Exploring long-forgotten islands. Searching for mystical treasures in the face of grave danger. Working as a team to navigate a sinking treasure trove of mystery and adventure. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
Fans of board games that found that appealing should be jumping at the opportunity to play Matt Leacock’s Forbidden Island.
You and five other intrepid adventurers brave the ancient ruins of a far-off island. Once you land via helicopter, your goal is to collect four pieces of priceless treasure and escape before the entire landmass sinks. All of you must cooperate to achieve this, and you all possess special abilities to contribute to the mission.
Starting from the very beginning, the box in which the game comes is made from lead. Depending on your preference, this could be either a positive or a negative. On the one hand, it’s a tad heavier and could damage other board game boxes. On the other hand, it’s of high-quality craft, it’s not excessively large, the lid comes on and off easily, and the artwork on it is fairly attractive.
The tile cards on which players move are thick pieces of cardboard, so they’re nice and sturdy. This should prevent wear over time. Meanwhile, the artwork on them is stunning, showing exotic and breathtaking vistas you visit while playing.
A special highlight is the artifacts you need to collect. These figurines are surprisingly well-crafted, lovingly detailed well beyond the minimum acceptable standard. The player pieces are good enough for what they need to be, so there’s not too much to state on that matter.
All the other cards in the game feel a little flimsier than the tile ones. Not that they are low-quality — they seem fine for your average card game. But the card that displays flood levels on the map does cause a little concern. It comes with a sliding indicator, so that could cause some damage over time.
Overall, all the props required for the game are of admirable make, so you won’t feel wanting in that department.
The map consists of a diamond shape comprised of six tile-card rows, with 24 island tiles overall. From top to bottom, they are arranged by two, four, six, six, four, and two cards. You place them in a random order, so each game sports a different layout. Players start from a certain tile with a differently colored pawn on it. Each pawn represents another player. They spread out from there until they reach Fools’ Landing and escape the island. They move from one adjacent orthogonal card to the next (meaning you cannot move diagonally from one adjacent tile to another).
At the start, six of these tiles have their other side facing upward. This side shows the same image, only with a blue tint. This means that this area is flooded and is a step away from being utterly submerged. You may reverse flooding by shoring up the tile, which turns it back to its previous state. If a tile sinks completely, however, you remove it from the map, and players may no longer access it.
Linger too long, and you risk seeing the entire island sink. The Flood Level card indicates just how deep in it you are. Whenever you draw a certain card, the flood level increases. Once it reaches a critical point, it’s game over.
Treasure Cards, and Flood Levels
Treasure cards determine what occurs to the players and the island itself. These come in three distinct categories:
- Water Rise card: this will raise the flooding level on the island.
- Special Action: allows for things such as helicopter lifts, sandbags that shore up a flooded area, and so on.
- Treasure Card: cards depicting the coveted treasures you’re after. You need four of the same in your possession to retrieve an artifact.
Water Rise cards name the map tile which will become flooded or submerged. When someone draws a Flood card, the tile it shows must be turned to show its tinted side. If the flooded tile’s card comes up again, that tile sinks, rendering it out of play.
Each player may only handle a maximum of five Treasure cards. If they wish to accept a card but already have five in hand, they must discard one of them. Furthermore, only players that find themselves on the same tile may exchange their cards.
As we already mentioned, up to six players may enjoy this game. Per turn, every player has three actions they can make. These include:
- Collecting treasure
- Shoring up a flooded tile
- Passing a treasure card to someone on the same tile as the acting player
Once they’ve completed those, they draw out two treasure cards, which remain face up.
Each participant assumes a different role, each one with its own unique perks. These are:
- Navigator: may move another player by two tiles at the cost of one action
- Diver: can maneuver through sunken or flooded tiles at the cost of one action
- Pilot: may fly to any tile on the island for one action (only once a turn)
- Explorer: can move diagonally (as well as shore up diagonally)
- Messenger: can give their Treasure cards to any player on the map for one action
- Engineer: may shore up two tiles at the cost of a single action
How to Get the Artifacts and Escape
To acquire an artifact, you must first be holding four Treasure cards showing the same artifact. Once you have these, you must travel to one of the two tiles containing that particular treasure’s image at its bottom left corner. Only then may you take the artifact with you.
When you’ve collected all four treasures, you must make your escape. All players shall rush to meet back at Fools’ Landing. If one of them has the Helicopter Lift card, the game is won.
How You Can Lose
While traversing the treacherous isle, players need to avoid certain situations in order to win. Should any of the following transpire, players lose immediately.
- A player sinks on a tile without the option to jump to an adjacent one
- Both tiles containing an unclaimed treasure sink
- Fools’ Landing is completely submerged
- The Water Level reaches the top
How Long Does a Game of Forbidden Island Take?
Your average game of Forbidden Island will knock out about half an hour’s worth of your time. Of course, those experienced in the game will wrap it up a tad faster. By that token, if you’re new to the experience, you will likely need a little more time to complete a full game.
Ups and Downs of the Game
Forbidden Island is a splendid cooperative game. It’s easily accessible to newcomers and has a good enough flow to keep returning players satisfied. All the elements in the game feel balanced, so nothing is useless or overpowered.
And through the marvelous art design, its creators took great care to hammer in that perilous thrilling atmosphere of adventuring. Furthermore, its price is affordable, costing around $15, so you’ll hardly regret purchasing it.
The only gripe one could have is that it’s too similar to a previous game Matt Leacock designed, Pandemic. Though much simpler, Forbidden Island plays much in the same manner as Pandemic. This might bore or frustrate those who are already familiar with the prior game.
Beyond that, those who prefer competitive games might not think all that much of Forbidden Island. And perhaps the lack of serious depth won’t appeal to some players who prefer more intricate gameplay.
Get or Forget?
Definitely get. It’s streamlined, balanced, and gallons of fun, especially for the cooperation-oriented types among you. The artwork is breathtaking, the pacing rapid, and the entry level is very accepting to new players. It’s guaranteed to provide hours of exhilarating entertainment for you and your friends/family!