Analog Distractions: Cooperative Board Games Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert

If you’ve ever read one of our ProfHacker holiday gift guides, you’ll know that lots of us are big fans of board games, and in particular of the new breed of smart board games that have appeared in increasing numbers in the past decade or so. Board games are oddly hip, and for good reason—there’s more variety and complexity in the genre than ever before.

Board games are a big part of my family life; my wife, kids, and I love to play in the evenings and especially on the weekends. We’re always looking for fun new titles to try out. If you’ve ever played board games with kids, though, you know that it can be…complicated. Tempers can flare, particularly when the game doesn’t go the way a younger child expected. And sure, playing games is one way that kids can learn to control those kinds of reactions, but in the moment that learning experience is no fun for anyone.

One alternative to that experience is the cooperative board game. In such titles, all the players work together to defeat the board itself. My kids were initially skeptical about this setup. How, they wondered, could it be fun if no one person could win? I described the game as a kind of puzzle we were all working to solve, and after only one game they came on board.

Two of our favorite cooperative games are Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, both by Gamewright. The mechanics of the two games are quite similar—in both the players all assume the roles of different kinds of adventurers (Pilot, Archaeologist, Diver, etc.) who are working together to recover artifacts and escape the titular Forbidden Island or Desert. In both games the elements conspire against the team to sink the island or bury the desert before the team can escape. There are a few differences between the two games, which I won’t belabor here, but in short Forbidden Desert is a bit more complicated.

Both games activate my Indiana Jones fantasies, though, and they have proven immensely fun for our family. As a bonus for families with kids at a wide age range, these games encourage players to cooperate and advise each other on strategy, which makes such games easy for younger kids to learn. I highly encourage you to check them out if you enjoy board games at all.

How about you? What’s your favorite board game, for adults or kids? Tell us about it in the comments.

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