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Forbidden Island - Board Game Box Shot

Forbidden Island

How To Play
Dare to discover Forbidden Island! Join a team of fearless adventurers on a do-or-die mission to capture four sacred treasures from the ruins of this perilous paradise. Your team will have to work together and make some pulse-pounding maneuvers, as the island will sink beneath every step! Race to collect the treasures and make a triumphant escape before you are swallowed into the watery abyss!

About This Game
It’s a great honor to introduce the latest creation by cooperative game master, Matt Leacock. There are so many things we love about this unique game: from the rich illustrations, to the collaborative nature of play, to the innovative set of rules, to the infinite possibilities generated by the tiles and cards. Don’t be surprised if your pulse starts pounding faster soon after you start playing – it’s a game that instantly generates an electrifying atmosphere of tension and excitement!

Digital Version:

Gamewright and Button Mash Games have made a digital version of this game!
Check it out! >

User Reviews (91)

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I play black
Guardian Angel
Platinum Supporter
Marquis / Marchioness
207 of 211 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 4
“The Best Game in Its Price Bracket”

Forbidden Island was the first cooperative game I purchased (or played for that matter). I was intrigued by cooperative games, but felt I needed something on the light side to ease my way into it. From everything I read on this site it seemed like Forbidden Island was quite easy to pick up but provided some level of increasing challenge as you develop your skill at the game, so this became an easy decision. It has remained a staple among my favorite games, and this is how I recall my experiences in the early-going:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
This is an insanely easy game to get out of the box. There are cardboard tiles, but they are pre-punched and ready to play. Cards and treasure miniatures are organized and stored nicely in the packaging, so your first play is as easy to set up as your hundredth. And the instructions are very easy… to this day, Forbidden Island may be the only game I’ve self-taught where no mistakes were made with the rules in the first play-through. All told, reading of the rulebook and first play set-up should take under 20 minutes, while repeat game set-up takes around 5 minutes. Games themselves rarely last beyond the advertised 30 minutes.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Well, that first game taught me the most important strategic lesson… protect Fools’ Landing (the helicopter pad)! Losses have been rare since then, so the learning curve must not be too steep… however, I do feel that I continually improved through the first 20 to 30 games. I have taught this game to 4 or 5 friends or family members, and it never takes longer than 10 minutes.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Forbidden Island can be just as fun with 2 or 4 players, but the higher player counts increase the challenge of the game. Unfortunately, while it has been quite easy for me to get 2-player games going, it can be a hard sell when I have enough people around to play a 4-player game. At that headcount, we’re usually looking for something a little meatier and longer. The few 4-player games I have played have been great… down to the wire and tense. There is a whole lot of interaction and pre-planning with Forbidden Island, and I find that there’s more communication going on with 4 players in this game than in most other non-social games.

Objectionable Material
There is nothing touchy or “adult” about Forbidden Island and its theme other than the possible stretch of creating questions of what’s making the water levels rise on Earth. If conversation with a child went that route I could see the answers being disturbing to them… but that really depends on the parent and the way they handle it. I personally have no worries, and this will be one of the first real games I introduce my child to. I’m hopeful that can occur by the time he’s 5.

Comparable Titles
While I’ve only read its description, the “sequel” to Forbidden Island, aptly titled Forbidden Desert, sounds a lot like a reworking of the Island mechanics with a little added depth. I look forward to trying it. And of course, no review of Forbidden Island would be complete without a nod to its ancestor Pandemic, a much more challenging and adult game with the same “spread out and save” core conceit and different-behaving characters.

So, why has a game that is so frequently tagged “easy” remained in my good graces? Primarily because it’s the most scalable game I’ve encountered. There is brilliance in the water level meter, where you simply start the game at a higher flood level once you become more advanced. On the “Legendary” level you can play an absolutely perfect strategic game and still lose because of an unlucky shuffle… but you have no shot at all if you don’t play a great strategic game. I stumbled on the real mind-blower of this game’s greatness on the tips page here (thanks @dragontrainer)… there are official variant tile layouts other than the original square, all of which make the game MUCH more difficult. These layouts have increased the life of this game a hundredfold. A little embarrassed I never thought to alter the original layout myself, but thrilled that I’m getting so much life out of such an inexpensive game.

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I play green
Novice Reviewer
I Walk the Talk!
169 of 177 gamers found this helpful
“Get to Da Choppa!”

I rented this game knowing nothing about it except that it was a cooperative game. It has now become one of my favorite games. It is cheap, easy to learn, and has so much replay value, it is insane.

You and your team take on roles as explorers who stumble upon an island that is sinking every second. Your quest is to get all four treasures before you die or the island sinks. You either all win or you all lose together.


This game has some of the funnest pieces I have ever come across. The Crystal of Fire, the Ocean’s Chalice, the Earth Stone, and the Statue of the Wind are really detailed and add a tactile element to the game. It feels so good when you finally collect a treasure and you get to place it in front of you.

The artwork featured on the tiles and the cards is beautiful. You feel like this island has a spirit of its own. Each card is unique and really fits into the theme of an abandoned and doomed island.

The one thing that bugs me is that the water level ticker does not stand on its own. Very,very,very small annoyance, but a small plastic piece could have fit that perfectly.


Every game of Forbidden Island is different. Each explorer role has different powers that work with the others and the teams that appear vary in how they play. Some groups are really mobile, but others are really good at shoring up the island. Plus, there are tons of different rules that have been made up by fans of the game. Check the tips for additional rules and various tile placements to shake up the game a little bit.

This game really has a sense of urgency with the water rising and the island slowing sinking into the sea. Working together is essential and it is a great change from competitive interactions with other players.


This game is a great start into the cooperative board game genre. It is easy to learn, easy to play, and is surprisingly cheap. Please take a trip to the Forbidden Island. You won’t regret it.

Player Avatar
I play blue
Football Fan
Advanced Reviewer
215 of 226 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 3
“What Global Warming Can Cause”

What Is It About? – An Overview of the Game
Forbidden Island is a cooperative game for 2-4 adventurers attempting to capture four treasures. The island is sinking so you must work together quickly. Once collected, your team must escape the island before it is too late!

What Do I Get? – The Components in the Box
The components are of good quality and very colorful. Player are represented by wooden pawns while the treasures are molded plastic pieces. The board is modular and made up of 24 square tiles. A deck of cards is divided up into Treasure cards (collected to find the treasures), Flood cards (used to see which spaces are in danger), and Adventurer cards (describing each players special ability). There is also a Water level meter keeping track of the overall danger to the island (another game losing trigger) that can be set at variable difficulties. All of this comes in a nice tin box with a decent insert to organize everything.

What Do I Do? – Playing the Game
Each player takes a simple turn consisting of up to 3 Actions, drawing 2 Treasure cards, and then resolving the Flood. A player can take as many of the allotted Actions during his turn. Those Actions are to move one space orthogonally, shore up a tile (flip it from its flooded to normal side), pass a Treasure card to another player on the same tile, or turn in 4 matching Treasure cards on 1 of the 2 matching Treasure tiles to gain that Treasure. During the Action phase, each player represents a specific character that can break a rule in some way, such as the Explorer who can also move diagonally or the Messenger who can give a Treasure card to another player regardless where they are on the island.

After that, a player draws 2 Treasure cards and discards down to 5 cards The goal is to collect a set of 4 in order to claim that Treasure. As this is a cooperative game, you also want to keep cards that could help the other players get to a set of 4 quickly. Cards that match Treasures already collected can be easily discarded as they have no other game effect. There are a few special cards in this deck along with the “Waters Rise!” card (explained below).

At the end of the player turn, he draws a number of Flood cards equal to the current water level. This deck of cards matches each tile of the island. When that tile is drawn, it is flipped to its flooded side. In order to save this tile, it needs to be shored up (one of the player Actions). If a tile is drawn while flooded, it is permanently washed away by removing it from the board. If both tiles associated with any Treasure are washed away before that Treasure is collected, the game ends in defeat. The number of cards drawn are between 2-5 depending on the current water level.

