Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Game Review: Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island
  • designer: Matt Leacock
  • publisher: Gamewright
  • date: 2010
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2090/8.04
  • age: 10+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $11.20 (Boards & Bits)
Maybe it's because I started writing this review during the final few weeks of the TV series, LOST... but the whole "island full of crumbling ruins & ancient secrets" vibe resonates pretty strongly with me right now.

But don't take my (admittedly gamer-oriented) word for it: listen to my (gamer-in-training) 8 year old son... or his non-gamer 8 year old friends... or my long-suffering wife (who games because she loves me!)... or even other actual gamers who've played the game. It's been a hit with everyone who has had the opportunity to play!

Forbidden Island is a cooperative game for 2-4 players, though since the game is played with open hands, it works just fine as a solitaire game as well, with the player controlling two (or more) pawns. (Another odd Lost reference: this is definitely a "live together or die alone" kind of game.) Regardless of the number of players, it seems to clock in at right about a half hour of playing time.

The color text of the game has the players on a search for elemental treasures (The Crystal of Fire, the Statue of the Wind, The Ocean's Chalice & the Earth Stone) created by an ancient civilization. Of course, it's not a simple archaeological expedition - the island is booby-trapped to begin sinking when anyone attempts to steal the treasures... and that's exactly what you're here to do.

I could go into a detailed rules explanation... but that seems pretty pointless when a PDF of the rulebook is available online, thanks to the good folks at Gamewright. Simply put, you're using 3 actions per turn to move your piece across an island made of tiles, attempting to collect the treasures, shore up the sinking parts of the island, and generally survive long enough for all of you to grab the last helicopter off the island (is Frank Lapidus the pilot?). At the end of each turn, you draw cards to increase your hand (and potentially increase the rate of flooding) as well to sink more parts of the island.

There are lots of ways to lose:

  • if the helicopter landing pad sinks, you lose
  • if one of your team doesn't survive, you lose
  • if you fail to recover all four treasures, you lose
  • if the island floods completely, you lose

But it wouldn't be much of a cooperative game if you won all the time, right? So far, we're doing very well playing at the Novice setting, while we're about 50/50 at the Normal setting. I have yet to convince my son to try it at the more difficult settings. (BTW, a clever game feature - you only have to change the starting level of the water - indicated on a sliding scale - to change the difficulty of the game. No re-mixing the deck, no convoluted alternative set-up.)

The components are high quality - nice cards, great chunky tiles with evocative "forbidden island" artwork that reminds me a bit of the computer game Myst, and nifty plastic "treasures" - all packaged in a cool-looking tin with a well-designed box insert. (For those of you non-gamers, the "well-designed insert" may not sound like a big deal, but I can tell you from experience that it makes it easier to transport & keep the game in top-notch condition... and that not all companies think this part through.)

A side note: since the designer, Matt Leacock, is best known for his OTHER cooperative game, Pandemic, it's helpful to note that while the games share some mechanics (most notably the Infection/Waters Rise restacking of the decks & the various player roles that allow each person to "break" the rules in a particular way), the board play (due to the sinking tiles) and kid-friendly theme make for a very different game experience.

Finally, the recommended age of 10 is correct - but only if the kids are going to be playing without any adults helping run the game. With a friendly adult, the game can easily be played by kids as young as 5. The cheap price point (the MSRP is only $15.99) means that Forbidden Island will likely be one of the best kid gaming investments you're likely to make this year.

1 comment:

Peter Schott said...

I have to agree with this review. It's a great family-themed cooperative game. We played it with our 7-year-old and it went over really well. We've since played it several times with friends and just as a family. Of course, my wife learned the hard way that increasing the number of players to five is pretty much a recipe for failure, even at the easiest setting. They reached the highest water level just before they got to leave the island, but it was sinking pretty fast by that point anyway.

Great game, easy to learn, the theme works really well with the game mechanics. If you want extra "roles" for the players, there's a whole thread discussing them over @ boardgamegeek.com.

Thanks for sharing the review. I hope this gets out to people who don't normally look for these sorts of games because this one isn't too widely known yet, but is a great game!