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Forbidden Island Board Game Review and Rules

Forbidden Island Board Game Review and Rules
How to Play | Review | Final Verdict | Comments

How to Play


To work as a team in order to gather all four treasures and escape before the island sinks.


Shuffle the island tiles. Start by creating a 4X4 square putting the tiles color side up. Then put two tiles in the two middle spots on each side of the 4X4 square.

Setup for Forbidden Island

Separate the cards based on their backs and shuffle the cards. Start with the flood deck (blue back) and draw the top six cards. Flip the tiles that match the cards drawn to the blue and white side.

Each player draws an adventurer card and takes the corresponding pawn and places it on the tile with the matching colored pawn. Each player should familiarize themselves with their character’s special ability.

Each player is dealt two treasure cards before the game begins. All cards are placed face up in front of you so all of the other players can see your cards. If a player is dealt a Waters Rise card the card is put back into the treasures deck and the player is dealt another card.

Player set the initial water level based on the difficulty level they want to play the game at.

Player’s Turn

During a player’s turn they perform three steps.

  1. Take up to 3 actions
  2. Draw 2 treasure cards
  3. Draw flood cards equal to the water level

Character Actions

During the player’s turn the current player can choose any combination of these actions. A player can perform the same action multiple times or perform three different actions. Since players are working together, players can strategize to determine which actions are the best to perform.


Players can move up, down, left, or right to an adjacent tile. Each movement counts as one action. Player’s can move to flooded tiles but can not move onto missing tiles. Player’s special abilities can change the movement action:

  • Explorer: Can move diagonally
  • Pilot: Can move to any space on the board once a turn.
  • Navigator: Can move other players two spaces with one action.
  • Diver: Can move through as many adjacent flooded or missing tiles as they want for one action.
Movement in Forbidden Island

The yellow player can move up to the Copper Gate, left to the Coral Palace, right to Fools’ Landing, or down to the Bronze Gate.

Shore Up

If a player is adjacent (up, down, left, right) to a flooded tile (tile turned to the blue and white side), the player may use one of their actions to turn the tile back to the other side. Each tile the player shores up takes one action.

  • Engineer: Can shore up two adjacent tiles for one action.
  • Explorer: Can shore up tiles diagonally.
Shore Up in Forbidden Island

The yellow player can use an action to shore up the Coral Palace or Fools’ Landing. If they want to shore up both they will have to use two actions.

Give A Treasure Card

A player can give one of their treasure cards to another player on the same space. Players may not pass special action cards (Helicopter Lifts, Sandbags). The player can pass multiple cards but each card passed counts as one action.

  • Messenger: Can give cards to any player even if they are not on the same space as the messenger.
Pass Treasure Forbidden Island

The green and yellow players are on the same space. They can use one of their actions to pass a treasure card to the other player.

Collect A Treasure

If a player has four cards of the same type of treasure they can collect that treasure. The player must move to one of the two tiles that feature that treasure and use one action to discard the four treasure cards to claim the treasure. Players can take a treasure from a tile that is currently flooded.

Collecting Treasure in Forbidden Island

The green player is on the cave of shadows, one of the two places where you can collect the fire treasure. The green plays four fire cards and then collects the fire treasure.

Drawing Treasure Cards

After performing their actions for the given turn, the player will draw two treasure cards. If the treasure deck runs out of cards, shuffle the treasure cards in the discard pile and begin drawing from the new cards. When drawing cards the player needs to keep in mind that the player can only have five cards in their hand at any given time. If the player has six cards they must discard one of their cards. If they discard a special ability card (Helicopter Lift, Sandbags) the player can use the card for its’ special ability before it is discarded.

There are three different types of cards in the treasure deck. Treasure cards picture the different treasures in the game and are used to claim the associated treasure. The special ability cards give the player a one use special ability that can be played at any time even on another player’s turn. The Helicopter Lift card allows you to move all of the pawns from one tile to another tile on the gameboard and is also used to get the players off the island after they have reached Fools’ Landing with all of the treasures. The Sandbag card is used to shore up any tile on the gameboard that is currently flooded. The Sandbag card can be played at any time but can’t be used to save a tile after a flood card has been drawn.

