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FORBIDDEN DESERT : Thirst for Survival
Published by Gamewright   Designed by Matt Leacock   Illustrations by Tyler Edlin   Cover Illustration by C.B.Canga
For 2-5 players aged 10+  Average Game Time 45 minutes  Average Store Price £19.50p

A long while ago there was an advert on television where the actor turns to the camera and says "It does what it says on the tin". The same can be said about FORBIDDEN DESERT: Thirst for Survival as it does actually come in a tin. This immediately asks the question "If it's in an expensive looking 'biscuit' style tin (my friend actually thought it was a tin of biscuits when she first saw it) and only costs £20.00 how good can it be?"

The answer to that question is first off, I have no idea how GameWright can afford to put it out at such an inexpensive retail price, and secondly, it is much better than your initial viewing might think.

FORBIDDEN DESERT: Thirst for Survival uses a 5x5 grid of desert tiles but leaves the space for the centre tile open, thus there are only 24 instead of 25 desert tiles. The other components are 49 cards of three different types, 48 X-shaped sand tiles, 6 small clips, 6 wooden pawns, a sandstorm meter and plastic stand, and five pieces that make up a fantastic flying machine - your way to safety.

The hulk of the Flying Machine is a superb plastic model and it is your only means of escaping the continually shifting desert after your light plane crashed there - the starting place for the player's pawn pieces is the site of the plane crash, but first you have to discover the Flying Machine hulk and its components.


The four pieces are the Propellor, Engine, Navigation Deck and the all-important power source, the Solar Crystal. Without all four pieces the hulk is a non-Flying Machine. These miniatures are excellent models and made of neatly sculpted plastic, with the exception of the Engine which is crafted and moulded in metal.

The 49 game cards are separated into three sets: 31 Storm cards (Red backed), 12 Equipment cards (Blue backed with cogs) and 6 Character cards: The character cards are colour coded to match the six pawns.
Red card/Pawn: Archeologist
Black card/Pawn: Climber
Green card/Pawn: Explorer
White card/Pawn: Meteorologist
Yellow card/Pawn: Navigator
Blue card/Pawn: Water Carrier.
Shuffle the 6 character cards and randomly deal one to each player. Players take their card, the pawn of the same colour, and one of the clips; the other clip is positioned on the Sand Storm Meter, beginning at the difficulty level the players have pre-chosen.


Until you are experienced I suggest that you ensure the Water Carrier is in your party. Each character has their own particular skill, and as having water is the only way to survive the Hot Desert Sun (Sun Beats Down card for example) the Water Carrier is extremely helpful. As the Storm continues to shift, the desert sands build up on the grid tiles, covering them and any possible Flying Machine components.

FORBIDDEN DESERT: Thirst for Survival was apparently first published in 2010. Gamewright were happy with the production but felt it needed that extra X-Factor and so they requested Matt Leacock to recreate the game with the charm of the previous version but with the oomph of what we know as a more modern euro-style game.

The game mechanic is quite simple; the characters have 4 actions each in their turn. They continue using these actions to move, excavate, clear sand or pick up a discovered Flying Machine part - obviously they don't pick up the Flying machine hulk when they find it; all four of its components have to be brought to the space/tile it is located on.

After a character has had their four actions they activate a number of the Storm cards by taking the top card, turning it over and doing what it says.  The Sand Storm Level begins at the bottom section, the Novice section, and moves towards the next level when the 'Storm Picks Up' card (there are 3 in the deck) is drawn.

The level the Sand Storm meter is at determines the number of Storm cards that are drawn. The higher it goes (it never comes down) the more cards are drawn when it reaches the next (colour coded) level. You can begin the game at any level depending how brave you are feeling. We have found that starting on the Novice level isn't easy - in fact it is almost as likely your luck will be out and your party fail to survive, even starting in the 'easy' section.


Although this is a cooperative game the characters can journey together or alone, but they must end up together at the Launch Pad (this is the tile where the Flying Machine hulk is found) with all four components, this is the only way to win. There are three ways to lose though:
1. If just one player dies of thirst (their water meter goes down to the Skull & Crossbones icon).
2. If the Sand marker tile pile is exhausted and you need to place another one.
3. The Sand Storm meter reaches the Skull & Crossbones icon.


When excavating, if you flip over a Desert tile showing a set of Gears in one corner then you have found something of interest (take an Equipment card) and possibly helpful to your survival. If you flip over one of the three Desert tiles showing a drip of water then you have either found a small Oasis or (1 in 3) a Mirage. Other Desert tiles show all manner of things when flipped. 

Part-hidden clues have arrows either pointing North/South or East/West. There are two tiles (one of each type) for every component. The Flying Machine part will be located on the cross section where the two arrow cards meet. Equipment cards are one-shot affairs but they can be saved until needed.


Two of the Desert tiles are Tunnels. When both are in play the charcaters can travel from one to the other for just one action, no matter how close or far they are away from each other. On our first game they turned up right next door to each other, so not a lot of help at first. However, once the wind blows, the tunnels may move with the Desert tiles.

The wind blows the sand across the desert and sand tiles (crosses) are placed on the tiles that are moved. This is where the hole left in the grid comes into play. The tiles moved by the wind move towards the hole (if possible) according to the Storm cards selected and have sand tiles positioned on them. If the Desert tile is empty the sand tile is placed face up, if there is already one or more sand tiles on the Desert tile then they are placed face down - the X side showing. Once a Desert tile has an X-side Sand tile on it, characters cannot move onto or through it before they have cleaned it down to basic face up sand. It is blocked!


Characters can remove Sand tiles from either the tile they are on or an adjacent tile (never diagonally) as an Action. The actions are exceptional for a board game - apart from not being able to move diagonally - characters can move one space, excavate the tile they land on, move again and excavate again, however they may never excavate a Desert tile that has Sand tiles on it.

When players lose (or gain, but never past their limit) Water, they move the pointer clip up (or down) on their character card. Players on ther same Desert tile as each other may swap equipment, give Water etc at no action-point cost.


Overall there is far more than £20.00s worth of game here. In fact I would say that you get the value of the cost back in just one game, I think it's that good. The cards are printed loud and clearly - no chance of misunderstanding any text or pictograms. I am not keen on the idea that one person dying means the others all lose as well. In a Desert, when you consider how ridiculously mahoosively vast the sandy area is, it's weird that you cannot move in any direction, because I cannot think of any reason or obstacle that would stop you. I realise it's a game mechanic but I am sure, with a little thought, a sensible way around it can be found.

For now, we continue to play FORBIDDEN DESERT: Thirst for Survival as it is meant to be according to the rules, and we still enjoy it immensely. I know I'm banging on about it a bit, but for £20.00 this is a game you really should have on your Kallax unit/s. Playable by families and experienced gamers alike, FORBIDDEN DESERT: Thirst for Survival, is a super fun game.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2021