Forbidden Island is a solo or multiplayer co-op game in which a team of players work together to save explorers and recover relics from a sinking island. Think Indiana Jones meets Water World, throw in a bit of luck and strategy, and you're headed to the right ballpark.
This is a great game for those who are new to the co-op gaming genre. Its portability and eye-catching design make it very popular.
First Impressions Count
Sat on the shelf in my FLGS, Forbidden Island instantly jumped out. Not only for its fantasy-style cover design and its foreboding title but also its metal tin! No bent edges, no dog chewing, no drinks spilt on it, definitely a win for us.
I will be honest, I had already heard of the game before I went in, however, I was torn between a couple of games. I had gone in with the idea of spending less than £30 on a game I wanted to try co-op with (all our games are generally competitive).
What eventually led me to the purchase was the style of the game. it's something I had never tried and seemed interesting. C.B. Canga's illustrations reminded me of Josh Kirby of Discworld game, as well as old RPG and adventuring puzzle games such as Myst.
Out Of The Box, Onto The Table!
As mentioned, Forbidden Island comes in a metal tin, which for a game that is designed to be relatively portable is a great idea. The imagery is striking and eye-catching, and the info on the back tells you exactly what to expect.
Upon opening the tin you find a great insert, high-quality cards and even some bonus minis of the relics you are hunting. The game is well presented, and a flyer inside gives links to an app that allows you to play on your iPad. New island designs can be purchased for a nominal fee. Now, that does bug me to be honest, as when I pay for a game I want all the content. If I have spent my money on the game I feel a copy of the app, with all the content, or at least a discounted copy would be a nice gesture.
Overall, the aesthetic and quality of the game continue in the same vein as it does externally, internally.
One thought, and it has probably already been considered, is custom minis. You have six distinct adventurers, so why not give them distinct minis? Yes, there are colours, but a pair of flippers on the diver, a little map in the explorer's hand, or a shovel for the engineer, would be simple yet effective.
Them's The Rules
The rule book is a glossy printout of the cover, giving a nice narrative to the game and giving it a bit more body. It also allows the player's imagination to envision the island and why the island is sinking. The short version of it is, the relics could cause the apocalypse, so let's go nab them… Yay, apocalypse!
Anyway, the rule book is laid out step by step with colourful diagrams depicting key elements of the gameplay. The rules themselves are relatively simple; lay out the island as shown, and draw 'flood cards' to begin the sinking of the island. This is represented by flipping tiles to their blue-toned back image.
Select your adventurers, for which each of them has individual bonuses that they can use. Go around the board collecting treasures while parts of the island sink. When the 'water rises' all currently flipped tiles are placed back into the deck to potentially sink forever and be removed from the game.
The player's task is to collect four matching treasure cards and take them to the corresponding tile to claim the loot. Claim all four tiles and make it to the helipad and you win! There are many more elements to the game, but I don't want to spoil the fun!
The rules are simple to master however the strategy and team element makes for a very interesting and fun game. Being new to co-op gameplay I was surprised how much my wife and I enjoyed working against the game to try and win.
As just described, Forbidden Island involves mostly cooperative hand management, strategic movement and elements of luck and memory. It's a great game for playing as a group as you can discuss better tactical options and make your own moves according to group consensus.
We really enjoyed the gameplay style and the tension built in playing the flood deck and the added peril of ever-rising floodwaters. Tile by tile the game board vanishes, making movement and actions ever more important.
At home we have played on easy and novice a handful of times, making it through easy on a couple of occasions and failing once, and therein lies the beauty of the game. You have to develop a strategy with your teammates in order to outpace the luck element of the game.
Forward planning and careful use of actions are key to surviving the Forbidden Island. The game ran for around 25-30 minutes, though this did vary depending on the cards pulled. Set-up is pretty quick once you get the hang of the island's layout, and the movement and turns are simple enough that the game flows well.
Decision making and group planning take up the most part of the game, which is why I like it so much. Being able to converse with your friends and work together is a great change from competitive gaming.
Would we play again? Yes! Forbidden Island is a great game that's a lot of fun both solo or co-op, though it bugs me knowing there are other game modes. It doesn't annoy me enough not to highly recommend this game to new gamers.
Though I feel like it may not have the weight to keep gamers that prefer more weighty games, it is a fun game and a game I feel a lot of players would warm to. I can't really think of any improvements to the game as it is a simple concept, possibly a playmat would be a nice addition.
Final Thoughts On Forbidden Island
In short, Forbidden Island is a brilliant entry-level game. It is fun, simple and thematic - I would highly recommend it to people.
Though I cannot think of any other games to directly compare it to, there are alternate versions of the game, Forbidden Desert, and Forbidden Sky, both of which look to have a slightly different slant to the base game. We would probably buy both of these games in the future.
Editors note: This blog was originally published on September 17th, 2018. Updated on October 26th, 2021 to improve the information available.