telling everyone else what to do' issue.
The theme and the high quality components to go with it are a massive pro for me. Every time I have played this I've been fully immersed in the escape from the Desert within an inch of my life role.
Forbidden Desert is much more difficult than Forbidden Island and it is a puzzle game. Some people may prefer their games to be more linear and wouldn't like the components moving around aspect.
Some characters are a lot stronger. It becomes very apparent when you've seen most of the characters being played and you tend to lose if you haven't pulled a certain one.
During set up the tunnels can become grouped up which makes them a bit pointless as you can't use them to negotiate around the grid. Also making the game a lot harder, pair that with not having the right characters and it becomes near impossible to fight the sand storm!
The end of the game is slightly anti climatic. Unlike in Forbidden Island you don't need to save an equipment card to play at the end. Players don't even need to assemble the ship if they don't want to, it's purely for theme so you find yourself just saying "Yay, we won" and then packing up the grid.
Players: 2 - 5
Playing time: 60 minutes
Designed by: Matt Leacock
Published by: Gamewright
Forbidden Sky is the electrifying new instalment of the Forbidden series. Currently only being out for less than a year it has already been nominated for two awards and won the 2019 UK Games Expo Best Board Game. It carries on the story directly from Forbidden Island, which I think is fantastic, and even has the legendary flying machine printed on the starting tile which is a great little Easter egg if you've played Forbidden Desert.
Your flying machine is about to dock at a secret power platform that floats 7000 feet above ground. As you descend, you catch a glimpse of a rocket through the thick fog. If you can power the rocket you might be able to find the long lost Archean civilisation. To succeed, you will have to explore the platform and create a circuit to power the rocket, but be careful of the storm!
What's in the box?
- 37 cards (storm deck, equipment cards, blueprint cards & adventurer cards) - 36 Power platform tiles - 13 meter clips - 6 wooden pawns - 32 circuit components (wires, lightening rods, capacitors & launch pad)
- 1 storm meter & stand - 1 starting grid - 1 rocket
The first thing I noticed about Forbidden Sky is that designer Matt Leacock ditched the signature tin for an actual box for this release. It makes sense because there are a lot more components compared to previous titles and trying to fit them all into a rounded tin would have been difficult. This makes it even harder to store all three games next to each other but I wouldn't sacrifice the quantity of components for this. The rest of the components are also high quality which I have grown to expect from the Forbidden games.
When I first opened this box my hand went straight for the rocket figurine. I saw all of the circuit parts and knew this game was going to be good. I saw a plastic tab sticking out from the rocket and got extra excited when I realised that it was actually electronic!
Forbidden Sky is going to be extremely easy to pick up if you have played the other games in the series. It shares similar mechanics to the other games in the series as well as new ones including tile laying, you will be building the grid as you go as well as building a circuit to power the rocket.
The set up for this game is the easiest out of the bunch. Place down the starting tile where the launch pad is displayed, place the lightning rods, capacitors, wires and the rocket within reaching distance of the players and set the storm meter. Also, place the rest of the tiles that will eventually make up the game grid in a face down pile next to the grid.
Once you have separated the decks like in the other games and allocated an adventurer to each player, you can then choose your difficulty level by picking a blueprint card. Each card shows an outline of the launch pad and how many components you will need in your circuit to power the rocket. If you have played Forbidden Desert it's recommended to play on Normal.
On each player's turn they can choose to perform up to four actions: move, scout (draw the top tile from the face down pile), explore (place a tile) or wire (place a long or short wire from one component to the other). These actions are pretty different from any of the other games because unlike in Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert, you do not start with all of the tiles already placed down for you. Equipment cards also work the same way that they did in Forbidden Desert.
When placing tiles you will see that some of them show a lightning rod symbol on it. This means that you can take one of the lighting rods from the side of the game grid and place it on this space. If the tile you place completes a circle filled with a colour, immediately place the corresponding circuit component on top of it: a small circle means a small capacitor, a large circle means a large capacitor and a circle filled with red inside means the launch pad.
