What is Forbidden Island?
Forbidden Island is a really clever and potentially frustrating co-operative game which plays well with 2-4 people.
It’s from the makers of Pandemic, which is on my wish-list and hopefully I’ll get to review one day. I chose Forbidden Island as a gateway game to Pandemic – similar mechanics but an easier game. I figured that if my wife and I enjoyed Forbidden Island, we’d give Pandemic a go.
Players work together to escape a sinking island with four treasures in their possession.Gameplay
Gameplay is very simple. At the start of the game you shuffle a series of gorgeous-looking tiles, and lay them face up in a specific pattern to create the playing area.
These tiles have wonderful illustrations which really evoke the theme of the game, and names to match – Breakers Bridge! – that the players are explorers stuck on an island rapidly disappearing into the sea. The reverse of the tiles have the same illustration, but with a blue tint – I’ll come to why in a moment.
One of the tile is called Fools Landing. This is a vital tile as this is the only location players can use to finish the game and escape from the island by helicopter.
Eight of the tiles also have images of four treasure tokens (each treasure token has two matching tiles). Players must travel to these tiles in order to swap four matching treasure cards for the treasure token itself.
Players pick one of a number of skill cards – diver, messenger, pilot etc. Each card has a coloured pawn to match, which has a specific starting tile. Players each receive two treasure cards before the game begins.
Each turn, players can make three moves from a small range of options – moving their pawn around the board to one adjacent tile at a time (unless they have the explorer card which allows them to move diagonally, or the pilot card which allows them to fly to any other tile etc), ‘shoring up’ a flooded tile, handing a treasure card to another player…
Two more treasure cards are then drawn. These depict one of four nicely made treasures which players have to find to finish the game, or a number of special abilities including airlift (allowing a player to move his or another players pawn around the board), sandbag, (allowing a player to shore up any flooded card), and the dreaded WATERS RISE card. You don’t want this card.
This is when things get tricky, and the game’s mechanic comes into play. The game also includes a water meter. You start the game on a low level, two for instance. Each time a player has finished their turn, an equivalent number of flood cards are drawn from a deck.
These cards have matching illustrations to those on the playing area. So if Breakers Bridge is drawn, you flip this tile over to reveal its flooded, blue side. If this card is drawn again before a player ‘shores up’ the tile (flipping it back over again), the card sinks and is removed from play. In this way the playing area can rapidly shrink in front of you.
The flood cards also come into play if a Waters Rise card is drawn from the treasure card deck. However, in this case, all the flood cards which are in the discard pile (those which have been turned blue by flipping them over) are shuffled and placed on the top of the flood card pile again. Then the relevant number of cards are drawn again – this way a tile is bound to sink. (Breakers Bridge could be drawn for a second time)
If you pick a Waters Rise card, the water meter is also increased by one notch, which usually also means that the number of cards drawn from the flood cards deck each time also increases by one.
You can lose the game if all tiles sink before the game is complete, if Fools Landing sinks, if your route to Fools Landing sinks, if the tiles depicting one of the treasure tokens sink before the treasure tokens are collected – there are lots of ways to lose. And only one way to win – collect all four treasure tokens then escape with all players from Fools Landing.
But is it good for two players?
I realise I’ve spent too much time explaining the mechanics of the game and not really delving into what it’s like to actually play it. It’s really not that difficult, and is a great way of taking that first step towards a ‘proper’ cooperative game if you haven’t got a couple of hours to kill.
I love Forbidden Island. The tiles which make up the playing area are great to look at. I spend just as much time admiring the artwork as I do worrying about if the island is sinking. They go a long way towards drawing you into the game’s theme, the world it creates and the characters you play.
The sinking tiles are a great mechanic and by the end of the game when you’re down to a handful of cards and players are crowded onto one tile frantically shoring up just to stay afloat, it gets really tense.
My only negative is that if the tile cards fall right when you shuffle them, it’s not that hard to win. It’s easy to realise that one player needs to stay near the Fools Landing card to ensure it doesn’t sink, while the other concentrates on the treasures. And equally, if the treasure tiles end up scattered across the board, it’s very easy to lose as well.
That being said, I’ve played and lost plenty of times and it’s still a game I’m looking forward to tackling again. For that reason I think it’s a great two player game that feels very involved and exciting to play.
The difficulty level can also be raised and lowered using the water meter. If you’re feeling brave you can start with the level on 3, 4 or even 5 cards so that each time the flood cards are in play, you turn over this many tiles. That’ll be my next step.
Watch Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop play through a game here.
See the official page of Forbidden Island here.