The main antagonist is the “Waters Rise!” mechanic. When one of these cards are drawn during the Draw Treasure Cards phase, a couple of things happen. First the water level goes up, potentially forcing more cards to be drawn during the Draw Flood Cards phase. Second, all of the discarded Flood cards are reshuffled and placed on top of the deck. This ensures that the same tiles that have already flooded will be more likely to flood again, getting washed away.

The game ends when all 4 Treasures have been collected and all players managed to fly off the island. While there is only one way to win, there are several ways to lose. This includes losing the Treasure tiles before treasures are collected, losing the helicopter tile, losing any player to the sea, and letting the water level get too high.

What Do I Think? – Final Thoughts
This game is Pandemic-lite, Matt Leacock’s second foray into the cooperative scene. The same basic mechanics are present but the game play has been streamlined and given a more family-friendly theme. The game is also considerably shorter.

While I eventually was turned off of Pandemic’s extreme luck of the draw (being able to lose on the first round and little correlation between difficulty and success), I find Forbidden Island hits the spot. The luck is still present but given the playing time, it feels less disappointing when it stacks against you.

What I like is that it is fast to setup, fast to teach, and fast to play. You don’t have to juggle as much worrying about the slightly more involved “outbreak” conditions in the first game. The water level creates the same sort of tension, without the fear of a really hot spot that you need to focus all efforts on. The board is smaller and movement is much more simple to grasp for new players.

To put it simply, it takes everything I liked about Pandemic, cut all the things I didn’t like, and made a tense and rewarding game experience in a very short time.

What Next? – Other Recommendations for this Game
As already mentioned, Pandemic was the forerunner to this game and good next step for someone wanting more complexity with this game platform.

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Master Grader
Novice Reviewer
Amateur Advisor
I'm Completely Obsessed
132 of 139 gamers found this helpful
“Soggy Island or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Flood”

Forbidden Island is a cooperative game of strategy. You either succeed as a team or fail as a team. There is no middle ground. This can either be an amazingly fun experience or a fight in the making.

Every player is randomly assigned a role card. These all provide unique abilities that other players do not have. All of the roles are useful and using them correctly is pivotal to your success.

Once you have your roles, you are now ready to start trekking over the island to obtain the treasure and then fly away to freedom, but that won’t be easy. The island will start flooding instantly. Flooding is the main weapon the island will use against you to hinder your progress and try to ultimately kill you all.

As the island floods, areas of the island are threatened. If an area floods twice without being saved, it falls away forever and is removed from the game. This makes it difficult to travel but even more importantly, if the piece was vital, such as a treasure location, you loose. This makes for some tense moments as it just feels like the island could destroy everything at the drop of a hat if you do not plan properly.

Don’t misunderstand me. The game is winnable. It will be a difficult journey but the payoff is worth it. Work together and you won’t be afraid of getting your shoes wet, or even massive sections of the island disappearing into the sea.

-Incredibly fun.
-Well designed strategy elements.
-Easy to setup and quick to play.
-Tons of replay ability.

-Players must utilize strategy or they will loose the game for everyone. This is not enjoyable for all types of players.

I love this game. The unique strategy elements mixed with the co-op game play makes for a great time. Working together with your friends to achieve an obtainable but difficult goal is exciting. This game does require the players to utilize their abilities and implement some strategies though. The game encourages discussions to assist other players with their strategies to ultimately provide overall success for your group. Not all players are up to this task or find it enjoyable, but if this does sound fun to you, the game will not disappoint. It’s a very affordable game that will be played more than many much more expensive ones.

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Jungle Elves - Summoner Wars Beta 2.0 Tester
Summoner Wars Fan
Unicorn Clan - Legend of the Five Rings
130 of 137 gamers found this helpful
“Cheap family fun!”

It’s hard to argue with this much family fun in such a small, inexpensive package. Forbidden Island can easily be found for less than $15 these days, and it is quite a value for your gaming dollar. Overall, it offers fun, light, cooperative gameplay with a fair amount of replayability and simplicity. In this way, Forbidden Island can appeal to families with a variety of age ranges, can serve as an introduction to co-op play, and can act as a quick filler for more experienced gamers.

First the components: These are top notch. The four treasures are well-constructed and solid with a nice feel to them. They add to the fun theme of searching for ancient artifacts and provide a nice distraction for younger players. The cardboard pieces that make up the “island” are sturdy and well-made, with great thematic artwork. The player tokens are also nice, and the cards are quite functional. The metal box is also a lot of fun and makes the game stand out on the shelf (although this may be considered a negative by some, as it does’t fit on the shelf as well as some of my other games).

Anyone who has played Pandemic will find the games share a lot of similarities. The players are attempting to collect all four treasures and evacuate the island before it sinks. The game is a cooperative one, with all players working together, and if one person doesn’t make it, everyone loses. Each turn players have a limited number of actions they can perform, which includes moving their pawns, sharing a treasure card with another player on the same space, or “shoring up” adjacent spaces that have flooded. After taking their actions, players must draw additional treasure cards and then reveal flood cards that correspond to the tiles that make up the island. If an island space is revealed by a flood card twice without being shored up, it disappears into the ocean forever. This can drastically affect the game, as the various treasures that must be collected are only available on specific island tiles. If those tiles sink before you collect the specific treasure, the game is over. Also, to add to the tension, hidden in the treasure card deck are multiple copies of the dreaded “waters rise!” card, which increases the number of flood cards drawn each turn and causes the flood discard pile to be shuffled back to the top of the flood draw pile. The game becomes a race against time, as the flood rate increases, and the island tiles sink around you. To add flavor to the game, each player assumes a role, and each role has a special ability that alters the rules of the game.

Overall, this a great family game. It is simple to teach and easy to play, yet provides a challenge, particularly to younger players. It makes for a great introductory game to non-gamers, especially those with little experience with the cooperative aspect. With the randomized island tile placement and the various possible roles available, the game offers a great deal of replay value. My only complaint is that it can be easy to beat at lower difficulty levels, but this is easily remedied by starting the flood rate at a higher level. I would definitely suggest Forbidden Island to anyone looking for a quick, entertaining co-op, particularly one that will be enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers alike.

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Video Game Fan
Comic Book Fan
127 of 134 gamers found this helpful
“"Dad, can we play Forbidden Island again?" A Review for Parents with Young Kids!”

I going to write this review from the eyes of a parent with two young daughters ages 5 and 8. My college aged son and I just recently got into designer board games after years for playing Magic:TG. Small World, Fluxx and Forbidden Island were our first choices of games to purchase (after playing digital versions of Catan and Ticket to Ride on Xbox) You can see from my score that we loved Forbidden Island! Here’s why…

Forbidden Island is a pretty fast setup. You mix the 24 tiles up and arrange them in a diamond-like pattern on the table. Each tile represents a location on the island and is printed on both sides, one side being a blued-out version of the same location. Players randomly choose a role card, which also determines the color of their game piece. (Red Engineer, Black Diver, Grey Messenger, etc.) There are six roles, which each has a special ability, and the game can be beat with any combination. Players put their piece on the corresponding start tile indicated by a icon. There are two decks to shuffle up: The Treasure Deck and the Flood Deck. Once both are shuffled, each player gets 2 treasure cards. Then the top 6 cards of the flood deck are turned over. Each card in the Flood deck has a corresponding tile on the island that must now be flipped over to the blue side indicating that it is flooding. My girls quickly figured out how to set the game up (but still need help with the shuffling part).

