Forbidden Island: Overview and Impression

Forbidden Island challenges players to work together to collect four ancient artifacts–the Earth Stone, the Statue of Wind, the Crystal of Fire, and the Ocean’s Chalice–from Forbidden Island before the island sinks under the waves forever.  Thing is, the island is sinking as the players race to accomplish this; making it more difficult to move around the island or even to retrieve an artifact.  Fortunately, each player is an expert in some fashion:  a helicopter pilot that can move anywhere, an engineer that can shore up the island more efficiently, and so forth.

If the players manage to gather the artifacts and get back to the helipad before it sinks into the sea, they are victorious.  However, losing one of the artifacts to the deep, one of the players drowning, losing the helipad or the water level raising too high ends in defeat.  Do you dare set foot on Forbidden Island?

In two words:  you should.


In this cooperative game, players are attempting to collect four Treasure Cards of the same color to trade them in for its matching artifact while keeping critical parts of the island from falling beneath the waves.  Treasure Cards are drawn each turn, and thes cards can be given to other players.  After each turn some of the island, as determined by the Water Level, becomes flooded and the corresponding tiles are turned over to indicate this.  If the part of the island being flooded is already turned over, it is instead removed from the board, shrinking the island along with it.

First, the island is randomly created; like this:

Each of those colored dots correspond to a particular treasure.  There are two potential places each treasure can be collected; so if one potential tile is lost to the sea before you get its artifact, you still have another chance to get it.  The helicopter is the helipad.  If that sinks, you lose; you’re trapped on the island and will eventually drown.  So, yeah.

Each turn, a player has three action points that can be used to perform any of the following:

-Move one space orthogonally.

-Shore up a tile.  Flip a flooded tile the player is adjacent to back to being unflooded.

-Claim an artifact.  A player discards four matching treasure cards on a tile that matches the cards discarded and claims the corresponding artifact.

-Give a card to another player on the same space.

-Each player also has a unique ability (move anywhere on the board, shore up two tiles at once, etc.).

Any given action can be taken more than once on a turn.  Once a player’s turn is finished, she draws two Treasure Cards and a number of Flood Cards as indicated by the current water level, with higher water levels requiring more Flood Cards be drawn.  Once that is done, it becomes the next player’s turn.

After a few turns, your board will likely look something like this:

Each of those blue squares have been flooded.  If they become flooded again, they are removed from the game.

As previously mentioned, if both potential locations for an artifact (grey or red in this example) sink below the waves before the matching artifact is claimed, you lose.

Again, if the helipad sinks below the waves, you lose.  Any game where the helipad ends up on the edge of the island can be a SERIOUS pain…

Once the four artifacts have been collected, every player must return to the helipad and any player can play a “Helicopter Lift” card (gotten from the Treasure Cards) to take off and win the game.

There are a couple other bits, but that’s the gist of it.


Forbidden Island is a great streamlined cooperative game that can also act as a gateway game into more intensive titles.  Many have called it “Pandemic-lite”, which is fair, but this game stands on its own merits.  The system for claiming artifacts and the drawing of Flood cards are similar to Pandemic’s mechanics, but those are the only similarities.

The game plays in about 15-20 minutes once you are familiar with the rules, and will likely be played a couple of times whenever it is pulled out.  It likely will not be the main event for the evening, but it doesn’t try to be.

And at $16, it’s a crazy good deal.  The four artifacts are molded plastic in different colors with good detail.  The art on the island tiles is exceptional across the board.  And it comes in a Rather Dashing tin.  If you get the chance to pick up, you should.

Keep on designing, yo!


Boxart courtesy of Gamewright Games

[tags]Board and Card Games, Cooperative, Gamewright, Matt Leacock[/tags]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: