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Graham Dean
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Forbidden Island

Review

Someone at our game group had got hold of a review copy of Forbidden Island and I got to play a couple of games of it the other night. Since this game isn’t out yet (at least in the UK) I thought a short review going through some of the attributes of the game might help people decide whether it is something they might like to buy.

Overview



Forbidden Island is a co-operative game from the man who designed Pandemic. The idea is that players are on an island which is sinking into the sea. Their aim is to get hold of four treasures and then escape before the island sinks completely.

The theme is fantasy (in the sense of b-movie melodrama rather than sword and sorcery), and since the game plays in about 30 minutes it seems to me to be aiming to be a light hearted filler or children’s game.

Components

The components are excellent. Extra work has gone into making this game beautiful, far beyond what the gameplay actually needs. In particular the four treasures are wonderful.



The tiles are big, thick and very durable which is important as these will see quite a lot of use. The artwork is a fantasy style which is in keeping with the premise of the game. If I was going to be ultra picky I would probably raise an eyebrow at the artwork on the non-location playing cards (helicopter lift, sandbags etc), but they design adopted does at least make them stand out and easy to use.

The long thin card which is used to keep track of your level of difficulty and how quickly the island will flood involves using a slider. Time will tell how well this wears, but it’s perfectly adequate.

One of the key features to mention is that this game comes in a tin, and not a cardboard box. There are two ways to look at this. The first is whether you prefer tin to cardboard. Personally I have a mild preference for sturdy cardboard game boxes, as they stack together better and don’t damage my other games. Given this preference this is a small negative. The second way to look at this is whether the tin box has been done well or not. I didn’t give it a thorough examination but it looked well done to me. Good thickness with a lid which closed easily, good quality artwork and a made to measure insert so that all the components have a place.



Setup

It takes only a few minutes to lay out the game. The tiles are randomised so the playing area is different every time, although the tile pattern (4x4 with an extra 2 tiles placed around the edge in the middle of each side) is always the same.

The cards are shuffled, roles randomly determined and initial cards dealt (two treasure cards to each player). Six of the tile locations are flipped over to their flooded side (determined randomly), and then you’re ready to play.

None of us had ever played before, but the rules explanations were over in about five minutes. Most of us had played Pandemic at least once before, and there are enough mechanical similarities for this to have helped us understand how to play.

Gameplay

Each player has a randomly selected role which gives a special ability, and dictates what colour playing piece is used and the starting position.



Play then proceeds clockwise around the table. Each player performs up to three actions on their turn, after which they draw two cards, and then check to see what tiles are sinking.

Actions

Each player has a variety of options for their actions, which can be discussed with the other players and performed in any order. In addition there are a number of useful cards which can be played at any time.

The actions are:

Move one space horizontally or vertically;

Shore up a sinking tile horizontally or vertically, or the tile the pawn is on;

Pass treasure card to a player whose pawn is on the same tile as yours (note that it takes one action per card, so to pass three cards would take all three actions); and

Collect a treasure by handing in a complete set of four treasure cards which your pawn is on one of the two treasure location spots.

All of these are tweaked in various ways by the special abilities of the role cards. For example the Explorer role gives the ability to move and shore up diagonally.

Draw two treasure cards

Each player has a hand limit of five treasure cards (the cards with a red back), and must discard down if they ever have more than this number. After taking his/her actions, the player draws two cards. All cards are kept face up so that they are visible to all.

There are basically three different types of treasure card.

Treasure card, showing an image of one of the four treasures.

Special Action card, allowing either a helicopter move to anywhere on the island, or a sandbag allowing one of the tiles to be flipped back from flooded to unflooded. These count against a player’s hand limit, and can be played at any time.

Water’s Rise card. This is bad news which you don’t want to get. For people who know Pandemic, this is Forbidden Island’s equivalent of the Epidemic card, and it represents the island sinking below the water.



When this card is drawn (apart from during setup) the water level is moved up one tick on the water track, and the flood cards which have already been used are shuffled and placed back on top of the draw stack.