When you have placed a few tiles you should start to see quite a few components on the grid, and this is where the fun starts. If you ever loved creating those short circuits in science lessons when you were back, or currently, in school you're going to love this element of the game.
The blueprint will show the minimum number of each kind of component you will need and each of them need to be connected in a true circuit (a circle) starting with a wire connected to one side of the launch pad and ending with a wire connected to the opposite side of the launch pad.
After each player's turn it's then time to take on the role of the storm. In this version there are Lightning Strikes! cards and when these are drawn, every lightning rod in play is struck and every player on the same tile or on a tile connecting them to a lightning rod by a wire receives a jolt of electricity and marks off one health from their adventurers card. There are also Winds Change cards and this refers to the small compass that is on the starting tile. The card drawn will show a direction and players must move the compass accordingly. Finally, there are High Winds cards which blow the adventurers one tile in the direction of the arrow on the compass. If a pawn is blown off of the edge then the player must mark off one use of their rope on their adventurers card.
Players take it in turns back and forth to fight off the elements until the circuit is complete and the rocket has enough power to take flight. Make sure you're all at the launch pad before the last wire is placed for the win!
Every game of Forbidden Sky is different depending on what mix of adventurers are pulled. The tiles you pull are also random and you may not pull what you need all while the storm is messing you up.
The level of teamwork is far greater in Forbidden Sky as you need to correctly assemble the circuit to win, but you don't know when those tiles are going to be drawn and which player will have them. The mad rush to get to the launch pad at the end is also really exciting.
The rocket lighting up at the end and making sound effects is a really nice touch, it's definitely the climatic feeling I was looking for at the end of Forbidden Desert.
It's easy to pick up for new players but also really fun for experienced players because the puzzles can be challenging.
Forbidden Sky typically takes longer to play that the others so you can really get stuck into the gameplay.
After placing components onto the tiles they tend to slide around, this is more of an annoyance than an issue but I constantly find myself taking a minute to clean up the grid.
One design issue I have noticed is that when you have a few tiles placed down there are wires and edges that don't line up. This makes the grid look a bit strange.
The lightning element can be pretty brutal in this game, especially in the beginning when you don't have a lot of movement options. I find that some games I'm just trying to stay alive as a primary and building the circuit as a secondary.
Compared to Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert the artwork is less than impressive. They focused on pushing the circuit aspect wonderfully but I would have liked to have seen some more artwork within the grid.
Theme - I think all of the games in this series incorporate theme really well. As much as I absolutely love the theme of Forbidden Sky that sees you adventuring up in the clouds with the thunder and lightening crashing around you, I would have to pick Forbidden Desert as my ultimate favourite out of the three for thematic reasons. It encompasses the theme of being stranded out in the desert really well and use of equipment cards adds to that a lot.
Complexity - Forbidden Island is definitely the least complex for me, it's really straightforward and can be played in about 20-30 minutes. It would be first choice out of the three for me if I was planning on playing with younger children or even new board gamers. It's a great gateway for bigger cooperative games such as Pandemic.
If complexity is what you're going for then I would choose Forbidden Sky. Not only are you trying to build the circuit in the most optimal way you can think of but you are also trying to fight off the electric and the wind. Forbidden Sky will be met with a lot of dying adventurers and changing strategies, which I think is great! It's also the option with the most satisfying win.
Replayability - Whether or not you can replay the games you purchase is a big deal. I think the game with the biggest replayability without things becoming stagnant is Forbidden Desert. The grid set up is always random so it's a new puzzle every time and the storm is constantly moving around tiles so it's very unlikely you will end up playing the same game twice.
Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky are all wonderful cooperative games that are easy to play and not to mention inexpensive. They all have their strengths and their weaknesses but I would recommend each one of them to you. If you are only looking to pick up one then my recommendation would be to get Forbidden Desert. It has elements of everything you will be looking for in a great cooperative game.
*Also a massive thank you to Coiledspring Games for sending me copies of both Forbidden Island & Forbidden Sky for me to write this review for you guys!
Want to add these games to your collection?
Forbidden Island - Buy it on Amazon here!
Forbidden Desert - Buy it on Amazon here!
Forbidden Sky - Buy it on Amazon here!