REVIEW – Forbidden Island

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Forbidden IslandName: Forbidden Island
Publisher: Gamewright
Type: Cooperative game, tile game
Players: 2-4
Best with: 3-4
Length of Playtime: 30 minutes


Give It to Me Quick: Forbidden island is a good introduction to cooperative games. Light on strategy but makes a good first impression. Theme and art are superb. You’ll be rescuing sinking tiles, moving players to safety, gathering  cards to collect treasures, and ultimately gathering all players together to escape the Island.


Game setup

As colorful as the pictures make it look

Gameplay Summary

Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where all players work together to capture four treasures on a mysterious island before it sinks into the sea. At the start of each game, players are assigned one of the five unique skills to help the team: Explorer, Pilot, Diver, Engineer, and Navigator.

To win, the team must collect all four treasures while keeping each member alive, then return to Fool’s Landing to helicopter off the island.

Especially fun with four players cooperating based on your own abilities

Especially fun with four players and cooperating based on your own abilities


The game’s location tiles are shuffled and randomly placed on the table to form the island for that game. After the island is set up, the first six cards in the flood deck are turned over to determine which locations on the island are flooded first. For each card revealed, the tile matching the card is flipped to the “flooded” side.

Discounting special abilities for now, on a player’s turn, they may take up to three actions, consisting of:

1. Moving one space.
2. “Shoring up” (flipping over) any flooded tile on the player’s space or an adjacent space.
3. Giving a treasure card to another player.
4. Trading in a set of four matching cards for the corresponding treasure on that tile.

After taking actions, at the end of each turn, the player draws two cards in an attempt to complete a four piece set of treasure cards. After drawing these cards, the top card in the Flood deck is turned over the number of times that corresponds to the current Flood level. Each tile location on these newly drawn Flood cards either becomes flooded (flipped from the safe side to the water side), or sinks into the ocean, never to return (if the tile is already flooded). This moment always is tense fun, waiting to see which part of the island is the next to disappear.


2/4 of the way to a complete set


Sprinkled through this player deck are “Waters Rise!” cards. When one of these are drawn, the previously discarded Flood cards are reshuffled and put back on top of the deck, ensuring that the most recently flooded tiles will soon be flooded again or lost in the ocean. The Flood level is also increased one notch, increasing the number of Flood cards flipped at the end of each turn.

There are several ways to lose:

1. Have any player “drown” if the tile that they are on sinks with no adjacent tiles to swim to for safety.
2. Have the Flood level rise too high (run out of time).
3. Lose matching treasure tiles into the ocean before the treasure is recovered.
4. Lose Fool’s Landing (the escape location) into the ocean at any point of the game.


Empty tiles showing where the island has sunk

Empty tiles showing where the island has sunk


How many players is it best with?

We’ve played Forbidden Island with 2, 3, and 4 players, and it’s definitely a lot more interesting with 4. With two, you don’t have all the roles in the game to use, and you lose the interaction among players, which is half the fun.


Our Positives

Forbidden Island was the first cooperative game I played, and it was a fun introduction to the genre.  It’s admittedly quite simple, but that makes for quick, fast games. It’s a great way to introduce the cooperative genre to a group of gamers unfamiliar with the concept. The theme is intriguing as long as the players use a bit of imagination, and the different roles available are well designed and complementary. Coordinating four players’ movements while the island is sinking all around them is a fantastic concept and it’s a lot of fun. A plan to capture a treasure can change immediately at the end of a turn when Waters Rise! and put an important tile in jeopardy.


Our Negatives

Speaking from the perspective of a group that likes good strategy games, it’s mastered very quickly. After playing a game or two right out of the box, we felt like experts on how to play. In 15+ games played at varying difficulty levels, we’ve lost three times. It’s fun to play with different groups and introduce people to the cooperative style, but playing with the same group of people starts to get stale.

Losing due to the water level getting too high (i.e. drawing too many “Waters Rise!” cards) is anticlimactic. In one particular game, we lost simply because we had to draw through the deck too many times to find the final set we needed. Making this initial water level higher is also the game’s method of making the game more difficult. Several in our gaming group mentioned that it’s more fun to deal with the flooded tiles and lose that way rather than the “time limit” imposed by the water level.

In order to win the game, you need to collect a matching set of cards. In order to collect a matching set of cards, you have to wait until you draw the card you need. Until then, you’re waiting and playing defense with the island sinking. The followup to this game, Forbidden Desert, eliminates this issue by allowing the players to determine when they go after tiles they need instead of waiting for the game to come to them.


Waters Rise! Prepare to lose this way more than any other (that is, if you lose at all).

Waters Rise! Prepare to lose this way more than any other way (if you lose at all).








35_party for a Party Maybe, though it’s only four players. It’s fun to watch.
casual Casual Yes, this is a good gateway game for cooperative games.
35_competitive Competitive Nope. The opposite of what this game is about.
35_strategy Strategic A little bit, but it’s not meant to be very deep.


Final Thoughts on Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island makes a good first impression, especially as an introduction to cooperative games. Four player games are fun with all players engaged the whole time. However, the staying power struggles since it’s relatively simple in strategy and it’s not difficult at all. Some of the game mechanics will frustrate; for example, some turns, especially the beginning of the game, give little to do but wait until cards are drawn. Good game for kids and families.

As I’m writing this review, I realize that my Negative points outweigh the Positives for this game. Looking back, any other Positives I would add would relate to its ease of setup, ease of learning, or ease of gameplay. Having a simple game like this fills the role of a good filler game that’s fun to play. It works great for an intro to a game night. The game has beautiful, colorful artwork on the tiles and cards and has a great theme that adds to the experience. It’s relatively inexpensive as well, which is always excellent.

Similar games: Forbidden Desert

Check out more reviews!

Forbidden Island






      Game Mechanics





          • - Fantastic first impression
          • - Great introduction to cooperative games
          • - Beautiful artwork and design


          • - Somewhat simplistic
          • - Difficulty level driven by a frustrating time limit mechanic

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