Forbidden Island

Heading out to the Island we knew things would be tough, but it was only as the place started sinking around our feet did we realise just what we’d let ourselves in for.

The engineer was working hard trying to buy us some extra time; meanwhile the navigator plotted a path for us amongst the swamps and forests. Somewhere there were great riches to be found, treasures thought beyond the grasp of man. We won’t leave empty handed – we leave with our hands full of treasure… or we don’t leave at all!

Forbidden Island gives you a chance to capture its treasures, but is everything shiny and gold? Or does it give you that sinking feeling?

Forbidden Island - Tin

  • Designer: Matt Leacock
  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Year Released: 2010
  • Players: 2-4
  • Playing Time: 30 minutes
  • Ages: 10+
  • Recommended Retail Price: £19.99 (Expect to pay >£15)

Forbidden Island is a co-operative set collecting game, which sees players move around a randomised grid trying to gather sets of cards to trade for treasure. Meanwhile the Island is sinking, and it’s trying to take the players with it, so, in this race against time… who will win?

What’s in the box?

  • 28 Treasure cards
  • 24 Flood cards
  • 6 Adventurer cards
  • 24 Double sided island tiles
  • 6 Wooden pawns
  • 4 Treasure figurines
  • 1 Water meter
  • 1 Water level marker
  • 1 rule book
Forbidden Island - What's in the box?
What’s in the box?

The cards are standard card size (in terms of sleeving), and are of good quality linen finish.

The flood cards have the same artwork as their equivalent Island tile, only the colour is a lot more striking. The artwork on the cards and tiles is colourful and atmospheric.

The Island tiles themselves are nice, thick and sturdy pressed cardboard. The reverse of the tile is a greyed-out version of the artwork.

The treasure cards contain a picture of the figurine they represent, and are easy to tell apart at a glance.

All the other cards are kept simple with easy to identify graphics, and are nice and clear to read.

The pawns are just what you’d expect, little wooden pieces used to represent the players on the tiles. The colours are all easily identified – red, blue, green, yellow, black, and grey – and coincide with the colour of their character card – engineer, pilot, explorer, navigator, diver, and messenger.

The figurines are made of soft plastic, very soft plastic in the case of the winged lion (The statue of the wind), and are simply rendered.

A rule book consisting of 8 pages cover to cover accompanies the game, and is very easy to follow, giving a simple explanation to the rules, and plenty examples.

The whole game comes in a beautifully embossed tin adorned with artwork that depicts a mystical tower, rising out of the forest and overlooking some ancient remains, very nice! Contained within the tin is a plastic inlay, which holds all the components nice and snug.

How does it play?

  • If your familiar with the game play, feel free to sink or swim to, ‘What do I think?’

The object of the game is to retrieve the four treasures and escape the island. To do this the players must work together to prevent the island from sinking beneath them.


The Island is created by shuffling the tiles and laying them out in a specific manner, leaving a gap between each tile. This forms the island, and the 4 treasure figures are placed around the outside of it.

Forbidden Island
Island set up – just before flooding!

The flood deck is shuffled and placed to one side. Then draw the top 6 cards, 1 at a time, placing them in the flood deck discard pile; for each card drawn flip the corresponding island tile over to the flooded side.

Shuffle the adventurers deck and deal 1 card to each player. The players then place the pawn that corresponds to their adventurer on its starting location, as indicated on one of the island tiles. This can be a flooded tile.

The treasure deck is shuffled and 2 cards are dealt to each player. These are kept face up in front of the player. If a waters rise card is dealt, then replace the card with another from the deck, then shuffle the waters rise card back into the treasure deck. There are 2 types of special action cards, Helicopter lift and Sandbags. These can be played at anytime, even out of turn. If a special action card is discarded, its action can still be taken as it is discarded.

Set the water level marker to the appropriate starting position according to the difficulty level you wish to play at.

If you have 6 or more cards in your hand at anytime, discard cards until you have 5 remaining.


On each turn, a player gets to do the following in order.

Take up to 3 of the following actions – actions may be repeated:

  • Move – Move their pawn 1 tile to an adjacent island, either horizontally, or vertically, but not diagonally. You may move onto a flooded tile, but not over the space left by a removed tile. Some adventurers may have exceptions to these rules, as stated on their adventurer card.
  • Shore up – To shore up a tile, flip an adjacent flooded tile to its un-flooded side. The adjacent tile can be in the horizontal or vertical plane, but not diagonal. Some adventurers may have exceptions to these rules, as stated on their adventurer card.
  • Give a treasure card to another player on the same tile as you. Some adventurers may have exceptions to these rules, as stated on their adventurer card.
  • Capture a treasure – Discard 4 matching treasure cards from your hand if you are on the corresponding island tile. You then take the relevant treasure figure, placing it in front of you.
Forbidden Island - Treasure!
Treasure cards – you need to get a set of four the same.

