Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 60 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: High
No, its not as good as Forbidden Island or Desert. Yes its still good. Yes the rocket is a gimmick.
Which is about all most people will need to know about Forbidden Sky. Its the third in the line of co-op games from Matt Leacock featuring this theme. For most people I know Forbidden Island was their introduction to co-op gaming with its neat box, high tension and welcoming artwork. The "Forbidden" series has been quiet for quite a while now since Mr Leacock has been busy dominating the world with two Pandemic Legacy games and much else besides but now he has returned with Forbidden Sky.
In Forbidden Sky your adventurers are up on some sort of sky platform trying to uncover and wire up some form of huge circuit to power a rocket and escape the platform before being blown off or fried by lightning because they chose to engage in this foolishness during the approach of a massive storm. To do this they need to scout their environment, which builds the sky platform and places the elements that need to be included in the circuit, and then wire them up. As they do so a weather deck, a staple of the series, will cause wind to blow and lightning to strike, potentially blowing them off the platform if their safety rope wears through or striking them with, well, lightning. To assist in doing so each character has the standard set of differing abilities you'd expect, on that subject if you ever find yourself sat next to a navigator or surveyor on a long haul flight, bale out, as stalwarts of the series which has seen them drowned, baked, splattered and fried, they are obvious 'Jonahs'.
So is it any good? Well, yeah, its quite good and if it weren't a "Forbidden" game by Matt Leacock I would shelve it with the other ok games and move on; if people ask if they should buy it I'd say sure but I expected better. I'm sure it'll sell enough copies to sink the Titanic but as a game its constantly not quite what it should be. For example, the background. In Forbidden Island your team is robbing a sinking island, you need to rob it and get out before it sinks. In Forbidden Desert you have crashed in a desert and you need to repair your ship and escape before you die of thirst. In Forbidden Sky your on a sky platform (you know, a sky platform, right?) trying to launch a rocket to get somewhere none specific but presumably fab. A somewhere that the none specific air craft that got you onto the platform can't get you to and a something significantly more fab than a god-damn sky platform. And you decided that the best time to do this was in the middle of a massive storm. Its ok as background goes, you don't question it on your first play through, but it does stick out as the most requiring suspension of disbelief of the three.
Then there are the components and the rocket. The circuit you build during the game is an actual functioning circuit with the playing pieces having bits of metal, magnets and foil etc with the rocket ship coming with batteries included. When you connect the circuit to complete the game lights flash on the rocket and it makes a blast off noise. Don't get me wrong, I am on no level against this and my childish heart beat faster when I read this part of the rules, but again its not quite right. Firstly, you're constructing a ramshackle circuit spanning uneven components on uneven tiles often laid on an uneven table, so how often does it connect up pleasingly as soon as you drop in that last game winning wire? Not always, and while I don't feel childish getting excited about flashing lights and silly noises I do feel childish poking plastic bits about and testing connections after I won because I won and I want my flashing lights and silly noise. For £30 you get a lot of nice stuff in the box, you can see where the money went, and I'm not expecting Euro game elegance in the components in this series. The first two games had a real tactile joy involved in claiming various bits of plastic gubbins that worked just fine. This time though it all feels a teeny bit too '80s, like the box could have "with real flashing lights" printed on the front. Essentially, it ends up as a battery powered version of Mouse Trap, theoretically satisfying, in practice it all grinds to a halt at the bath tub.
Which brings me to the interactions of components and mechanics. The difficulty level for the game requires simply that more or less components go into the circuit, requiring more tiles to be explored, taking more time and making life harder. But there's a real separation between the elements and the narrative here, if I connect up an energy storing capacitor between me and a lightning rod then why does the incoming charge still hit me right in the face? Its particularly annoying because there are lightning protection tiles but they don't integrate with the electrical engineering that you're engaging in, they're just plonked on certain tiles. Then there's the storm meter, in Forbidden Desert the storm meter is in a stand because it moves around the board, burying tiles and generally being an active presence in the game. In Forbidden Sky the storm meter stands next to the board in its little plastic holder because, presumably, they had a bunch of holders left over. Occasionally it falls over.
Lastly, there are the game mechanics. In the first game the weather effects sunk the island, in the second they buried the desert, in this they shove the players around and occasionally fry them. The point is that in the first two games you could see your problems coming and cover your risk by shoring up sinking locations or digging out buried ones. If during set up in Pandemic you infect New York twice you know where your doom is coming from. If in Forbidden Island two wind temples are under water at the end of your first turn you know where you're working. In Forbidden Sky if you get hit by lightning a bit you know you need to, well, avoid getting hit by lightning. The problems are never unique or emergent to your specific play through. Maybe if capacitors took a certain number of strikes before burning out, or if the rocket blew up if it got struck too many times before the circuit was completed the game would take shape more often.
All in all that's a lot of complaints for a game that is absolutely fine. Nothing wrong with it, well produced and well worth the money. If it were the first game in the series I would be singing its praises. But it isn't, its the latest game by Matt Leacock, with all the experience and resources that implies. Feel free to buy this game, I did, just make sure you buy Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert first.