One of my favorite board game genres is the cooperative game. While competitive games are always fun, it is nice to have a change of pace with a game where all of the players work together to try and beat the game itself. Cooperative games have become pretty popular recently with games like Pandemic and Forbidden Island being just a couple of the games that have really established the genre. While Forbidden Island is a really good game, I have always wondered what it would play like if you added more complexity for gamers who like more strategic games. Today I am looking at Naturally Disastrous created by Tyrell Wood which at first glance looked like Forbidden Island with additional complexity and an alien theme. After playing Naturally Disastrous the game shows some potential but could use some rule tweaks to make it a little less brutal.
How to Play Naturally Disastrous
To begin the game you randomly place the nine map tiles in a 3 x 3 grid. Each player selects an alien and takes the playing piece and card for that alien along with a health marker to keep track of their health. Players randomly select eleven of the item tokens and mix them in with the four communication array tokens. All of the tokens are then placed on the map (upside down) by rolling both dice to determine the location for the item. Each alien figure is placed on the map by rolling both dice and placing the piece on the corresponding space. The Mad Scientist is placed in the center of tile eight and the sniper, secret agent and guard are placed in the center of tile seven. The UFO is placed on tile nine on the space that matches the number that is rolled. All other pieces are placed to the side of the gameboard.
A Player’s Turn
In every round each player gets one turn. At the beginning of a round, all of the players can decide which player will go first with the other players then taking their turns in clockwise order. On a player’s turn they will complete the following three actions:
- Naturally Disastrous Action
- Native Actions
- Alien Actions
Naturally Disastrous Action
At the beginning of a player’s turn they will roll the ten sided dice and perform an action based on what was rolled.
- #10: The current player gets to immediately take one action.
- #9: The current player’s alien is abducted by the UFO. The alien is moved to the space the UFO occupies and suffers one damage. The UFO is moved to a new space by rolling both dice.
- #8: The mad scientist and all mutated aliens get one additional action.
- #7: The sniper and secret agent get one additional action.
- #6: All characters within a queen’s movement from the center of tile six will suffer one wound. A queen’s movement is the horizontal, vertical, and diagonal movements that a queen can make in Chess.
- #5: All characters within a queen’s movement from the center of tile five will be moved to the center of tile five.
- #4: All characters within a queen’s movement from the center of tile four are immediately knocked out.
- #3: Roll the eight sided dice twice and place an earthquake marker on the corresponding spaces on tile three. If there is already a marker on one of the spaces, place the earthquake marker on a neighboring space.
- #2: Roll the eight sided dice twice and place a flood marker on the corresponding spaces on tile two. If there is already a marker on one of the spaces, place the marker on an adjacent space.
- #1: Roll the eight sided dice twice and place a lava marker on the corresponding spaces on tile one. If there is already a marker on one of the spaces, place the marker on an adjacent space.
Each of the natives/enemies on the board will perform one action before the current player takes their actions. If a native is knocked out their action will be to rest which will flip their piece back up and will let them perform an action on their next turn.
Sniper: If the sniper is within two spaces (vertically or horizontally) of an alien it will shoot that alien for one damage. Otherwise the sniper will move one space towards the closest alien.
Secret Agent: If the secret agent is on a space that has an item, the secret agent and the item are immediately moved to the vault. If the secret agent is not on an item, they will move one space towards the nearest item.
Mad Scientist: If a mad scientist is on the same space as an alien, they will deal one damage to the alien. If the alien is knocked out, the mad scientist will mutate it flipping its’ allegiance. Otherwise the mad scientist moves one space towards the nearest alien.
After the naturally disastrous and native actions, the current player will get to take three actions with their alien (two actions if you want a harder game and four actions if you want an easier game).
Move: For one action an alien can move two spaces (not diagonally). If an alien moves onto a space with a flood marker, their movement ends immediately. If they move onto a lava marker, their turn ends immediately and they suffer one damage. Aliens cannot move onto earthquake markers. If you move to a space occupied by an enemy you will immediately fight them but you will get +3 to your attack (see Skirmishes for more details).