Draw 2 treasure cards.

  • Draw 2 cards from the treasure deck 1 at a time, adding them to your hand. If the treasure deck runs out of cards, shuffle the discard pile to form a new deck.
  • If a waters rise card is drawn, of which there are 3 in the deck, do the following.
    • Move the water level marker up to the next mark.
    • Shuffle the flood deck’s discard pile and place them face down on top of the deck.
    • Discard the waters rise card to the treasure deck discard pile.

Draw flood cards equal to the water level.

  • Draw a number of flood cards, as indicated on the water level meter, from the top of the flood deck, 1 at a time.
  • If the matching island tile is currently un-flooded, flip the tile to its flooded side.
  • If the matching island tile is already flooded then remove both the tile and the card from the game.
  • Any pawns on a flooded tile that is about to be removed, must ‘swim’ to an adjacent tile (not diagonally). If it cannot move to an adjacent tile then the pawn drowns and the players lose the game! Some adventurers may have exceptions to these rules, as stated on their adventurer card – E.g. The explorer may swim diagonally.

Players lose the game if – two Island tiles with a matching treasure symbol on them sink before that treasure has been captured; If Fools’ landing sinks; If any player is on a tile that sinks, and is unable to swim to an adjacent tile; if the water level reaches the skull and crossbones symbol.

To win the game players must capture all the treasures. They must then gather on the ‘Fools’ Landing!’ Island tile, and a player must then discard a Helicopter Lift card, whisking everyone of the Island winning the game.

So, what do I think?

Let’s start with the components, and that tin for starters. I love games that come in tins! I don’t know what it is about them, maybe it’s because all the best biscuits come in tins? This one is lovely, with its embossed artwork hinting at the adventures that lurk within. It’s a nice size, and sits prominently on my sitting room shelf at home.

For the money you can pick this game up for, it’s a surprise that the components are as good as they are. The Island tiles are nice and thick, not at all bendy, so when you place them down you can do so with a resounding ‘click’! The artwork on the tiles is also quite compelling, and is an accurate depiction of the tiles title.

All of the flood cards duplicate the artwork of the corresponding Island tile, and the treasure cards show the figurine they represent.

Forbidden Island - Card art
The artwork is atmospheric!

The special action, waters rise, and adventurer cards all have a description on them of what they do, so there is little need to refer back to the rule book, which speeds up gameplay for beginners.

The cards are a little on the thin side, but other than that are very nice to handle and look at.

The pawns are wooden and just the right size to grab hold of. The colours are pretty standard, matching the colour of their respective adventurer card.

The figurines are a nice addition; they could easily have been replaced with representative cards. Okay, they are only soft plastic, but they’re handled very little and actually look okay, so no issues there.

The water meter is made of stiff card, and the little plastic level marker is a good tight fit.

Okay, onto the game…

The rules are very easy to understand, with lots of pictures and examples to follow. I found that once everyone had taken a turn or two, there was little to no further referencing of the rulebook.

Forbidden Island - Rules
The rules are well written and easy to follow.

The adventurers all play quite differently, and certain ones combine better together  making the game a little easier – it shouldn’t take you long to figure out these combinations, and is definitely part of the fun.

It’s obvious to anyone playing the game that it shares its main game mechanisms with Pandemic. There’s the operation of the water rise card (read ‘Epidemic!’), causing the flood discard pile (Infection Deck!) to be shuffled and placed back on top of the flood deck. And then there’s the set collecting aspect – trying to get the appropriate cards into one players hand, whether by luck of the draw, giving treasure cards to others on your tile, or being passed around by the messenger. All are tried and tested mechanisms, and they work well here in a more simplified form.

The game starts off at a fairly sedate pace – you decide upon a course of action based upon the cards you each hold, and the location of the critical tiles. It doesn’t take too long though, as tiles start to get removed from play, for the tensions to rise along with the water level, and you realise that good teamwork is the only way to survive.