Draw the appropriate number of flood cards

The number of cards to be drawn is taken from whatever level is currently indicated on the water track. The players have the option of changing the starting level which alters the level of difficulty, and the level of difficulty will increase as the game progresses and Water’s Rise cards are drawn.

If a tile is still flooded when it’s flood card is drawn, that tile sinks beneath the waves and is removed from the board. Pawns on that tile can swim to an orthogonally adjacent tile for no action, but only the Diver can move through that space in future.

One feature is that locations which have already flooded are the only locations which could flood again after a Water’s Rise card. This helps a bit with planning, but also makes it more likely that one of these tiles will be removed.

Ending the game

Players win by having all four treasures, and moving all the pawns to the Fool’s Landing location and playing a Helicopter Lift card (one of the treasure cards).

Players lose by:

Fool’s Landing sinking.

A pawn is on a tile which sinks, and they can’t make it to an adjacent tile.

The Water level reaches the skull and cross bones on the water track.

Both location tiles for an unclaimed treasure sink.



Features of the game

d10-1 Forbidden Island is a full co-operative game. It isn’t semi-co-operative in anyway – there’s no secret traitor, or overall winner from whoever picked up the most treasures by the end or anything like that. All players work together, and win or lose together.

d10-2 The theme, brought out by the concept and artwork, is that of a B-movie melodrama or 1920s/30s adventure fiction. It’s well done, and I think for most people is going to be a positive or an irrelevance. I can’t see anyone being offended or put off by it.

d10-3 The playing time is quite short, coming in at about 30 minutes. This puts in firmly into filler territory for board game hobbyists, or into the light family / children’s / non-gamer niche.

What’s good about this game?

thumbsup The quality of the components is excellent. Some effort has gone into making the game pretty, in particular the box, treasure pieces and tile artwork. It looks to me like an effort to make the game attractive to children and non-gamers, and I think they have succeeded in this.

thumbsup This game is very competitively priced – I think it retails at about $15. I think this represents excellent value for money.

thumbsup Because the game is simpler than Pandemic, the strategies involved are less deep, which this should result in less domination by one player. Depending on the game group, sometimes there players who tend to dominate the overall planning due to force of personality or some other reason. This can’t be completely avoided, but the game depth is light enough that players like my wife and daughter can speak up about strategies they’ve come up with without feeling nervous about sounding stupid.

thumbsup One criticism I have about Pandemic is that there are quite a lot of unusual or counter-intuitive rules which take a lot of getting used to, and can have quite a large impact on game play if you get them wrong. Forbidden Island is much simpler and more streamlined, and has far fewer fiddly rules, which makes the game much easier to teach and play.

thumbsup Since the level of difficulty can be set for each play, this game can be tailored to the preferences of each group, making it suitable both as a filler for gaming hobbyists, and as a game for children and families.

What’s bad about this game?

thumbsdown Forbidden Island is designed by Matt Leacock who brought us Pandemic, and shares many of the same mechanics. I’m not sure if you have one that you would need to buy the other. The only reasons I can think of for doing so are on the grounds of game duration and theme, which would change the gaming groups you might play it with.

Conclusion

I’m fairly ambivalent about co-operative games myself as a genre. I prefer to compete, which is why my own personal rating for this game is only 6 out of 10.

However my aim here is to review the game and not my preferences, so the question is not whether I like this game, but whether it is a good example of the type of game it is trying to be, and I have no doubt in saying that it is.

The components are good to excellent in quality, the price is competitive, and the gameplay is well balanced. The questions a potential buyer needs to ask themselves are, “do I dislike co-operative games?”; “do I want a deeper game than a filler which plays in about 30 minutes?”; “does it bother me that the game comes in a tin?” and “do I already own Pandemic?”

If the answer to any of these is ‘yes’, then think carefully before buying. Otherwise I can heartily recommend this game as a fun filler which can be played by board game hobbyists, children and families in about 30 minutes.

Rating 4 out of 5

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James Cartwright
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Nice review.

I'm thinking of getting this when it is released in the UK.

