Follow Up Tuesday – Forbidden Island

Yesterday we took a look at the mechanic of cooperative play; a mechanic that must rely entirely upon other mechanics and yet when used tends to be the identifying mechanic. Having looked at the sub-mechanics of all-vs-one and betrayers; today we will follow up the pure default mechanic of all-vs-game as we look at a cooperative classic; Forbidden Island.

Released: 2010
Designers: Matt Leacock
Plays: 2-4
EPT: 30 minutes

Since the mid 2000s the cooperative game has been becoming more and more common, and Matt Leacock is partially to thank. With his 2007 release of Pandemic followed up by the 2010 Forbidden Island and now the 2013 Forbidden Desert.

In Forbidden Island the players act as adventurers seeking to claim four great artifacts that have the power to control the elements. As the players move about the island they find the island begins to sink around them. The players must work together to keep the island afloat while they seek the treasure. To win the players must acquire the four artifacts and make it back to their helicopter to escape the island.

The game is set up with the tiles being randomly placed face up in a near diamond pattern (6 rows; the top having 2 cards, the next 4, then 6, 6, 4, 2 with the rows all being justified to the center). The top 6 cards from the flood deck are drawn with the revealed locations being flipped over to show their flooded side. With the map completed the players are given random adventure roles (they can choose their roles; but I prefer the random draw); they then place their pawns on the corresponding starting tile (even if it is flooded). Each player is dealt two treasure cards; returning any waters rise cards to the deck. Finally the players set the water level at the corresponding difficulty; the harder you desire the game the higher the starting water level; the easier the game the lower.

On a players turn they take three actions: move, shore up, giving a treasure card, and capture a treasure. When moving they may travel to any adjacent tile (diagonal does not count as adjacent unless the player is the Explorer). When shoring up an adventurer can flip an adjacent flooded tile face up for 1 action point per flipped tile (some player abilities will have additional abilities). Players will play with their treasure cards face up on the table; thus players can see who is in the best position to claim a treasures, players can then give cards to another player on the same location for 1AP per card given (the Messenger can give cards to anyone regardless of location; while no one can give special action cards to other players). Finally; if a player has four cards of the same artifact they can discard them on the treasure tiles with the same icon as the treasure and retrieve the artifact (each artifact has 2 locations with the corresponding icon).

Once a player is done taking actions they draw 2 cards from the treasure deck adding them to their hand. If a Waters Rise card is drawn the water level increases to the next tick on the tracker, the players shuffle all the discarded flood cards placing them on top of the flood deck. The player does not draw a new card to make up for the Waters Rise card. Other cards in the treasure deck include the artifact cards and special action cards; the special actions are one off bonuses that will aid the players as they seek to keep the island afloat and recover the artifacts. Players must be careful, however, as they can only ever hold 5 cards in their hand and thus must use a special action card or discard a card anytime they have 6 cards in their hand.

Once they have finished drawing their cards and are at 5 card or fewer they draw cards from the top of the flood deck equal to the current number on the flood tracker; these are drawn one at a time flipping the drawn cards over onto the flooded side, if ever a flood card is drawn and the corresponding tile is already flooded the card and the tile are removed from the game. If a player is on such a tile they must immediately swim to an adjacent tile; if there are no tiles adjacent for them to swim to the players lose the game.

Once the players have collected all the artifacts they must gather at the helipad at Fools’ Landing where one of them must play a Helicopter Lift card so they may escape the island. Losing the game, however, comes about when any of the treasures become unsavable due to the two locations with the artifact symbol sinking to the abyss, if Fools’ Landing sinks, a player’s tile sinks and they can’t get to a new tile, or the water level reaches the skull and crossbones.

The game plays very similar to Matt Leacock’s earlier cooperative game Pandemic with players having variable player powers, set action points, collecting cards to gain a solution (artifact vs cure disease), similar move-draw-draw phase resolution, and variable game difficulties. Matter of fact while teaching a young cousin he questioned the legality thinking the designer stole the game from Pandemic and just changed the theme; once I told him it was the same designer he was just that much more in love with the game.

The game was the first I had experienced that used the tiles to control the board in the manner that they did; using the two sided tiles to represent the various states the locations were in; a mechanic I still enjoy to this day. I have long been a fan of variable player powers, I mentioned yesterday I love me some cooperation in games, and the raising water level tied with flooded locations adds a physical sense of urgency to the game.

Like all coop games it has its downsides in the alpha takeover, but along with that there is a high degree of randomness in the game. When playing with young and new players the randomness can be more frustrating than anything else; such as when a Water’s Rise car hits on the second turn leading to multiple sunk locations leaving the game nearly impossible from the get go. I thus often take a card from Matt Leacock’s own book and set the flood deck up similar to the Pandemic deck in that I shuffle the Water’s Rise cards in intervals to insure they won’t strike back to back when teaching players the game for the first time.
With the game’s gorgeous design and well partnered mechanics the game scores big when it scores; but it quickly loses some of the initial rush when the odds are not in your favor. The theme is equally pasted on and variable (see Forbidden Desert); especially when noted that the artifacts grant the posses control over the elements… I’m not sure if I would trust these explorers with that power… as it is the game scores a 7 out of 10; a great game when everyone wants to just get along.
Visuals – 1.75 // 2
Skill/Luck – .5 // 1
Pacing – 1.5 // 2
Theme/Immersion – 1 // 2
Mechanics – .75 // 1
Fun Factor 1.5 // 2

Visit us again tomorrow while we take a look at another worker placement game; Stone Age! Until then you can find us on social media;
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