Special Cards in Forbidden Island

The last type of card that can be drawn is the Waters Rise card. This card raises the water level marker one space on the water meter. All of the cards that are currently in the flood discard pile are shuffled and then placed on the top of the flood deck. Finally the Waters Rise card is put in the treasure card discard pile.

Waters Rise in Forbidden Island

Drawing Flood Cards

After the treasure cards have been drawn it is time to draw flood cards. The players will draw a number of flood cards equal to their current water level as shown on the water meter.

Water Level in Forbidden Island

Based on the current water level players will draw three flood cards each time flood cards are drawn.

As each card is drawn the corresponding tile will be flipped over. If the card is un-flooded (colored side face up), the tile is flipped to the flooded side.

Flooding Tile in Forbidden Island

The card for the Iron Gate was drawn. The corresponding tile is then flipped over to indicate that the location is starting to flood.

If the tile was already flooded, the tile is removed from the gameboard. The matching flood card is also removed from the game. If a player(s)’ pawn is on a tile that is removed from the game they move their pawn to an adjacent tile (up, down, left, right). If they can’t move to an adjacent tile the game ends with all of the players losing. The Diver, Explorer and Pilot can use their special powers to avoid this fate.

Sunk Tile in Forbidden Island

The tile these two pawns were on sunk and was removed from the game. These two pawns could either move to the tile on the right or the tile below.

If the flood deck runs out of cards, the flood discard pile is shuffled and a new draw deck is formed.

End of Game

The player’s can lose the game in four different ways:

  1. If both locations for a specific treasure are removed from the game before the players are able to retrieve that treasure.
  2. If the Fools’ Landing tile is removed from the game.

    Losing Forbidden Island

    Players lose the game if they either lose both tiles for a certain treasure before claiming that treasure or the Fools’ Landing tile is removed from the game.

  3. If any player is on a tile that is removed from the game and can’t reach another adjacent tile.

    Losing Forbidden Island

    The blue player (pilot) can use their special ability to escape but the red player has no way of getting back to the gameboard so all of the players lose the game.

  4. If the water level reaches the skull section.
    Losing Forbidden Island

If players avoid any of these circumstances they can win the game by collecting all four treasures. All of the players then need to make it back to the Fools’ Landing tile. When all of the players are back on the Fools’ Landing tile and someone plays a Helicopter Lift card, all of the players win the game.

Winning Fools' Landing

The players have collected all four treasures and have made it back to the Fools’ Landing tile. The players have won the game.


A genre of board games that have recently started to grow in popularity is the cooperative game. For those of you who have never played a cooperative board game before, all of the players work together in order to try and beat the game itself. While they aren’t your typical board game, I really like this genre of games.

One of the first games to really popularize the cooperative genre is the game Pandemic created by Matt Leacock. While we haven’t reviewed Pandemic on Geeky Hobbies, I have played the game and I really enjoyed it. The reason that Pandemic is a great game is that it has a lot of strategy and the game forces players to work together in order to win the game. Matt Leacock has made several other cooperative games over the years. Today we are looking at one of those games called Forbidden Island.


The easiest way to describe Forbidden Island is to call the game Pandemic Light. The game shares a lot in common with Pandemic and you can tell that it was made by the same designer. A lot of the mechanics from Pandemic are borrowed/tweaked for Forbidden Island. Instead of trying to stop a worldwide pandemic, players need to work together in order to retrieve all of the treasures before the island sinks.

The main reason why I call Forbidden Island Pandemic Light is that the game is for the most part a simpler version of Pandemic. Forbidden Island doesn’t have quite as many mechanics as Pandemic which means that Forbidden Island has a little less strategy. While I prefer the additional strategy of Pandemic, this is far from a problem for Forbidden Island and actually makes it a better game in some ways.

If you are looking to introduce your kids or non-gamers into cooperative games, Forbidden Island is the game for you. The rules are simple enough that you can teach them in five minutes and since the game is cooperative you can help guide new players through their first game. Forbidden Island is shorter than a game of Pandemic with most games taking around 30-45 minutes. Forbidden Island works as a good filler cooperative game due to its shorter length. At its current cost (less than $15) Forbidden Island is well worth its cost.

