Yup, it’s back again – the third episode of The Little Metal Dog Show is available for you to download directly from here or via iTunes. This time around I get to speak to Matt Leacock (the Spiel des Jahres nominated designer of Pandemic and Roll Through The Ages) about his latest game: Forbidden Island. I also got to catch up with the director of forthcoming documentary Going Cardboard, Lorien Green about what it takes to make a movie about meeples. As usual, feedback would be delightful, either on here or iTunes – good or bad is gratefully accepted! Oh, and apologies for my voice on the section with Matt… I recorded it at 6am my time and was feeling a little groggy!
Tag Archives: Pandemic
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.
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!
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).
First review then. I may as well start with one of my favourites, so let’s talk about one of Z-Man Games best releases of recent years. No, it’s not Agricola (despite the fact it’s been hovering around the top of the boardgamegeek Top Ten since pretty much the beginning of time) – I’d like to talk about Matt Leacock’s fantastic co-operative game, Pandemic.
Many games suffer from the issue of design first, theme later – it doesn’t matter what happens with the gameplay, the idea is stuck on almost as an afterthought. You can always tell if the designer has plastered on an idea just for the sake of it; you get the feeling that something isn’t quite right. Thankfully with Pandemic it feels that Matt’s thought process went along the lines of “Man, I’d really like to make a game about a bunch of people from the Centre from Disease Control working together, frantically trying to stop rampaging disease outbreaks from bringing an end to humanity. And I shall use cubes. Lots of them!”
Between two and four players are randomly given one of a selection of roles in a bid to wipe out four diseases that threaten to wipe out the planet’s population. Travelling around the globe, they mop up and contain as best they can until an illness can be cured – to do this, one player needs to collect five cards of the same colour (four if you have the Scientist role) and visits a city with a Research Station. You receive four actions per turn – basic actions are for moving about the board, while specials allow you to build new stations, discover cures, treat the spreading disease or exchange cards with other players to collect the necessary sets.
One thing this game really does well is evoke a sense of pressure. The diseases spread after every player completes their turn and it doesn’t take long for the whole board to get covered in marauding germs. Each player collects two city cards on their turn from the pile – and in that pile lurk the randomly placed Epidemics (between four and six depending on how challenging you want to make your experience). These will generally cause Outbreaks, where more than three cubes of the same colour in one city means every surrounding city gets infected as well. If this leads to another Outbreak, your game can very quickly take a turn for the utterly awful. Players are under attack from so many different factors in Pandemic they really need to work together thoughtfully in order to beat it. There is also very little downtime as all players are constantly wondering how to adapt their strategies before the diseases get too dominant and end the game.
There is only one way to win at Pandemic – cure the four diseases before time runs out. There are, however, many ways to lose the game. Run out of a certain disease’s cubes? You lose. Run out of player cards (and you’ll get close every time)? You lose. Eight Outbreaks? You lose. And yet, despite so many ways to get completely destroyed by the game, it never feels like hard work. Matt Leacock has designed a well balanced and incredibly challenging co-op title that also manages to be fun. Add in the sense of achievement you get when you actually manage to beat the thing, and you’re on to a winner. A fantastic game.
Pandemic was published by Z-Man Games in 2009, handles two to four players and can be completed in around an hour. The Pandemic: On The Brink expansion is also available which introduces a fifth disease to battle as well as a range of new roles including a renegade bio-terrorist. For a solo experience, why not check out the print and play Pandemic: Express? It’s very good!