Cooperative board games are a great way for kids to learn valuable teamwork skills and gain confidence. When it comes to cooperative board games the Forbidden Series designed by Matt Leacock and published by Gamewright are very popular.
But which one is the best choice for your family? Are they really that different? Do you need all three? Don’t worry, you will have all the answers you need by the time you read this article to make the right choice.
What You Will Find in our Forbidden Island vs Forbidden Desert vs Forbidden Sky Article
Big thanks to BoardGameRentals.co.nz for providing a copy of some of these games for review. As always, we provide our own unbiased perspectives on games we review.
We think the right choice in the series will depend on the age and experience of your audience. If you have younger kids or are new to cooperative board games Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert are both excellent choices. Forbidden Sky is more complex and challenging, so is better suited to more experienced gamers.
Play Time: 30 Min / Players: 2-4 / Complexity: Low / Age: 10+ we think 6+ / Publisher: Gamewright / Designer: Matt Leacock
Forbidden Island is the simplest game in the series, we also think it has the best artwork. We think kids a little younger can handle this one, kids aged 6+ should be fine with this game. The downside is this game can only accommodate 4 players, the other two games can accommodate up to 5.
- Simple rules that are easy to pick up
- Great introduction to co-op games for kids or new gamers
- Good replay value
- Artwork and components are gorgeous
- Variable difficulty is great to keep it interesting.
- Older players or experienced gamers may find it too simplistic.
Check out our full Forbidden Island review.
Play Time: 45 Min / Players: 2-5 / Complexity: Low / Age: 10+ we think 7+ / Publisher: Gamewright / Designer: Matt Leacock
Forbidden Desert in our view has a greater depth and more engaging gameplay than Forbidden Island. It’s not much more complicated than Forbidden Island so should still be suitable for kids aged 7+. We don’t think you need both Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, they just feel too alike to us.
- Easy to learn and a great intro to co-operative games
- Small step up in difficulty from Forbidden Island
- The storm is a nice change and adds variety by moving the tiles around during the game
- The theme comes through nicely in the gameplay and components
- Can accommodate 5 players which is great for larger families.
- While there are some nice changes here, we don’t think it’s different enough to Forbidden Island to justify owning both
- The artwork is better in Forbidden Island in our view.
Check out our full Forbidden Desert review.
Play Time: 60 Min / Players: 2-5 / Complexity: Medium / Age: 10+ / Publisher: Gamewright / Designer: Matt Leacock
Forbidden Sky is the most complex and challenging game of the series. We don’t think this is the right pick for new gamers or younger kids. This one is probably better suited for people who don’t mind something a little fiddlier and want a challenge. This game is brutally difficult.
- Introduces an interesting tile placement element
- Like its predecessors there is a lot of variation on offer each game due to varied difficulty levels and different characters to choose from
- More challenging than the prior games in the series which will appeal to experienced co-op gamers
- Gameplay feels very different and unique to the previous games in the series
- The rocket ship is very cool when it lights up for take-off.
- The circuit components are a bit fiddly and can move around a bit detracting from the gameplay as you ‘fix’ them
- Luck can play a role in critical situations making you feel like things are out of your control at times
- More complex than the other two games of the series making it less accessible for younger kids or less experienced gamers.
Check out our full Forbidden Sky review.
Core Gameplay Comparison
In Forbidden Island you will assemble your team of fellow explorers and embark on an expedition to retrieve four special treasures from a mysterious island and escape back to safety. There is one minor catch…the island is sinking, so you will need to work quickly to survive.
Turns consist of players travelling the island to shore up critical tiles that may be sinking and doing what they can to form sets of cards that can be used to retrieve treasures. Tiles are flooded each turn and each time a ‘waters rise’ card is drawn the number of tiles flooded increases to keep you on your toes.
Players lose the game if:
- Both temple, palace, garden or cave tiles sink before the relevant treasure has been collected
- The Fools Landing tile sinks
- Any player is on an island tile that sinks and there is no adjacent tile to swim to
- If the water level reaches the skull and cross bones.
Difficulty levels can be adjusted by increasing the starting level of the water level marker.
Once again you and your team of adventurers have been tasked with retrieving something rare and valuable from an inhospitable place. This time you must excavate an ancient city in the desert to recover parts for a legendary solar powered flying machine.
Once you have the sand out of your shoes you must work together to retrieve four different flying machine components, find the launch pad, assemble your flying machine and escape to safety. The catch is you lose if anyone runs out of water, you run out of desert markers, or the sandstorm meter reaches the skull and cross bones.
If you’ve played Forbidden Island, then you will notice some similarities in Forbidden Desert. You will be travelling around the tiles to retrieve four objects, and then return to a designated spot to claim victory. Sound familiar? Don’t worry there are some twists here that add a bit more spice to Forbidden Desert.
Excavating tiles adds some excitement as you never quite know what you’re going to see. Unlike Forbidden Island everything is hidden until you excavate. We all get quite excited when we find a cog on a tile and can choose one of the rewards from the equipment deck. My son has made good use of the dune blaster at critical points to keep us alive, so they can make a big difference.
The other key difference here is that a savage sand storm will move around the board causing carnage. As it moves tiles will be shuffled around and sand will be dumped on the board. This will make it harder for you to explore as you need to remove all the sand before you explore a tile.
To win Forbidden Sky you must wire together the required components of a circuit according to your blueprint, find the launch pad and escape on the rocket ship. Make sure you don’t complete the circuit and take off until everyone is on the launchpad. It’s poor form to leave a mate behind and will result in a loss.
