A journey into the desert

What is the best way to use a Waterstone‘s voucher? We decided to buy a game (the voucher was a wedding present so although we both like reading we wanted to get something we could do together).

Having browsed what games they stock, and looked at the prices and how much our voucher was worth we settled on Forbidden Desert. The fact that it is a cooperative game was a definite plus, as was the designer – Matt Leacock – as we enjoy playing Pandemic.

You start crashed in the desert needing to find all the parts for your ship hidden under the ever rising and shifting sand. It is also imperative that you locate water as without it you won’t last long, but beware of the mirage – there’s no water there. Finding shade is another way to prolong your water supplies allowing you to escape from the beating sun.  Find and retrieve all the parts of the ship and get the whole team to the launch pad and you win. If anyone runs out of water, the storm gets too fierce or you run out of sand markers, you lose.

Journeying around the desert, clearing sand, seeking water and shade and trying to put our ship back together.
Journeying around the desert, clearing sand, seeking water and shade and putting our ship back together paid off and we escaped, but only just.

Each member of your team has a different set of skills, allowing you to move around more freely, remove more sand, carry more water or even forecast the weather. Some skills are easier to use than others, and some roles may seem to be better than others (although these more powerful attributes are moderated by a reduced capacity for carrying water). The role I find hardest to use effectively is the Meteorologist, knowing when to use an action to look at the storm cards and when to spend actions to draw fewer storm cards rather than getting on with the main job of excavating to look for ship parts isn’t always obvious.

A varied range of roles to play as.
A varied range of roles to play.

In the 6 months since we have bought it we have played it 11 times. We enjoy playing it, although not as much as some of our other cooperative games – perhaps because the game is simpler than say Pandemic or Thunderbirds. The balance seems about right, on normal difficulty we probably win about half the time, there are four levels of difficulty to choose between (based on how many storm cards you start the game drawing at the end of your turn: cards can move the sand; increase the storm; or cause the sun to beat down making you drink your precious water) – if you want a real challenge go for legendary.

Each game is tense, due to the shifting sand at the end of each turn you can’t plan too far ahead as the board may have changed by the time you have your next go. There are important decisions to make about when you try to convene on a potential water tile (only those present on the tile when it is excavated benefit from the water) or whether you should hide from the sun in the shade or risk staying out in the open to excavate more tiles. The special equipment you acquire on excavating certain tiles is crucial to your cause, choosing when to use it is vital as it is easy to fritter it away and then realise you have much bigger problems later.

The components are mostly great, especially the ship pieces which actually join together to make a ship, the propeller even turns. It’s fun to pretend to fly the ship off when you win. However the little black paperclips that are used to denote how much water each person has left do tend to damage the cards.

So constructing the ship isn't entirely necessary, but it is fun and definitely adds to the enjoyment.
So constructing the ship isn’t entirely necessary, but it is fun and definitely adds to the enjoyment.

Overall I’d recommend this as a good cooperative game for someone looking to get into this style of games or who wants to use it to introduce others to cooperative play.


3 thoughts on “A journey into the desert

  1. This is probably my favorite co-op game, and this is a good review that makes we want to play it again. Not that I need too much incentive. We’ve also played it about a dozen times since buying it last year. I think I’ll be sure to include it in our next game night.


    1. I’m glad you want to play it again, I think it is a great co-op game. Have you played Pandemic or Thunderbirds? If so do you enjoy those as well?


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