Forbidden Island: Review

Forbidden Island Box Art


Game Info

Publisher: Gamewright

Year Published: 2010

Number of Players: 2 to 4

Play Time: About 30 minutes

Set-up Time: About 5 minutes

Ages: 10 and up

Table Size: Medium


Forbidden Island was published in 2010 by Gamewright games.  In this team-oriented adventure game, you play as a group of 2 to 4 explorers on a visit to a mysterious island full of ancient treasure.  Your mission is to retrieve the four relics of the island and escape with your lives… before the island sinks to the bottom of the sea, taking you with it.

Unlike the majority of other board games (Pandemic being one of the exceptions), each player has to work together to achieve a common goal.  The game is a race against the clock as the island sinks around everyone, and the entire team must work together to escape with everyone in tow, otherwise the entire team loses.  Working selfishly by yourself is not rewarded and, in fact, the game will be next-to-impossible to play if you don’t work together.

Inside the awesome tin box you will find:

• 58 playing cards

• 24 island tiles

• 6 pawns

• 4 treasure figurines

• 1 water meter

• 1 water level marker

• rules of play

For a game that retails at $16, you’re getting quite a package.  Not only is the tin box a nice, durable and gorgeously designed holding facility for all of the game’s pieces, but the cardboard island tiles are colorful and glossy, as are the different treasure cards.  The treasure pieces are made of a durable soft plastic and look nice, as well.  I have spent more money on games with cheaper pieces than this, for sure.

Forbidden Island is simple both to set up and to play.  It took about 10 minutes to read through the rules and set up the game for the first time, and the rule book was very nicely detailed with plenty of helpful pictures.  There was little confusion about what we were supposed to do at any given time.

Each player randomly selects an Explorer card from a deck of 6 (note that the game only supports up to 4 people, so no matter what you do there will always be 2 left over; this keeps the game different each time you play).  Each profession – Explorer, Engineer, Pilot, Messenger, Diver, and Navigator – have their own unique abilities. Using your abilities to help the team is a crucial part of success.

On your turn, you can perform up to 3 actions, but there are four different things you can do: move one square, “shore up” a flooded island square, trade treasure to another player, or capture treasure.  If you are an Engineer, you can “shore up” two pieces as part of one action, while the Explorer can move ore “shore up” pieces diagonally (which others cannot), for example.  When your turn ends you get to pick two treasure cards, then you must draw flood cards which dictate the island tiles that are flooded or destroyed.

In the treasure pile of cards, you can gain one of four treasure elements: earth, fire, wind, or water. Yu can also pick up one of two special action cards – the sandbag or the helicopter – or draw one of the dreaded “water rising” cards.  The four treasure cards are used to capture one of the four treasure tokens you need to win the game; you must collect 4 of the same kind of treasure card (fire, for example) then move to a corresponding island piece and discard your treasure to permanently secure the treasure piece.

If you draw the “water rising” card, you must increase the game’s “water level” on the water meter board, which dictates how many flood tiles you draw at the end of each player’s turn.  Once a tile is flooded, it must either be “shored up” by spending an action or risk being destroyed.  When a tile drawn from the flood deck is already flooded, it is destroyed and removed from the game; no character (other than the Diver) may enter a square with a destroyed tile, which can make moving around the game board increasingly difficult.  There are certain tiles in the game that are especially important, and if you lose enough of these important tiles the game will end and your team of intrepid explorers will lose.  Finally, if the water level rises too high (after drawing the “water rising” card a certain number of times) your party also loses.

There are four different ways to lose the game and only one way to win, so once again teamwork is rewarded.  If your team can capture all four treasures and escape from the island before one of the losing conditions is met, you win the game.

Forbidden Island is a very fun game with relatively simple game mechanics, but it can be difficult to master and win.  If you find it too simple on the “novice” difficulty though, you can make it harder on yourself by increasing the difficulty to “normal”, “expert”, or “legendary” by starting the game’s water meter at increasing higher levels.  The inclusion of these difficulty options should ensure that even veteran players are challenged with the game and can continue to play it for a long time to come.

I would definitely recommend Forbidden Island to everyone.  It is simple enough for children (rate as ages 10+) and complex enough for adults.  The game pieces are well-crafted and at such a low retail price, there is really very little reason not to give it a try.


Forbidden Island is a great game that shouldn’t be missed.  That being said, there are some key things to consider if you are playing with a disability.

In-game text: There is little in-game text, but it is a factor in game play.  Most of what you will need to read to be able to play the game is easy enough to remember though.  For example, your explorer’s special ability is printed on your card, but once you know what your character can do (like an Engineer being able to “shore up” 2 tiles for 1 action) you no longer need to reference the card.  Other in-game text consists mainly of the names of cards (like “Water Rising” or “Sandbags”) and other players can help you read the cards if you have trouble seeing or reading text.  You may also consider adding Braille to the card faces to if you have limited or no vision.  Since this is a cooperative game, there is no need to hide your cards from view, meaning that helpful players can assist low-vision or dyslexic players with their in-game text needs.

Fine manipulation: There are many small pieces, including game board tiles, pawns, and cards, which may be difficult for some players to manipulate.  Other helpful players can draw cards or flip tiles as necessary though, so managing your own small deck of cards is the biggest potential difficulty.  Having some handy method of arranging cards in front of you, such as on a Scrabble stand or this set of 4 card holders from the Low Vision Store (link), may help this issue.

Multiple colors: Each player has his or her own colored pawn to move around the tiles on the board.  These pawns have an identical shape and it may be hard for people who are color blind or low vision to tell the pieces apart.  Other color game pieces, such as the treasure tokens, also have unique shapes so they are easy to distinguish without color.  The ability to memorize which position your piece was in would be helpful, otherwise having another player with the ability to help you distinguish your game piece from the rest may be necessary.


4.5 / 5 stars