Searching for the long-forgotten Archeaon civilisation, the players escape from Forbidden Island in a helicopter which promptly crashes in the Forbidden Desert. After searching the remains of a lost city for the parts of a steampunk flying ship, they then take off but are soon forced to land on a rickety flying rocket platform by a violent storm. These explorers don’t seem to have much luck with transport.
A buzz of excitement accompanied the release of Forbidden Sky. It’s release date coincided with the Tabletop Gaming Live event at London’s Alexandra Palace. As soon as the doors opened hobbyists were carrying copies away from the retailers, the distinctive box just visible through plastic carrier bags. I, too, eagerly snatched up my own copy and rushed it home to try.
Forbidden Sky - The Game
The third instalment of Matt Leacock’s ‘Forbidden’ trilogy follows on from Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert. Originally intended as a lighter and more family friendly version of his modern classic Pandemic, Forbidden Island quickly developed a following of its own and spawned these two further instalments.
The large cardboard box is the first thing that draws commentary. After the distinctive metal tins of the first two games, it breaks the pleasing aesthetic continuity. Although it does stack more easily on the old Kallax. Inside a set of coloured pawns and matching character cards; a storm meter; tiles; gear cards and event cards are all familiar from the other episodes. And yet, wait a minute...what’s this? A rocket, plastic and mirrored metal components. What can it all mean?
The answer is that the game involves building an actual circuit to power the rocket and win the game by leaving the platform.
Despite this shocking innovation (pun intended), there is a lot of familiarity here to reassure the ‘Forbidden’ fan: the lovely atmospheric artwork by CB Canga; the characters with individual skills; the limited actions per turn; the co-operation; the rising intensity of the storm forcing the peril of steadily growing numbers of event cards.
Playing Forbidden Sky
Yet, there are elements of gameplay in Forbidden Sky which differ from its older siblings. The players start together with full health meters and a sturdy rope to stop them being blown off by the mighty storm. The game’s territory is formed of familiar square tiles, although only three are revealed at the start.
Each player has four actions each turn before drawing storm cards. They might choose to move to a revealed square tile, draw a new tile into their hand (called scouting in the game), lay a tile to create new territory (called Exploring), or add a conductive ‘wire’ to the tile to join two nodes forming part of a circuit. After their turn, each player reveals one or more storm cards depending on the storm’s growing intensity.
The storm cards are few but, of course, there is a mechanism to include discarded cards back into the deck as the storm grows. Lightning might strike, physically harming the characters standing too close to lightning conductors or linked components. High winds might gust, blowing the characters across the power platform and potentially damaging their anchoring ropes. And there is the tense ever-present present-tense threat of ‘Storm Intensifies’, which delivers the same drama as ‘waters rise’ or ‘sun beats down’ from the previous games.
The key to success, you won't be surprised to hear, is careful planning and co-operation. Players must select their tiles carefully so that their electrical components can be reached by linking ‘wires’. Components are made of up to four different tiles, meaning that building them can be long and dangerous task. Tiles can also contain helpful gear, teleporters or shelters to avoid the storm.
Players will end up balancing their dwindling health and rope supplies, coordinating their moves to protect each other and slowly building a working circuit to power their escape rocket.
There are four difficulty levels, Novice to Legendary, which define how many components must be linked to form the circuit. Novice level beat us twice before we managed to escape so the challenge level was sufficient to make this feat satisfying.
Forbidden Sky isn’t a perfect storm, though. The component quality lets the game down. With the rocket and the proliferation of plastic, you can’t help but feel it is a bit toy-y which is compounded by the sound effect when the rocket takes off. While one of my playing group exclaimed, “That is so satisfying!”, some of the others thought it sounded tacky. Building the circuit so all the connections are intact can also be fiddly. Gamewright, the publishers must be wary of this criticism as they wrote an almost apologetic note in the instruction book. I quote:
“Inventor Matt Leacock created such a compelling mechanism with building a circuit that we felt it warranted breaking our long held rule of not publishing games with batteries”
But my biggest disappointment is the tile artwork. In the past, this has been an absolute joy. Each tile: an individual, atmospheric masterpiece. Yet the tiles in Forbidden Sky are formulaic, repetitive.
Closing Thoughts on Forbidden Sky
As a sequel, Forbidden Sky works well, the gameplay is familiar enough to be approachable, yet with enough twists to be novel. The level of challenge hits the sweet spot and I look forward to raising the difficulty levels as we become more canny strategists.
The same tension and thrill of achievement is there, marred only slightly by the cardboard box and the toy-like parts, although there is nerdy schoolboy charm to building a working circuit.