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Forbidden Island

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Forbidden Island drops you and up to three other players onto a seemingly paradise isle in the search for treasures that supposedly can controls the elements. But beware! The island does not want such relics to fall into your hands – it’s constantly sinking in attempt to thwart you. In this co-operative game, you and your team must work together to grab all four treasures before…
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Golden Geek
Fun for Kids
Dice Tower
Value For Money


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Great Engaging Art Work which ties well with the introductory narrative.
  • Excellent Introduction to Co-Operative Gameplay.
  • Scaling Difficulty for more advanced gameplay.

Might Not Like

  • Large surface area which could be aided by a game matt/board.
  • Simplistic Generic Components which could be easily improved upon.
  • Optional Game Modes are Available through the app... which isn't included.
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Forbidden Island drops you and up to three other players onto a deceptive paradise isle in the search for treasures that supposedly can control the elements. But beware! The island does not want such relics to fall into your hands – it’s constantly sinking in an attempt to thwart you. In this cooperative game, you and your team must work together to grab all four treasures before sprinting to Fool’s Landing, where you’ll fly off into the sunset.

The Forbidden Island itself is made up of 24 square location cards, which you’ll shuffle and arrange into a diamond, of sorts (meaning you’re getting a modular board set-up every time, which is great for replayability). There’s a Flood Deck of cards and a set number are revealed each turn, determining which part of the island has now become (partially or totally) flooded. There are also Treasure Cards belonging to each of the four sacred objects, and players have to acquire four of a kind (in a kind of hand-management, set-collection fashion) in order to claim the matching treasure.

Players will each get a pawn that starts on the island. During their turn it becomes an action point allowance system, where they can take up to three actions of the following options: move to an adjacent tile, flip partially flooded tiles back to their ‘land’ side, give a Treasure Card to a fellow player, or capture a treasure at a specific location, itself. At the end of their turn, the active player will gain two Treasure Cards and then wince as they reveal cards from the Flood Deck to see what’s flooded…

If a Waters Rise! card is revealed from the Flood Deck, a corresponding Water Level marker rises (which means more cards per turn will have to be revealed), and the current discard pile of Flood Cards is shuffled and then placed on top of the remaining Flood Deck.

This is all sounding a bit Pandemic, isn’t it? And you’d be right to think so – Forbidden Island is also designed by Matt Leacock, and he’s mirrored many of the fantastic mechanics from his other hugely popular cooperative game and translated them into a simpler format.

The characters have asymmetrical player powers – just like in Pandemic – and there are various ways in which you can lose the game: if one team member is on a totally flooded tile and cannot swim to safety; if the Treasure tiles sink before you’ve claimed them; if Fool’s Landing totally sinks; or if the Water Level reaches the top.

Forbidden Island is a brilliant cooperative experience if you and your gaming pals are looking for a team challenge that’s on the ‘gateway’ side of things. There are various levels of difficulty on offer in the set-up, as well as similar titles Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky, before you can move onto the likes of Pandemic in its many guises, or the campaign option that is Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (all by Matt Leacock).

Player Count: 2-4
Time: 30 Minutes
Age: 10+

Forbidden Island Board Game Review

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.

Playing Forbidden Island Board Game

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.

Game On!

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.

Forbidden Island Review - Tiles

Another Game?

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.

So you’ve heard about the four great treasures of the Archeans – the Crystal of Fire, Statue of Wind, Ocean’s Chalice and Earth Stone. They are held secretly on their Forbidden Island, which has been lost since the collapse of their empire. Until now. The clue is in the name – this island is forbidden so it will bite back if you try to steal its treasures. For our review of Forbidden Island, check it out here. But if you’re up for the challenge, let’s learn how to play. 

Set Up

Shuffle the 24 island tiles and then deal them face up randomly onto the table, firstly in a 4×4 square and then place two tiles next to the middle two tiles on each side of the square. This acts as the board and should look like this:

Note that there should be a space between each tile because you may need to turn them over at various points of the game. Then place the four treasure figures around the board. Separate the three decks of cards: Flood (blue back); Treasure (red back); and the six Adventurer cards. Shuffle the Flood and Treasure decks and place them face down besides the board. Draw the top six cards of the Flood deck. Each of these cards relates to a matching tile and for each card revealed, flip the corresponding tile over to the blue flooded side. 

Next shuffle the Adventurer cards and deal one randomly to each player. Each adventurer has a special power so discuss these powers in the group so you know what each other can do. Then take the coloured pawn of your character and place it on the tile with your pawn in the bottom right corner. It is ok if your starting tile is flooded. Any extra pawns and Adventurer cards are returned to the box.

