Forbidden Desert Review


Forbidden Desert is a game designed by Matt Leacock, published by Gamewright. It is for 2-5 players. In this game, players will be working together to recover a legendary flying machine buried deep in the ruins of an ancient desert city. They will face blistering heat and a savage sand storm as they try to escape with their lives. If the players can coordinate their moves properly, they will win the game.

To begin, all the desert/city tiles must be shuffled together and then randomly placed desert side up in a 5×5 grid with a tile missing in the center. This hole is the sand storm and it will move all around the board during the game. 8 of the sand markers are place into a diamond pattern on the board with the lighter side face up. There’s a diagram in the rules for assistance with proper placement. The rest of the markers are placed in a pile near the board along with the 4 parts of the flying machine. The sand storm meter is placed in the plastic holder and a clip is placed on the side and set to the difficulty that the players agree upon. All of the cards are divided into their separate stacks and shuffled. The storm deck is placed face down at the top of the board with the compass symbol pointing upward to indicate North. The equipment deck is placed face down beside the board. Each player is randomly dealt one of the adventurer cards. The player reads aloud the role and powers for the rest of their team to hear. Each player will then take a meter clip and attach it to the side of their card, covering the 4 spot to indicate how much water is in their canteen. Each player will then take the matching colored pawn for their adventurer and place it on the helicopter crash tile. Play can now begin.

On a player’s turn, they will do 2 things. They will take up to 4 actions and then draw storm cards equal to the sand storm level. The 4 actions that a player can take are move, remove sand, excavate and pick up a part. This does not include the special ability of each adventurer that is printed on their character card. A player can move their pawn to an adjacent unblocked tile or between tunnel tiles. A blocked tile is a tile with 2 or more sand markers on it. A player can not move through the empty space of the sand storm.

The next action that can be taken is to remove sand. This is done by removing a sand marker on a tile or on an adjacent tile. The marker is placed with the others beside the play area.

Another action that can be taken is to excavate. This can be done on a tile with no sand markers. To do this the player will flip the tile over with the city side facing up. The player will follow the rules for the special symbol that is shown on the tile. There are water tiles that will allow the players to gain water. Players can share water and pass equipment cards at any time for free if they are on the same tile. Gear tiles that allow players to draw a card from the equipment deck. Part location tiles show either a north/south or east/west direction on them which must be lined up with the other tile to give the exact location of the part that is indicated. Where the two tiles intersect is where the part will be placed and can be picked up on later actions or turns. Tunnels allow players to stay out of the heat and to move between areas. The launch pad is very important and is where all the parts must be gathered together to build the airship to escape the desert.

The last move that can be performed is to pick up a part. A revealed part of the airship can be taken by the player for one action if it is on an unblocked and excavated tile. The part is placed in front of the player and is required along with the others to piece together the flying machine for escaping the desert.

Once a player has taken their 4 actions, they must then draw sand storm cards. The number of cards is determined by the sand storm meter level. These cards are revealed one at a time and then applied to the board. Wind blows cards move tiles the number of spaces indicated by the number of squares on the card. This moves the sand storm to different areas. A sand marker is then place on any tiles moved this way. If a player’s pawn is on a tile that ends up having 2 or more sand markers on it, they must take actions to dig themselves out or be dug out by the other players with their actions. If a sand marker must be placed and there are none left in the supply to place, the players have been buried in the dunes and they lose the game. Storm picks up cards move the sand storm up one tick mark on the meter. If the meter ever reaches the skull and crossbones, the storm has become too strong and the players have all been swept away, thus losing the game. Sun beats down cards make the players each drink 1 water from their canteens unless they have a solar shield or are in a tunnel. If a player’s water level ever reaches the skull and crossbones symbol, the player dies of thirst and the players lose the game.

As you can see, there are several ways for the players to lose the game and only one way to win. Players lose by dying of thirst, being buried in the sand or being swept away by the storm. Winning is done by gathering the 4 parts of the flying machine, getting all the player’s pawns to the launch pad tile and then escaping from the desert. There are 4 different difficulty levels for the game ranging from novice to legendary.


This game has lots of really great pieces inside a beautifully embossed tin. Everything is very thematic and look amazing. The cards have interesting artwork that works well with the game. They are easily shuffled and are very good quality. The sand markers and desert/city tiles are made of thick cardboard. The tiles have some really great looking artwork, especially the city side. You really get the feeling of an ancient ruined city. The sand storm meter is of the same material as the cards and looks very nice. There are several plastic clips for the sand storm meter and for marking water on the adventurer cards. There’s also a plastic stand for the sand storm meter that holds it in place nicely. The wooden pawns are nicely made and are brightly colored. The flying machine itself has interlocking parts that fit nicely together and look amazing. They are a combination of metal and plastic. I have to say that this is probably my most favorite piece of the whole game. The attention to detail with the flying machine is amazing. I love all the different pieces to this game.
10 out of 10

The rulebook for this game is very nicely done. The artwork throughout is very thematic and looks amazing. There are lots of pictures and examples of how to play the game. Everything is easily read and understood. There’s nothing here that is difficult at all. I’m really impressed with the quality of the book and everything inside. I really love the piece of art on the back cover. It’s is beautifully done. All in all, this is well written and looks great.
10 out of 10

This game is a great co-op game. It takes the ideas and mechanics of it’s predecessor, Forbidden Island and kicks them up a notch. It’s very fun to play and can be used as an introductory game for more complex co-op games. The theme definitely comes out in this game and feels like a living entity. Dealing with the sand storm, the heat, the lack of water and the sand itself is a difficult task. That’s what I like about the game is that it’s always changing. You can go into this game thinking that you’re gonna do A, B, C and then D, but what happens when A is covered in sand thanks to the previous player’s turn, now you have to completely rethink your whole plan. The good part is that your teammates will help you to figure all that out. That’s the beauty of this game. For the kids, this might be a bit difficult. With a little help though, they should be able to figure it out, especially the older kids. I really like all the different aspects of this game and how you really have to work together to get everything done or your whole team loses. All in all, I think this game is really fun and is fairly easy to learn and play. It takes about 40-45 minutes to play, which feels about right to me.
10 out of 10

Forbidden Desert is a light to medium weight game of survival in the desert. It might be a little difficult for the younger kids but with help, they should be fine. I really like all the different mechanics of this game from the storm cards to the tiles. Fans of games like Pandemic, Robinson Crusoe and Forbidden Island should thoroughly enjoy this game. The artwork is amazing and is very thematic in every aspect of the game. It’s not a very long game, usually lasting around 40 minutes or so. I highly recommend this game and think it’s a great introductory game into the co-op genre. It’s a really great game that must be seen and played to believe just how cool it really is. Pick up a copy today. You won’t regret it.
10 out of 10



For more information about this and other great games, please check out Gamewright at their site.

About Gaming Bits - Jonathan Nelson

I'm a happily married man with 2 wonderful kids. I love my family very much. I'm a big fan of board, card and RPG games and have been playing for over 20 years. As a board and card game reviewer, I'm hoping that this blog will inform, educate and entertain you. If you like it, please tell your friends and have them join in on the conversations. Thanks and GAME ON!!
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