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Forbidden Island

Entry updated 7 December 2020. Tagged: Game.

Board Game (2011). Gamewright. Designed by Matt Leacock.

You are a band of intrepid adventurers in search of lost treasure, traversing a mysterious secret island. As you pull pieces of each treasure from the ground, the waters heave and shake around you.... Will you and your fellow explorers find all of the pieces, or will you sink beneath the treacherous sea?

Forbidden Island is a co-operative game for 2-4 players, with a loose Steampunk art style and an Adventure theme. The art of the Island (by C B Canga) is strongly reminiscent of Jules Verne's writing, most notably Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870 2vols; trans 1872). The object of the game is to collect enough cards of a matching colour in order to be able to gather up the corresponding piece of each elemental treasure, which can be located on one of two tiles on the map. However, the adventurers' arrival and the disturbance of the treasures has caused the island to begin sinking, and players must work together to gather all of the artefacts before the island disappears into the ocean.

Forbidden Island has a number of similarities to Pandemic and Forbidden Desert by the same author, Matt Leacock. A difficulty setting (from "novice" to "legendary") allows the game to become harder for more experienced players. It requires strong levels of cooperation and coordination, with players thinking several stages ahead, using their individual character abilities well, and planning for the randomized events of each turn. There is also an element of luck, via the drawing of cards from a deck; but as with both other games, players can pre-empt some of this randomization.

The game "board" consists of 24 tiles that are shuffled and then laid out in a diamond pattern. This randomness affects a game's difficulty: tiles on the outskirts of the board can become more inaccessible as the game progresses. During a turn, the player takes three actions; they can shore up a tile that is sinking, they can move to another tile, they can swap cards with a player on the same space and they can pick up a treasure if they have the right amount of matching cards and are on the correct tile. Players are also allocated a character with an individual ability at start of play which may either be used as an action or may affect the play style of one of these actions (for example the Messenger can give one of their cards to anyone else on the board). At the end of these movements, two sets of cards are drawn, depending on the current level of the water (shown on a marker). The first cards provide the players with potentially useful cards such as a sandbag or airlift ability, or cause the water level to rise. The other set dictates whether areas of the map sink one level. If any tile sinks two levels, it is removed.

As a result there are several ways to lose the game. If any player drowns or fails to reach the final objective of reaching the aptly named take-off point "Fools Landing", the game is lost. If both of the tiles with a treasure on them slip beneath the waters before they are collected, the game is lost. If Fools Landing sinks before the players can reach it with all the treasures in hand, the game is lost.

Forbidden Island is a Gateway Game, despite its difficulty. It is easy to learn and does not require vast experience of other Board Games. The game's science-fictional element derives from the art style, with each tile on the island resembling a lost city, with a Lovecraftian atmosphere (see Cthulhu Mythos; H P Lovecraft). Each tile also has a foreboding name, such as "The Cliffs of Abandon", adding to the atmosphere of the island as a sinister and dangerous locale. The rules allude to a mystic race called the Archeans, who governed the island and kept the elemental treasures safe (until now). Forbidden Island has won several awards, mostly in children's and family games categories, and was nominated in 2011 for the Spiel Des Jahres. The game won a Golden Geek award as Best Children's Boardgame in 2010. [EMS]


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