23rd May 2021
Sunday night game rolls on and I'm logged into Skype and Board Game Arena.
The final game of the night was Forbidden Island: A cooperative race against time to escape a mysterious island about to be swallowed by the ocean.
Forbidden Island is the older sibling of Forbidden Desert, you can read my blog about it here.
Caveat: We played the game digitally but in the past have played the physical game.
What's in a game?
Eye-catching, good quality artwork is used on the flood cards & island tiles, they also come with suitably evocative names such as Temple Of The Moon, Cave Of Embers, Breaker's Bridge and so on. Art on the treasure cards is also good and matches the nicely sculpted figurines.
All-in-all, the components are good.
How's it play?
Forbidden Island is a race against time to recover 4 treasures (In the form of the 4 figurines.) and escape the ancient island as it collapses into the ocean waves. Collecting treasures is done by heading to certain locations with a set of cards and acquiring them,
During their turn, the active player will have 3 action points to spend on various actions. Once all players have had a turn, then the game gets to have its turn.
If, during play either of the decks is depleted, simply shuffle the discard pile back into a deck.
As a cooperative game, the players collectively win or lose. Forbidden Island has several ways to lose and 1 way to win!
There are 9 'critical' island tiles on the board.
Each figurine has 2 tiles which are used to acquire the it, if both tiles for a figurine sink before it is acquired, then it's game over as there's now no way to get that figurine.
Similarly, if the Fool's Landing island tile (Which contains the helipad sinks.), then there's no way to escape and it's also game over.
If a tile with a character on it sinks, the character must swim to an adjacent tile, if there are no adjacent tiles, then unless that character is the diver, they will meet their water end! If any character is lost then it's game over for all players!
Finally, if the marker on the water level reaches the skull & crossbones, then well.... you get the idea. Glub!
Winning; easier said than done!
Any single player must collect 4 identical treasure cards, then must reach one of the 2 island tiles associated with that treasure and spend an action to acquire that treasure's figurine. This must be done for all 4 figurines.
That's not the end though, now all the characters must reach the helipad and a Helicopter Lift card must be played by any player to escape to victory.
Like other cooperative games I've played, Forbidden Island injects a dose of luck into the gameplay in order to consistently challenge players and how players manage that luck is key to victory.
Broadly speaking the gameplay is; player shores up island - game tries to sink island - player shores up island and so on. Players have to keep the island a safe as possible long enough to survive and get the cards they need to win the game.
It's not as straightforward as it sounds though, the 3 actions points each player is given to do stuff never seems enough. Players have to choose between working towards objectives or saving the island and the clock is always, always ticking.
The way the flood deck works means that tiles which have already suffered a flood will be more prone to suffering further floods because when a Waters Rise! card appears and refreshes the flood deck, cards that were already revealed are put back on the top of the flood deck, meaning they will be the first to be revealed again.
Obviously protecting the critical island tiles is.... well critical but choosing to protect other tiles is a harder choice. Sure you can allow a unimportant tile at the edge of the board to sink and it won't immediately affect the game, however, when a tile sinks, its flood card is removed from the deck, slimming it down and meaning that flood cards for tiles you are trying to protect will appear more often. Keeping cards in the flood deck can act as a buffer against other parts of the islands sinking, provided you're willing to spend the action points of course....
A hand limit of 5 is also another area of the game which forces players to make decisions, just like action points, the hand limit never seems enough.
It takes 4 cards to gain a figurine, giving player's space for only 1 other card in their hand! Through gritted death, players will frequently have to discard useful cards because they're not useful right now.
To win Forbidden Island, the players will need to cooperate, coordinate and optimise the use of action points, they'll need to make every decisions count and use special cards appropriately and decisively.
Choosing when to let a tile sink or save it, or when and what card to give to another player are all vital decisions and most of the time player's will be forced to make compromises, rarely will their decisions be no-brainers.
I find Forbidden Island to be an enjoyable cooperative game and I'm happy to play it.
Sometimes the luck of the draw can go with and give you a slightly easier time or it screw you over (Nothing like drawing Fool's Landing in the starting 6 flooded tiles, drawing Waters Rise straightaway and watching Fool's Landing immediately sink....).
But if it was always easy or fair, what would be the fun it that?
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I play, I paint.