Board games and gimmicks have gone hand-in-hand since the dawn of time. Or at least the dawn of tabletop gaming. It wasn’t long after electronic circuitry got cheap that Hasbro decided to add credit cards to Monopoly, Uno decided that having cards spat at the player was exactly what the game needed to give it some zest, and of course, there are numerous games out there that get players to physically throw or launch little pieces at each other. Carrying on the fine tradition is Forbidden Sky, a game in which you have to actually build a working circuit to set off a toy rocket.
Forbidden Sky is a cooperative strategy game from Gamewright and was designed by Matt Leacock, the mind behind the Pandemic series. It puts players into the shoes, or boots, of passengers aboard a flying machine that is about to dock at a mysterious power station. Two-to-five players must rush to build a circuit to power a spaceship during a building storm, working together to launch the ship before they’re all struck by lightning or blown clean off into the void. The main focus of the game is moving your pieces around the board, placing new tiles and adding pieces to the circuit. Each player has four actions on their turn and then must draw from a storm deck to see what effect the storm is having on the floating platform. The layout of the board is decided by players, who pull new tiles up by scouting out the platform. They can then place them at any point they wish, as long as copper wiring on the platform matches up.
Forbidden Sky has some interesting parallels from the sphere of mainstream board games, namely Mouse Trap. The circuit you build in the game is an actual real-life circuit constructed of metal-plated beams, circular transistors and a metal-pronged launch pad. When you complete the circuit, the model rocket on the board lights up and makes blasting off noises in a very flashy sort of way. It’s honestly the most interesting part of the game, and I’m not going to lie, I spent 20 minutes repeatedly setting it off when I first opened the box. While the novelty of the rocket is fun, it is just that: a novelty. Like I said above, it really does make Forbidden Sky just like Mouse Trap, a game with an interactive element more interesting than the game itself. Of course, that’s probably not helped by the fact that the actual game itself is pretty damn bland.
Each player has a specific character with different stats and special abilities. The different stats are basically two types of health, one for lightning damage and one for a fraying rope which is the only thing that keeps you from flying off the edge of the platform to your doom. When you draw storm cards each turn, you can potentially either be struck by lightning or be blown over the edge and take one form of damage or the other. The primary issue is that even at the highest level, each character has a maximum of six HP of either type. Most of the time, the storm cards are going to end up dealing damage to you quicker than you’re going to be able to build your structure, especially if you have more players at once. There are a couple of characters with healing powers, but since the characters are randomly assigned at the start, the chances of getting both healing characters in the game are pretty slim.
On top of that, the difficulty is supposedly changeable, but for the most part, it makes little difference, at least at the lower levels. All that changes is the number of parts you have to build to complete the circuit, and most of the time, you’re still not going to have enough time even at the lowest level. Matters only get worse because as the game progresses, you have to draw more and more storm cards each turn. If the storm counter gets too high, you might as well just quit the game. At the highest level, it’s basically impossible to win the game because you keep getting blown about all over the place. That’s an issue because unless every character is on the launch pad when the rocket goes off, the players automatically lose the game. Since each player gets blown around on other players’ turns, it means it’s almost impossible to complete the circuit with everyone still on the right space.
Overall, the actual function of the game is fine, the mechanics technically work, but they’re put together in a very haphazard way. The balance is almost completely off. At lower player counts, you’re unlikely to get the right powers you need to win. At higher player counts, you draw storm cards so fast that the storm intensity goes off the deep end far too quickly. Chances are that you’re going to have more fun messing about with the little electronic rocket than playing the actual game.
Designer: Matt Leacock
Artist: C. B. Canga