Cooperative board games frequently demonstrate an issue with replay ability. Whenever a group gets together for a traditional board game the focus is on competing against other human players, each with independent ideas and strategies. While any board game can get old, games that focus on competing against other players have an advantage in drawing unique experiences from the players themselves. When everyone is playing against the board in a cooperative board game, unique experiences may still come from the other players, but ultimately for the game itself to remain unique the rules and structure of the game have to allow for the unexpected to happen.
Forbidden Desert manages to stay fresh by using a formula that mixes several random elements with consistent goals and largely consistent tools in the hands of the players. The basic premise of the game pits 2-4 players against the clock as they struggle to reassemble their vehicle to escape a constantly shifting desert. The board is constantly being covered in sand thanks to a storm that also has the effect of moving the individual square tiles that make up the main play area around. Players move to individual squares and dig them out to find pieces of the craft. Finding them all and getting to a launch pad means victory! However, failing to find the pieces before the board fills with sand or letting any party member die of thirst under the hot son means defeat.
The game pieces themselves are well designed and functional and setup is relatively simple. The game allows for greater replay ability by giving each player a special ability or role at the start of the game. Which abilities the players have at their disposal greatly impacts the strategy used in the game. The game also suggests various difficulty levels that tweak how quickly things will go downhill for the group. I found that the game was easy to pick up and teach to other players with varying degrees of experience with board games. There was a good mix of risk and reward to acting that made decisions feel important. Do you rush across the board to give water to a friend or do you hope that you can make it one more turn and try to dig up a piece of your craft? While chance may play a role in specific outcomes, the game still manages to feel as though your decisions are the largest factor in victory or defeat, which keeps the game from feeling like an elaborate random number generator.
Of course with any kind of social cooperative game there are some downsides to be aware of. The game is prone to allowing a charismatic or more familiar player to take over all decision making for the group, which can be less fun that a more collaborative experience. The various clips and tiny plastic pieces are also ideal for losing in the floor/carpet/pet’s mouth. Still, I really appreciated the use of randomness as a mechanic to keep things interesting without crossing the line into a game that felt out of the players control. I would recommend Endless Desert to anyone who likes cooperative board games that can be played in about an hour. Those who are more interested in a head to head experience or genuinely hate random elements in games might be less inclined to keep this in their game night rotation.