A pilot, a messenger, a diver, and an engineer land on a deserted island searching for treasure is not the start to a really bad joke, but the set up for an excellent co-op game. Forbidden Island sees 2-4 adventurers searching for treasure on an island. There is just one catch—the island is sinking! You and your team must retrieve four very cool treasures and make it back to the plane before the island finishes its descent into the ocean.
Forbidden Island is a board game that doesn't actually come with a board. Instead it comes with a selection of tiles. At the start of any game you are going to shuffle these up and place them in a cross shape. Each of these beautifully illustrated tiles represents a location on the island, and depending on which character you have chosen, you will start in a different location. And then there is the flood deck. At the end of a player's turn they are going to draw a card from the top of this and flip the tile that it matches. This location is now flooded. Uh-oh, right?
Exactly right. If a location comes up on the flood deck again, then it will sink and nobody can visit it. This is very problematic and game ending if it prevents you from collecting the treasure and returning safely to the plane. However, all is not lost. Each turn you get to do up three things, including patch up a location tile to stop the flooding, move around, collect treasure, and swap cards. This might seem like you can quickly solve all your island flooding problems each turn, but you will quickly find that there is far too much to do and nowhere near enough time. The flood deck also hits the pacing nail on the head as the tension around the table will steadily increase as more and more the island disappears into the ocean.
There is hope, however. As well as drawing from the flood deck each turn, players picks up two cards from the treasure pile. Have four of a specific treasure AND be on the required tile, then you can nab yourself some sweet, sweet loot. Fortunately though, players don't need to draw and wish that they get the solution to their problems because this is a cooperative game, so the other people round the table can help each other out. The drawback of this being that players must be in the same location. This set collection aspect of the game is so easy for any player to get their head around and occasionally players will pick up one time use cards that instantly shore up a location or let them travel to any tile instantly.
So at this point you might be wondering what all that talk of divers and pilots at the start was all about; well here is the juiciest part of Forbidden Island. Each person around the table is playing a different role, and with great roles comes great abilities. The diver, for example, can swim across tiles that have sunk; the engineer can stop multiple floodings in a single action; and the pilot can choose to fly directly to any tile they wish. Since each character is vastly different, your strategy will need to adapt and change depending on what is available. Finding, and more importantly discussing, how to use these abilities is integral to playing Forbidden Island. Just don't let that bossy player force you to do things you don't want to do—it's still your turn.
Forbidden Island is so easy to set up and learn, plus everything I've just said is compressed into a tiny cheat sheet card. There is one last thing I should explain though. Every so often the flood deck will throw out a water rises card, and this will cause the water meter to increase AND for all the discarded cards to get shuffled back into the deck. So, the longer you take to complete your objective, the more parts of the island are going to sink and the harder it becomes. This is by far the best feature of Forbidden Island, because it controls the pace of the game. At the start everything is sunshine and blue skies, but by the end most of the island is underwater and your messenger might be stranded, forcing you to go on without them. Tragic and compelling stuff.
The Bottom Line
Forbidden Island is an excellent gateway game. What I mean is that it is really simple to understand, yet compelling and exciting enough that it will leave players wanting more. Beaten the game a few times and ready for a challenge? Then crank the flood meter up and take another swing at it. I highly recommend Forbidden Island.
Get this game if:
You are looking for an excellent co-op game
You want something to introduce others to the wonders of board games
You want something that is easy to pick up, learn and teach to others
Don't get this game if:
You want a competitive game
You are looking for a longer, meatier game
You plan to play with people who are quite bossy and aren't prepared to tell them no
Forbidden Island was designed by Matt Leacock and published by Gamewright. The copy used for this review was purchased by the reviewer.
Forbidden Island is an excellent cooperative game, with some lovely pieces, and it comes in a shiny metal tin. What more could you ask for, really?