Down by the Water – Forbidden Island with a Family

Forbidden Island is often described as Pandemic’s little brother – it’s by the same designer, Matt Leacock, and possesses many of the same features and gameplay mechanics.

The game premise is simple, a team of adventurers land on the island to rescue 4 elemental statues. But the ancient people who hid them on the island boobytrapped the land to sink beneath the ocean, taking any foolish exploreres with it.

Each turn you have 3 actions Рmove; shore up a partially sunken part of the island; pass an elemental card to another player on the same square. Once you have 4 elemental cards and are on the correct tile, you can retrieve a statue. These three actions are very rarely enough to accomplish all that needs to be done in your turn. After your actions, you reveal which are the next parts of the island to flood and take some additional elemental cards. To indicate a flooded tile, you simply flip it over, revealing a monochrome blue tinted version of the tile art.

The tiles in play for Forbidden Island

The game in progress - some tiles are missing, sunk without a trace. Others are flooded (indicated by using the monochrome blue side of the tile), in danger of sinking for good.

Occasionally you will reveal the dreaded “Waters Rise!” card, and the previously flooded tiles are now at greater risk of sinking without a trace, as you shuffle the discarded cards and place them on TOP of the draw deck. If you’ve played Pandemic, you’ll recognise this as a major tension factor – you KNOW which cards are coming up, but not in what order.

My eldest sons (aged 8 and 4) love this game, so I do too. It’s easy enough to grasp, and there’s no “I won, I won!” jeering. We either all win, by getting off the Island with the statues, or we all lose because a statue is lost, or our escape tile sinks, or the entire island floods. At about 25 minutes it’s short enough to hold their attention, and as it’s cooperative, you can discuss what they’re doing and make suggestions for their next play.

Double sided Forbidden Island tiles

Full colour "normal" location tile, and the flipped blue tinted "flooded" version

The artwork is great, and has lately led to “Which bit of the island do you like best, Daddy?” discussions. I love that the game engages their imagination on that level, beginning to turn a painted piece of card into a real location.

The Fire Crystal is made from a transparent red resin

The Fire Crystal is by far the nicest piece in the box

The statues are nice too (though some are nicer than others, and everyone always wants to collect the fire statue if they can, proving that siblings will find something to argue about anyway).

It seems at this point as if there’s a reasonable amount of longevity to the game too, I look forward to offering a few suggestions on this in a future post.

It’s missing the absolute cut-the-air-with-a-knife tension that I experienced the only time I’ve played Pandemic, but Forbidden Island seems to please people who inhabit any one of a number of boardgaming niches: those just venturing into boardgaming; those who maybe find elves & ¬†wizards, soldiers, or many tentacled horrors a trifle disturbing or offputting; those who have children they like to play boardgames with… the list goes on.

Author: hairyhatfield

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  1. In many ways it’s a better gateway game than the tired old classics, of Carcassone & Catan

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    • For me, Carcassone’s scoring has put more newbies off than brought in. But I can’t bring myself to cast it aside as a Gateway game like Catan because the people who do like it tend to really get into board games more.

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  2. Played this for the first time the other day, buy with just myself and my wife. I think just having two players makes it a tad easier to collect the cards necessary for the treasures, but still enjoyable. I’m looking forward to trying some different island layouts, as I can see you could up the ante by using a layout with some pinch points / land bridges.

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    • In my experience, the number of players doesn’t seem to affect the difficulty level at all. Novice and Normal difficulty are VERY winnable though, and for any challenge at all, you need to start on Elite difficulty.
      Difficulty levels and alternate layouts are something I’m saving for a future post.

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  3. I’ve been borrowing this for a couple of weeks now and haven’t got around to playing it yet with The Missus. She’s out this weekend, so can you play like a sadly, lonely bastard?

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    • In short, yes.
      Obviously you need to take multiple roles, bit it’s still fun as a solitaire.

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  4. I’m yet to win a game (though we’ve only played it 4 or 5 times since Christmas). It’s lovely, but it always screws me over with 1 treasure to go.

    Love it.

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  5. I love this game, its a big fave of my daughters as well. So far were wining 4 out of 5 games with the only loss coming today, but we are starting on novice. Look forward to reading about the other layouts and hear how they play out

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