For me, one of the most enjoyable things about having an iPad is my wide-eyed discovery of "grown-up" board games. I can remember seeing them when I was young, lining the shelves of the occasional game or comic book store I wandered into, but the encyclopedia-like rulebooks and bazillion pieces were simply too overwhelming for my easily distractible brain. At one point, my curiosity got the better of me and I walked out the proud owner of Wabbit Wampage, which featured sinister and twisted wabbits attempting to purloin a farmer's crop of carrots with firearms and explosives. I can still remember reading the rulebook to my then girlfriend and pals as they stumbled through the game. We got nowhere, of course, which was disappointing. Fast-forward to the release of the first iPad and the steady stream of board game conversions that followed, all happily willing to keep track of the tedious details and, in most cases, provide you with opponents either AI or online. One of these games was Forbidden Island, a game that I particularly enjoyed because of its "players vs. game" design. I have always enjoyed cooperative multiplayer games far more than competitive (classic multiplayer Doom, anyone?). For this reason, games like Forbidden Island, Elder Sign, and Ghost Stories, have never left my iPad. All of these games can be played by one or more persons against "the board," eliminating the need for AI players. Enter: Forbidden Desert which is the follow-up board game to Forbidden Island, and like its predecessor, it makes the jump to iPad beautifully. Instead of an island, your team will be fighting for survival in the shifting sands of a deadly desert. The changes here are not just aesthetic. Thanks to some innovative gameplay mechanics, Forbidden Desert feels like a brand new game.
To win, you and your party will need to uncover all of the flying machine parts that are randomly scattered around the board, AND get everybody out. There is no way for just a single player to win. It's all or nothing. Each player will have a special ability that will aid them in their tasks. Using the right person for the right job at the right time is key to success. Because it's a desert, everything is covered in sand, so to find what you need you must dig. Sometimes you find nothing, sometimes you find something helpful, and sometimes you find a piece of the flying machine. After all players have taken their turns, it's time for the game board to do its worst. To do this, it will randomly draw cards from the Storm Deck, which can make the storm worse, shift sand on the board, or cause all of your party to consume one ration of water. The worse the storm, the more cards the board will draw each turn. If the storm gets too bad, you lose. If you run out of water, you lose. There are, of course, numerous other play elements, but you get the gist of it. This is a game that is not easily won, but is always fun.
Visually, Forbidden Desert is a good-looking game. The board is rendered in high resolution, and, while animation is minimal, it is present often enough to remind you that you're not just looking at a scanned photograph of the physical game. The sounds are also very good, although they are wisely subtle as board gaming is generally not a noisy affair. Lastly, the game keeps track of everything for you, and this information is readily accessible and easily understood. Make no mistake; this is a thoughtfully crafted digital version of a boardgame, designed from the start for a touch-interface.
If you enjoy playing boardgames on your iPad, purchasing Forbidden Desert is a no-brainer. It's also an excellent entry point for those new to the genre, thanks to its cooperative design, and easily understood objective.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4 - Looks as good as it plays, although it won't win any awards for visuals. Sound: - 4 - Sound effects are appropriately subtle. Controls: - 5 - A great touch interface, and a well-organized game board Gameplay: - 5 - A first-rate digital adaptation of the cooperative boardgame classic.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Don't expect to win your first game. In fact, like solitaire, don't expect to ever win more than now and then. Don't lose sight of the abilities of your party members, and remember to use the things you find when you need them. Saving something for later is almost never a good idea.