Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Big Game Hunting - Forbidden Island

As much as I love a good competitive, every-gamer-for-themselves kind of game, sometimes it makes a nice change of pace to instead go for a cooperative game. Cooperative board games can't help but feature a great deal of player interaction, as all the players have to work together to have a hope of winning. Forbidden Island is one of these games, and proves that fact very well.

The aim of the game is to recover four treasures from the forbidden island before it sinks into the ocean forever. The board is made up of several tiles that can be set in several configurations, and each tile is a unique location. Players go through three phases on every turn: actions, draw, and flood. During the action phase, you can move to or "shore up" a tile, trade cards with another player, or capture a treasure. In the draw phase you take two cards from the treasure deck, which contains cards for each treasure, as well as special cards than can help or hinder you. In the flood phase, the flood deck is activated, and any tiles matching the revealed cards will be flooded.

The concept is relatively simple. You need four of the five treasure cards to capture a treasure, you can only interact with players on the same tile as you (unless you have a special ability or card that says otherwise), and you need to capture all four treasures and return to the escape point (the aptly named Fool's Landing) before it all disappears. But getting to grips with all the rules at once can feel like overload, making the first game or two enjoyable, but more difficult than expected.

What makes this game so incredibly challenging, though, is the nature of the "flooding" that takes place in every turn. There is no way to escape it, and even methods to reverse tiles being flooded - shoring up, using special sandbags cards - can only hold off the inevitable for so long. To make it worse, if the flood card for an already flooded tile is revealed, that tile disappears for good. This can cut off vital access to getting the treasures you need, or can even make you lose the game if the wrong tiles sink too soon! And if that's not enough, the dreaded "Waters Rise" cards scattered throughout the treasure deck not only increase the number of tiles that flood each turn, but also move the revealed cards back to the top of the deck, making it even more likely those tiles will sink.

The drawbacks to this game style are fairly obvious. There is only one way to win, yet there are several ways to lose, potentially making this a depressing game if you have a streak of bad luck. The less players you have, the more difficult it becomes to reach the end goal, as two players will need to do twice as much as four to achieve the same result. It also begins to feel very repetitive after a few games. The ability to change the board configuration seems to be the only thing saving it from becoming a game you play maybe three times before giving up for something with more replay value.

If you've got a group of friends that are keen to try a more challenging gateway game that requires a lot of cooperative play, a little strategy, and a bucket of luck, Forbidden Island may be just the thing. An iOS version for iPad is also available.

Rae is enjoying not having to get up at stupid-O'clock in the morning any more!

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