Cooperative board games such as Forbidden Island present a special problem for us at Major Fun.
In order for a co-op game to really engage the players, it has to present a challenge more than once. This means that the game has to change at least a little each time you play. The game must also present a real challenge. Maybe the game throws lots of obstacles at the players. Or the obstacles get more difficult as the game progresses. Or the goal of the game changes. Whatever the case, cooperative games generally thrive on the principle that the players have only a few actions but a wide variety of tasks. Much of the struggle is in how the group decides to spend their limited actions in the face of escalating difficulty.
In short, cooperative board games are generally complex, and one of the criteria we have for our prestigious Major Fun Award is that the game rules must be easy to learn from a cold start. Someone who has picked up the game with no previous experience should be able to read and remember the rules in just a few minutes.
So, after much discussion, I could not give Forbidden Island a Major Fun Award. BUT, I’m gonna take some virtual real-estate to praise it because it is fun and worth the extra time investment.
You and your teammates are on a strange, unstable island. In order to escape you must recover the island’s four treasures and make it back to the helicopter landing pad before the waters rise and the island sinks. The island is composed of 24 beautifully illustrated tiles with intriguing names like “The Crimson Forest” and “Phantom Rock” and “The Howling Gardens.” As the game progresses, the tiles begin to “flood” and many will be lost completely as they sink into the Abyss. When tiles are lost, it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate the island and recover the four artifacts. The players have only three actions on their turn and they must decide how to split those actions between moving, trading resources, recovering artifacts, and shoring-up flooded sections of the island.
Each player has a role with a special ability. The special abilities make things like movement and trading easier for that player, but there are still many sacrifices that have to be made. I was surprised the first few times I played how quickly a game can go from “It’s no big deal. We can save those tiles next round.” to “Oh my god! Get the treasure get the treasure get the treasure. Marines, we are LEAVING!!” One of the best things about this game is the analysis at the end. Every time I’ve played and lost (a fair number), there is a period where we just want to talk about what we should have done differently. Fortunately the game is quick and you can shuffle the island tiles and play another to see if your strategies work on the next round.
This is an excellent gateway to other cooperative board games. The rules are very simple (especially in comparison to most other co-op games) and it has a lot of replay value. The game is very compact and the artwork is beautiful. This is well worth the investment.
Forbidden Island was designed by Matt Leacock, with art by C.B. Canga. © 2010 Gamewright.
Will Bain, Games Taster