The object is to collect 4 treasures at get off the island via the helipad before key parts of the island sink or the flood meter gets to the top meaning the entire island has sunk and the game is over. I won’t go into too much detail about how all that happens here as other reviews have already done that. I will say that this is a CO-OPERATIVE GAME, which is great when you are working with young kids because they enjoy the help and working together. Everyones a winner if you beat it, and we are all in the same boat if we fail so no one person feels defeated over another. Now I can say that it took about 2-3 games for my girls to grasp what to do. My oldest one jumped in after watching my son and I play a game, then my littlest one wanted to try. Of course we coached the girls on their turn and each game they got more and more proficient at making decisions. Each game takes less than 30 mins to complete. There are also four difficulty settings, like many video games, Novice, Normal, Elite, and Legendary set by where you start the water level on the meter.

This game is solid! The tiles are thick card board, the game pieces and treasures are made of wood and thick plastic and the best part is the game comes in a TIN BOX with defined compartments in the box to organize putting it away. The most fragile part are the cards, but they are good quality as well, like a Hoyle deck of playing cards thickness and gloss.

This is an excellent game for both casual adults and of course kids the ages of mine. When I introduced it to my girls, they of course wanted to start on novice, which is almost a guaranteed win. But we quickly challenged ourselves and just yesterday they were so excited to beat it on Legendary with only 4 tiles left and one notch away from the island being sunk! Note that I play this game WITH them, they don’t/aren’t allowed to play it on their own…yet. (Daddy is a little protective of the investments he’s made in these games haha) Plus they still need advice on their turns. It’s a great way to spend time with your kids playing a game that is not *SIGH* Trouble or Candy Land. Also, my wife runs a private school and she wants me to bring FI, as well as Fluxx and a few other new ones I just ordered, to introduce her students to during her summer camp program. That’ll be fun!

Forbidden Island will be a fav with my kids for a long while and will also be a gateway game for my adult friends to get them into designer games. PLUS THE PRICE IS GREAT!!!!

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Intermediate Reviewer
Copper Supporter
Viscount / Viscountess
126 of 133 gamers found this helpful
“Down to the Basics Review”

Disclaimer: The main goal of “Down to the Basics Reviews” is to show what the game is about, getting down to the basics, the bare minimum necessary to captivated the reader.

So, about Forbidden Island:

1) What it is?
A simple cooperative game where you have to recover treasures before the island submerges.

2) How do you play?
Draw cards, move pawn, flip island tiles, give cards, get treasure, set water level indicator, shuffle cards. Each island tile represents a place on one side and the same place flooded on the other side. At the end of eacher player’s turn, a certain number of water cards are drawn to indicate which tiles will be flipped. If the tile is already flooded it is lost forever. The players win the game if all treasures are captured and all players escaped with the helicopter.

3) What are the decisions that you make?
– Where to move your pawn. You must move to shore up tiles that are flooded, to capture treasures and to be in a better position to give or receive cards from other players.
– Which island tile to flip. You may flip tiles that are crucial to the players: a tile with a treasure, a tile that is part of an important path, etc.
– Give cards to players. Other players may have more of a certain treasure. You may give another card of the same treasure so they can capture the treasure.
– Capture a treasure if you have four cards of it and if you are at the correct location.
– Each player has a different role with different powers. For instance, if you are a pilot you may decide to use the helicopter to go directly to a better place.

4) What is good about it?
The components, box and artwork are really good. The tiles are thick, the miniatures are solid and the box is made of metal. The variable powers of each role demands for group decisions. The simple rules and the short duration of the game.

5) What is not so good about it?
The game is very simple so power gamers will not find real challenges here. You can adjust the difficult (initial water level), but even so the game will not offer many options to achieve victory.

6) What it feels when you play it?
A bit like a bike ride in the park. There are some obstacles to avoid but not that many. And children will probably love it.

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Viscount / Viscountess
Novice Reviewer
125 of 132 gamers found this helpful
“Great light co-op game”

Forbidden Island is a light cooperative game for 2-4 players in which the players take the role of a team of adventurers attempting to collect the hidden treasures of the island and then escape with the treasures before the island sinks. The game is similar to another popular cooperative game by the same designer called Pandemic, though it possesses a lighter theme and rule set designed to make the game appeal to a wider audience.

Gameplay Features

• Fully cooperative play
• Hand and action management
• No player elimination
• Four adjustable difficulty levels
• Randomized modular game board
• Six roles (Adventurers) with unique special abilities

Components and Theme

Especially when considering the very low price point, the components are excellent and contained in an attractive tin. The game board tiles have beautiful depictions of each location and are made from thick cardboard. There are molded plastic figurines of each treasure and a nice cardboard water level marker with a plastic guide. The Adventurer, Treasure and Flood cards are the same consistency as the average deck of playing cards and can be easily sleeved if one is concerned about wear over multiple plays.

The theme is light but very well represented in the game mechanics, artwork, actions and cards. You do get the feel of being on a sinking island and feeling the stress of revising your plans as parts of the island sink into the ocean.

Ease of Adoption

The game is designed for players aged 10 and up, so the rules are fairly simple to learn for even non-gamers. Most players will catch onto the rules in 5-10 minutes. Regarding mastering rules and tactics, due to the simplicity of the rules, frequent players will quickly become more adept at the game after only a few games.

There is no conflict between players built into the game, so this game will appeal to more casual players who do not like conflict. However, like all cooperative games, one or more dominant players can attempt to dictate the moves of others, which could affect the enjoyment of the other players.

Setup and Play Times

Setup is very simple and will take less than 5 minutes for even inexperienced players, as the instructions are clear and concise.
Gameplay generally takes about thirty minutes, so even failures (whether as a result of random card draws or poor decisions) can be quickly forgotten in favor of another game, especially because setup is so fast.

Each turn is very quick, so there are no long delays between an individual player’s turns, especially when each player can always be involved in planning.

Since gameplay is fully cooperative and there is no player elimination, either all players succeed or all fail, which means that no one will ever need to sit idle while others finish the game.

Luck Factor

Using the game’s default rules, everything in this game is randomized, so luck is a significant contributor. Luck is more of a factor in this game than in Pandemic, as the flood cards are shuffled in with the treasure cards at the very beginning and after every reshuffle, whereas Pandemic spaces out the epidemic cards in a more managed fashion by dividing them amongst equally split piles of the starting player deck. As such, a game can technically end after the very first player’s turn with the wrong mixture of cards, tiles and starting locations.

A player’s turns involve mitigating risk by balancing which tiles should be shored up, which tiles can be ignored, and managing their hand, so poor decision-making or excessive risk-taking can definitely result in a game loss.

Replay Value

As previously mentioned, every element of the game is randomized, so you will never play the same game twice. There are also official board layout variants on the web that can further increase replay value.

Suggested Audience

This can be enjoyed by families, non-gamers, casual gamers and even board game hobbyists, though it is targeted primarily to families, non-gamers and casual gamers due to its approachable rules and light theme. For hobbyists and gamers in need of more complexity or a heavier theme, other cooperative games in the same vein, such as Pandemic and Defenders of the Realm, would be better options, though Forbidden Island does work well as a filler game.


Overall, I find Forbidden Island a fun and light game that I feel comfortable bringing into a wide variety of playgroups, especially with family or casual players. Since my playgroups tend to be into deeper and more complex games, I would generally go to Pandemic, Defenders of the Realm or Ghost Stories for cooperative play, but Forbidden Island will still always have a respected place in my collection.

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Cooperative Game Explorer
Gamer - Level 3
114 of 121 gamers found this helpful
“Great, Quick family fun.”

Trying to play with my young kids, I’ve been trying more co-operative games because a.) you can walk them through the decisions a bit more b.)everybody wins or loses together. I think Forbidden Island strikes the best balance for family gaming for anybody under, say 12. With teenagers, there are better options (Pandemic, of course) but Forbidden Island is still fun even with four adults.

