The desert is vast, treacherous, and dangerous.  Fortunately it also contains a flying machine.  At least it does in Forbidden Desert, a cooperative semi-board game from Gamewright.  This game has the players planning and scrambling to survive the elements and escape.
Forbidden Desert uses similar layout and rules to Forbidden Island, also from Gamewright.  Forbidden Desert takes place on a 5*5 board of tiles, with a hole in the center (representing the Storm) and eight sand markers on the tile.  Each player gets four actions on their turns.  Actions include: moving one space horizontally or vertically; removing one sand marker from a tile; excavating (flipping over) a tile; or picking up a part of the flying machine that's been discovered.  In addition, each player has a role (Archeologist, Climber, Explorer, Meteorologist, Navigator, or Water Carrier) with its own abilities.

When revealed, tiles provide useful.  For each piece of the flying machine, there is a horizontal and vertical tile that, when both are revealed, place that piece on the board.  Players one one of the three water spaces get two water if they're on the tile when it's excavated.  (One water space is a mirage, which gives nothing.)  Several spaces give players Equipment cards, which are useful but one-use only.  Tunnels can bot be traveled between quickly and provide shelter from the sun.  And the Launch Pad is where players go when they have all four pieces, to assemble the flying machine and soar off to victory!

Unfortunately, after each player's turn they have to draw Sand Storm cards -- which are all bad.  Sun Beats Down makes every player lose 1 water, unless they're in a tunnel or have a Solar Shield.  Storm Picks Up increases Sand Storm Meter by 1 spot, which may increase the number of Sand Storm cards drawn.  And Wind Blows cards drag 1-3 tiles into the Storm (moving the Storm's location) and adding a sand marker to each tile moved.  If a tile has two or sand markers, it can't be passed until all but one sand marker are removed.  If any player loses all their water, they die and everyone loses.  If the Sand Storm Meter reaches the top, everyone loses.  And if you need to place a sand marker but none are available, everyone loses.

Forbidden Desert is a fun and challenging game of strategy and luck.  Teamwork is absolutely essential, as players have to both watch out for themselves (dying of thirst isn't fun), work to reveal and get the pieces of the Flying Machine, and removing sand markers so the supply doesn't run out.  The different roles all provide unique game elements with different bonuses (the Water Carrier is great for getting water to parched players, the Explorer gets around much faster, the Meteorologist can minimize the impact of Sand Storm cards, etc.) and there's no one combination that guarantees a victory or a defeat.  The ways of losing escalate quickly, ratcheting up the tension among the players as they have more and more dangers to deal with.  And there's a certain fun in assembling the toy-like flying machine.

Forbidden Desert is a good game that is easy to learn and challenging to beat.  The artwork on the tiles and cards is nice (though the players get basic pawns to move around), the idea behind the game is imaginative (you may not believe in solar-powered flying machines at the start of the game, but you better believe you need one to survive), and even games where the players lose still give them a good time.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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