Now deal two Treasure cards to each player, which can be placed face up in front of the player so all can see them. If any Waters Rise cards come out, put them to one side, deal a new card to each player and then shuffle the Waters Rise back into the deck. Finally, choose the level of difficulty you wish to play at by putting the red Water Level marker on the left side of the Water Meter. 


Once you’ve decided on a starting player (either randomly or by the suggested way of who last visited an island), each player will do the following on their turn:

  1. Take up to three actions.
  2. Draw two Treasure cards. 
  3. Draw Flood cards equal to the water level. 

There are four actions which you can take and you can take each action multiple times on a turn, including zero. You are also encouraged to discuss your turns with your teammates (but don’t force anyone to do anything; it’s cooperative, remember!) The action options are detailed below but there are some exceptions based on the character powers which we’ll discuss later:

  • Move. You may move one space orthogonally (up, down, left or right, but not diagonally) for each action. You may move onto a flooded tile but not over a missing tile. How tiles can become missing will be discussed later. 
  • Shore Up. You may shore up a single tile in an adjacent space, flipping it from the flooded side to the coloured side. 
  • Give a Treasure Card. You can give a single Treasure card to a teammate who is on the same tile as you as an action. You cannot give special action cards. 
  • Capture a Treasure. As an action, you may discard four matching Treasure cards whilst your pawn is on one of the two corresponding tiles and claim that Treasure. For example, if you’re on the Whispering Gardens, you can discard four Statue of the Wind cards to claim the Statue of the Wind. 

Forbidden Island Character Options

  • Diver: The diver can swim across one or more adjacent missing or flooded tiles as an action.
  • Engineer: The engineer can shore up two tiles as a single action.
  • Explorer: The explorer may move and shore up tiles diagonally from their location.
  • Messenger: The messenger may give cards without being on the same tile.
  • Navigator: The navigator may move other players up to two adjacent tiles per action. 
  • Pilot: The pilot may move to any tile once per turn for one action. 

After you’ve taken your actions, you draw two cards from the Treasure deck one at a time. These are added to your hand unless you draw a Waters Rise card. The Waters Rise card act similarly to the Epidemic cards in the 2013 game, Pandemic (also designed by Matt Leacock) but more on those in a second. If you exceed your hand limit of five, you may choose any card in your hand to discard. 

Back to the Waters Rise cards. When these cards are drawn, move the Water Level token up one mark on the Water Meter. Shuffle the Flood discard pile and then place the shuffled cards on top of the Flood deck. Then discard the Waters Rise card to the Treasure discard pile. There are a couple of special rules to be aware of for these cards. If you draw a Waters Rise card, you do not draw an extra card to replace it. If you draw two Waters Rise cards, you only shuffle the Flood discard pile once but you move the Water Level marker up twice. Finally, if there are no cards in the Flood discard pile, you just move the Water Level marker up one space. 

When you draw cards, you may draw one of the five special action cards. These count towards your hand limit but can be played at any time, even during a teammates turn, or if you have to discard a card from your hand. Should the Treasure deck ever run out, you shuffle the Treasure discard pile and turn it over to start again. 

The last step on your turn is to draw Flood cards equal to the number indicated on the Water Level meter. For each card drawn, find the matching tile and do one of the following:

  • If the tile is un-flooded, flip it to the flooded side. 
  • If the tile is flooded, remove it from the board and return it and the card to the box. When this happens, you cannot use a Sandbag special action to save the card. It’s too late. It’s gone forever. 

If any pawns are on a tile that is removed, move them to an adjacent tile that is still part of the island, even if it is flooded. If a pawn is not able to get to an adjacent tile, the game is over and everyone loses. The exceptions to this rule are the diver, who can swim anywhere; the pilot, who can fly to any tile; and the explorer who can swim diagonally. If the Flood deck is empty, shuffle and flip over the discard pile. 

Like any good cooperative game, there are multiple ways to lose the game and just one to win! You win the game if all four treasures have been collected, all players have made their way to Fools Landing and one player plays a Helicopter Lift card for everyone to escape. You can lose if one of the following occurs:

  1. Any player is on a tile which sinks and there is nowhere for them to swim to. 
  2. The Water Level rises to the skull and crossbones. 
  3. Fool’s Landing sinks. 
  4. Both Temples, Gardens, Palaces or Caves tiles sink before you are able to claim their respective treasure. 

You now should be ready to give Forbidden Island a go! Once you’ve beaten the game at the Novice difficulty, bump it up a notch and see how you get on! Good luck!

Zatu Score


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Great Engaging Art Work which ties well with the introductory narrative.
  • Excellent Introduction to Co-Operative Gameplay.
  • Scaling Difficulty for more advanced gameplay.

Might not like

  • Large surface area which could be aided by a game matt/board.
  • Simplistic Generic Components which could be easily improved upon.
  • Optional Game Modes are Available through the app... which isn't included.