1. Great looking
2. Fun theme
3. Tremendous replay with the variable board and roles. A google search will find you even more fan produced variants for island set up and roles
4. Turns move quickly without a ton of down time. Big plus my kids.
5. Plays really well as 1 player, where you can control 2 roles.
6. VALUE!! I paid $15 and I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten a better new game under $20. It would be a fair price at twice the cost.

1. Other reviewers are correct, its not difficult. Losses are rare and the losses often feel unearned when you simply hit the skull on the waters rise meter or draw water rise cards quickly.
2. It does seem to encourage the over-talking bossy leader aspect more than other Co-ops for some reason. Maybe its the brief turns?

Some other reviews here and elsewhere suggest you can play this game with kids as young as 5. I took that advice and hoped, but after a few games I think preschool is a bit too young. It certainly works because you can walk them through, but they aren’t as engaged. The box suggests 10+ and I’d say 8 might be closer to it, give or take.

At such a low cost and quick game time, I’d recommend this for any family game night, as an introduction to co-op board gaming, and even for all but the most hardened strategy snob, as a fun co-op filler. Its not the greatest co-op, but still a lot of fun, and again, you can’t beat that price.

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Subscribed to BG News
160 of 170 gamers found this helpful
“The Finest of the Co-Op Games”

I write reviews for The Games Shop, a retailer in Australia, and Forbidden Island is one of the games I have the most praise for. Below is an excerpt, but if you want to see the full article, which has pretty pictures, you can follow:

“Forbidden Island, which in fact has nothing to do with the US embargo of Cuba, is a game where you play as a team of treasure hunters intent on plundering an island full of fantastic locales. The map is randomized each play so the locations are transient, and in fact it is the inconsistency of these locations that forms the main conflict of the game. You see, the moment you set foot on the island, it begins to sink in an Atlantean-curse style countdown to destruction. As your team explores the island, drawing cards so that you can claim its four treasures, areas become flooded and, if not properly sandbagged in time, eventually vanish from the board altogether. The result is a game where you need to be constantly repairing the map so that key locations (including the precious helipad at Fool’s Landing, your only escape) stay afloat. In a way it looks like reverse Carcassonne, with the map starting in perfect condition and slowly becoming more and more patchy. Collect the four treasures in time to escape in your helicopter and you’ll find victory, but if you lose any critical locations, allow the island to flood too often, or just straight up drown in the treacherous waters, the game wins. It’s us against the machines, people, and if you thought computer chess was bad, just remember that it can’t drown you. With good teamwork, Forbidden Island can be a breeze to play and is appropriate for younger gamers. But even though Forbidden Island is published by Gamewright, predominantly known for its children’s games (albeit fantastic children’s games,) don’t assume that its appeal is limited to the lil’ guys. The difficulty of this game is on a sliding scale that can be ramped up to a point where even the most seasoned player can still barely draw their first card through the slippery morass of sweat they’ve already produced.

If all of this gameplay sounds familiar, it may be because Forbidden Island is made by Matt Leacock, the same designer who created Pandemic, a similar game in which you fight off global disease in an Outbreak-style race against the clock. The games are, in fact, almost identical with a few exceptions. Namely, Forbidden Island is much more streamlined than Pandemic, with fewer options, a smaller scale, and less setup. The result is that Forbidden Island plays faster than Pandemic and is easier to learn, although may offer fewer strategic options for keen tactical gamers. This simplicity focuses the game though, and makes the actions more intuitive and less contrived. My games of Pandemic tend to transform into elaborate planning sessions detailing all of the things that need to get done across the next several turns with a level of detail that stops just short of needing PowerPoint. When I play Forbidden Island with my fiancé though, our plans tend to be more “you take the four on the left, I’ll take the four on the right.” It’s fast, it’s punchy, and the sense of personal danger intensifies the gravity of each move. In fact, we tend to speed up as we play until we’re racing through every turn just because the feeling of impending doom grows to the point where you’re convinced that if you pause to breathe your whole coffee table is going to cave in on itself.”

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Veteran Grader
109 of 116 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“It's Sinking! Sinking! Oh, What a Great Co-Op World!”

-Forbidden Island offers fast-paced turns and constant strategizing that will demand the attention of even the most distracted player out there.
-Each player takes on the role of a unique specialist, working with others to collect the treasures while preventing areas of the island itself from sinking into the abyss.
-Utilizing those special abilities, carefully planning each action to make the most of each turn, and mastering cooperation are key components to winning this game.

Each turn:
-players spend actions to move, “shore up” the tiles of the island to prevent them from sinking, trade cards with other players, or turn in cards to claim a treasure.
-players draw new cards for their hand. These cards represent one of the four treasures, a water rises event, or a special ability that can be used.
-draw cards to determine which island tiles will be flooded or sunk (if previously flooded).

As the game progresses and players collect the cards needed to claim treasures, the water level continues to rise. As a result, the number of cards drawn to flood the island tiles steadily increases, making it more difficult for the players to maintain the buoyancy of key tiles of the island.

If the players successfully claim all of the treasures before the flooding increases too far, they can dash for the chopper and an airlift to victory.

High quality components (island tiles, 3D treasure and player pieces, cards, and a tin for storage) married to eye-candy artwork make this an enchanting game to play.

Eight pages may look daunting to the Social or Family gamer at first glance, but the pages have large font with plentiful illustrations and examples to explain most game mechanics. All-in-all, this makes for a quick set of rules to learn and easy to reference if needed.

Forbidden Island’s random tile placement during setup ensures that the island layout will rarely be the same twice. Add in some random character selection, and this game neatly sidesteps the “stuck in a rut” feeling that many players face with other games. While the strategy may not be as involved as the often-compared Pandemic, for example, players will still find themselves with challenges to overcome. Finding the right winning strategy, for example, can be tricky when the game’s layout and specialists vary from game to game.

-Quick turn play with simple mechanics.
-Well-explained rules with examples aplenty.
-Breathtaking artwork that lends to the mysterious island feel.
-Unique strategic options for each specialist to consider.
-Difficulty scaling, if desired.
-Randomized game tile placement.
-Easy set up.
-Quick to learn, tricky to master.

-Speed of water rising mechanic can foil an otherwise sound strategy. This can be adjusted with house rules – see Game Tips.
-One player’s decisions can make or break the group’s chance of winning. This can be frustrating for groups with a “rogue” player, but can be overcome by agreeing to discuss strategy before actions are spent each turn.

With the MSRP of $17.99, this game includes a LOT of quality components and will make a great cooperative gateway game. A great buy for families and small gaming groups alike!

Forbidden Island won me over for a lot of reasons: low price, quick set up and play, excellent rules (with detailed game play examples), randomized tile set up and specialist selection that adds to the replay factor, beautiful artwork, quality components, and a set of unique “flooding” (and other) mechanics that will leave your players smiling and ready for more, even after miserable failures.

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Advanced Grader
Novice Reviewer
106 of 113 gamers found this helpful
“Watch out for Alphas...”

Forbidden island is a game where a team has set off on a Forbidden Island to claim it’s treasures before it sinks under the ocean. Each member of the team has a role that gives them unique abilities that they are able to utilize during the course of the game.

The “board” is a random placement of tiles that represent different locations. These locations begin to sink and eventually get swallowed by the ocean, giving you less and less options to move to and in some cases trapping you. Each tile shows a player’s starting location and 2 tiles are designated to pick up treasure from, so you don’t want these to sink before you get the treasure from them.

Each turn you also collect cards, which can be a treasure card (4 different treasures) or utility item (there’s only 2) to help you in your adventure. For each player to pick up a treasure from a location, they need to have 4 of the same card for that particular treasure. The forces a lot of trading between players to get the right combinations so that you can pick up the treasure you are targetting.

Once all treasure is taken, everyone needs to make it to the helicopter pad and you need a helicopter card to fly off and win the game.

