11 December 2018
Electrifying – or shocker?
Having survived a sinking island and scorching desert, Matt ‘Pandemic’ Leacock’s other co-op series has headed into the clouds – and it’s taken its ambitions sky-high, too.
In Forbidden Island, the grid of tiles sank. In Forbidden Desert, they shifted. In Forbidden Sky, you must place them, creating the very platform you stand on as you search for the rocket needed to escape. It’s not as easy as just finding your escape vehicle, though: on the tiles are electrical wires that must be hooked up to the various metal lighting rods and capacitors needed to power the rocket’s launch pad. We’re not speaking metaphorically: in this game, you create a real, working electrical circuit. As far as gimmicks go, it’s a damn good one.
Before the spectacle, though, you’ll need to survive. If you’ve played the Forbidden series or Pandemic before, you’ll have some idea of what’s coming: take four actions, then draw storm cards and watch chaos ensue as your characters are struck by lightning with more regularity than Wile E. Coyote and blown off the 7,000-foot-high platform by the shifting wind.
The characters have unique talents and can find equipment to hold back the weather, repair frayed ropes and generally cheat death. They’ll need it – the storm deck is highly punishing, even on the game’s ‘normal’ difficulty. (It recommends you start with novice – it’s good advice.)
At points, the pure randomness of the deck can tip from challenging to frustrating: early in one playthrough, we drew the card that raised the storm intensity – meaning you draw more cards on future turns – and then instructed us to reshuffle the deck on four consecutive turns, leaving us with little opportunity to recover and even harsher conditions for the rest of the game.
The introduction of exploration to the gameplay also has its ups and downs. Certain tiles are needed to form the wiring patterns for the lighting rods, capacitors and – most importantly – launch pad, which means chipping away at the stack until you happen upon the right ones. You might find most of them in the first five minutes or never, if your health, rope or patience is worn down by having to hold out in the meantime. Characters can only hold three tiles each and can’t swap or discard them, so poor luck can lead to longwinded exercises of move-draw-place – and that’s before you even wire anything together.
When you do finally beat the tough odds stacked against you, the fiddliness of the pieces can take away from the satisfaction of watching your circuit come together. The first time we completed the loop from one side of the rocket to the other through the handful of capacitors and lighting rods needed to win, we placed the final wire down and… nothing. Nada. Were the batteries dead? Had we missed a switch somewhere? After a minute or two spent checking the rulebook to see if we’d missed something (we hadn’t) and then carefully reseating each metal component one by one, the rocket suddenly flared into life with flashing lights and a tinny countdown. Too little, too late to really capture the sense of accomplishment we felt we’d earned given the gruelling difficulty and multiple failed attempts.
Forbidden Sky boldly stands apart from Island and Desert, but its gameplay evolutions and inventive components don’t quite live up to its high ambitions. Difficulty and gimmick aside, it’s still a solid co-op challenge that builds on the tried and tested gameplay of Leacock’s past Forbidden games – it’s just a shame that, for all its electrical creativity, Forbidden Sky seems to be missing a certain spark.
Building an electrical circuit is an impressive trick when it works, and Forbidden Sky does take the co-op series in a new direction for fans – but the random elements can be frustrating when they doom your group, and the gameplay isn’t quite as inventive as the bits in the box.
Designer: Matt Leacock
Artist: C. B. Canga
Time: 60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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