What does it mean to be alive?
Specifically, in terms of board games. And I want you to really think about it. Which board games that you’ve played felt alive? Which ones didn’t? What’s the difference?
These are the questions I knew I had to answer with this review.
Name: Forbidden Sky
Designer: Matt Leacock
Artists: C. B. Canga
Forbidden Sky is the latest in a growing line of forbiddeness. And while it keeps a similar flow to Forbidden Desert, and Forbidden Island it brings a lot of new mechanics to the table.
And a god dam rocket ship.
Which is fun because what kind of monster doesn’t enjoy toys? It’s a growing aspect of the forbidden series. Starting with those gorgeous idols, it’s now a space ship. With LED lights. Sound. And a blast off when you beat the game.
But you need to build an electronic circuit to get it working. Which is done in typical Matt Leacock fashion. Four actions and a danger deck.
If you’ve played the previous titles, you’ll know each started with a board. Forbidden Sky switches this around by having you create the board as you play. Each tile you add needs to connect with one of the copper wires of the tile you’re currently on. If these wires form a circle, they create a contact point. Otherwise, if the tile has the lightning symbol on it you immediately throw down a lightning tower. Which are also needed for the circuit.
The criticality of this tile placement cannot be understated. Like between playing a tile correctly and seeing the birth of your child. The tile wins every time. It’s just that important.
Another change from the previous two titles is the focus on forethought and precision planning. This is a huge change for the series as the other games were more about exploring, adventuring, and dealing with what happens when it happens.
This was a shock to my system.
I’ve played a lot of cooperative board games, and either through hidden information, depth of play, or just small, teeny, tiny text these games aim for cooperation through teamwork. Each member acts individually, but together their efforts make the outcome.
Forbidden Sky leans the other way. Because of the importance of the tile placement you and everyone else at the table are encouraged to collaborate on every decision. Depending on personalities at the table this can cause you to have a lesser voice, and therefore lesser impact on gameplay decisions.
I’m less of a fan of this style of game. But I can see myself enjoy playing Forbidden Sky with my son as he gets older.
While you’re manoeuvring around the platform, Lightning Strikes are a major concern. When drawn they deal damage if you’re next to a lightning tower. Or on a tile connected by wires.
This is an incredibly interesting part of the design. And also a bargain. Two challenges for one!
Placing your tiles in ways that limits the area of damage dealt by lightning is like herding sharks, while covered in chum. However, you also need to manually wire the contacts on the board, creating a circuit around the rocket ship. As you do, it makes these tiles become prone to lightning strikes. Introducing the second challenge. Knowing the correct timing, and best place to wire. Because if anyone runs out of health, they’re dead. Game over.
Time to play it safe, right? Except that’s not always your call.
As High Winds cards push you around like a concert mosh pit. Moving you one space. Often towards lightning, more often towards the edge of the platform. If you were to fall off, you don’t. Instead damage is dealt to the rope tying you to the platform. Too much damage and you’ll fall like Luke in the Cloud City.
Only there’s no antenna this time.
The last danger card you can draw is Storm Intensifies. It increases the number of cards you draw after each turn.
A neat addition to Forbidden Sky is that one of these cards tells you when to shuffle the deck. Meaning you can’t really predict any long-term patterns of the storm. This gives the deck a bit of life, but that’s only one part of the game.
In Forbidden Island, the board sinks before your very eyes. In Forbidden Desert, the eye of the storm moves around you, while the sand piles up. In Forbidden Sky, you draw cards and take damage. In comparison it feels very lifeless, and is why I posed the question earlier.
These other games are also puzzles. So what’s the difference?
For me it’s their themes that blend so well with their mechanics that they take hold of your imagination and create something more. Something beyond a puzzle.
This is gone in Forbidden Sky, and it left me feeling empty.
Beyond that it’s hard to quantify why I felt this way. But I think a lot of it has to do with the missing feeling of adventure. And the small things that irk me enough to pull me out of the experience.
For instance the colour palette in the game moves away from the earthy adventuring tones, to cooler colours which don’t bring the same excitement. It also makes it hard to tell the storm level in bad lighting.
The exception to this cool palette is the bright wires. But they themselves have issues. They’re too wide and are a constant source of frustration when trying to connect multiple to a contact.
I’m overselling the negativity here, because I love the forbidden series. And they’ve made plenty of great additions. The puzzle in Forbidden Sky is the smartest and most interesting yet. The new powered up items feel great to use and create another avenue of decision making. The teleportation tiles free up your movement in ways that we could have only dreamed of.
However, at the end of the day something wasn’t wired up right. And this board game fell flat. If you’ve played it, I’d love to hear if you felt the same way. Alternatively, check out my review for the excellent Forbidden Desert.
Oh boy! Today was my first day at work in 3 weeks. It was a great first day, but my habits and systems are all out of whack. Making this review one of the hardest I’ve had to write in a long time! Also making it time for me to sleep.
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