Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island



Forbidden Island Box.jpeg

Strategic Depth: Beginner
Setup Time: 5 min
Play Time: 30 min.
Players: 2-4 (Best with 4)
Mechanics: Hand Management, Action Taking, Set Collection
Production Info: 2010 | Gamewright | Matt Leacock


Forbidden Island was the secluded retreat of an ancient mystical empire known as the Archeans. Legend has it that the Archeans possessed the ability to control the Earth’s core elements – fire, wind, water, and earth – through four sacred treasures: The Crystal of Fire, The Statue of the Wind, The Ocean’s Chalice, and The Earth Stone. Because of their potential to cause catastrophic damage if they fell into enemy hands, the Archeans kept the treasures secretly hidden on Forbidden Island and designed it to sink if intruders ever attempted to claim them. In the centuries since the mysterious collapse of their empire, Forbidden Island remained undiscovered ... until now.

You and your highly specialized team of explorers managed to locate Forbidden Island and the location of each of it's four relics. Your team flies via helicopter to a location on the island called Fools' Landing. Upon landing, you immediately begin to see certain locations on the island begin to take on water. Your team immediately realizes that time is short and you need to work together to locate all four relics throughout the island and get back to Fools' Landing before the entire island sinks. 

Can you and your team work together to retrieve all the relics and escape the island before it is forever lost to the ocean? You'll find out as you play Forbbiden Island!

Forbidden Island components.jpg


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- The Good -

Great Co-Op Gateway Game

I believe Forbidden Island was designed with the full intention of being an introductory co-op game for Pandemic. While both games share the same designer, Matt Leacock, they also share very similar mechanics.

Forbidden Island can be taught in mere minutes and the decision-making is pretty straightforward so more seasoned players don't need to interject their forceful thoughts as can happen in a lot of other co-op games. This is why I full-heartedly recommend Forbidden Island as a gateway game to more advanced co-op games such as the ever-popular Pandemic series of games.

Theme Fits The Mechanics Very Well

Forbidden Island's theme and mechanics fit together like peanut butter and jelly. Right from the start the concept of an island slowly sinking into the ocean resonates with the urgency of the adventurers feel as they attempt to explore the island as quickly as they can. I would have loved for the game designer to have incorporated some sort of hidden element to where the adventurers didn't quite know where to find the treasures.

Quality Components and Box Insert

The components that come in Forbidden Island are very solid, especially at it's price point. All four treasure relics are 3D plastic miniatures and really give you that extra motivation to be the one to "find" the treasure.  The tiles have the perfect thickness of cardboard which is much needed as they get handled a lot during gameplay.

I would recommend using sleeves on the cards in the game as the cards are going to get a lot of use throughout playing Forbidden Island. There are two main decks drawn from in the game and you will definitely cycle through most of the cards at least once during any given game.

Finally, the box insert is excellent! It has a dedicated place for everything (excluding the Water Meter). The insert is also designed to keep everything from shifting around, so there should be no need to worry about storing Forbidden Island vertically.

THE BAD - My only qualm with the component quality was the Water Meter piece. The cardboard for the meter warped pretty early on for me and is currently concaved. I wish they would have used a slightly thicker card-stock in order to prevent this from happening.

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- The Bad -

Simplistic In Strategy

As I discussed earlier in the previous "Good" section, this game is a fantastic game to introduce new players to the mechanics often found in Co-Op games. However, this is not a game I would ever play as the main event for a game night. The reason for this, is Forbidden Island is pretty light on strategy. With most player turns it is pretty straightforward what you need to do with your allotted actions. While you can increase the difficulty in this game by inserting more Flood Cards, this adjustment only causes the game to rely more on the "luck of the draw" versus turn decisions. 

Tin Box

I'm not a huge fan of tin boxes as they usually have rims or indentations that make it irritating to stack flush against other board games in cardboard boxes. I would also assume that tin adds extra (and unnecessary) cost to the retail price of Forbidden Island.

