My wife refers to Forbidden Island as stress-in-a-box, and while I tend to agree with her, I still recommend it as a great family game. Forbidden Island manages to incorporate a fair degree of tension without being grim. The game is based on an Indiana Jones-like theme, where the players are an archaeological team, working together to rescue four treasures from a sinking island. The art and location names in the game do a great job of inspiring a sense of adventure, as do the amazing figures for each of the treasures!
Playing Forbidden Island isn’t difficult, but winning it is another story entirely. Every turn, sections of the island flood, with the water rushing in faster as the game progresses. Players have to balance fighting the flood with collecting the sets of matching treasure cards necessary to claim the Earth Stone, Statue of the Wind, Crystal of Fire, and Ocean’s Chalice, and then escape with them off the island. If sections flood making it impossible to retrieve even just one treasure, the game is lost. If a single player is caught in a flooded section and unable to swim to safety, the game is lost. If the helicopter landing space is flooded so that it’s impossible for the players to make their escape, the game is lost. Or if the water is rushing in so fast that it overwhelms the meter, the game is lost.
Yet as challenging as it is to beat, the game’s cooperative nature—remember, the players work together as a team—makes it worthwhile and an especially good family game. Every member of the team has an opportunity to contribute, and cooperation is key to making it off the island with all four treasures.
The difficulty of Forbidden Island can be adjusted to the players’ level of experience. Also sandbag cards help with shoring up the island, and each player has a special skill based on their role on the team (for example, the diver can swim through flooded terrain). So all is not lost. Yet more often than not, it’s a nail-biter, with the team barely making it out ahead of the flood. And that’s what makes it fun!
Forbidden Island sells for around $15, which is an amazing deal for a game that comes in a metal tin and includes such high-quality pieces. It’s published by Gamewright, who gave me a copy to review.
This game is a great introduction to the cooperative genre, as well as a great tool for teaching planning, resource management, and cooperation to younger family members. Those that try and like it should look to Defenders of the Realm or Pandemic for a more complex version with fantasy or epidemiology flavor, respectively.
I haven’t played Defenders of the Realm and Pandemic I didn’t like as much. The mechanics are similar, but I enjoy them more in a shorter game.
There’s definitely a matter of taste involved. My wife cares little for coops in general. She particularly dislikes Shadows Over Camelot (which is cooperative with a traitor), which I still enjoy.
To be clear, I meant “it depends on your tastes”, not “you have to have taste” :)