Board game review: Forbidden Island

Normally I would pass on something like Forbidden Island if I saw it in a store. This is from Gamewright, a publisher of kid friendly games, and I think the packaging definitely echoes that feel. I’m glad that I went ahead with my purchase though as I would have missed out on a very fun cooperative game.

The game is for 2-4 players, each playing a specific team member on an expedition to a mysterious island. The island is sinking, and the players have a limited amount of time to explore the island, retrieve treasures, and get back to the awaiting helicopter to escape before the island is submerged for good.

This is all represented by tiles that are randomly placed at the beginning of the game. On a player’s turn they can take a number of actions. They then draw from an action card deck which could be treasure cards, special bonus actions, or a limited number of water rising cards. A player completes their turn playing flood cards. There is a tracker that represents the amount of flood cards that are drawn each turn. As each tile card is drawn, they flip that tile over to represent it flooding. If a flooded location is drawn again, that tile section of the island sinks and is removed from the game along with any players that happen to be stuck on it (and if this happens everybody loses).

The objective is to obtain sets of cards for specific treasures and turn in those sets on the appropriate tile. After all 4 treasures are collected, the players have to return to the helicopter landing pad to escape safely. Each turn a player will find themselves trying to manage being on the right tile to trade away cards with other players, or shoring up key tile locations to keep them from sinking, all the while making sure they don’t end up on a location that will sink completely.

As the game plays players will draw water rising cards, increasing the number of cards drawn each turn as the tracker is moved up a notch. In addition the flood cards all ready drawn are shuffled back into the deck, increasing the likelihood that section of land will be subject to future flooding. This can make for some tense decisions as players balance making a run to get a treasure (or pass off cards to allow another to get it), while still keeping certain tiles from sinking.

This isn’t a deep strategy game. However it is fairly challenging and I like how it is an ‘everyone wins, or we all lose’ type of scenario. Everyone has to work together and most will find their turns being a bit of discussion with other players about the best plan of action. I like that each player gets a random team role that gives them a unique ability (effectively breaking some of the rules). As each player can do a special action, this adds a little difference to each game and gives players more options on their turn.

I also like that you can begin the game with a higher flood level. This in turn, ramps up the difficulty as you have less time and really have to plan out your turns efficiently. Combined with a fairly random island layout, and playing 1 of 5 different team roles, you can get a lot of replay out of the game.

The Good – Random layout, and different random player roles adds some variety to the game. Additionally, you can tailor the game to make it a bit easier or more difficult, allowing different groups to play and have fun. This is something refreshing when trying to play the same game with children or just adults. The components are very nice, with thick stock tiles, and solid-backed cards. The plastic treasure and player tokens are also beefy and can be handled easily (no little token bits here). The colored artwork is nice and plays to the theme well. The rules are well written and easy to follow.

The Bad – It is a random game. You won’t be able to plan out a grand strategy here. Basically your turn is a puzzle as you try to be the most efficient with your limited actions. Some of the player roles are situational and not all may be as useful as others (I’m looking at you Mr. Diver). While you can ramp up the difficulty, I’m sure with the right cards and groups that can quickly analyze and predict future sinking tiles, the game can be pretty easy to play. Additionally, it is a cooperative game. Some players might have more fun with griefing other players than with trying to contribute and win the game.

The Verdict – Forbidden Island is a fun, light strategy game. It captures the right amount of tension and player interaction. I think it would work with young children and still be a challenge to adults. It is packaged well with handsome components. Not to mention the price is just right for a game like this, being about $10-$15 USD. It is a fun cooperative game. Something I think would resonate very well with folks wanting to play games with their kids.

A very family friendly game, priced very reasonable. I’d say pick it up and look forward to exploring this mysterious island. Just don’t forget to ‘Get To Da Choppa!’


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