This game had some very good things going for it. The box is a nice tin that holds all the items for the game very well and doesn’t take much space. The roles are fun, making players feel they are unique and contributing to the overall success. It’s not a difficult game for new players to pick up and if you find it too easy, you can up the difficulty level which floods the island faster.

My Con about this, however, is a very big one. The game is coop and you definitely feel that everyone is working for the same goal. However, the one thing that seems inescapable is that it becomes very “hive mind.” What’s wrong with that? The game is coop afterall right? But the thing is, if you play with someone who knows how to strategize quickly or if they are the Alpha type personality, you are often told what you need to do to succeed. New players who are learning don’t really get emersed and will easily go on auto pilot because they will see that the options being told to them are usually optimal anyway, so they often follow their guidance. Even with 4 skilled players, it’s a little hard to feel like your activity is of your own original thought which eliminates the feel of personal accomplishments (even if they are for the team).

As a casual family game, I can see this being more successful. However, I would not recommend this game for a group with power gamers.

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Critic - Level 5
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Marquis / Marchioness
98 of 105 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“It’s a light version of Pandemic… But I’ve never played Pandemic!”

Sometimes I’ll fall into the trap of trying to explain a game by comparing it to another game. This often works well, when the person I’m talking to knows the same games I do. Recently, I described Forbidden Island as many people do, as a light version of Pandemic, and was met with a blank stare. Trying to use Pandemic as a comparison to someone who had never played it (or any cooperative game) was useless.

Below is a review of Forbidden Island for those that are new to cooperative games and have never played Pandemic

Forbidden Island is a cooperative game – all players are on the same team – winning and losing as a group. You’re treasure hunters on an island trying to grab four treasures, but there’s a problem, the island is sinking. Once a tile starts flooding, its likelihood of sinking is increased. If you can collect the four treasures and get all of the players to the Fool’s Landing tile along with a helicopter card, you’ll win the game.

The board is a random layout of 24 well illustrated tiles. One of these tiles is the helicopter pad, Fool’s Landing. The four treasures are shown on two tiles each. There are six roles, each player getting one. The roles will have a special ability for that player; otherwise all players have the same options each turn.

As in many cooperative games, players perform some number of “good” actions (moving closer to winning the game), and then have to perform a “bad” action, in this case, drawing cards from the flood deck. A Water Level card tells you how many to draw. In between these actions you’ll draw Treasure Cards.

If you’d like a rundown of how the game plays, see the next sections, for my thoughts, jump to the final section.


You have three actions each turn which can be spent to do the following:

Move 1 space – You may only move up, down, left, or right, not diagonally.

Shore up a tile – Turn a flooded tile adjacent to you (not diagonally) to its non-flooded side.

Give a card to a player – The other player must be on your tile.

Get a treasure – discard 4 matching treasure cards when on a tile showing the matching treasure, and take that treasure token.

Draw Two Treasure Cards

Draw two cards. You can only hold 5, so you may have to discard.

Water Rise These cards are responsible for the main interesting mechanic in the game. They are what cause you to flip over more flood cards each turn, making it more likely the tiles will sink. In addition, they take the flood card discard pile, shuffle it, and put it on top of the flood draw pile. This means that tiles that have already been flooded are more likely to flood again. An already flooded tile which comes up from the flood deck is removed from the game.

Draw Flood Cards

Draw cards from the flood deck equal to your flood level. As stated above, if the card for a tile that is already flooded comes up, that tile is removed from the game.

Winning and Losing

Everyone wins or loses together. You win by getting to Fool’s Landing with the four treasures, all players, and a helicopter card. You can lose if Fool’s Landing sinks, OR both tiles showing a given treasure sink before you get that treasure, OR a player is on a tile that sinks and has no where to go, OR the flood meter reaches the top level. The last condition also adds some replayability to the game, as you can start with a higher or lower flood level to make the game easier or harder.

My Thoughts

Forbidden Island is a highly accessible game that can be easily learned and played by all ages. It is a fantastic entry into the cooperative game genre for a family. You don’t need to have played Pandemic, or even another cooperative game, to understand and enjoy Forbidden Island. The decisions aren’t terribly difficult, but the game does require players to work together to be efficient. Understanding which tiles need to be saved, and which can be allowed to sink, is a big part of the game.

The tiles are attractive and sturdy, with the treasures being quite impressive for a game in this price range. There is no real need for the treasures to be anything special, but the tokens are large, colorful, and fun to play with. The random layout each game will make each play slightly differently, and there are 10 official variant layouts that can be found online (check my entry in the Tips section on this site for details and a link!)

One word of warning to those new to cooperative games, this game can suffer from a dominant player taking over the game and telling everyone what to do. This can become annoying and take much of the fun out of the game. For middle-aged kids, this could be a good “teaching experience”, to help them learn to play together and listen to everyone’s input, instead of trying to boss other players around. The benefit of this is that the game can be played solo, if you so desire.

Forbidden Island is a great gateway into cooperative games. By the time you find yourself tiring of it, you’ll be ready to take on some of the more strategic relatives, and learn for yourself why people refer to this as Pandemic Light!

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Advanced Reviewer
Rosetta Stone
98 of 105 gamers found this helpful
“Intense family cooperative enjoyment.”


Given the many reviews I’ve read here on this game, it’s difficult to identify anything that hasn’t already been said. However, given that this review process is subjective and individual in nature, I’ll provide the experience I’ve had as it relates to family gaming. For those who have already played and enjoyed pandemic, you’ll find this game mechanic to have a similar feel (same designer). This games sets an intrepid group of treasure hunters out on a fly in quest to loot 4 temples on a sinking island. Players will have to work together using their specialized skills to grab the 4 treasures and get back to the helicopter for lift off before the island sinks. Given that this game is very simple to teach and is cooperative, it lends itself nicely to family game nights with children 10 and up.


As I’ve indicated above, learning/teaching the game is very simple as it is not bogged down with extraneous or complicated rules. The instructions are very clear about set up and game play. Turn sequences are shirt which keeps the game flowing smoothly for all players. As in all cooperative games, Alpha gamers can Sometimes squash quieter if less assertive players. Communications between players becomes essential and in my experience is great for connecting families together in a positive experience.
After a few initial plays, games tend to last 20-30 minutes.


The components amount to a couple of decks of cards, island cards and player cards, as well as individual tiles that represent specific locations on the island. While this game probably won’t win any awards for its artwork, the component quality is good and the artwork is sufficient.


The strength of this game is its simplicity, while Forbidden Island may not see much table time at a gaming club for this reason it is exceptional at introducing non gamers and older children to cooperative gaming. I have been using this game as a gateway to new players and enjoy playing this game with my wife and young daughters. The game is both challenging, engaging, and enjoyable.

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Gamer - Level 3
Rated 25 Games
122 of 132 gamers found this helpful
“Another win for the family game collection”

Forbidden Island is another fine addition to our co-op library for family nights. As my wife prefers cooperative games, and my daughter is only 7, these games help to not only introduce them to the hobby but also help with various real-life skills (Communication especially).

Castle Panic, Elder Sign, and Shadows over Camelot (Without the traitor, so far) have been top favorites in this category. We now add Forbidden Island to the mix.

I hesitated to rate this as high as Castle Panic and Shadows over Camelot, because of my wife not getting into the game QUITE as much as my daughter and I did. However, I can’t fault the game for that, and my wife has said she would like to try it again.

Forbidden Island has a team of players maneuvering around an “island” made up of various location tiles. These tiles start to flood, and can sink completely as the game progresses. Players have the ability to take 3 actions per turn, including movement (1 space = 1 action), shoring up a tile (flipping it from flooded back to normal), capturing a treasure (with 4 matching treasure cards), and trading with another player on the same space. Special abilities can alter these rules slightly depending on the player/role selected, adding a bit of strategy and variety. It also puts more of an emphasis on teamwork. One person might be able to shore up 2 adjacent tiles for 1 action, and might want to concentrate on keeping the island from sinking. Another might be able to fly to any tile on the board for one action, making them useful for not only quick treasure collecting, but also emergency shoring.

