Review: Forbidden Island by Matt Leacock

Forbidden Island by Matt Leacock and published by Gamewright is a cooperative board game designed for 2-4 players. Since “Pandemic” and this game share the same developer, there are some striking similarities. That said, “Forbidden Island” is a fun, quick co-op game with a clever theme for a great price ($15.99). Game play begins with players assuming the roles of various adventurers seeking four magic treasures on a very unstable island.

Here is a shot of the box contents. As an aside, I really liked the tin box for packaging. More companies should move to this more robust packaging. Cardboard boxes tend to fail over the long haul. The components are really quite good, with one exception I discuss below.

Here is a shot of the board, such as it is. In reality the board changes every game as it is just randomly placed tiles representing locations on the island.

“Forbidden Island’s” goal is to gather four identical treasure cards for each of the treasures, go to one of two “special” tiles for that treasure and discard the cards to claim the treasure. Finally, after claiming all the treasures, get all players to “Fool’s Landing,” the helipad tile, and play an “airlift” card. It is far harder than it sounds.

Play begins by drawing six “flood” cards. These cards indicate which tiles are now under water and you flip the card to get a blue tinted version of the original art. Being under water just means the tile is threatened and players can still save the location.

As with “Pandemic,” each player has a special ability. The explorer may move diagonally, for example. Whereas everyone else can only move the cardinal directions.

Each turn, players have four options and may take three actions.

1. Move
2. Shore Up–flip a tile from “blue” to normal, thereby protecting it from annihilation if that card comes back up in the flood deck.
3. Give a treasure card to another player
4. Claim a treasure with four of a kind

Players then draw two treasure cards, trying to reach the magic number of four of a kind. However, this deck also has the “Waters Rise” cards that make flooding worse. Finally, players draw from the flood deck to determine which tiles become blue (underwater) or are removed from the game. I initially thought that I could sacrifice non-critical tiles, but if you do so it increases the odds that a critical tile will come up during a flood draw. Something to keep in mind when playing.

To give you some idea of how dire things got during my review game, here is a shot of the board at game’s end. Note the lack of real estate for us to stand upon. All the other tiles sank into the ocean.

We won, by the way.

Clearly inspired by “Pandemic,” “Forbidden Island” is a much simpler game mechanically and more cheerful in theme. Then again, almost any theme is cheerful relative to global viral apocalypse. Though meant for family gaming, I found it engaging and enjoyable for its very short play time (less than 30 minutes.) If you are looking for a simple, well designed co-op game at an incredibly low price, then “Forbidden Island” is a great choice.

I did want to mention one issue I found with the game; the card quality. While they are perfectly acceptable cards and of adequate quality, they are not the best quality either. Even a two player game meant the card decks faced repeated shuffles. I decided to use the Mayday Games MDG-7041 polypropylene sleeves for my set. These are the same ones that fit the “Pandemic” cards, so you may already have a package somewhere.

Good luck and remember to bring your snorkel!

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

Full Disclosure: I paid full retail for this game and receiveĀ  affiliate income from the Amazon link in the post.



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.