While it doesn’t have as much strategy as Pandemic, I think Forbidden Island still has plenty of its’ own strategy. This is not a game you are going to win through luck except possibly on the easiest difficulties. You really need to plan several turns in advance since players have to play off one another in order to collect the treasures and keep the island afloat long enough that you can escape. Utilizing the player’s special abilities are key to winning the game. If you aren’t using the special abilities you don’t have a great chance at winning the game. Basically all of the players need to divide and conquer as some players keep the island from flooding while the others collect the treasures.

The main reason I like cooperative games is that they play quite a bit differently than normal competitive board games. I just find it satisfying when all of the players work together in order to win the game. I think it is more satisfying to win a cooperative game than a competitive game. People will disagree with me and those people may not like Forbidden Island that much. I just find it satisfying playing a game where each player needs to work together to come up with a strategy that leads to a victory.

For being so cheap, Forbidden Island has quite a bit of replay value. The board is randomly assembled each round so you are unlikely to face the same gameboard twice. Based on how cards are drawn, mixed with the special abilities available each game it just feels like each game is its’ own unique experience. Some games you will breeze through, some you will either win or lose in close fashion and some games you will get destroyed.

The components in the game are very nice. The artwork is great and helps sell the theme of searching for treasures on a strange island. The cards and tiles are well designed which makes finding the necessary information really easy in the game. The treasures themselves are really nice as well. The game could have easily just included cardboard tokens to indicate the different treasures but the game comes with four plastic treasures that are actually quite detailed. The game also comes in a really nice tin.


Forbidden Island’s biggest problem is that all things considered it is not as good as its’ inspiration, Pandemic. Forbidden Island is mostly just a simplified version of Pandemic with a different theme. Forbidden Island is a great game but if you already own Pandemic and don’t really play games with non-gamers it might not pay to own both games. Since Pandemic has a little bit more to it, it is a better game for people who enjoy strategy in their games.

Another problem with Forbidden Island is that the game kind of has some issues with the different difficulty levels. I absolutely love that the game has different difficulty levels built into the game. This is such a great idea since it lets players play on a easier difficulty when they are first learning the game and then moving onto harder difficulties once they get a hang of the game. The problem with the difficulties though is that the game usually seems to be either too easy or difficult. The easy difficulties are quite easy to win as long as you know what you are doing and don’t have horrendous luck. The harder difficulties can be quite hard and require quite a bit of luck in order to win the game.

Speaking of luck, there is a decent amount of it in Forbidden Island. The island is randomly created for each game so the setup of the island can have a big impact on your success in the game. You could get a setup where all of the important tiles are in one section which is nice since it will make it quite easy to protect the tiles. You could just as easily have all of the important tiles spread out which forces you to move all over the island. Luck also factors into the roles that each player selects. Since roles are selected by random choice you don’t get a choice of which character you have to play as. The problem is that some of the roles seem to be more important than others making it much harder to win a game if none of the players are one of the important roles.

The final area where luck comes into play is with regards to drawing cards. Most of the card draw luck comes from the treasure card deck. You want to draw a lot of the same treasure cards early in the game so you can claim one of the treasures early. This is helpful since it eliminates two tiles that you have to protect and you don’t have to waste hand space carrying cards that no longer serve a purpose. The worst cards to draw from the treasure deck are the Water Rising cards. While you will draw these cards quite a bit, the longer you can wait to draw one the better. Problems arise when you draw a lot of these cards in quick succession since you could get put into a position where you have no chance at winning the game.

Another issue that could happen in some groups is that a dominant player(s) could take over the game and pretty much tell the group what should be done in any particular round. This could turn off some players if they just sit back and do what the other players tell them to do and don’t contribute to the team’s strategy. The game is best when all of the players truly work together in order to win the game.

Final Verdict

If you have never played a cooperative game before, Forbidden Island will be a unique experience for you. The game is really fun and is accessible for children and non-gamers. Forbidden Island’s only real problem is that it just isn’t as good as Pandemic. If you already own Pandemic and aren’t looking for a more casual cooperative game, there really isn’t a reason to purchase Forbidden Island. If you have tried cooperative games before and didn’t really care for them, Forbidden Island may not be for you. If you are looking for a more casual cooperative game though I don’t think you could go wrong with Forbidden Island.

In addition to Forbidden Island, Gamewright has also released Forbidden Desert which is pretty much the same game with a theme change. If you are looking for a more strategic game I would recommend picking up Pandemic. All three games can be found on Amazon. Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, Pandemic