Even though I have Pandemic, I'm thinking that this game might be quicker and more fun for my kids to play.

Could you post what abilities the roles have please and did you notice if any stood out as being better than others to play with?
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◄Raphael Grand►
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Thank you very much for this wonderful review.

(5/5)
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Graham Dean
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Rindel wrote:
Even though I have Pandemic, I'm thinking that this game might be quicker and more fun for my kids to play.

For what it's worth, I think it definitely would be suitable for kids to play, either together or with adults.

Rindel wrote:
Could you post what abilities the roles have please and did you notice if any stood out as being better than others to play with?

I don't remember them all exactly, but I'll do my best.

The Diver allows you to move in a straight line through any number of consecutive empty space as one action. This is probably the only one we thought was weaker than the others, although I imagine it would come in useful as more of the tiles sink.

The Explorer can move and shore up diagonally as well as orthogonally.

The Messenger allows you to pass treasure cards to another player without being on the same tile.

The Pilot allows you to move anywhere on the island as one action.

The Navigator allows you to move another player's pawn two tiles as one action.

The Engineer can shore up two tiles as one action instead of one.
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Andy
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great review, thanks!!

I love co-op games... especially pandemic, so I am unsure whether I need this one... the tin aspect also is a negative for me, so I hope they release a 2nd edition in a cardboard box.
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Ben Stanley
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Uncle G wrote:
The Diver allows you to move in a straight line through any number of consecutive empty space as one action. This is probably the only one we thought was weaker than the others, although I imagine it would come in useful as more of the tiles sink.

Even though I agree that the Diver is the worst role (the Pilot is always superior), and the role balance is one of my main criticisms of this otherwise excellent game with exceptional value (my other main criticism being the obviousness of strategies and the lack of variety in the ways players can deal with any given game situation), I do not recall there being a "straight line" restriction on the Diver's movement. I could be wrong about that, though. I'm also pretty sure it works on missing or just flipped over tiles.

We play that he or she can move through any number of flooding or missing tiles, including making turns, as a single action.

It still makes the Diver worse than the Pilot in all of our games, but you can at least imagine a scenario where the Diver would come in handy that way (swim to a treasure tile, claim the treasure, then swim to Fools' Landing as the final action of the turn). The Pilot's power may only be invoked once per turn (which is generally all you ever need, but at the very end of the game it could help to use a major movement power twice).

Nice review!
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Matt Tonks
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Great review, Graham. I was going to have a look last week out of curiosity, but forgot shake

Not something I am planning to get as I really like Pandemic & have a few other co-ops (Ghost Stories, Space Alert & Arkham Horror) which are certainly more gamer-orientated. But this was a very good review
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Aaron
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Grimwold wrote:
great review, thanks!!

I love co-op games... especially pandemic, so I am unsure whether I need this one... the tin aspect also is a negative for me, so I hope they release a 2nd edition in a cardboard box.


I've heard a few people say this. Why is a tin bad?
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Graham Dean
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Magrot wrote:
Grimwold wrote:
great review, thanks!!

I love co-op games... especially pandemic, so I am unsure whether I need this one... the tin aspect also is a negative for me, so I hope they release a 2nd edition in a cardboard box.


I've heard a few people say this. Why is a tin bad?

From my own point of view I have a mild preference for sturdy cardboard over a tin because the majority of games come in cardboard and they look neater when placed on the shelf side by side. The tin would stand out, and also I would be worrying about whether the tin would be scratching up and damaging the other games on the shelf.

For me it isn't a major thing; just a mild preference. Other people may have different reasons, of course.
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Kevin Taylor
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Am I alone in thinking that the Water level meter would make more sense the other way round? At least from a visual point of view.

You could have the shallow (light blue) at the top and progressively getting darker as it goes down. You can then have the level indicator (which in my head/ideal would resemble the land level rather than the level of the water) slowly being emmersed by the rising tides as it gets moved down the scale.

Just a thought, but then again there's probably some logical reason as to why it's the current way round.


Nice review BTW and definately a game that I'm tempted by.

