Monday, August 30, 2010

Forbidden Island review

Without knowing much about it I picked up Forbidden Island for a couple of reasons. It was cheap (only $16, which is stupidly cheap for board games), had very nice packaging and it was by Matt Leacock, creator of the awesome Pandemic. I was a little hesitant because it was purchased in a toy store that had pretty much just stuff for little kids and I’m 31 years old. But I bought it anyway and I’m very glad that I did. The premise is neat; a group of adventurers travel to the infamous Forbidden Island to loot it of it’s four treasures. The only problem is that the ancient civilization that guarded the treasures has booby trapped the island, making it a watery grave for anyone who tries to steal the valuable artifacts. It is for two to four players, should take less than a half hour and is very simple to learn and play.

When I started to read through the rules one thing became clear right away. This game is Pandemic, just with a different storyline. Honestly, it plays almost exactly the same. Instead of curing the four diseases the players have to find the four treasures by using four matching treasure cards. Instead of outbreaks and infections in cities certain island tiles become flooded. Instead of Infection cards we have Waters Rise, which causes the deck to be reshuffled and increases the number of flooded tiles each round. Even the player roles are very similar. It may not be the most original game concept, but that does not take away from the fun of it at all. It’s a great game.

One thing about Forbidden Island that is top notch is the art and packaging. The game comes in a nice looking tin and everything fits easily inside of it. The island is comprised of randomly placed tiles (so the layout is different each time) and the art in them is super cool. They are all sort of ominous and forbidding (maybe that’s where the island’s name comes from…) and each one unique. They are not generic things like mountains and coast, but Breaker’s Bridge and the Cave of Shadows. The Coral Palace may be my favorite. Seriously very cool. Everyone that I have played with has commented on the art. But the best part is the actual artifacts that you have to collect. Each one of the four is represented by a little figurine and, like the tiles, are really very nice. I think that my favorite is the Ocean’s Chalice because of the tentacles on the stem of the goblet, but I would listen to arguments for all of them. One aspect of them that I really like is that they are in the game just to be a nice addition, they are not necessary at all. They could easily be represented by cards, but the makers chose to throw in a nice feature that really enhances the game (this does not always work, see Hera and Zeus). It’s nice to see the creators go the extra bit and also not gouge the consumer for it.

The game itself plays very quickly and does a remarkable job of creating tension and a total feeling of hopelessness. Great. If an island tile becomes flooded after already having been flooded once it is then removed from the game, causing a gap in the island. Depending where the hole in the board is it could prove lethal for our intrepid band of adventurers (though depending on how you look at it, they could easily be called robbers. I sort of like the grey morality of just who these people are). One of the mechanics of the game that I really like is that in order for the players to win they not only need to get all four treasures, but then the entire group needs to make it back to the helicopter and fly off the island together. If there is one thing I’ve always felt was odd about Pandemic it was that the game just ends when the fourth cure is found, it seems sort of abrupt. Not so in Forbidden Island. It also reinforces the camaraderie that is necessary to win the game. These adventurers are not leaving anyone behind, even if it means their death as they wait for the Diver to get there. The Diver, by the way, is the Operations Expert of Forbidden Island. That is to say that they are the character that no one wants to be.

So far we have played four games of Forbidden Island and as a group we have two wins and two losses. For what it’s worth both wins came with three players and both losses came with four, so maybe the game is harder with more players (which I think is also true of Pandemic). I kind of went into playing thinking that it would be easy, but it’s not. Much like Pandemic there are numerous ways to lose and only one way to win. The game can be enjoyed by older players but it is also a great introduction to games for a younger player. If I knew any 10 year olds I would buy this for them in a second.

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