Forbidden Island – A Board Game Journey Step 3

January 2016

There is something about adventure isn’t there? Something that captures the imagination so completely and so easily. Seeking your fortune in the dense jungles and scorching deserts of far-away lands, exploring the ancient ruins of long forgotten civilisations and riding off into the sunset in search of the next adventure with treasure in hand and your trusted companions by your side – it’s all just so…so…cool.

Clearly, I’m not talking from personal experience here. Nor is this the real-world adventuring of Ranulph Fiennes or Alastair Humphreys. No, this is the rugged hero/feisty heroine/dastardly villain stories of Indiana Jones, Nathan Drake, Lara Croft or Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone that I have loved since I was a kid.

Forbidden Island launched itself to the summit of my Must Get Right Now list within milliseconds of seeing it played on Tabletop. In doing so, it became the third step on my journey into the board gaming hobby.

For Forbidden Island is a game about adventure in the most Hollywood sense of the word. You play one of a team of four adventurers who arrive on the titular land mass in search of artefacts from a lost civilisation. A civilisation that, in a way that can only happen in adventure stories, created a quartet of treasures able to control the elements of Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. Once the destructive power of these treasures was realised, they were hidden away in secret locations around an island designed to sink if the treasures were ever discovered.

Yes, the entire island is a giant booby trap. Your team of adventurers have triggered it and the island is sinking fast. You need to work with your fellow players to find the treasures, get back to your helicopter and escape the island alive.

Forbidden Island set up

When we first played Forbidden Island, the concept of a team board game was entirely new to my family. A treasure found was a treasure shared, not a step on the path to individual victory. Instead it was a collective achievement; celebrated together.

Conversely, a rising water level was a bane felt by all not just endured by the unfortunate player that triggered the event. If one player drowned, we all lost. When the treasure locations sank on one player’s turn, we all lost. If the water level reached a certain point, we all lost.

Each players’ turn was a collaborative affair. Strategies would be discussed, perhaps this location could be saved albeit at the risk of losing another. If I was stranded it was fine as my adventurer could swim across gaps in the island. However, this was something my son’s adventurer could not do.

With the risk of being stranded far greater, how could this be prevented if he moved to certain location? We could advise each other on the best moves available or we could share cards to get to a treasure more quickly. Sometimes it was even possible to move another players piece around the board.

Help can feel a long way away

Forbidden Island also introduced us to other new concepts in how to play a game. Firstly, the idea of each player being able to not only choose from more than one action each turn but to actually do more than one action each turn. Then once the player turn was over, there were further actions to perform as the island itself took it’s ‘turn’ meaning each player had a significant amount to do.

The second concept was the idea that each player’s adventurer had different abilities. Variations on the standard rules that made each player able to contribute in a unique way. The Diver can swim, the Pilot can fly, the Explorer has special movement abilities and so on. With six different adventurers to choose from and a maximum of four on the island this makes a for a large amount of variety in how each game played out.

Then, of course, there was the ‘game’s turn’. The phase at the end of each players turn where the island potentially sank further and faster. The flooded areas more likely to flood again and sink. The further into the game the smaller the island becomes and the more likely it is that the island will shrink again. It turns the game into a exciting race against time in addition to an exercise in cooperation.

Now, all of this sounds complex. It isn’t. As a family, we learned this game very quickly. Surprisingly so given the young age of the children and a lifetime of rolling dice for the adults.


This game has been an unqualified success in our house. The gameplay is straightforward enough for the kids to enjoy without too much help. At the same time, the difficulty can be adjusted from reasonably easy to brutally difficult which keeps the game interesting for the adults.

The art is excellent and evocative of the adventure films and computer games we all enjoy. The component quality is high and this is the first game in our collection not to feature an excess of packaging. Luck plays a part and adds to the tension without the game ever feeling out of the players control.

If I had a concern about this game, it would be longevity. The actions are simple and the strategy clear. As the children grow up Forbidden Island may no longer hold us in thrall. However, that really is nit-picking and does feel slightly unfair. This is a truly excellent family game and one that I would recommend to anyone.