As the game progresses, the flood levels rise, causing more and more tiles to flood each turn. The game ramps up the excitement and tension as it gets going, and can be very tense/difficult depending on the difficulty level you start the game at.

All in all, this is not only a game I can enjoy playing with my family, this is also a game I wouldn’t mind taking to game night with the guys, either. Especially if they love Indiana Jones and adventuring titles (And who doesnt? LOL). One of the best games available from Gamewright, in my opinion. At 15 dollars, this is a lot of game for the money. I’ve found it a better value than some 40-50 dollar purchases, honestly.

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Gamer - Level 2
84 of 91 gamers found this helpful
“Cooperative treasure hunting adventure”

Unlike the majority of board games, Forbidden island does not place players in an opposing position against each other, rather as teammates. The objective of this adventurous and thrill-seeking team is to venture to a mythical island and claim its fabled treasures. However, the risk they are encountering is great, for the empire known as Archeans, foreseeing this kind of event to come about, designed the island to submerge to the depths of the sea, along with the daring treasure hunting team! It is therefore up to the players to escape from the forbidden-sinking island via helicopter, after having brought all 4 valuable treasures to their possession in time, before the island is lost beneath the waves.

Forbidden island makes use of 24 square tiles to randomly generate the ‘game-board’, which eventually turns out unique on practically every game. The tiles, which are printed on both sides, represent 24 different locations of the island. 9 of them are of particular significance: The temples from where the treasures can be obtained and the heliport, the only means of connection with the rest of the world (only way of escaping from the island). The artwork done to depict those locations is attractive enough in my opinion, although there is an impression of lack of coherence between the various location-tiles. This setting creates a good yet also weird atmosphere for the game.
Besides the tiles, the rest of the game’s components are cards, 4 rather detailed plastic treasures’ figurines, 6 players’ pawn in different colors made from wood and a water level scaleboard that along with a separate indicator keeps track of how much flooded the island is at any given time.
The cards are of 3 different types: The flood cards, supposedly played by the island to pose a challenge to the team of adventurers; the treasure cards, which are to be collected by the players and 6 adventurer cards which bestow each player a unique ability, whose clever use during the game will considerably increase the likelihood of a victorious outcome.

Since it is a cooperative game, Forbidden island expects players to collectively plan their actions, for mutual benefit. This is probably simpler than ideal, as the interaction between players is confined to the exchange of cards and a few other elements on special occasions (like a privilege that is granted from certain adventurer cards). Naturally, players are supposed (even encouraged) to discuss on potential plans and exchange advise.
To my opinion, the game’s complexity is somewhat insufficient, both at the cooperative part, as well as overall. I would prefer it if it featured a somewhat wider array of options, so to offer a greater degree of choices discrimination. An example of this simplicity is that the 24 different locations of the island, with the exception of the 8 temples and 1 heliport, are equal as far as the game-play is concerned. I believe the game would be more interesting if there was some kind of special characteristic to each of the locations, or at least some of them, to differentiate them in practical terms (other than just by the name and artwork) and therefore adding extra variety. By that I am not implying that a game of Forbidden island feel boring; on some occasions however, the correct decisions can seem too obvious and consecutive players’ turn may turn out quite repetitive.
Players take turns in order, choosing how to spend their, up to 3, action points in any combination of the 4 possible actions (an action can be selected several times during the same turn). At the end of each player’s turn, it is time for the island to do its part: A certain number of flood cards must be turned over in order to identify which island locations will become flooded, or even sink and be removed from the game, if they were already flooded.
One of the game’s best features is the adjustable difficulty level; players can choose among 4 different settings. This actually defines the starting water level, with higher difficulty moving it up closer to the defeat condition, meaning that the adventurers have less time at their disposal to complete their mission. However, the water level indicator reaching the final mark is only one of the 4 possible occasions where the team may face failure. So, they will have to be cautious of avoiding several things from happening. For the first 2 difficulty levels, mistakes are quite forgivable, but beyond that (on settings 3 and 4), prudent planning and caution will usually be required for attaining victory.
In Forbidden island, the elements of luck and strategy are existing in a pretty much balance state, slightly closer to the strategic part. The most noticeable aspect of luck and randomness are how the initial ‘board’ setup will turn out and in which order cards, particularly flood cards will be drawn. Memorization affects this game only slightly.

Generally, Forbidden island presents an interesting and enjoyable gaming opportunity that is quick paced, easy to learn and strikes a nice balance between luck and strategy with a good artistic/aesthetic back-up. The variable difficulty level makes it appreciable to players of various experience and/or skill. I only wish there was more variety to it.

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82 of 89 gamers found this helpful
“That sinking feeling is back again... now with co-op!”

Forbidden Island is a cooperative game that pits the players against a sinking island in a mad dash to collect 4 treasures. While it seems easy at first, the difficulty increases with each round and the island begins to sink quicker and quicker.

The Game


The game starts out by placing 24 island tiles in a cross formation (4×4 square with 2 extra tiles on each side) with the fully coloured side up. 8 of the tiles have a symbol of one of the 4 treasures on it; 2 tiles per treasure. More about those in a bit. The cards are split in to 3 groups; treasures, floods, and characters. The treasure cards are shuffled and 2 dealt to each player. These are kept face up so that everyone know what everyone else has in their hand. The character cards are shuffled and handed out at random. Extra character cards are set aside. The character cards determine the colour of the player’s meeple (which is placed on the respective starting spot), as well as gives the player a special ability (ie: blue/pilot is able to move their meeple to any island square once per turn as an action). The flood cards are shuffled and six are drawn one at a time. The tiles that are shown on the cards are flipped over to the blue-and-white coloured side to show they are flooded. The cards are placed face up in a flood discard pile. The water level marker is placed at the appropriate notch on the marker card.


The player who last visited an island is the one to start. Play progresses in a clockwise fashion. Each player then progresses through 3 phases in their turn; Action phase, Treasure phase, and Flood phase. During the action phase a player may 1) “shore up” or flip over a flooded island tile that is directly above, below, to the left, to the right, or they are on as an action; 2) give a treasure card to another player who is on the same tile as they are; 3) move their meeple up, down, left or right one tile; or 4) capture a treasure on a tile if they have 4 matching treasure cards in their hand. 3 actions are available to a player per phase and each of the above counts as an action. The player doesn’t have to do all 3 actions, but that is the limit for a turn.

During the treasure phase, the player draws 2 treasure cards. If a “water rises” card is drawn, the flood discard pile is shuffled separately from the other flood cards and placed on the top of the undrawn flood deck. The water level marker also moves up one notch. Otherwise, the player keeps their cards, up to a maximum of 5 cards. When a player has 4 of one type of treasure card, they are able to trade them in for that specific treasure during the action phase if they are on that treasure’s tile.

During the flood phase, the player draws the number of flood cards that are indicated on the water level marker card. If the card shows a tile that is full coloured, the tile is flipped to the blue-and-white side and the card is placed in the flood discard pile. If the card shows a tile that is already blue-and-white, the tile and card are removed from the game permanently, thus creating a potential gap in the game board.

This ends the player’s turn and the next player starts their turn.

Winning or Losing

The game is won when every treasure is collected and the players are evacuated from the island. If at any point a treasure cannot be collected or a player’s meeple is removed from the game board due to a tile disappearing, the players all lose.


The tiles are made of thick durable material and the treasures/meeple are made of durable plastic. The cards are also of good quality. The box is well sectioned so every piece has a place. All of this comes together to provide great quality of components.

Replay Value

Due to the random placement of the tiles and selection of the special abilities for the players, the replay value of the game is quite high. The chances of playing an identical game is extremely rare.

Ease of Learning

The game unfolds quickly and is very intuitive in how it is played. This makes the game very easy to learn.

