Forbidden Jungle

review by Kendra

I adore this game. It’s tied for my favorite in the Forbidden series. Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, Forbidden Sky, and Forbidden Jungle compose the series of games so far, and I’ll briefly touch on each of these and their ideal audiences at the end of this review.

First, let me review the basic components. The cards are gorgeous, with full illustrations, which differs from Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert. The web markers are standard cardboard, which makes them easy to see and easy to move around. Like Forbidden Sky, the difficulty can be set with a fusion of the “Threat Meter” and specific card layouts, which will list the difficulty clearly at the bottom of the suggested layout. The color saturation on both the tiles and the cards are excellent and the player cards are very easy to understand. Like previous Forbidden games, each player card has a health meter with a plastic indicator that moves along the side of the board.

Regarding the non-basic components, i.e. the miniature figures, they are wonderful in detail and easy to recognize based on both color and shape [colorblind friendly]. If you are inclined to paint the miniature figures, I recommend using a clear primer, as the base colors for the plastic are congruent with the colors on the cards used in the game and work well as shading colors to be highlighted. The alien eggs and alien larvae are flawless. No notes. The adult aliens are gorgeous, but they tip over. The fix for this is 12 cents and some superglue – just super glue each adult alien’s feet to a penny and they don’t tip over. Washers work as well, and even with pennies used as bases, they still fit in the box. A fix that requires 12 pennies, a little bit of super glue, and can be completed before one of the players reads/explains the rules in the rulebook is not a shortcoming for me, but it is worth noting that, without a weighted base [washer, penny, etc.], it is best to simply set the aliens on their side rather than try to balance them upright.

Gameplay, though, is where this game absolutely shines. It is busy. It has tension. It requires players to both communicate what their strengths are and what their plans are to overcome potentially overwhelming odds. There is a significant chance of loss and death, and it’s not simply being unlucky: it’s prioritizing negating a loss condition that was less pressing than another loss condition.

To win, players must explore tiles [move to them and flip them over] such that they discover four power crystals and a portal. Other tiles may have useful aspects, such as Configurators, Compellers, and Tunnels, which help players to overcome challenges and arrange tiles into winning configurations. The winning configuration is a Portal surrounded in each cardinal direction with a Power Crystal.

Confounding an easy victory are a number of dangers. First is the spawning of alien eggs, eggs becoming larvae, and larvae becoming adults. Players are stung by aliens that move into their spaces, and most players only have a few levels of health before they die. If any one player’s character dies, the entire game is lost. Second is an alien population explosion. If at any point the threat cards ask for an egg, larva, or alien to be placed and it is physically impossible to place one because all have already been placed, the game is lost. Third, players can lose simply by moving too far up the threat meter via drawing a “Threat Rises” card from the threat deck. Finally, within the threat deck, there are instructions to “collapse” a tile. The lowest revealed number will then be collapsed, destroying both it and all aliens on it. If enough Power Crystals or the portal are collapsed, then the game becomes unwinnable and thus is a loss.

There are a few rules and mechanics that I have not touched upon, but I’ll leave those for you to discover.

What I love about this system is that it encourages active communication and flexibility in roles and division of labor. Players who focus exclusively on one task will be overwhelmed by the possible dangers, but players who diversify and do not focus on accomplishing the primary objective or mitigating the threat of a particular occurance are also in dire risk of drawing the game out too long and losing to the threat meter. It’s beautiful, the pieces are satisfying, it’s complex enough to all but jump onto my game table again and again, and the rules are straightforward enough that I’m comfortable teaching them without worrying that I’ll double the play time.

What can be frustrating about this game is that it is busy. The aliens and larvae move around frequently, victory requires players to actively move tiles and manage the alien population, otherwise key tiles occasionally collapse and are removed from the game, and webs limit player mobility… it’s a lot to keep track of. The individual steps aren’t taxing, but trying to navigate the richness of this game requires significant focus.

Honestly, though, I love that feeling of a million small things to keep track of almost as much as I love that joyous feeling when a plan comes together.

Now, the Forbidden Series, so far, consists of four games, and they are all ideal for different audiences, so I’ll give a small guide to who I think the ideal player for each of the four games is.

Forbidden Island: This game utilizes its threat deck in a manner that is similar to Pandemic’s threat deck. It is a game that hinges on memorizing what tiles have historically flooded and which ones are likely to flood in the near future, then prioritizing those cards as having useful properties over those that it is “safe” to allow to be removed after flooding.

Forbidden Desert: This game revolves around managing dehydration levels and searching for pairs of objects. Movement is key to this game, as is utilization of special bonus gear items. This game is often more forgiving of new players finding their way and is my favorite of the series to teach to mixed experience-level players.

Forbidden Sky: This game is a tile placement game that is quite fun and differs significantly from all other Forbidden titles. It is ideal for individuals with a penchant for exploration and an eye for spatial puzzle solving rather than risk analysis. I enjoy playing this game, but I recommend it for fans of Carcassonne [closing the cities for maximum points] or for structural engineer enthusiasts. I used to just say “engineers will love this game,” but software engineers have traditionally struggled with Forbidden Sky more than they have with other titles.

Forbidden Jungle: Folks who love constantly evolving boardgame states with multiple loss conditions and multiple tricky paths to victory will absolutely love Forbidden Jungle. If you’re a fan of Vagrantsong, please give this game a whirl. Or if you generally like the games that I recommend, this one’s quite excellent.

Forbidden Jungle is available now from our webstore.

Forbidden Jungle