This old run-down platform hasn’t had a health & safety officer visit in a while and has its own perils. You could be electrocuted during a lightning strike or fall off the platform. If either of these happen too much, exhausting your life points or rope you will die. If one of your adventurers dies you all lose. By the way if the wind speed gets too high, you lose as well. Where’s an accurate weather forecast when you need it?
Each turn the adventurers will get to explore their surroundings and gradually build out the tiles on the board, essentially you build the map as you go. At the end of each turn something bad is likely to happen because of drawing storm cards.
The tile placement here is new to this game in the series. Each tile contains copper wires that must connect to the existing wires on the platform to legally place them. Planning out effective placement of tiles is critical as some tiles contain spaces to place the components you need to complete the circuit.
At the end of each player’s turn they are at the mercy of the Storm deck. Cards in the Storm deck could get you electrocuted by lightning, blown off the platform damaging your rope, increase the storm’s intensity or change the wind direction.
Gameplay Experience Comparison
Both our daughters just love this game and played it frequently when we first got it. It’s so easy to learn, my youngest was able to play confidently from age 6.
It was great to see them able to get fully involved due to the straightforward rule set. The other great thing for younger players is that downtime is kept to a minimum even at four players. Great for holding their attention as they can be easily distracted by long wait times.
Aside from the simple gameplay, the components fit the theme nicely and are gorgeous. In our view the artwork here is the best in the series. Our kids all loved the beautifully produced treasure tokens. They would get so excited to collect their favourite one!
Although this is a simple game, there’s enough here for older players too, even the older members of our family all enjoy Forbidden Island. There are some good decisions on offer and a reasonable challenge at higher difficulty levels. For more serious gamers though, Forbidden Island is unlikely to offer enough depth or be enough of a challenge.
Forbidden Desert is another great introduction to cooperative board games for families. It’s a little more involved than its predecessor but the rule tweaks don’t feel cumbersome or fiddly. New or young players will be able to get up to speed very quickly. A big bonus is that it now accommodates 5 players which is perfect for our family.
We just love the concept of the sandstorm ripping across the desert unpredictably. It really does add some extra excitement as you draw storm cards. You can have some really close calls in this game.
My daughter and I recently had a game come right down to the last turn. We needed one more turn to get our last adventurer to the launch pad but only had 5 sand markers left. When we worked up the courage to draw the storm cards, we ended up placing 4 sand markers due to the sandstorm getting stuck in a corner and snuck through with a win. She was so proud after our narrow win.
We also like the fact that tiles start face down. When you flip a clue tile for a ship part or one that affords you a useful gadget it’s quite satisfying. It really adds to that feeling of exploring the unknown. The gadgets are all quite useful and can really get you out of a bind. The solar shield in particular can really help when you are on your last drop of water. You can also freely share items if you are on the same tile.
All in all, this is another stellar introduction to cooperative games. The challenge here is that Forbidden Desert occupies a very similar space to Forbidden Island. Both are exceptional and great to bring out for younger players or newbies who want to try a co-op game. If I had to pick it, I would say that gameplay wise, there is a little more depth in Forbidden Desert, but we don’t think you need both.
Forbidden Sky is most certainly a very different gaming experience to its predecessors and offers a big step up in challenge, but the trade-off here is that it’s fiddlier and more complex.
The tile laying and circuit building elements add another level of consideration to your strategy. There are several things to consider when placing tiles. Where does my tile need to go to enable me to complete the circuit? Will it connect me to a lightning rod exposing me to danger? Are there any special icons that will help me out? These are all new considerations in this game that add some interesting decisions and depth.
There is also a lot more tension on offer in Forbidden Sky. There are so many dangers that make it feel like the game is really stacked against you. My son and I often debate where to move, which requires balancing different perils. “Should I move one tile to the left, so I am closer to placing the component we need? If I do, I’ll be at the edge of the board and a high winds card could blow me off the platform, if I stay the lightning rod could get me.”
Even on novice difficulty the game feels brutal. For our first couple of games, I was completely lost as to how we could win. In the end I leaned heavily on my son for our first win who tends to have a good mind for co-op strategy. All of this means that choices must be more carefully considered. My son and I are keen co-op gamers and just love a challenge, so this is right up our alley. When we do get that rare win, it is incredibly satisfying…but they are rare.
It’s that level of difficulty and additional complexity that is also a negative for some players. I don’t think this is a good introduction to co-operative board games or suitable for younger players. My 7-year-old really struggled with the number of considerations to manage when deciding what to do on a turn and ultimately was frustrated by the complexity. My wife is also not a fan of the additional complexity and would rather play either Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert.
There are also times when the luck factor can really frustrate your efforts. For example, I have positioned myself away from a lightning rod to minimise risk, only to draw a high winds card that blew me on to the tile I was trying to avoid and then I drew a lightning strikes card which took my last health point. These situations can be brutal.
You should now have everything you need to make a good choice. We have links to our detailed reviews of each of the games in the series in this post, so if you need to know more just check them out. To sum it up, Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert would be a great option if you want a simpler introduction to cooperative board games. Forbidden Sky ramps up the complexity and difficulty so is probably better for those with more experience under their belt.
We hope you enjoyed our Forbidden Island vs Desert vs Sky article. If you have any more questions or just want to share your thoughts on this game, please leave a comment below or get in touch through our contact page. If you want to find out more about these games you can visit the Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky pages on BGG.
About the Authors
We are parents who love board gaming. We have three children and have been enjoying board games as a family ever since we had our first child. We share our real unbiased experiences and opinions on board games so you can decide if they are right for your family. We also write guides and articles to help you get the most out of your family game time.