Final Thoughts

This game is well put together. While the randomness of the tiles can lead to more replay, it can also lead to quick games. For example, in one game all of the treasure tiles ended up around the evacuation point allowing us to ignore the peripheral tiles and only focus on shoring up a select few. All in all, this game will be pulled out more often due to the quick play time and randomness of the board.

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United Kingdom
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Crab Clan - Legend of the Five Rings
Book Lover
78 of 85 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“The Best Gateway Co-operative Game. Period.”

One of the most hotly anticipated games in 2010 was Forbidden Island from Game Wright – anticipated because it had been designed by Matt Leacock, the highly regarded designer of the equally highly regarded co-operative board game, Pandemic. For fans of that board game’s desperate attempt to stave off the spread of four deadly diseases, the news was and still is good. Forbidden Island is another co-operative board game, another desperate race against time rather than your fellow players, and another tense, taut playing experience. The enemy are not four deadly diseases, but the rising tides that ebb and flow, threatening to sink the island before a band of plucky explorers can land, rescue its hidden treasures, and get back to safety…

This is a game designed for two to four players, aged ten and up that can be completed in under thirty minutes. It is easy to learn – for our first game we got everything out and were playing in five minutes – and fans of the designer’s classic Pandemic will recognise certain similarities.

The first thing that strikes you about Forbidden Island is that it comes in a tin. Inside the deep tin can be found fifty-eight cards, twenty-four Island Tiles, six wooden pawns, four Treasure pieces, a Water Meter, a Water Level Marker, and an eight page Rules Booklet. The cards are divided between a twenty-eight Treasure Card deck, a twenty-four Flood Card deck, and six Adventurer cards. The red-backed Treasure Cards are divided between depictions of the game’s four Treasures, Waters Rise! cards, and various special cards. Each of the cards in the Flood Deck corresponds to one of the twenty-four Island Tiles. These Island Tiles depict locations such as Breakers Bridge, the Cliffs of Abandon, the Coral Palace, and Fools’ Landing, where the helipad is located. Each Island Tile is double-sided, showing a location in full, fantastic colour on one side, and a pale version with a blue wash on the reverse. When this pale version is face up, it indicates that the location is flooded and is in danger of sinking.

The six Adventurer cards each double as a quick reference card and each has a special ability. For example, as the Messenger a player can give a Treasure Card to another player anywhere on the island, while the Engineer can shore up two adjacent flooded Island Tiles instead of one as an action.

The Water Meter shows Forbidden Island’s rising waters in terms of the number of Island Tiles that are flipped over at the end of each player’s turn, from two rising up to five. A marker is clipped onto the Water Meter, and this marker will rise up the Meter and through the numbers until it hits the skull and crossbones at the top. When this happens, the game is over. The marker only rises when a Waters Rise! is drawn at the end of a player’s turn. There are just three of these cards in the Treasure Deck, but as the game proceeds, the players will exhaust and reshuffle the Treasure Deck several times.

Lastly, there are the four Treasures. Each of these – the Earth Stone, the Statue of the Wind, the Crystal of Fire, and the Ocean’s Chalice – is done in very tactile and appropriate plastic. For example, the Crystal of Fire is done in translucent flame red plastic.

To set up a game of Forbidden Island, the Island Tiles are laid out face up in a roughly crossed shape pattern, one each of the Treasures is placed at a corner of the island, and each player receives two Treasure Cards and an Explorer Card. Their corresponding pawns are placed on the marked Island Tiles. The top six cards from the Flood Deck are drawn and turned over to form the Flood Discard Pile, with each of the Island Tiles that correspond to the cards drawn being turned over to show their flooded side. Lastly, the marker is set on the Water Meter at a starting point that ranges from Novice up to Legendary. The higher the starting point on the Water Meter the closer the marker is to the skull and crossbones and the game ending in failure.

On his turn a player can take just three actions. He can move orthogonally – up, down, left, or right, but not diagonally (unless he is the Explorer) – to an adjacent Island Tile; he can shore an orthogonally adjacent flooded Island Tile or the flooded Island Tile that he is on – this flips the tile over so that it shows its non flooded side; he can give a Treasure Card to a player if they are on the same Island Tile; or he can capture one of the four Treasures by discarding four matching Treasure Cards on one of the two Island Tiles where that Treasure can be found. Doing any of these takes one action.

At the end of his turn a player draws two more Treasure Cards, with the maximum he is allowed to have in his hand being five. He also draws a number of Flood Cards as indicated on the Water Meter. For each Flood Card drawn, the corresponding Island Tile is flipped over. If the Island Tile has already been flipped and shows its Flooded side face up, it sinks into the abyss and creates a watery chasm that cannot be crossed – unless you are playing the Diver. Both this Island Tile and its Flood Card are removed from play. Any player caught on an Island Tile lost this way immediately swims to an adjacent Island Tile.

If a Waters Rise! card is drawn from the Treasure Deck, the marker is raised by one notch on the Water Meter. Over time this will increase the number of Flood Cards drawn at the end of each turn. The Flood Discard Pile is shuffled, put back on top of the Flood Pile, and Flood Cards are drawn as normal.

So how do you win a game of Forbidden Island? Simply by collecting all four of the Treasures, getting every player to the Fools’ Landing Island Tile, and then using a Helicopter Life card – one of the few special cards from the Treasure Deck – to get everyone off the island. The point is, everyone wins.

So, one way to win then, how do you lose? By lots of ways. If both of the Island Tiles where a Treasure can found are lost to the abyss or if the Fools’ Landing Island Tile sinks, preventing everyone from getting off Forbidden Island. If an Island Tile sinks and a player cannot swim to an adjacent Island Tile or if the marker on the Water Meter reaches the skull and crossbones. The point is, everyone loses.

The time between a game starts and when it ends – either with a win or a loss, a player will be very busy. Primarily, he will be rushing around Forbidden Island to shore up Island Tile after Island Tile, the danger being that if too many Island Tiles are lost to the watery abyss it restricts everyone’s movement and reduces the number of Island Tiles where the Treasures can be found. Secondly, he will be collecting Treasure Cards enough to collect one or more of the Treasures. In between all of this, his fellow players will be advising and suggesting on his best course of action, usually based upon the special ability granted to the player by his Adventurer Card or where a player needs to get to in order give a Treasure Card to another player or to receive a Treasure Card from player in his turn.

I found a demo copy of Forbidden Island at UK Games Expo ’10 – where it would win an award for Best Family Game – grabbed it and quickly rounded up three other players, cracked open the game, and was playing in five minutes. We lost. On Novice level. On the second try, we won. I resolved to purchase a copy the following day when it was launched. In discussing the game, we agreed that the game felt very much like Pandemic, the comparisons being impossible not to draw. It has the same strong co-operative play element; it has the same deck refreshing element that sees the same cards appearing again and again – but on Forbidden Island they are Flood Cards rather than Infection Cards as in Pandemic; and it has same tense atmosphere in play as the players try to stave off the rising waters. It also feels like a scaled down Pandemic, with a player having three actions per turn rather than four and having to collect four Treasure Cards per Treasure rather than five City Cards per disease as in Pandemic.

Yet despite the tense nature of the game play, Forbidden Island is not as doom laden. Its theme is more upbeat, more adventurous, and without the fate of the world being at stake. With its excellent artwork and the fantastic nature of the names given to the Island Tiles, Forbidden Island is more like playing a desperate adventure movie.

If there is an issue with Forbidden Island, it is in that having played Pandemic, the comparisons leave you slightly dissatisfied. This is due to this new game not having quite the same depth of play that Pandemic offers, making Forbidden Island not quite as appealing to the dedicated games player. For all its scaling down and simpler rules, Forbidden Island is not necessarily easy to win, and the dedicated games player should consider adjusting the starting difficulty upwards to Elite or Legendary. To be fair though, Forbidden Island is not Pandemic and is not meant to be a replacement or a variant, instead being a family game that can enjoyed by younger players and serious gamers alike. In fact, it actually serves as a fantastic introduction to the concept of the co-operative play. That it plays in a similar fashion just shows us how good the underlying mechanics are in Forbidden Island’s older and more polished, more intricate forebear.

