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Forbidden Island

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Gamewright, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, about 30 minutes; $15.99)

 

forbiddenislandTreasure? Danger? Racing against time? These are the ingredients to be found in Forbidden Island, a cooperative game as up to four players explore a mysterious island in search of four treasures, combine their resources to capture those treasures and then attempt to escape from the island before it or they sink into the sea!

Forbidden Island, a Matt Leacock design, comes in an attractive tin box to hold its quality components: 28 Treasure cards, 24 Flood cards (one each to match the 24 double-sided island tiles), 6 wooden pawns, 6 Adventurer cards, 4 Treasures, a “water meter”, a clip to chart the rising tide and rules.

To start, you must create the island and this is done by shuffling the 24 island tiles and placing them in a four by four grid (with the eight remaining tiles grouped in pairs north, south, east and west of the grid). The tiles begin on their colored side. Now, the first six cards from the Flood deck are revealed and the matching tile for each card drawn flipped to its “blue” (flooded) side. An Adventurer card is dealt randomly to each player (with the remaining cards placed back into the tin box out of play) and the matching color player pawn begins its quest on a tile displaying that color token. Now, all players are dealt two Treasure cards which are placed face up in front of them. The initial water level is set (anywhere from “novice” to “legendary”) and the game begins.

On his turn, a player may do up to three actions. A player may move his pawn (horizontally or vertically) across the island at the cost of 1 action per tile. A second option is to “shore up” a tile by flipping a flooded tile back to its colored side (providing that the player’s pawn is either on the tile or adjacent to it). A third choice is to give A Treasure card he has to another player occupying the same tile. Finally, it costs one action to capture a Treasure.

To capture a treasure, a player must have FOUR Treasure cards (of the five Treasure cards found in the deck displaying that specific treasure) and be on a tile displaying the icon matching the cards held. The Treasure cards are then discarded and the treasure added to the player’s holdings.

Once actions are done, two Treasure cards are drawn. (A player may never have more than 5 Treasure cards in his hand. Excess cards are discarded.) Most Treasure cards depict treasures. However, several special cards also appear in the deck. There are 2 Sandbags (which allow you to shore up ANY one tile on the island) and 3 Helicopter Lifts (which permit you to transport one or more pawns together on a tile to any other tile OR take the entire party OFF the island from the Fools’ Landing tile for the win!). These special cards do NOT cost a player action to use and may be used at any time, even when it is not your turn. There are also 3 “Waters Rise!” cards. These cards move the water level up a notch and require the Flood deck discards to be shuffled and then replaced on TOP of the Flood deck. (This makes the possibility of flooded tiles sinking a real danger.) Once done, it’s the island’s turn to play!

A number of Flood cards equal to the current Water Meter level (anywhere from 2 to 5) are drawn. The tile matching the drawn Flood card is flipped over to its flooded side. If already flooded, that tile and its corresponding card are removed from the game! Pawns may remain on flooded tiles (even capture treasures on flooded tiles) but if the tile is removed, that pawn must “swim” to an adjacent tile. If unable to do so, that player is lost and so is the game! To win, all four Adventurers and all four treasures must be helicoptered off the island from Fools’ Landing.

Play continues until either the Adventurers win by exiting the island with the treasures or the island wins (by having the tiles where you can collect the treasures sink before you can get them or the Fool’s Landing tile sinks so you cannot leave the island or one or more players are unable to safely swim to an adjacent tile when the tile they are on sinks or the water level rises to the top where the skull & crossbones icon is.)

Forbidden Island succeeds on several levels. Because of the random set up of the island, location proximity and starting positions are always different. This creates different routes to the treasures and Fool’s Landing which can impact on the ease or difficulty of getting treasures and getting off the island so a “sameness” is avoided. In addition, each Adventurer has a unique “power”. (The Explorer, for example, may move diagonally, the Engineer can shore up TWO tiles at the cost of 1 action, the Messenger can give cards to other players even when not on the same tile). Since there are six Adventurer cards and only four of them at most will be in the game at any one time, play options are varied and, although the overall goals remain the same (keep your party safe, gather the treasures as quickly as you can by sharing cards, maximize Adventurer advantages, and keep the Fools’ Landing tile afloat), tactical choices change each game. Another plus is that the level of difficulty is easily modified according to taste (and the audience) so the game is flexible as to age suitability. That and the cooperative nature of the game (table talk is not only allowed but encouraged) makes the game perfect for family play,

Something should also be mentioned as to the graphic quality of Forbidden Island. It is remarkable, particularly considering its low retail price. The molded treasure pieces are a colorful and tactile treat. The tiles, which are of high quality with impressive artwork (credited to C.B. Canga), only add to the ambience. And all in a beautifully produced tin.

Forbidden Island is superior in play and presentation, offering a family game that is an exceptional value for your gaming dollar.

 


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