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A Series Of Unfortunate Events: The Forbidden Series


Your car broke down, your washing machine overflowed, you baked with salt instead of sugar and then, to top it all off, you stubbed your tiny toe. A very unfortunate series of events indeed.

On the bright side, at least you weren’t part of the troop of explorers who not only almost drowned but who battled a deadly sandstorm, held fast against an unrelenting tempest and who found themselves in a jungle full of face huggers and man sized spiders…something their trip organiser definitely forgot to warn them about.

The Forbidden series, designed by Matt Leacock and published by Gamewright, are a collection of cooperative games which tell the story of these fearless adventurers. Each title builds on mechanics introduced in the releases which came before, whilst also coming up with new rules and techniques to enjoy. Due to the varying complexity, Matt Leacock has ensured that there is a game for every kind of gamer and below I will consider who those gamers might be:

Forbidden Island (2010)

Forbidden Island is the first game in the series and is set on the ancient land of the Archeans, a mystical race who were able to control the 4 elements by using their four sacred treasures. Incredible! So much so that a group of explorers have made it their aim to loot the lot. It isn’t easy pillaging however as, due to the poor timing of your holiday, you have arrived on the day when the Island is sinking. You must work together to ‘Shore Up’ sunken land and ‘Capture Treasure’ before getting back to ‘Fools’ Landing’ and getting away!

It is an excellent introduction to mechanics and components used throughout the series:

- All the games are cooperative and in each game your turn consists of taking actions and then drawing cards.

- Each player controls an adventurer who has a set role and special ability.

- The board is created with individual tiles (an example of a modular board game).

- A ‘meter’ dictates how many cards you draw and will tick up as the game progresses.

- There are one-use power cards (in this case: Sandbags and Helicopter Lift) which can be played at any time like a Yu-Gi-Oh! trap card.

What makes Forbidden Island different from the rest of the series is that you are set collecting: you work together to give a single player 4 matching treasure cards which they can then exchange for a sacred treasure. As well as the set collection, the shuffling of the discard pile each time a ‘Waters Rise!’ card is drawn, reminds you of another Matt Leacock classic, Pandemic (2008).

Target Audience: This game is certainly the easiest of the 4 and is a fantastic game to bring to the table with new board gamers. The cooperative element allows gamers to gain confidence as help is always at hand, whilst the abilities are simple enough that new players are quickly able to make their own decisions.

My Ranking: Third Place

Forbidden Desert (2013)

The second release of the series sees your group of adventurers sent to excavate an ancient desert city and recover a legendary flying machine. However, just before landing a sand storm causes your helicopter to crash, upgrading the flying machine from an ancient artifact to your own only hope of escape!

As with its predecessor, Forbidden Desert is stored in a beautifully embossed tin box, the board is made of random tiles arranged in a set pattern, the ‘meter’ tells you how many cards to draw each turn and there are six adventurers to choose from, each with their own special ability.

But there is so much more to this game, Matt Leacock has masterfully taken those common elements introduced in the first game and evolved and developed them with new mechanics to make a game which is not only really interesting, but also difficult!

New elements introduced:

- In Forbidden Island, you could pick up the occasional ‘Sandbags’ and ‘Helicopter Lift’ cards from the ‘Treasure Deck’. Building on this concept, Desert includes a dedicated ‘Equipment Deck’ with 12 one-use ability cards.

- The tiles are still double sided but in this game one side is just sand meaning that you do not know which tiles are which. This makes the game endlessly more interesting from the get go as you are blindly searching for those machine parts. There is also a fake water source which can cause you to weep in times of dire dehydration.

- This game incorporates an active storm! Where tiles once sunk they now move and get covered in mountains of sand. The ‘Storm Deck’ moves tiles around forcing you to keep all long term plans flexible as the board changes every…single..turn.

- This game also adds a level of fear as now your adventurers can perish in the heat of the sweltering sun. If you are not safely tucked away in a tunnel or under a ‘Solar Shield’, anytime the ‘Sun Beats Down’ the water in your canister will quickly deplete until you reach the skull and crossbones symbol. Don’t forget, as there are 4 ‘Sun Beats Down’ cards in the deck, you can draw more than one on your turn!

Target Audience: This is an excellent game for board gamers that now have some confidence gaming. This game is so interesting to play as a win is definitely not guaranteed.