Other than managing the cards in your hand, you have to base your strategy around what tiles are in the flood discard pile. Knowing that these are the ones that that will sink if left in a flooded state, points you in the direction of shoring up any that are critical to your success. It’s also vital not to become to blasé about letting tiles sink that don’t directly help your cause – the more tiles you can keep from sinking the better, especially towards the end game when you could be drawing 4 flood cards a turn!

Forbidden Island
That sinking feeling!

Playing with the maximum amount of players can make the game a little easier, but on the whole, not by much. Yes you can have each player concentrate on a single objective, but, as there are more cards initially dealt out, and the treasure deck starts with fewer cards in it, it means that the waters rise cards will come round a little quicker – so balance is actually quite good for player numbers.

The hand limit of 5 cards is what holds the game together, balancing things nicely, and creating moments of indecision. Requiring a set of 4 to capture a treasure causes some deliberation when you have to discard, especially as you get close to getting the 4th card. Having to discard a card much-needed by someone else, could mean having to wait for the treasure deck to be emptied, and the discard shuffled before there’s a chance of completing another set.

Keeping special action cards for just the right moment, especially the ‘sandbags’ cards, can often be the difference in winning or losing, and always keeping tabs on where the helicopter lift cards are, especially if they’ve been discarded, is a must towards the endgame.

It’s not the most challenging game in the world, and regular play will see you get to grips with the strategies required to beat the it. Playing on the Elite level probably returns the closest and most exciting of games, and Legendary is a good challenge to more seasoned players.

Can I play it… all on my own?

It’s a simple enough co-op game to play solo, and presents a nice puzzle to solve, however, it isn’t the deepest of games, and without the banter of other players my interest often wanes after a single game or two. It’s one I prefer to play with others.


Forbidden Island is the first in a trio of games by Matt Leacock – Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky being the other two – all of which present a similar gaming experience.  The game draws on tried and tested mechanisms to keep the tension building as the game progresses, and it all makes for an entertaining little gateway game.

It’s definitely a game to be considered by anyone setting out in the hobby of tabletop games, and its similarities to Pandemic make it an ideal stepping stone to playing that game.

It can certainly stand up on its own though, and makes a fun filler to lighten the mood between longer, more involved games.

One could consider it a little dated now, but the random Island set-up makes for repeated plays, and with its simple to learn rules, quick set-up time, fast paced game play – 30 minutes or less – along with a price tag that won’t break the piggy bank, make it a game definitely worth considering…


Official site – Gamewright

Recommended video review – Tom Vasel and Melody (The video is little dated now but the content is excellent!)

Board Game Geek Page – HERE

Image Gallery

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The Bovine Overlord

An Edinburgh Gaming Blog



Take on Life After 50

The trials and tribulations of life after 50.

DeathWatch Studios

Commission Miniature Painting and Hobby Tutorials!

Chicago Dice

Rolling in the Windy City since 2015

Wargamesculptors Blog

Tabletop Games Blog, News, Reviews and more...

PM Painting

Tabletop Games Blog, News, Reviews and more...

WarGamer Eric's Hobby and Gaming Emporium

“All you need to paint is a few tools, a little instruction, and a vision in your mind.” ― Bob Ross

candore et labore

A Blog about any Thoughts in my Head: Politics, Writing, Life

Kuribo's Painting

Fallout, MESBG, and Hellboy Painting, Terrain, Dioramas, and Battle Reports

Scent of a Gamer

From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.

Model Airplane Maker

Building and improving scale models

Dagger and Brush

Miniature painting, wargaming terrain tutorials, reviews, interviews and painting guides


A Blog About Marvel Crisis Protocol - The Tabletop Miniatures Game by Atomic Mass Games


Wargaming with the ability of a dull nine year old

Double Down Dice

Painting miniatures and rolling dice!

Fighting Toy Stories

Exploring vintage military toys

From the Lands and from the Landsknecht

A Miniature (Painting) Blog


Collecting, modelling, painting and wargaming in 28mm

Xavier Protocols

Level up your Marvel: Crisis Protocol game with more XP.

The Dark Muse

A Warhammer 40k Drukhari, Craftworlds, Ynnari, and all things Aeldari Resource


dave's gaming adventures:

Ann's Immaterium

Mostly physical culture but also writing, gaming, and other dark procrastinations

Just Needs Varnish!

My ongoing wargames projects!

Mark A. Morin

Life, Golf, Miniatures, & Other Distractions

Bird with a Brush

Art in many forms


28mm historical fantasy war gaming

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close