Probe: For one action an alien can flip over an item token on the space that they are on so all of the players can see what item it is. If the item has an effect that goes into play when it is flipped over, the effect is applied immediately.
Pick Up/Drop/Trade Items: For one action you can pick up an item that is on your current space. Each alien can only carry three items at a time. Aliens can also use an action to drop an item or to trade the item to another player on the same space.
Rest: For one action an alien can heal one health for their own alien or another alien (does not have to be on the same space). The alien could also use the healing ability to remove one lava, flood or earthquake marker from the board (you do not have to be on the same space to remove the marker).
Special Ability: Each alien has a special ability which the player can perform for one of their actions.
When an alien and a native/mutated alien are on the same space, a skirmish will begin. For the skirmish the alien player will roll the eight sided die while another player rolls the ten sided die for the native. The two die rolls are compared and any modifiers are added to the rolls. The higher roll will deal one damage to the other character. If there is a tie both characters will receive one damage. If a native receives any damage they will be knocked out. The native is flipped onto its’ side to indicate that it has been knocked out. If an alien deals or receives damage they may move to an adjacent space and end the skirmish if they weren’t knocked out.
Throughout the game the secret agent will bring items into the vault. In order to retrieve the items from the vault you must beat all enemy characters located inside the vault. Once all enemies have been defeated, you may pick up or probe items like you would if they were on a normal part of the gameboard.
When a player’s alien has been mutated, they will begin working against the other players. You flip your card to the mutated side and for the rest of the game and you will take one action at the same time the mad scientist takes their turn. Mutated aliens can share spaces with other natives but will get into skirmishes with other aliens located on the same space.
While the goal is to find the four communications arrays, there are other items scattered around the map that you can pick up and use.
Transporter: You can use this item to move any other character that shares your space to another spot on the gameboard. Once used the transporter is discarded.
Flux Blaster: Permanently adds two attack power to any skirmish die roll for the alien who is holding the item.
Flash Blaster: Allows the player to re-roll one die roll during their turn for as long as they keep the item in their possession.
Med Kit: A player can use the med kit to heal three health instead of one.
Stellerator: Gives the player holding it one more health point so they can suffer one more damage before being knocked out.
Time Modulator: The alien controlling it gets to take one additional action on their turn.
Cognitive Scanner: Allows you to flip over two of the item tiles on the gameboard. Once used the cognitive scanner is discarded.
Acceleration Module: Allows you to move three spaces instead of two when performing the move action.
Native A-Bomb: When flipped over the bomb detonates and all characters within a queen’s movement from the item receives one damage. The item is then discarded.
Disaster Activation: The current player rolls the ten sided dice and consults the naturally disastrous action chart to see what happens. The item is then discarded.
You Find Nothing of Interest: This item does nothing and is immediately discarded.
End of Game
Naturally Disastrous can end in a couple different ways.
The players will win the game if all four communication arrays are placed in the appropriate places on the map (communication array 6 is placed in the 6 corner, etc.) If any of the aliens were mutated, all non-mutated aliens win the game.
All non-mutated aliens will lose the game if one of the following things happen:
- The players are unable to place a lava, flood, or earthquake token on the gameboard since all of the tokens are already on the gameboard.
- If more than half of the items on the board (not including items in an alien’s possession or already used) are contained in the vault.
My Thoughts on Naturally Disastrous
While the comparison is not perfect, I actually think comparing Naturally Disastrous to Forbidden Island is pretty good starting point to talk about the game. While there are differences between the two games, Naturally Disastrous seems to take inspiration from Forbidden Island or other similar cooperative games. The goal of Naturally Disastrous is to find four communication arrays and get them to their required positions while in Forbidden Island you need to collect the four treasures and make it to your helicopter before the whole island sinks. In each game you are given a designated number of actions to achieve your objectives while also making sure to keep the island/planet from destroying itself.
As I mentioned earlier, Naturally Disastrous feels like a more complex version of Forbidden Island. While in Forbidden Island you were just playing against the island, Naturally Disastrous forces you to deal with the natives as well. While trying to find the communication arrays and preventing the planet from being destroyed you need to make sure the natives don’t kill/mutate you or gain control over too much of your technology.
While Naturally Disastrous is more complicated than a game like Forbidden Island, I wouldn’t classify it as a highly difficult game. While there are a decent amount of mechanics, none of them are particularly difficult. For your first game you may have to reference the rules a decent amount as you try to remember what each natural disaster roll does and try to remember the different native actions. As you familiarize yourself with the game though, it becomes pretty easy to remember the different rules. I attribute this to the wise decision to have one of the naturally disastrous events correspond to each of the nine tiles. If you ever forget what the dice roll is supposed to do, look for the corresponding tile on the gameboard which should give you an idea of what action you have to perform. For example if you roll the die that corresponds to the volcano tile you can quickly figure out that you need to lay out lava tokens. The mechanics for the natives are also pretty easy to get the hang of since they are broken down into aggressive, move, and rest actions. If possible you perform their aggressive action. If not they will either move towards the nearest alien/item and if they can’t do that they will rest.
One of the biggest strengths for Naturally Disastrous is the amount that the game can be altered to create a different game each time you play it. With there being nine tiles being randomly placed into the 3 x 3 grid, unless you play the game a lot the grid should be different each time you play the game. Since the items for the game are randomly chosen each game, you should have different combinations of items each time you play the game. The starting locations of the items and aliens are also randomly determined so the game’s setup should be quite a bit different each time you play the game. While this won’t drastically change the gameplay, it does add some variety to the game since each game should play differently.
I don’t know if it was just terrible luck but Naturally Disastrous seems like a “brutal” game. What I mean by brutal is that the game can be unforgiving. The game seems to be constantly working against you. For example in one game two of the aliens were trapped in the gas explosion knocking them out as soon as the game began. One of the players then used their turn to heal themselves and the other alien that was knocked out. Then on the very next turn the gas explosion went off again knocking both aliens out again so the one player ended up wasting their entire turn.
In the other game I played one player was close to being able to place one of the communication arrays. Then the tornado action was rolled and they were sucked back to the other side of the board. When they tried again to place the communications array they were abducted by the UFO and taken to the other side of the board.
Due to these unfortunate situations the best my group could do was to find two of the arrays. My group was never able to even place one of the communication arrays before we ended up losing the game. Unless you are quite lucky I don’t see you winning Naturally Disastrous very often. If you are looking for a brutal (hard to win) cooperative game, you may like Naturally Disastrous. I think the game could be a little more forgiving though especially since we were only playing the game on normal difficulty.
Due to how powerful the naturally disastrous events are, I honestly think the game would be better served if the naturally disastrous events only occurred once a round so each player is able to take a turn before it hits again. Another option would be to add more beneficial events since only one out of the ten actions are actually positive for the players. While this might make the game a little too easy, it is too unforgiving in it’s current state. You could spend most of your actions just trying to offset what happened from the previous naturally disastrous event. This makes it very hard to actually make any progress towards winning the game.
It is not just the naturally disastrous events that are out to get you. The natives are extremely powerful as well. The problem with the natives is that they actually end up getting more actions than the individual players if there are more than three players in the game. Since they get one action each time a player takes their actions, the natives could end up taking four to six actions per round while each player only gets three actions. This becomes a problem for the mad scientist and sniper because unless you use most of your actions to move away from them, they will catch you quickly and deal damage. This forces the player to either use all of the actions to heal or run away from them so they don’t get hit with more damage.
