Words by David C. Obenour
Hurtling through space reaches across vast expanses of the known, the lesser known, and the still yet to be known. While the science of travel is solid, the nearly infinite trails are still being blazed. Outposts are noted and mapped, but communication can be spotty and time can move oddly. A routine refueling stop finds your crew of specialists docked at a now seemingly abandoned and overgrown jungle moon spaceport. In order to continue on your journey you’ll need to hack your way through the undergrowth… and the things that crawl from underneath of it.
Forbidden Jungle is Matt Leacock’s fourth game of cooperative exploration. Through asymmetric player powers and thoughtful coordination, your space team will need to venture out from your ship to find the portal and position the series of illuminated crystals needed to power it.
Off Shelf: Broadly speaking, what appeals to you about cooperative play? When it’s at its best, what can it deliver for players that competitive, team, or solo play doesn’t allow?
Matt Leacock: I enjoy brainstorming creative solutions to problems with other people as I play. I get a jolt of pleasure when I’m able to find novel solutions to tricky problems that I wouldn’t be able to come up with all on my own. I also like how cooperative games don’t trigger the negative feelings that some competitive games can—feelings that can sometimes bleed from the game into the real world. They’re also much easier to introduce to new players. Since you’re all on the same team, you can gradually introduce rules and details as you play. It’s hard to do that in competitive games since you generally need to have complete knowledge of the rules ahead of time in order for the game to be deemed fair.
OS: Quite an accomplishment, this is your fourth Forbidden… game and I wanted to ask you a few questions about the series. When you released Forbidden Island more than a decade ago, did you have any thought for what the series has expanded to today?
ML: No, our aim for the first game was to make an easy-to-learn cooperative game that kids and families could enjoy. I didn’t give any thought at all to expansions at the time. In fact, Gamewright had never done an expansion before Forbidden Desert.
OS: Considering the full series, what do you see as the legacy of these games?
ML: I think they’ve been a great entry point for many players into the world of tabletop games. I’ve met players who discovered the hobby by playing the Forbidden games and then go on to build large collections, establish clubs, or even pursue jobs in the industry.
OS: The Forbidden… series has yet to include a Traitor or Semi-Cooperative mechanic, why have you avoided this style of play for the series? Do you think you ever would include either?
ML: I think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever explore semi-cooperative play or a traitor. Those rules really change the game significantly—they play more like competitive games and the emotional journey of the players is quite different. I suspect they’d turn off at least half of the audience of players.
OS: As a series, you have a unique consideration – almost like a musician – in that some players will be familiar with previous works. When working on Forbidden Jungle, what were you hoping to present to players that was new to the series?
ML: Yes, having a body of previous work is really an opportunity and a challenge. An opportunity because there’s already a community of players who are familiar with the core mechanisms and can get playing more quickly. But it’s also a challenge because I want each game to present something fresh and exciting and not just rehash older work. For Forbidden Jungle I wanted to present a threat—the spiders—as an embodied antagonist that was really out to get you. This is unlike the other titles where there the threats are more abstract and environmental – rising water, thirst, lightning, wind. I also wanted to give the players lots of options for creative problem solving: the machines in Forbidden Jungle let you cobble together lots of different ad hoc solutions to the problems you’re facing.
OS: Were there things you purposefully wanted to include for players of the series that they might find familiar? Almost your version of “playing the hits”?
ML: It’s not so much “playing the hits” as much as a matter of meeting expectations for the series and leveraging what people already know. To that end, I give myself some constraints when I start each new title in the series. I don’t want players to juggle more than 3 or 4 actions per turn or keep track of more than 4 types of actions. I also start with 48 tiles and a cast of 6 characters. But it’s fun to try to subvert expectations: Forbidden Island has its tiles disappear over time, Desert has them shift around, Sky has you add them, and Jungle lets you—the players—remove and shift them.
OS: CB Canga has been with you throughout the series. What do you appreciate about what they bring to the series? What excites you about what they brought for Forbidden Jungle?
ML: CB’s work has really brought a sense of place. I’ve met several young fans who can name every place name in Forbidden Island game and CB’s artwork accounts for so much of that. For Forbidden Jungle, CB helped out with the cover, the tiles, and with the spiders, and really helped set the palette which tied together the artwork and the pieces. The palette I picked out for the pieces was much duller and drabber.
OS: Forbidden Sky was an ambitious game in terms of the components where players completed a live electrical circuit. What did you like about that? Returning to more traditional game components with Jungle, was that a one off in the series or are there other literal mechanics you are considering for the series?
ML: Forbidden Sky was a really fun experiment and prototyping that game was a blast. My rocket had a propeller that spun when players completed the circuit; I used copper tape on the components so the pieces actually worked. I really enjoyed helping to specify all the components, the rocket, and even the sound effects. But I think we learned with that game that the core gameplay is the most important thing and all the specialized components in Forbidden Sky weren’t worth the additional expense for most players. That’s not to say that I’m not open to trying more experiments like this! But I think whatever I cook up really needs to be a critical part of the gameplay experience.
OS: Island, Desert, Sky, and now Jungle, what other settings could you imagine expanding the series into?
ML: I’ve looked at and experimented with tons of other settings: space ships, planets, mountains, volcanoes, temples, forests, you name it. The key thing for me is ensuring the setting really maps on to the new mechanisms and that they offer something novel and enjoyable.
OS: Having spent so much time in the Forbidden universe – could you ever see the games existing in another medium? A movie? A TV series? A novel? What might that look like? Would you have anyone you would want to cast or have write it?
ML: Sure thing! We already have a large cast of characters, rich settings, and lots of different challenges. I haven’t given any thought to writers or cast; I don’t want to get to far ahead of myself. Perhaps if the right opportunity comes along…