My Ranking: Second Place

Forbidden Sky (2018)

Upon escaping the sweltering desert, your adventurers use the ancient flying machine to land on a secret power platform in the sky. This platform houses a rocket able to travel to a long-lost civilisation but it needs powering up. Whilst you work as a team to get the rocket back online, the lightning and strong winds threaten to send you down the 7,000 foot drop.

In Forbidden Sky we see our favourite mechanics return along with the introduction of 4 really exciting features. Firstly, there are two ‘trackers’ to watch for as both your health and rope will take damage during the game. Secondly, the game introduces ‘Blueprint’ cards which change the win components and therefore the game’s difficulty. Set up is very different as you do not start with a full set of tiles, you have to lay tiles as you go, connecting the printed copper wire with tiles already on the table. Finally, and most uniquely, Forbidden Sky introduces a working circuit! In order to recharge the rocket you need to wire the launch pad to ‘Capacitors’ and ‘Lightning Rods’. If you are successful you are not just rewarded with a warm fuzzy feeling on the inside, the rocket actually lights up and starts making noises! It’s a very exciting moment.

I would like to point out however that, as one of my favourite things about this series is the packaging (the uniquely sized EMBOSSED metal tins that look so amazing on the shelf), I was very disappointed to find this game stored in a standard sized cardboard box. I understand that a game with a working circuit stored in a metal box might prove problematic, but it does cause this game to stick out for the wrong reasons when shelved with the rest of the series.

Target Audience: I would say this game is best for families. This game is recommended for ages 9+ and is really kid friendly as the tile placement element is something young gamers can decide on independently. The rocket ship lighting up is also such a showstopper and will really engage children all the way to the end of the game.

My Ranking: 4th Place - Please note, I am not ranking Forbidden Sky last just because of the box…I promise.

Forbidden Jungle (2023)

Once they’ve escaped the secret power platform, your adventurers discover Archean’s long-lost civilisation and are quickly attacked by monsters worthy of the ‘Alien’ franchise. To win you need to power up a portal by surrounding it with 4 active crystals but good luck surviving long enough to do it.

Once again this game has tiles which are initially secret and must be flipped (bringing back the randomisation from Forbidden Desert), there is a ‘meter’, cards to turn over each turn, adventurers and an equipment deck.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that I am yet to crown my 1st place game in this series, I guess that must mean that Forbidden Jungle is pretty special! Well, there certainly are some fantastic mechanics in this edition:

- Let’s start by talking about the new components, in Forbidden Jungle there are ‘Adult’, ‘Hatchling’ and ‘Egg’ figures which get placed on tiles throughout the game. Pair these monsters with the ‘Threat’ deck and they start moving around the board, leaving webs between tiles and evolving. This deck works seamlessly because of the icons they have used to edge the four sides of each tile.

- The equipment deck has been carefully developed so that now EVERY card is unique, this makes the equipment deck so valuable and so interesting to draw from, most games I have won have been the result of combo-ing different pieces of equipment.

- Forbidden Jungle takes the ‘Blueprint’ card component from Forbidden Sky and improves it further by offering different set up patterns, changing the way you initially arrange the tiles. These cards also dictate how many monsters to lay down. These set up cards therefore not only change the difficulty but also changes how easy it is to move crystals to your portal, really affecting the final stage of the game.

- But the best new mechanic is the addition of the ‘Machines’. Some of the tiles, once turned over, will reveal ‘Machine’ tiles which allow you to move tiles around, destroy tiles and move monsters from one tile to another.

I think the only con I have for this game is that the ‘Adult’ tokens sometimes stand up but mainly don’t and so, as you have to move them so often, they spend most of the game taking a nap.

Target Audience: Experienced gamers. This game is HARD. Everything can get out of control in the space of a turn and you will lose more often than you will win. It requires absolute teamwork to the point where it is actually better to play it solo (whilst controlling more than one character). This game works like a brain teaser and you can find yourself just staring at the board, head in hands. It is compelling and addictive, meaning that when you lose you just want to try again!

My Ranking: 1st Place - I currently only own Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Island meaning I had to borrow this game from a friend to try it. I played this game about 7 times in two days and did not want to give it back. It is definitely on my Zatu Wish List!

I want to take a moment as well to praise the way this series has been thought out. Each game picks up where the last one left off and so tells a story. I am so looking forward to seeing what happens to the adventurers on the other side of the portal….maybe a spa day, they’ve certainly earned it.

And there we have it, whether you are a new board gamer, playing a game with your children or wanting a solo challenge that will keep you entertained for hours, there is a game for everyone lurking within this series of unfortunate events.


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