Edit - moved text to it's own question thread.
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Andy
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Magrot wrote:
Grimwold wrote:
great review, thanks!!

I love co-op games... especially pandemic, so I am unsure whether I need this one... the tin aspect also is a negative for me, so I hope they release a 2nd edition in a cardboard box.


I've heard a few people say this. Why is a tin bad?
Personally it's a matter of aesthetics.. a tin has an odd shape... the lid juts out over the box sides, and the bottom usually has like rolled metal edges... so it doesn't tessellate properly with other cardboard boxes on my shelves. I currently only have 1 tin on my game shelf, which is TTR 1910, but that's small enough to tuck in a gap or toss on the top of a pile of other games and not be as noticeable.
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Matthew Jones
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Rindel wrote:
Nice review.

I'm thinking of getting this when it is released in the UK.

Even though I have Pandemic, I'm thinking that this game might be quicker and more fun for my kids to play.

Could you post what abilities the roles have please and did you notice if any stood out as being better than others to play with?


To the OP, Awesome review

I'd like to speak to the kids portion. I have played it with my boys, aged 7 and 5. The older boy needs just the tiniest amount of guidance in his strategies, but can easily play the game. The 5 year old can play the game's mechanics, but really has no clue why he's doing it. But he'll get there with more plays, right?

I have to heartily recommend this as a family/kids game. It's better than Pandemic as a kids game because it doesn't require so much paying attention to the board. Pandemic really requires that you keep the board up to date and add little things here and there and everywhere. Plus, from the kids perspective, trying to find Essen or Mombasa on the Pandemic board can be tricky.

Forbidden Island takes that aspect of fiddliness away from Pandemic and leaves you with the instantaneous feedback of flip a flood card, flip or sink a tile. That's it. And that's why it's a quicker game. It's much more user friend childrenwise. Pandemic is good. Forbidden is better (and will travel easier)

MJ


PS. Engineer sticks out the most in my opinion.
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TS S. Fulk
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Uncle G wrote:


I’m fairly ambivalent about co-operative games myself as a genre. I prefer to compete, which is why my own personal rating for this game is only 6 out of 10.




If you had a 6 year old that screams and cries when someone plays a "mean" card on them, then you would like co-op games more.

Great review, this one is going on the top of my to buy list.
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Geo
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I find the game very simplistic and not exciting at all. For me Pandemic (with the expansion) is a much better co-op game.

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Graham Dean
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tssfulk wrote:
Uncle G wrote:
I’m fairly ambivalent about co-operative games myself as a genre. I prefer to compete, which is why my own personal rating for this game is only 6 out of 10.

If you had a 6 year old that screams and cries when someone plays a "mean" card on them, then you would like co-op games more.

Great review, this one is going on the top of my to buy list.

I actually do have a 7 year old who cries when someone plays a "mean" card. Also, my wife often prefers non-competitive and multi player solitaire games. Forbidden Island could be a future purchase for me, although it would be a purchase for others rather than for myself, if that makes any sense.
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euronoob

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Blue Steel wrote:
Uncle G wrote:
The Diver allows you to move in a straight line through any number of consecutive empty space as one action. This is probably the only one we thought was weaker than the others, although I imagine it would come in useful as more of the tiles sink.


We play that he or she can move through any number of flooding or missing tiles, including making turns, as a single action.


having just read through the "Rules" subforum, that's the correct interpretation, per this thread:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/524604/diver-questions

Matt Leacock writes:

Quote:
Yes, the diver can swim through multiple missing (and/or) flooded tiles for 1 action.


Quote:
Yes, the Diver can change direction while moving through missing and flooded tiles.


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Freelance Police
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GeoMan wrote:
I find the game very simplistic and not exciting at all. For me Pandemic (with the expansion) is a much better co-op game.


If by "co-op", you mean "the puzzle guy plays the game while others watch", I agree.

FI strips out the puzzly fiddliness of Pandemic and delivers the tenseness for only $15.

And you aren't holding a bunch of plane tickets that cure the world.
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