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  • Writer's pictureJared Neal

Forbidden Island - Floats to the Top

Updated: May 14, 2021

Retail Price: $20

Player Count: 1-4 (best at 3+)

Age Range: 10+ (5+ in our experience)

Play Time: 30 mins. (consistent with our experience)

Complexity: 3.5 out of 10 (consistent with our experience)

Mechanisms: Action Points, Cooperative Game, Grid Movement, Hand Management, Map Reduction, Modular Board, Pick-up and Deliver, Set Collection, Variable Player Powers

Designer: Matt Leacock

Artist: C. B. Canga

Publisher: Gamewright

Educational Value:

  • Teamwork

  • Strategic Thinking

  • Problem Solving

  • Spatial Reasoning

  • Communication

Flavor Text:

“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.

Will your team be the first to breach its borders, capture the treasures, and make it out alive?”


Forbidden Island is a cooperative game, where you and your fellow players, using your special abilities, are moving around a board trying to collect four treasures before the island sinks out from under you.


  • Shuffle the 24 location tiles, and place them randomly out in the configuration shown in the picture above (rows of 2, 4, 6, 6, 4, 2), with the blue and white side face down.

  • Each player selects a character to play as (or you can draw them randomly), takes their player card, and puts their color player piece on the location tile with the matching icon.

    • Explorer - can move diagonally.

    • Pilot - can jump to any tile for 1 action, but only 1 time per turn.

    • Navigator - can move other pawns up to 2 tiles for 1 action.

    • Diver - can move through as many flooded or missing tiles as desired for 1 action, but must end on a tile.

    • Engineer - can shore up 2 tiles for 1 action.

    • Explorer - can shore up tiles diagonally adjacent to his pawn.

    • Messenger - can give cards to a player not on the same tile.

  • Shuffle the flood and treasure cards, and place them in two separate stacks next to the playing area.

  • Give each player 2 treasure cards.

  • Draw 6 flood cards, and flip over the tiles with those locations.


Each turn you are able to perform 2 actions, out of 4 possibilities (you may perform the same action twice):

  • Move

  • Shore up an island tile

  • Give a treasure card to another player

  • Capture a treasure

At the end of each turn you draw 2 treasure cards, which may be one of the following:

  • Treasures (you need 4 of a kind of treasure to exchange them for the token)

    • Earth Stone, Statue of the Wind, Crystal of Fire, or Ocean's Chalice

  • Special abilities (may be used at any time, even on another players turn)

    • Sand Bags - shore up any one tile on the island

    • Helicopter - move one or more pawns on the same tile to any other tile

  • Waters rise

    • When you draw a waters rise card, you raise the water level tracker, which denotes the number of flood cards you must draw each turn.

After drawing your treasure cards, you draw the number of flood cards on your water level tracker, and flip over unflooded locations, and sink (discard from the game) any locations that were already flooded.

There are 4 ways you can lose the game:

  • The Fool’s Landing tile is sinks

  • Both of any of the same type of treasure capture locations sink, before you capture their treasures

  • If a tile sinks with a player on it, and there are no orthogonally adjacent tiles to swim to

  • The water level rises to the skull and crossbones

The way you win the game, is by collecting all four treasures, and then getting all of your players to Fool's Landing to escape.


Certainly with the random drawing of the tile layout which makes up the playing space, and the random drawing of treasure and flood cards each turn, there is a fair amount of luck involved. However, it is very rare that we have played this game and not been able to for the most part mitigate that luck, and have a solid run at winning the game. That isn’t to say that we always win, as this can be a very challenging game. Another thing I should mention here, is you can either start the water level tracker at different levels, or include fewer waters rise cards in the deck, if you want to reduce or increase the difficulty of the game. As is the case with most cooperative games with open communication, it is quite possible for a single player to take charge of the strategy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but something you will want to be conscious of, depending on the audience you play the game with. Especially where I play a lot of my games with my kids, I make it a point to try and let them strategize, and only drop occasional hints and suggestions.


I don’t typically hear people talk about the artwork in this game, and while it isn’t anything extremely exceptional, it is quite nice and fits the theme very well. I do like the level of detail in the background images on the island tiles, and the box cover art is very nice as well.


The theme in this game works really well, with the rising waters inherently meaning you are going to lose more and more of the island each turn. You definitely feel the tension as your playing the game, that I would expect you would feel if you were really trying to procure treasures on an island as it was sinking. The idea of sinking/impending doom is pretty common amongst cooperative games, but that is because it is very effective in bringing players together to fight against such things.

Replayability/Fun Factor:

Between the random nature in which the tiles come out (plus some alternate tile layouts you can try), and the variability in the difficulty I discussed above, there is a significant amount of replayability in this game. If you enjoy working together to try and solve a puzzle, and like to develop adaptive strategies as things unfold, you are going to really enjoy this game. I honestly can’t think of a time I have ever played this game, where myself or anyone I played with didn’t have a good time (and that includes our losses).


This game is one I would highly recommend to any audience, as it is easy to learn, quick to play, and a great way to teach adaptive strategy and teamwork. I have even played this with quite experienced game groups, and we just increased the difficulty level, and everyone still had a lot of fun. The only exception I might make, is someone who is going to be really upset if you happen to get a bad turn of cards that causes you to lose the game. There is certainly enough luck in this game that could happen, but to me it is short enough you can easily reset if it does. As is often the case with cooperative games, this game is excellent for bringing younger players into strategic gaming. This game is easily accessible for late elementary age kids and older, and really would be good for early elementary if you are playing with them.

+ Easy to learn and quick to play

+ Teaches teamwork and strategy

+ High replayability

+ Variable difficulty

- One player can take over the game

- Could possibly end up losing due to a bad run of luck, even with good strategy

Final Score:

Jared - 7.5

Abigail - 8

Other Games You Might Like:

Forbidden Desert, Pandemic, The Crew: Quest for Planet Nine, Horrified, Flash Point: Fire Rescue

This game was purchased from my friendly local game store, and is available here. This isn't an affiliate link, but just my way of trying to support my FLGS, who carry great games at even better prices.

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