Game Night: Forbidden Island

This post is part of the Game Night blog carnival. Check the link at the end for other participating bloggers.

I think it would be a pretty fair assessment to say that many RPG players like cooperative gameplay. That is, after all, what RPGs generally are – a cooperative gameplay experience. So when I see board games that feature cooperative gameplay over a competitive one, I am intrigued. And I think you will be too.

Forbidden Island is my first experience with a cooperative boardgame, and it has recently become one of our favorites. The scenario is this: a group of explorers are on a mysterious island that begins to sink. They need to capture the four treasures that they have come for and escape before the island sinks under their feet. Will they do it in time?

Forbidden Island starts with 24 island locale tiles randomly arranged in a vaguely circular pattern that have begun to “sink.” The goal for the players is to collect all four treasures on the island and leave before it disappears completely.

To do this, players must collect treasure cards (four of a kind!) and make their way to certain areas of the island to capture the treasure. The task is made easier by special abilities that each player has – which is good, because they will need all the help they can get.

On a player’s turn, they get a limited number of actions that they can do before the island sinks a little bit more, and maybe portions of it even disappear. In case you’re wondering, yes, missing island tiles make getting around difficult. Of course, as part of a player’s action, they can “shore up” sections of the island to keep them from disappearing, but then that takes up valuable actions that may be better used moving around or trading treasures so someone has four of a kind.

So if all the players are working together, who are they playing against? And how could they lose? In answer to the first question, they’re playing against the game, or the rules, or the mechanics… however you want to look at it. The rules are written in such a way that the island inevitably sinks and disappears. Shore up to your heart’s content, it’s gonna happen. So the players must work efficiently. In answer to the second question, there are several ways to lose the game, but in my experience, the easiest way to lose the game is to let Fool’s Landing sink. Fool’s Landing is one of the “Area Tiles,” and is the only exit off the island. So even if you have all the treasures, if there’s no Fool’s Landing to escape from, you all sink and die horrible watery deaths. (As the group becomes more confident, they can set the difficulty higher, and I theorize that the most frequent way to lose at that point is letting the water level get too high.)

Overall, this is a great game. Gameplay is simple (but not easy) and very kid-friendly. Plus, it comes in a sturdy tin that doesn’t take up a lot of game shelf space. A definite must buy for the next time your whole game group doesn’t show up.

  • Game: Forbidden Island
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: About 1/2 hour (assuming you don’t lose)
  • Type: Cooperative Strategy

Undergopher Central reviewed Forbidden Island last year.
Geek Ken also reviewed it.

EDIT: There are official tile setup variants posted on for those of you who already own the game, and are looking to spice it up.

Next month, I’d like to review Pandemic, which is a more recent acquisition of mine, and also a cooperative game. Stay tuned!

 Go to the Game Night Carnival page and find other games! (Don’t forget to check the archive…)

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6 Responses to Game Night: Forbidden Island

  1. Jeff Dougan says:

    I’ve got a semi-regular column that I write about playing games with kids for a local parenting blog. Amusingly (to me), I wrote about Forbidden Island and Pandemic in the same installment, about a year ago. That column, here ( mentions my playing frequently with my then-5-year-old son. Since his younger sister is now old enough to be mobile & into things, we aren’t getting to play games (in general) as much this year, although we’re trying to change that.

    I think you’ll find a lot that’s familiar in Pandemic, since it and Forbidden Island were designed by the same person, and the games share a lot of proverbial DNA. That said, Pandemic is /definitely/ a lot harder.

  2. Alphastream says:

    Really? You haven’t played the Castle Ravenloft / Ashardalon / Drizzt series? -5 geek points!! 🙂

    On the other hand, I keep hearing from parents that Forbidden Island is great… and I don’t own it. Sad.

    On the treasure hunting side, Adventurers is great (though competitive). Going Last did a review. On the semi-collaborative side, I like how Betrayal at the House on the Hill starts that way, then becomes competitive (sometimes with the bad guy being a secret). On the collaborative side, I didn’t care too much for Castle Panic (which the Tabletop show recently covered).

    • Benoit says:

      No, I haven’t. And what’s worse, I actually own Ashardalon, and still haven’t played it. Not sure if owning it means I don’t lose my geek points, or if owning it AND not having played it loses me MORE geek points….

    • Jeff Dougan says:

      I got to play a partial game of Ravenloft once, back last November (I think). For cooperative games, Shadows Over Camelot is also very highly regarded. I hear fabulous things about Arkham Horror, but the budget (both money & time) put it out of my reach for now.

      Forbidden Island is pretty inexpensive (under $20).

      Benoit, thanks for splicing my earlier link back in.

      • Benoit says:

        I’ll have to check those out. I definitely got the cooperative games bug.

      • Jeff Dougan says:

        One thing about Shadows, which also applies to Battlestar Galactica — the odds are very good that one person (in BSG, possibly more, I think) will be working against the group. That may or may not go with your co-op vibe, so be warned. (The same can also be true of Pandemic if you add the On the Brink expansion.)

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