Board Game Review: Forbidden Island

Board Game Review: Forbidden Island

Gamewright Ages 10 and Up 2-4 Players Playtime: Approximately 30 minutes COOPERATIVE

Seawater splashes around your ankles as you trudge across the Cave of Embers, reaching desperately for the Crystal of Fire. Your partner is frantically laying sandbags to prevent the rising tide from blocking your only escape. The distant hum of a helicopter’s blades sounds in the distance where the rest of the team awaits with the other elemental treasures. You only hope you can make it to them in time before the waters rise and you sink, along with the rest of this…. Forbidden Island.

Forbidden Island is a cooperative game for two to four players which pits a team of adventurers against an ever-sinking island in a quest to obtain four ancient artifacts and escape before the island sinks. Sounds easy enough, right?

Not so much.

The game “board” is actually a series of 24 tiles laid out at random. Each tile represents a location on the island, and has a corresponding location card in the 24-card “Flood Deck.” The game also includes 28 Treasure Cards, 6 pawns and 6 corresponding Adventurer cards (more on those later), 4 sculpted treasure figurines representing the four Elements (The Earth Stone, The Statue of the Wind, The Crystal of Fire, and The Ocean’s Chalice), as well as a Water Level Marker and Meter.

The tiles are laid out in a set island pattern, and six cards are flipped from the Flood Deck. As cards are drawn from the Flood Deck, the corresponding tile on the board is flipped over to a blue tinted version of the same piece. This represents the location “flooding”. If a flooded location floods a second time (via the same flood card being drawn later in the game), that location is lost to the abyss and both the tile and the corresponding flood card are removed from the game.

Players are each dealt (or select) one of the six adventurer cards and place their pawn on a designated start tile on the board. Each player is dealt two treasure cards and the Water Level marker is set to the level of difficulty the players want out of the gate.

Gameplay in Forbidden Island is relatively simple. Players can take up to 3 actions per turn. Actions can be any of four types

  1. move to one adjacent tile (up, down, left or right),
  2. “Shore up” an adjacent tile or the tile the player is on (by flipping it from the blue tinted flooded-version to its normal happy colored version),
  3. Give a treasure card to another player on the same tile
  4. Capture a treasure.

Each Adventurer Card also has a set skill or power that the adventurer can use throughout the game. For example, the Pilot can move to any tile on the board once per turn for one action, the Engineer can shore up two tiles as one action, and the Messenger can give a Treasure card to any player on the board without being on the same tile. These skills are absolutely critical to success in the game, so play the characters wisely!

After taking three actions, the player will draw two Treasure Cards, and then Flood Cards equal to the current water level indicated on the meter. The Treasure Cards are the key to winning. There are four treasures that the adventurers must acquire, representing the four elements – Earth, Wind, Fire and Air. The players must acquire four Treasure Cards of the same elemental type, and then move to one of the two tiles on the board that matches that element – Caves for fire, Gardens for Air, etc. Then the player can use one action to discard those four Treasure cards and acquire the treasure. Also hidden in the Treasure Deck are helpful cards – Sandbag (which can be discarded to allow the player to shore up any tile at any time, without using an action) and Helicopter Lift (which allows the player to move to any tile at any time, without using an action.) Also hidden in the Treasure Deck, however, are the dreaded Waters Rise cards.

When Waters Rise cards are drawn, two key actions happen – the Water Level marker on the Water Meter goes up, meaning that more Flood Cards may need to be drawn each turn, and all of the cards in the Flood discard pile are shuffled and put back on the TOP of the Flood Deck. This means that any tile that recently flooded will flood again soon (and potentially be lost forever)

In order for the Adventurers to win, all four treasures must be captured, all of the players must move to the Fools Landing space, and a Helicopter Lift card must be played to escape from the island.

The tile-sinking mechanic encompasses nearly all of the possible lose-conditions for the adventuring team. If both tiles matching an element sink before the adventurers can acquire that corresponding treasure, the players lose. The loss of Fools Landing – the extraction point at the end of the game – also represents a lose condition for the players. Additionally, if a player is on a tile that is lost and the player cannot move to an adjacent tile, they drown, and the game is lost. (Are you sensing a theme?) Lastly, if the water levels rise too high, the game is lost.

If it sounds like there are many more lose conditions than win conditions, you are absolutely right. This adds to the tension in the game, giving players the real Indiana Jones feeling of snatching treasures up and rushing to escape right as the catastrophe swallows the island whole. Sinking tiles can cut off movement paths, and often times key decisions hinge on a choice between shoring up a sinking tile, or rushing across the board to capture another treasure.

So the real question – Is Forbidden Island fun? And the answer is: incredibly so. The atmosphere in the game is great, the mechanics are simple to learn, and the play is challenging. Being a co-op game that really relies on teamwork, this can be a great break from other more cutthroat games to get the family working together. The game can even be played solo (controlling two adventurers, as some of the game mechanics rely on two Adventurers) for a fun and challenging time. While Gamewright recommends ages 10+ for the game, we think that younger players certainly can grasp and enjoy the game. There are no scary illustrations, and the gameplay is simple enough that the 8 yr old we played with was able to “lead” the team to success while the adults merely consulted. Even players as young as 5 could likely enjoy the game with a heavier guiding hand from the grown ups at the table.

With a list price of only $17.99, Forbidden Island is one of the cheaper european board games out there, and a fantastic introduction to co-op board games before moving on to something more complex like Pandemic, or Flash Point Fire Rescue. The randomness of the tile layout as the board leads to huge variety and replay value, as does the multiple combinations of adventurer play styles (especially in combination). The difficulty can be scaled to all abilities based on how high the water level starts the game, and even at the easy setting can provide a decent challenge for some of the most experienced gamers. For the value, we highly recommend picking up a copy for your family and enjoying hours of fun!

Love cooperative games? Check out our other reviews here! Wondering about other Gamewright games? Check our our reviews here!

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