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- Overall -

I really like this game for what it was intended to be: a lightweight, introductory co-op game that doesn't take too long to setup and play through. Forbidden Island is going to be a fantastic game to have in your back pocket to quickly introduce first-timers to various co-op mechanics, especially if you want them to graduate up to playing games like Pandemic. With a low price point, I definitely recommend adding Forbidden Island to your game library if you love playing the Co-op genre of board games.

Forbidden Island Cards.jpg


The following summaries are meant to be a high-level reminder of how to play this game. If this is your first time playing, we highly recommend that you read your board game's included rule book which will go into much more depth. You can download a digital PDF copy of the official rules by clicking the button below. There are also a few video tutorials near the bottom of this section to help all you visual learners out as well.

- Setup Overview -

Starting Setup Forbidden Island.png
  1. Randomly create a 4x4 square with the island tiles and then add 2 more island tiles to each side of the square (adjacent to the two middle tiles on each side)
  2. Place a treasure figurine in each of the four corners of the island
  3. Deal an Adventurer card to each player and grab the corresponding colored pawn
  4. Face up, deal two cards to each player (ignore Water Rising cards)
  5. Set the Water Level in accordance with the desired game difficulty

- Game Play/Player Turns -

The player who last visited an island goes first with turns continuing to the players left.

Player Actions (max 3 actions)

  • Move (no diagonal movement)
  • Shore Up 1 Island Card (no diagonals)
  • Give a Player a Treasure Card (must be on same island tile | Special Action cards CANNOT be given)
  • Capture a Treasure (discard four of a kind at the corresponding island tile)

Note: Your character's special ability may allow you to do more on your turn than what is listed above.

Draw 2 Treasure Cards

Draw two Treasure cards from the deck. If one of them is a Water Rise card, you must pause and follow the instructions on the card. You do not get to collect two Treasure cards if you draw a Water Rise card.

Draw Flood Cards

  1. One at a time, draw as many cards from the top of the Flood draw pile equal to the current Water Meter level
  2.  Find the matching island tile and move the tile to a flooded state (blue side)
  3. If the tile is already in the flooded state, sink the tile and remove both the tile and corresponding Flood card from the game

- End Of Game -

Winning The Game

There are three things that must occur in order to escape the island and win the game:

  • Collect all 4 treasures
  • All Player Pawns are located at Fools' Landing
  • One player plays a Helicopter Lift card

Losing The Game

There are four possible scenarios that would cause all players to lose the game:

  • If both of either the Temples, Caves, Palaces, or Gardens tiles sink before you collect their respective treasure.
  • If the Fools’ Landing tile sinks.
  • If any player is on an Island tile that sinks and there is no adjacent tile to swim to.
  • If the water level reaches the skull and crossbones.

- Great Instructional Videos -

Here's a few helpful instructional videos you or your group can watch to learn how to play this game visually.


What happens when the card piles run out?
When a card pile runs out, you reshuffle the deck and continue playing

After a Flood Card has been played, do you continue down your turn list and draw more island cards?

What happens if a tile sinks and a player's pawn is currently on the tile?
The player must immediately “swim” to an adjacent tile (up, down, left, or right) that is still part of the island (even flooded). If a pawn is on a tile that is removed and cannot move to an adjacent tile, it sinks into the abyss and everyone loses the game!

EXCEPTIONS: The Diver may swim to the nearest tile. The Explorer may swim diagonally. The Pilot may fly to any tile.

Can you play a Sandbag card in order to prevent a flooded tile from being removed from the game?
If the matching Flood Card has already been revealed, you cannot play a Sandbag card to save it.

What if you draw 2 Water Rise! Cards in a row?
Shuffle the Flood discard pile only once but move the Water Level marker up 2 tick marks and proceed reveal the current level number of cards.

Can you play a Special Action card if it is your 6th card in your hand?
Yes, you can play the action card instead of discarding.



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Highest Price: $54.95 (Jan 14, 2014)
Lowest Price: $00.01 (Jan 24, 2017)
Average Price: $10.74
*According to CamelCamelCamel.com (04/23/2018)

Expanding The Game

No expansions currently available.


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