05th Dec2018

‘Forbidden Sky’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


Whenever I open a new board game these days, I hardly know what to expect. Among all of those which I’ve played this year, there’s been a myriad of card, paper, wood and plastic – where Forbidden Sky is concerned, I was met with a pleasant surprise. Not only are all these standard components present and correct here, but so too is a huge plastic rocket and a whole variety of strange and unusual things. If you’re looking for a super tough cooperative game that doubles as a unique and exciting science experiment, then you need look no further!

Forbidden Sky is the third game in the Forbidden series and it is by far the most elaborate. Both of its predecessors (Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert) come in much smaller boxes and feature largely traditional components, whilst Forbidden Sky is a big box experience that uses an electrical circuit to increase the level of player engagement considerably. The players (or player, since Forbidden Sky is a great solo game) will each take control of a character that is stranded on a floating platform during an electrical storm. Fog, lightning strikes and extreme wind make exploring the platform and powering the rocket that will be used to escape in extremely hazardous and that, friends, is the whole game.

Forbidden Sky is designed by Matt Leacock, who is perhaps most famous for designing the Pandemic series of games, but also for his work with Restoration Games – a company that specialises in bringing older games to life using modern designs and technology. Forbidden Sky is not a Restoration Games project, but it’s no surprise to me that it feels very, very similar to the Pandemic games and at the same time, there are definitely elements that remind me of products I used to paw over in the 1988 Argos catalogue.

What am I talking about? Well, I’ve already mentioned that the way to Forbidden Sky is to power up an escape rocket, but unusually, I do mean that literally. Forbidden Sky is a game that has a wonderful array of plastic components, all of which are laced with metallic connectors. Players must create a network of lightning rods, capacitors and large capacitors across a board that builds out over the course of each game. The number of these conductors that players must place before making their escape depends on the difficulty chosen, but make no mistake, even novice difficulty is a stern test.

Each turn, the current player will simply take up to four actions. Actions include scouting (drawing a board tile from the face down pile), exploring (placing a tile legally onto the table), moving (one tile at a time), placing a wire or sharing equipment with another player. Once their four actions are taken, the player will then draw a storm card, which will cause problems such as high winds or lightning strikes, both of which cause either rope or health damage, which will ultimately kill a player if either value reaches zero. The more players, the more actions you’ll have, but of course, the more rapidly the storm deck will deliver its negative effects – to all the players.

There are some mitigating factors. Some spaces on the board provide protection from wind or lightning, but ending your turn on them is always challenging, especially when there is work to do. There are also some spaces that allow players to draw from the item deck, which is more or less a necessity if you want to succeed. Building the grid that powers the rocket is always tough, but taking the “normal” difficulty level, players must build a launch pad, two large capacitors, three small capacitors and three lightning rods. Lightning rods appear on some tiles quite naturally, but even small capacitors must be placed by matching at least two tiles – the large capacitors and the launch pad each require four tiles to be matched.

Honestly, Forbidden Sky feels quite unfair to begin with. I found myself checking the manual repeatedly in the beginning, since i constantly felt that I must be drawing too many storm cards or that I’d missed some other key bit of information. I hadn’t, but one thing I did notice was that the placement of tiles is perhaps a bit more generous than you might think. I felt at first that I had to match every single wire, for example, but that’s not the case. The rules do allow for adjacent tiles to be placed with only one of two wires matching, with the main restriction being that there must be some form of connection. It’s possible that a better visual design could have been adopted, or maybe I should simply have read the manual properly from the outset.

Any disappointment or even frustration at how hard Forbidden Sky is will generally be mitigated by how exciting the prospect of building out the board and then setting a working series of wires down onto it can be. The rocket will (of course) fire based on the completion of any electrical circuit, so the players must self-regulate when it comes to ensuring that there are enough capacitors (etc) for their current difficulty level, but there is a genuine sense of collective excitement whenever this goal looks like it might be within reach. Forbidden Sky is a game of last gasp finishes and bitter defeats – but the experience it creates is close to unforgettable.

I think that Forbidden Sky might be just a touch too tough for most people, but if I cast my mind back to my younger, perhaps preteen self, I think I would have had the passion, determination and sheer will to persevere and master it. That said, mastering it is almost impossible because of the random nature of how the board is built and the four difficulty levels on offer. The the different combinations of player character (each with their own ability) increase variation considerably as well. As such, Forbidden Sky feels to me like an exceptional choice for someone between the ages of around eight and thirteen or fourteen years old, especially if they have an inquisitive and scientific mind. For all players though, it’s a tough but engaging prospect that conjures moments of genuine excitement.

***½  3.5/5

A copy of Forbidden Sky was provided for review by Coiled Spring.

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