Which all means that Forbidden Island is not just another fine entry to the growing family of co-operative board games, but an excellent introduction to that family. As an introduction to co-operative game play and as a family game, Forbidden Island is clever, sophisticated, and a great new gateway game into the hobby.

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Professional Reviewer
I play black
Silver Supporter
83 of 91 gamers found this helpful
“A dynamic co-op great for families”

In this light co-op players assume the roles of explorers on a sinking island, trying to collect the island’s treasures and make it out alive before the entire place is underwater.

Gameplay itself is good and light – you move about the island and try to coordinate card-trading with other players so that treasures can be saved. There are several roles in the game (diver, pilot etc.) each with their own special ability.

Every turn a part of the island goes underwater and the rate of submersion increases as the game goes on. This is my favourite part of there is real urgency in your race against the water rising, aided by the visuals of more and more island tiles disappearing from the board.

There are some critical moment where everyone is waiting for a card to be flipped that could make or break the game – there are still two tiles that will flood – is the helicopter pad (which is your only hope of escaping and winning the game) one of them?

Game plays fast and light, usually done in about half an hour. The difficulty is customizable and can accommodate everyone from beginners to masochists nicely. Components are of good quality and the art is very good and fits the theme well.

Due to its easy rules, exciting theme, cooperative gameplay and light duration – the game is great for younger players, being a solid way to introduce kids as young as 5 to the world of board games. Older crowds might not get too much repeated enjoyment out of it.

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Miniature Painter
Rosetta Stone
Advanced Reviewer Beta 1.0 Tester
77 of 85 gamers found this helpful
“Good filler game for adults, great introduction to coop for the kids”

I’ll begin with the short story. My wife is not much of a gamer, but she will play this willingly. My six year old daughter loves games, and she is a fan of this one. She understands the premise and can make her own intelligent decisions. It is pretty short to play, 20-30 minutes or so, so it can bridge the time between meatier offerings effectively.

Ooh! Pretty! (Components)

First off, the textured tin is awful nice for a $20.00 game. It looks pretty good on the shelf. Of course, you want something that is going to get taken off the shelf, so let’s look inside.

The first thing you are likely to notice once you get the tin open (and the paper out of the way) are the plastic sculpted figures representing the treasures. These are solid, good looking figures. In contrast to these, the colored pawns representing the players are chintzy generic fare. If it bugs you too much, you can always get some miniatures to stand in for them.

There are 24 heavy cardboard tiles that make up the modular gameboard. Each is double-sided, with a full color picture of one of the Forbidden Island’s landmarks on one side and a faded blue “flooded” side. I am not much of an art guy, but some of the art on these tiles strikes me as pretty cool. There is also 58 cards used for play. Pretty much standard playing card fare. Nothing striking one way or the other in regards to their quality in my opinion. A numbered bookmark-sized piece of cardboard with a plastic marker used to mark the water level rounds out the tin’s contents.

The Adventure

This is a cooperative game. Everyone wins or loses together. There are no bad guys to battle. Instead, your enemy is the environment and your limited hand size. The basic premise is that you and your team found beautiful island with treasure just waiting to be looted (liberated?) from temples therein. As soon as your helicopter touches down, however, the island begins to sink and flood. Your job is to find the four treasures and get them and your team back to the helicopter and off the island before the island completely sinks. Each player will take on the role of one of the team members. Each available role has a special ability. Some move in different manners, some can ignore missing tiles, some can more easily repair the flooded environment, etc. Each game will be different due to board layout and adventurer roles chosen or randomly assigned.


The board is modular, but Arkham Horror this isn’t. Setup for the board consists of laying down the 24 island tiles color-side up in the proper formation, putting treasures onto proper temple tiles and putting player pawns on the helicopter tile (Fool’s Landing). Separate the two decks of cards (treasure and flood). Give two treasure cards to each player. Then, draw six flood cards. Each of these cards represents one of the tiles that make up the game board. You will flip each corresponding tile to the blue “flooded” side for each card chosen. Choose or randomly determine each player’s adventurer role, and set the water marker to your desired difficulty level. Now you are ready to go looting!


Now that everything is set up, the adventurers begin to move about and affect the island environs. This is accomplished by the adventurers taking up to three actions each turn. These actions consist of any combination of:

Move one adjacent tile
Shore up an adjacent flooded tile (flip it back to the colored side)
Give another player on your tile one of your treasure cards
Capture a treasure on your tile

Various adventurer roles affect these options in certain ways. Engineers can flip two flooded tiles for one action. The pilot can move to any tile once per turn, messenger can give cards without being on the same tile, etc.

After a player performs their actions, they then draw two treasure cards. Most of the treasure cards depict one of the four treasures you are seeking on the island. In order to claim the treasurers, the following conditions need to be met:

The player taking the treasure needs to be in possession of four cards depicting that treasure.
The player must be on one of the two tiles depicting that treasure.

The player then expends an action to take the treasure from the board. While this process is reasonably easy, achieving it is complicated by the fact that you can only hold 5 treasure cards at any time. If you are ever in possession of more than five, you must immediately discard down to five. Chances are you are not going to just draw four of the same card, so it is imperative that you work with the other players to supply one player with the necessary cards to claim a treasure. Since one action allows you to give (not trade) a treasure card with another player on the same tile as you, some forward thinking is going to be required.

In the treasure deck, you will also run into three other card types. Two are special ability cards that cannot be traded, but can be used at any time by the player holding them, not just on their turn. One is the “sandbag” card, allowing a player to shore up any flooded tile anywhere on the board. The other is the “airlift” card. This allows a player to move any player (including themselves) anywhere on the board at any time. However, use of one of these cards is mandatory after all treasures have been claimed to leave the island and win the game.

The last type of card in the treasure deck is the “waters rise” card. This effects the flood deck, which I will touch on next.
Each turn, after taking treasure cards, the player will draw flood cards equal to the number depicted on the water meter. Any tiles depicted on the cards that are not flooded are turned to their flooded side. Any tiles that are already flooded and are drawn are removed from the game. This means that, unless you are playing the diver or pilot, you have to go around the hole in the island that was just created to get around, expending additional movement points.

So, if you draw a “waters rise” card from the treasure deck, you shuffle all of the flood cards before drawing them. In addition, the marker on the water meter rises to the next notch. As time goes on, the island floods more quickly and tiles start disappearing. If a player is on a tile that sinks with no adjacent tile nearby, they are lost.

Winning and Losing

There is only one way to win the game. Capture all of the treasures, get all players onto Fool’s Landing at the same time and then any player plays an “airlift” card. The game is lost if:
Any player is unable to make it to Fool’s Landing for any reason
Fool’s Landing sinks
Any treasure becomes unable to be collected, due to both of that treasure’s temples sinking


This game has a pretty common “one way to win, many ways to lose” mechanic found in several cooperative games. There is a good bit of running around the island to keep it afloat while coordinating with your fellow adventurers to supply one with the necessary cards to claim the next treasure. It does a good job of building tension while not being particularly difficult. After several plays though, losing often comes down to dumb luck from rising water coming at an inopportune time.

That said, I find the game to be a pleasant experience, and as the title suggests, it is a great primer for younger kids to become acclimated to the idea of cooperative games. You want your kids playing games, and you would much rather play this with them than Candy Land. No reading is necessary, so kids can be introduced just as soon as the mechanics can be reasonably understood.
This is a short game that takes up little space and can be enjoyed by players of nearly any age. Couple that with a low price point, and there is little reason I can see not to have this in most anyone’s game collection.


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