The biggest problem with the natives though are with the secret agent. Unless our group got really unlucky, the secret agent is probably going to end almost every game by taking over half of the items to the vault. Unless all of the items are placed far away from the vault, it does not take that long for the secret agent to bring enough items back to the vault to win the game. Both games that I played ended with the secret agent getting over half of the items back to the vault before we could get a single communications array in position. While thematically it might not make a lot of sense, I think the game would be better served if the secret agent only moved once each round or had to bring each item back to the vault on foot. Otherwise the only way to stop the game from ending really quickly is to basically sit one or two aliens in the vault to keep taking items out of the vault whenever the agent brings a new item into the vault.
Another thing I don’t like about the vault losing condition is that items in a player’s possession don’t count towards the total number of items left on the board. With these items not counting towards the total items, you are actually hurting yourself by picking up items. You shouldn’t pick up any item unless you really need it since each item you pick up makes it easier to lose since the secret agent has to get less items back to the vault.
As I have mentioned several times, luck plays a big role in the game. In any game that uses a die role, luck will be present. The problem is luck is critical in Naturally Disastrous. If you are not lucky you have little chance of winning the game. With bad rolls of the dice during setup you could almost lose the game as soon as it begins. If a bunch of items are placed near the vault, the agent is going to have an easy job getting half of them and ending the game. Aliens could also be placed in an area where they are immediately attacked by multiple natives and could be knocked out and mutated quickly. The numbers you roll during the naturally disastrous events and during skirmishes are critical as well. If you roll poorly I can’t see you winning Naturally Disastrous no matter how good your strategy is.
Note: After talking with the designer, the game can be brutal at times with higher player counts if you don’t have a lot of luck with dice rolls. The expansion packs for the game are supposed to alleviate some of these issues with difficulty and the reliance on luck.
While these problems hurt the game, I think they could be fixed with some house rules. First I think the naturally disastrous events have to be reduced to once per round or more positive events need to be added. The natives also have to be weakened in some way. The secret agent should be required to take the items back to the vault on foot. I also think players need to be given more actions on their turn in order to make up for the natives getting to perform an action more often. The game recommends giving players four actions for an easy game, three actions for a normal game, and two actions for a hard game. I think the normal game should probably give you four actions, the easy game five actions, and the hard game three actions.
While the contents could use some work, there are two things you have to consider. First Naturally Disastrous was designed to be a cheaper game. Naturally Disastrous is $35 (with free shipping) so the contents are not going to compare to those of a $50-$60 game. Add in the fact that the game was made by a smaller first time publisher. The contents for Naturally Disastrous are not great but I don’t think they are really distracting either. If gameplay is more important than component quality this probably won’t be much of an issue for you.
Should You Buy Naturally Disastrous?
I don’t know exactly what to think about Naturally Disastrous. The game has some interesting mechanics and I like the idea of creating a more complex Forbidden Island. Each game of Naturally Disastrous should be unique since the setup of each game creates a different experience. The problem is that the game can be brutal. Unless you have good luck you are going to have a hard time winning the game without some rule tweaks. The natural disasters and natives are just too powerful. Unless you want a really hard game you will need to limit their power in some way if you want to actually win a decent amount of the time.
So should you buy Naturally Disastrous? If you want a brutally difficult cooperative game and like the game’s concept you might like the game. If you don’t like games that are really hard to beat, you will need to make some rule tweaks in order to make the game a little more manageable. If the game’s concept doesn’t really interest you though I don’t think Naturally Disastrous will change your mind.
If you would like to purchase Naturally Disastrous you have a couple options. First if you live in Utah you can purchase the game at Game Haven in St. George, Utah. Second you can purchase the game from the game’s official website silverlakegames.com. Finally the game has a Kickstarter campaign currently running for one of the expansion packs which also has an option to pick up the base game. The Kickstarter campaign runs until February 14th, 2017.
We would like to thank Silver Lake Games and Tyrell Wood for the review copy of Naturally Disastrous used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review.