Forbidden Island is a cooperative game, meaning its an all or nothing affair. It is a player vs environment (P vs E) style game, rather than player vs player (P vs P). If you are familiar with the iPad implementation of Ghost Stories, you’ll see some similarity in being able to play all of the characters in a psuedo-solo mode. However, the game functions a lot more like the board game Pandemic.
The game is played on a sinking island. You play one of six roles, each with their own unique ability (though a maximum of four players mean not all of those will be in play). The six roles each have a unique power relative to their theme. The explorer can move other players, the diver can move through flooded tiles, the navigator can do things diagonally (as well as orthogonally), the pilot can move anywhere, the messenger can ship cards to anyone, and the engineer can shore up two tiles as one move.
In those roles you’ve heard most of the key elements of play. The island itself is made up of a grid of tiles, that are formed in a diamond pattern. Upon this island there are four elements, linked to the four classical elements, and the job is for the adventurers to collect all four treasurers and return to the helicopter pad to take off. However, each turn the various parts of the island continues to sink and eventually the whole island will submerge. At the end of each player’s turn a number of cards are flipped over relative to the various tiles. If they show up once, they are flooded (the tile is flipped over). The second time it occurs, they are beneath the waves and lost forever (the tile is removed from the game). Here lies one of the many paths of failure.
The first relates to losing the tiles that contain the various treasurers. The second occurs if the helipad tile sinks beneath the waves. The third is if someone sinks beneath the wave and cannot escape to an adjacent tile (or to a tile via a power). The last occurs if enough ‘waters rising’ cards are drawn from the treasure pile.
To overcome the possibility of being whelmed by the waves, each player only have three actions in a turn that must be optimally coordinated with the others. A player can move one space, shore up a sinking tile (which returns it back to a non-flooded state), or collect the treasure of the tile they are on. The last action can only occur if you’ve manage to collect a matched set of four for that treasure out of the treasure cards.
This is an example of a well done implementation. What is particularly amazing is that this game came out of nowhere. There was no hint of it coming on the horizon, and the developers were unknowns until this release. It is exceptionally unusual for an existing intellectual property like this to fly under the radar, but I am glad that the implementation was done well. It was a gamble that paid off.
I have to admit, when I encountered this game in the physical, I actually overlooked it and largely because the tin box made me sceptical of its serious approach as a game. Also, the shiny plastic treasurers weren’t its best sell. However, after playing it on the iPad I found it quite enjoyable and took the next opportunity I had to play a physical copy. I can state that it is a faithful replication of the original game.
In terms of the big criteria (tutorial, multiplayer, AI) it only meets one of them, but one of them is not applicable. It does have a tutorial, though the rules aren’t as complex as I’ve made them sound. I was able to play the game after reading the rules without actually noticing the tutorial. It doesn’t have either online multiplayer, but does allow for either tabletop or pass’n’play multiplayer. It doesn’t have any AI, but that is redundant in a P vs E game.
8/10: A good implementation that shouldn’t be missed. Parents will be pleased to know that this game is reasonably family friendly, which should read that it is accessible to young adults. I do get the feeling that a family could enjoy this game as a collaborative effort, and the themes would probably speak better to them than say Pandemic.