Board Game Night: Forbidden Island

Legends tell of a mysterious island that contains priceless treasures that hold within them the powers of the four elements of life. The Crystal of Fire, the Ocean’s Chalice, the Earth Stone, and the Statue of Wind all lie hidden and dormant on that lost mysterious island. The original owner of the treasures, the ancient empire of the Archeans, used the island as a getaway. During the Archeans’ time, they understood the power of those treasures and decided to hide them on the island so that no wandering soul would ever claim them. As an extra security measure, the empire designed the island as a large trap that would sink if anybody were to step foot on its shores.

This is where you and your friends come into play.

Forbidden Island is a cooperative game for two to four players, lasts approximately 30 minutes, and is for people ten years or older.

Much like some of the previously mentioned games Mysterium and Fantastic Beasts Perilous Pursuits, all of the players either win or lose together. Each player takes on the role of an explorer that has been tasked to find the mysterious island with a team and find the infamous lost treasures. But every move you make brings the island closer to sinking, meaning that the treasures, along with your life, may be lost forever.

Forbidden Island is a game of minimalism that has the same tile building feature of Betrayal at House on the Hill. However, instead of building tiles, the game board is preset prior to the game beginning. The object of the game is to navigate the island, find and retrieve the four treasures, have everybody make it back to a tile called Fool’s Landing, then and fly off the island.

To set up the game, all of the tiles should be shuffled and placed on the playing area in a predetermined shape shown in the rule books, however the shape does not mean the tiles are in the same place each time. The tiles stay in the same shape, but each tile may be in a different place during each playthrough. Each tile has the name of the location and some beautiful artwork, however a few of them have corresponding pictures of the four different treasures. There are two tiles for each treasure. The treasures should be placed off the playing surface but close to the tiles for aesthetic and story purposes. Shuffle the Flood Deck and the Treasure Deck and deal two treasure cards to each player. Then draw the top six cards from the Flood Deck and flip over the corresponding tile for each card you draw. After randomly drawing your adventurer, place your pawn on the tile that shows your pawn’s color.

Each of the adventurers have varying abilities that help during the game. An example would be the Pilot. Once per turn, the pilot can fly to any tile on the board for one action. The adventurers should be randomly drawn instead of chosen to retain some form of fairness given that some combos of adventurers work better together than others.

On your turn, you must do things in a specific order. The first step is to take up to three actions. This can be moving from one tile to an adjacent one, shoring up a tile, giving a treasure card to another player, or capturing a treasure.

Moving is exactly how is sounds. The board is set up in a specific shape, and you can move your pawn one tile either horizontally or vertically for one action. Some adventurers allow you to move diagonally.

Shoring up means taking one of those flipped tiles (which is considered flooded when it’s flipped over) and removing the flood, putting the tile back to normal. You can shore up a tile you’re standing on or an adjacent one.

You can give one treasure card to another player as long as you’re standing on the same tile as them.

Finally, if you have four of the same treasure cards in your hand, you go to a tile that has the treasure that matches the cards in your hand and trade those four cards to capture and gain the corresponding treasure.

Once you have taken your three actions, you draw two treasure cards and add them to your hand. Five of each treasure are in the deck, so gaining the appropriate cards needed to capture the treasure is more difficult than it sounds. You can also only have exactly five cards in your hand. If you draw cards that puts you over the allotted amount, you must discard down to five cards. You want to draw the treasure cards one at a time. Inside the Treasure Deck are the real problems called WATERS RISE! cards. When one of these cards is drawn, the game becomes more difficult.

If you start at the beginning water level of two, then you must draw two cards from the Flood Deck when you draw a Waters Rise! card. All of the cards in the Flood Deck match the names of the locations on the tiles. After drawing each card, you flip the corresponding tile over so it is flooded. However, if the tile is already flipped and you draw the card for it, that tile disappears off the table and is gone, meaning the island shrinks and makes it more difficult to capture the treasures.

After you draw the appropriate number of Flood Deck cards, shuffle the entire discard pile and put those cards back on top of the Flood Deck. This means another drawn Waters Rise! card is possibly going to sink those tiles that were flooded…unless the players shore them up on their turns. Then move the Waters Rise level up one tick mark. The more times a Waters Rise! card is drawn, the higher the level, thus the more Flood Deck cards you have to draw on subsequent turns.

The players win if all four treasures are captured, they make it back to Fool’s Landing, and they either have the Pilot or somebody has a Helicopter Lift card from the Treasure Deck in his or her hand.

Unlike only having one win condition, there are four ways the players can lose. The first way to lose is if Fool’s Landing sinks. The second is if a player dies by being on a tile that sinks and no existing adjacent tile is there for a player to swim to safety. The third is if the Water’s Rise level reaches the skull and crossbones level. The final way to lose is if both tiles containing one of the treasure symbols sink.

Forbidden Island is an interesting little game that puts forth strategy and cohesion through an overall goal. Unlike Fantastic Beasts Perilous Pursuits, there is less luck involved and more strategic planning about how to best use your three actions each turn. The players are encouraged to talk and plan together as the game progresses.

I can tell you that in the four or five times we’ve played the game since buying it, we have won twice. While it’s not the most difficult game in the world, the Flood Deck and attributing flooding of the tiles can make the game hectic. In one of our more recent games, we found ourselves becoming anxious and dreading drawing a Flood Deck card because we knew that Fool’s Landing was flooded and in the top six cards of the deck. We ended up losing that game, and it was a heartbreaker, but we enjoyed the time spent nonetheless in spite of the anxiety and fear of drawing each card.

Even though the recommended age is ten or older, I feel like younger kids could be taught the mechanics of the game. Whether you’re playing with a few friends or having a family game night, Forbidden Island is a quick and fun little adventure that really showcases the strengths and weaknesses of working together.

Board Game Geek: Forbidden Island

This episode of TableTop showcases the playstyle and rules of Forbidden Island. I was first introduced to the game because of this video. I also do not own the rights to this video. I am using it for the sole purpose of educating those interested in playing Forbidden Island. All rights reserved to Geek & Sundry.

Written by Sean

Sean is currently a freelance writer that spends much of his time worrying far too much. He is a board and video game enthusiast, an avid watcher of movies, a lover of sports, and a certified nerd. While he has no specific writing style, he likes to think he can adapt as needed to different writing styles, tones, and intonations. He likes to cook, read books and is currently engaged to the love of his life!

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