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In the 19th Century archeology was not always about the study and preservation of historical artifacts and sites. It was all about the spectacular find and often amounted to little more than treasure hunting. This “adventure” style of archeology has been reflected in pop culture by Allan Quatermain, Indiana Jones, and Lara Croft. Forbidden Island is a game that is based around the concept of archeology as great adventure. The premise is classic pulp archeology. There are four artifacts each related to one of the four primary elements (earth, wind, fire, and water) on a previously undiscovered island and the players are a team of adventures out to acquire the treasures from sites on the island. The catch is that the “Archeans”, the ancient empire that called the island home, rigged the place to sink if anyone came after their treasure. The object of the game is to collect all four treasures and make it off the island before it sinks.
Forbidden Island is a cooperative game for 2 -4 players. I love cooperative games because I was a role player before I became a board gamer.The board is made up of 24 tiles that represent the different areas of the island. The tiles are double sided, with the colored side representing the normal version of the tile and a blue side that represents the flooded version of the area.The tiles are randomly drawn and arranged into the shape of the island. The four treasures each have two areas from which they can be retrieved. The plastic figurines that represent the treasures are placed near the board. The plastic figurines look fantastic, particularly the one representing the Crystal of Fire. In fact, Forbidden Island has tremendous production value for it’s price of less than $20. All the components are attractive and well designed. Everything fits neatly into the insert provided in the metal tin in which Forbidden Island is packaged. There are also two decks of cards, colored pawns to represent the players,and a cardbord and plastic water level marker.
The cards in Forbidden Island are used to acquire treasure and to determine which area of the island floods or sinks. The orange deck of treasure cards consists of five cards for each of the four treasures and 3 other special types of cards. The 3 Waters Rise cards increase the water level and thus the amount of flood cards drawn as well as causing the flood deck to be reshuffled.The other two types of special cards are Helicopter Lift and Sandbags. A Helicopter Lift card is required for the players to win the game. Sandbags allow a flooded area to be instantly shored up and brought back to normal. The blue cards are the flood deck and there is a card for each area on the island. When a flood card is drawn for an area its tile is flipped over to the blue flooded side or if the area is already flooded then that tile sinks and is removed from the game along with its corresponding flood card. In fact, prior to starting the game six random tiles on the island are flooded and then the flood deck is reshuffled. The flooding aspect makes for lots of tension because tiles flood quickly and constantly and since certain tiles are needed to win and all players must be able to get to the tile that allows them to leave the island things are tight even at the novice level of difficulty. We finished one game,a win, with only seven of the twenty four tiles above water.
Once everything is set up,each player randomly receives one of six different Adventurer roles. Each has its own special ability, which is an exception to the standard rules for movement, passing cards, or shoring up flooded areas. It seems to me that after a few plays of the game that the Engineer is most vital to the success of the players. It allows for the shoring up of two adjacent flooded areas instead of one per action. A players role also determines which tile the player starts on and which color pawn will represent the player. Everyone then gets two treasure cards and the game starts. Since Forbidden Island is cooperative players just lay their treasure cards out on the table in front of themselves.
In Forbidden Island each player’s turn consists of three parts completed in order. First take up to three actions, then draw two treasure cards, and finally draw flood cards equal to the number requred by the current water level.
There are four types of actions that a player can take in any combination during the take action phase of their turn. The actions are move, shore up, give a treasure card, and capture a treasure. Movement is up, down, left, or right one tile per action. Certain adventurer abilities allow for other types of movement. Shore up allows a flooded tile to be returned to its normal unflooded state. Give a treasure card allows a player to hand another player that is on the same tile one of his treasure cards per action. Capture a treasure can only be done when a player has acquired a set of four treasure cards of the same treasure and is on one of the two possible tiles that allow for the recovery of that particular treasure. A player does not have to take all three actions on their turn but I can’t think of a good reason not to since there is almost always an adjacent tile that needs shoring up and keeping the island from sinking is imperative for winning the game.
After a player has completed their actions for that turn they draw two treasure cards and add them to their hand. This is when the dreaded waters rise cards show up and increase the water level, making this a surprisingly tense part of the turn. When a waters rise card is drawn it is a good idea t use a sandbag card if available to make sure that the Fools Landing tile is not flooded because it is required to win the game.Once the treasure deck has been exhausted it gets reshuffled for more waters rise excitement.
The final part of the players turn is where the game gets tense. The player draws a number of cards from the flood deck as specified by the current water level. The tiles represented by these cards become flooded. If the tile is already flooded it sinks and the tile and it’s corresponding flood card is removed from the game.
Player keep taking turns until the victory condition is met or one of the four losing conditions occur. The only way to win is toacquire all four treasures and get every player to the Fools Landing tile and use a Helicopter Lift card to escape from the sinking island. The losing conditions are if all the tiles on which treasures can be collected sink before the treasure is acquired, Fools Landing sinks, a player is on an island tile that sinks and can’t swim to an adjacent tile, and finally if the water level reaches the skull and crossbones.
Thats all there is to Forbidden Island. It is a easy to play game that is exciting and tense even when played at the novice level. While the game is simple there is a strategic aspect that keeps it interesting. It is a game that would be fun and easy to play with kids and I believe could be played by kids younger than the 10 and up recommended on the box. I know my seven year old niece could play this game. It goes fast and after you have played the game once, the 30 minutes play time shown on the box is pretty accurate.This is a solid recommend from me. Forbidden Island is a blast and has an incredible cost to playability ratio. It makes for a great quick game and is often quite exciting. This one has become one of my game group’s favorites.