A to Z Gaming: Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island mid-game with several locations destroyed

We attempted to rescue ancient treasures from a sinking island in Forbidden Island, the next game in our A to Z game-shelf play-through.

Forbidden Island Game cover

Basic Info: Forbidden Island
Players: 2-4
Time: 30 Minutes
Designer: Matt Leacock
Artist: C. B. Canga
Publisher: Gamewright

Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where players take on the role of a team exploring a sinking island to recover ancient treasures and escape the island before it disappears forever.

The game is set up by dealing out tiles representing locations on the island. Then six cards are drawn from the Flood Deck and the matching island tiles are turned over – these represent portions of the island that are about to sink into the sea. Players choose roles, place the corresponding player piece on the corresponding starting tile, and the game begins.

On each player’s turn, they have three actions they can spend doing some combination of the following: shore up (turn over the tile they’re on or an adjacent one to slow down the sinking), move to an adjacent tile (up, down, right, left), give a treasure card to someone on the same tile, or pick up a treasure (by discarding 5 matching treasure cards while on one of the treasure’s tiles).

After completing their actions, they draw two cards from the Treasure Deck and then draw and resolve the number of Flood Cards equal to the water level. When a location is drawn from the Flood Deck, it’s matching tile is turned over – that location is starting to sink. If the tile had already been sinking when it is pulled from the Flood Deck, the location sinks into the sea and disappears.

The Treasure Deck is primarily full of treasure cards that match the four items the players are trying to rescue from the island. However, there are also some Special Action cards that help – things like a helicopter lift and sandbags to shore up distant areas of the island. And there are Waters Rise cards that make the whole situation worse.

Players win if they collect all four treasures and meet back on the launch pad (Fools Landing) with a helicopter card. Players lose, on the other hand, if both of the locations for a given treasure sink before that treasure is recovered, if a pawn is on a section of the island that sinks and can’t swim to an adjacent tile, if Fools Landing sinks, or if the water depth goes off the end of the meter.

We picked this one up several years ago – it was the first cooperative game we added to our collection. The idea of a co-op game was intriguing to us – playing against the game instead of each other. It seems so weird to think that there was a time that this was a new idea to us!

However, we haven’t been getting this to the table much lately – neither this nor Forbidden Desert. Instead we’ve been getting Pandemic Legacy to the table regularly for the past couple of years. Sometimes I yearn for the seeming simplicity of these games…and the original Pandemic. Perhaps when we’re finished with our Legacy campaigns?

How is it as a 2-player game?  Forbidden Island is a great 2-player game. It might be better to have more special abilities on the table and different people’s hands to hold treasure cards, but then it takes longer to get to each person’s turn – more time to invite chaos. Regardless, I think this game works well at a number of player counts.

How about the art and component quality? I like the art on the tiles – it’s beautiful to look at, an each location is unique. The tiles and cards are fine. Probably the best part of the game, though, are the treasures themselves. I do, however, hate the tin it comes in – it doesn’t stack well with my other games – it even ends up slipping off of the Forbidden Desert tin.

Will this stay in my collection?  Yes, for now. Perhaps we don’t need both Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, but they each offer something different. Forbidden Island is a bit simpler to understand, so it’s perfect for introducing the idea of co-op games to new players. For now it stays.

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