The Forbidden series from Matt Leacock was spawned from one of the classic co-op games of all time, Pandemic. Now, co-op games aren't something new, D&D and many other roleplaying games were co-op long before the term became popular but Pandemic and the games that followed brought the genre to the fore and now you are spoilt for choice.
What makes a co-op game so popular, particularly around the holidays, is the unity it provides. If you play a game with the family and one member wins (and gloats) it can be a bad experience for the others that leaves a sour taste in the mouth. In a co-op game you can still lose, but you all lose together, it’s you against the game and that changes what it means to lose, or at least it should.
In our house on Christmas day however recriminations were flying as to whose fault it was that we had failed to find the flying machine parts in the desert and had subsequently died of dehydration!
Well, bang goes my theory about co-op games!
Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, although they share the same designer and a similar title are very little alike. Forbidden Island is set on a sinking island, you must find four treasures and then race to the helicopter and get off the island. To find the treasures you must collect 4 matching treasure cards and move to the location the treasure can be found in. Each turn however the island starts to sink. Depending on the water level you draw a number of cards depicting one of the tiles that makes up the island. If that tile is face up, flip it face down, if it is already face down remove it entirely. During their turns players can shore up tiles and flip them face up.
There are many ways to lose at Forbidden Island, if you cannot collect all four treasures because all the treasure sites sink, you lose, if the water gets too high, you lose, if a player becomes stranded and drowns, you lose and if the helicopter sinks, you lose! However, it is relatively simple to play and with the variable set ups available online it has a lot of replayabilty.
In Forbidden Desert you play as adventurers who have crash landed in the desert and must seek the components for an ancient flying machine before a sandstorm buries you or you run out of water!
Forbidden Desert is much more punishing than it’s predecessor. You can lose if the storm gets too high or if any one player runs out of water, however, that can happen really quickly. To find each piece of the flying machine you must excavate two tiles, one showing the horizontal and one the vertical position of the piece. Then you must excavate the corresponding tile and pick up the artefact.
As the sandstorm rages it dumps more and more sand over the board, making it harder to excavate tiles and find the pieces you need. Meanwhile the sun beats down and saps your water supplies and only tunnels or sunshields can protect you. So far, even playing on novice we’ve yet to beat this game!
So do I recommend the Forbidden Series? Island, yes, it’s quick and simple to teach and the variable set up makes for different challenges each time you play. Desert, I’m not so sure about. I haven't played it enough to make a firm call on it yet and the Christmas Day experience rather soured the game for me overall. It is definitely harder to beat and more complex to learn. It has some interesting ideas and its a very different feel from Island, but of the two I know which I’d rather be playing.