April 04, 2012

Board Game Capsule: Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island @ Let's Play Green Bay!
Designed by Matt Leacock (2010)
2-4 players / 30-45 minutes / Ages 10+

This is a game my brother-in-law's family owns, though they've only played it once completely through - and that is when they were visiting us.  So my nephew was familiar with it.  I've had it on our wish list for a while, and my kids had certainly been interested.  In fact, if it could play up to five people, I probably would have bought it long ago.  Anyway, we pulled Forbidden Island next from the open library, set it up, and then I jumped into a quick rules explanation.  My two boys followed along and after one turn were up to speed.  This is a very simple game to learn and play.

Quickly, your goal is to work together with the other players to find four different treasures - by any one person individually collecting a set of four cards representing one of those treasures (think rummy, Indiana Jones style).  When a player has a matching set, he/she must run to a designated point on the island in order to pick it up.  Once your team has gathered all four treasures amongst yourselves, then everyone needs to dash off to the helicopter pad where some one must play a helicopter card to fly home.  The kick is that the island is sinking - and faster than the U.S. economy!  After each player's turn, not only are a random selection of tiles flooded, but it's possible that the overall water level will rise, meaning even more tiles will flood each turn.  If a tile is flooded twice, it sinks completely and is removed from the game, creating an impassable gap between other tiles.  Not only that, but if enough treasure location tiles sink to where you can no longer collect a required treasure, the game will end.  Luckily, you are able to "shore up" a partially flooded tile before it floods a second time, but really you're only delaying the inevitable.  Speed and mobility are the core principles you'll need to survive as you race around to shore up sinking tiles and to trade cards so that individuals can collect those precious sets.

Turns are dead easy and quick.  You have three actions per turn, one of which consist of one of the following: move one tile, give a Treasure card to another player on the same tile as you, shore up a flooded tile, or turn in a collected set to gain that treasure.  After you use your three actions, you draw two Treasure cards which are usually a treasure.  However, there are some special sandbag and helicopter cards which give you extra benefits.  And there are also three "waters rise" cards, meaning the overall water level goes up a notch.  If it rises too high, the game ends immediately.  Otherwise, the water level indicates how many tiles flood and you randomly draw that many Flood cards to see which areas flood or maybe even go the way of Atlantis.

With its cooperative nature, simple play, and minimal downtime, this is an ideal family game for kids.  The tiles are laid our randomly every game and you can even experiment with different layouts and designs.  In addition to the normal rules, there are also six different roles from which you randomly assign to players at the beginning of the game.  Each role gives you a rule-breaking ability.  For example, the Engineer can shore up two, adjacent, flooded tiles for the same action point; and the Diver can swim through any number of missing or flooded tiles as an action.  This adds a great deal of flavor and replay value.  There is player elimination if you get caught on a tile that sinks with no adjacent land space to move to, but that ends the game for everybody else, too!  The components are all colorful and beautiful, with little, plastic, sculpted treasure tokens.  The artwork is very nice.  Both the time and age suggestions on the box are slightly high.  Both of my sessions took right at half an hour, but that was with rules explanations.  And kids as young as 6-7 years would be able to handle this title, especially given is cooperative mechanics.  There are four different difficulty levels, which simply translates to how high the water level begins at the start of the game.

Forbidden Island is a fast-paced, tense, and accessible title for kids with a good deal of luck and replayability.  It is great for teaching problem-solving and teamwork.  It is also an "out of this world" value considering what you get in terms of game play and components at a price point of anywhere between a mere $11-$18.  That's just unheard of!  Really the only drawback for our family is the 4-player max.  We have Red November, which is similar in chaotic cooperativeness, but accommodates up to 8 players and is thematically richer, though it is much more fiddly.  However, I can highly recommend Forbidden Island as a family game for kids and adults.  It will remain on our wish list and probably be a purchase down the road.

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