Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mini-review of Forbidden Island

Last week I picked up a copy of Forbidden Island from my local Borders. I had first heard of it while looking for cooperative games to play with my friends on our Sunday get-together. Its for two to four players and suggested for ages 10 and up. The goal of the game is collect all the treasures on Forbidden Island and escape before the island sinks into the ocean.

The game itself comes in a metal tin, and all the pieces placed nicely within a plastic organizer. Everything has a place, making starting the game and putting it way very easy. There are six pawns; one for each role and matching its color, 24 island tiles that compose the "board," figurines for each treasure, a water level marker, and the various cards (flood deck, treasure deck, roles) needed for play. The island tiles are made of a thick cardboard stock and have very nice artwork on them. They don't look, or feel, cheap.

My friend Paul and I went through the rules, finding them to be pretty quick to pick up. Each player assumes draws a card to determine what they are, with roles ranging from helicopter pilot to engineer. Each role has a unique ability to set it apart from the others. Some abilities only directly affect the player, some affect the island and some aid other players. For example, the helicopter pilot can move to any spot on the island once per turn, whereas the engineer can shore up two flooded island locations for a single action, and the messenger (one of my favorites) can given an item in their possession to any player, regardless of location, as an action. Because of the random selection of roles its entirely possible for players to have better synergy in one game than another.

The board is made up of the island tiles. You shuffle them (as best you can) and lay out the island in the prescribed fashion. Like the roles, the board is random and different each game. Before the game begins, you draw six flood cards to determine the initial flooding of the island. I like the random aspect of the game since it seems harder to come up with an optimized, "we'll do it this way, every time" way of playing. While this means that some games will be easier to win or lose, it does keep things interesting.

As the game plays you’ll get treasure cards that you collect to get a specific treasure, helicopter cards and sandbag cards to make things easier, and Water Rising cards. After drawing treasure cards, you’ll draw flood cards, turning over tiles from dry land to flooded or flooded to submerged (the card and tile are then removed from the game). When you get a Water Rising card, then all the flood cards that were discarded are shuffled and added to the top of the flood card deck plus the water level rises a notch. This is what you’re playing against – the rising tide! As the game progresses the water will rise faster and faster which gives a tangible, wonderful tension for all the players, I think.

Its important to note that there is only one way to win and four ways to lose. You win if all the treasures are collected and all the players escape the island together. You lose if the island floods completely, one or more treasures become unobtainable, the helicopter becomes unreachable or gets submerged and if a player drowns (basically, they’re on a piece of land that submerges and can’t get to anywhere else). Cooperation is necessary to make sure everyone can make it to the end.

Thus far I’ve played the game with men and women I know, plus one nine year-old, and its gone over well. Last time I went to my friend’s house to play games, my friend Gabe was thrilled to see that I brought it. My friend John went ahead and bought the game after playing it only three times.

Right now I can pretty easily recommend Forbidden Island. Easy to learn then play with a fun cooperative focus, I think its going to be a regular game for me. If I had any complaints it would be that it isn’t made for more than four people – our game days usually have eight or more folks.

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