Race for the Prize – Forbidden Island review

Co-operative games, ones where you and your colleagues team up and attempt to defeat the game, have become quite fashionable of late. As a genre they’ve been around for ages, and for quite some time Arkham Horror was king of the castle. While it’s a good game, my thoughts always turn to Pandemic (previously reviewed here) when someone says they want to break out something co-op. Alternatively, if someone is still determined to have a traitor element, there’s the truly great Battlestar Galactica – but for that real You And Me Versus The World feeling I always find myself reaching for Matt Leacock’s game of disease and ickyness. I was lucky enough to speak with him a few days ago for an upcoming Little Metal Dog Show, and talk turned to his latest game – another co-operative effort called Forbidden Island.

The adventure begins. But it won’t stay this pretty.

Trading in binary options per se was exciting but the prospect of losing all my money was so frightening that safely steered away from it. I would back out each time my friends challenged each other to a game of sorts where they would compete with each other albeit their own software to see who has made the most profit on trading. I was too scared. I wish I had known this legit software such as Ethereum Code back then, I am sure I would have won all the times!

Published by Gamewright (and not yet out in the UK, but it will be soon), Forbidden Island is more family friendly than Pandemic, but no less of a challenge. Between two and four intrepid adventurers find themselves on a rapidly sinking island. Each one has an individual role and special ability that will hopefully assist them in their effort to grab four treasures that are dotted around the island. To do this, players must collect four matching cards and race to a location that holds the corresponding treasure. The map, made up of randomly positioned tiles so each game is different, has two separate places that each treasure can be grabbed from… but why does there need to be two? Well, as the game progresses tiles will flood and eventually sink, never to be seen again – and they will disappear very quickly, I promise.

Forbidden Island, being a co-op game, is against you. In fact, it actively hates you – after performing your actions you must draw some Treasure Cards – these are the ones you need to collect four of to claim the elusive treasures. However, within that pile lurk Waters Rise cards – and these are the ones you will come to hate. Every time you draw one, the pile of discarded Flood Cards is reshuffled and placed back onto the deck, so you will see them all again soon. These Flood Cards are actually drawn at the end of every single turn – on a location’s first appearance, you flip the corresponding island tile revealing the blue, washed out flooded version of the image. If you draw that card again, the tile is removed from the game forever. As more and more Waters Rise cards appear, the rate of Flood Cards drawn after each turn increases until the game turns to mayhem and eventually beats you. Which it will. Many times.

Thankfully though, players can spend an action to shore up a tile, flipping it back to its safe and full-coloured glory. There are also Sandbag cards that allow you to do save a location for free, but they’re rare – and with a hand limit of only five cards per player it’s a delicate balancing act. Do you aim to collect a specific set of cards at the expense of another, or just try and get what you can to help out your colleagues?

As you can probably tell, Forbidden Island shares a fair few traits with Pandemic, but it definitely stands as it’s own game. The theme is solid and it’s a lot of fun – working together as a group, trying to get the treasures before you’re trapped or lose your one route off the island is very entertaining indeed, and it’s a way more accessible concept than curing rampaging diseases – kids will love it. It involves a fair bit of thought though, so you may have to assist younger players – but also be ready to be bossed around by small people who think they know better than you!

Just about managed to escape. Just about.

A special mention must be made of the production quality – Forbidden Island is utterly beautiful. The artwork is by C.B Canga and as far as I can tell, this is his first effort at a board game – he really deserves to get more work. You can also check out some excellent original sketches from the game on his blog; they’re ace. It’s fantastically presented, coming in a tin instead of the normal box, but the best things in the whole package have got to be the treasures themselves. Also designed by C.B, they’re chunky and look amazing – really satisfying to grab and hold high above your head when you claim them (not that I did that, no).


Games are quick – normally around 20-30 minutes. The rules are easily explained and once they’ve been run through, the only things you really need to keep check on are the different abilities bestowed by the roles. I’ve played this with grown ups as well as a group of children and both groups managed to forget these powers at least a few times in their excitement – however, with a few plays I’m sure they’ll naturally recall them. Forbidden Island doesn’t seem to punish as much as Pandemic does, though – I imagine as it’s more aimed at family play, Matt has toned down the game’s evil quotient. That isn’t to say that the game lacks challenge – it’s definitely a tricky beast to beat and will reward teamwork with an entertaining experience that everyone will enjoy. Gamewright have come up trumps with this release – now here’s hoping they release it here in Europe as soon as possible.

Forbidden Island is a Matt Leacock game and is published by Gamewright. It’s already an award winning game having picked up one of this year’s Mensa Mind Games trophies, and is available for pre-order in the US at the ridiculously low price of $15 at Amazon (and should be available in Europe soon through your Friendly Local Game Store).