Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Forbidden Island review

Looking after the Bratii on Sunday I tried out a new game I'd bought "Forbidden Island" 2-4 players ages 10 up. It comes in a nice tin box about half the size of a 'standard' board game and takes up about a half-metre square to set-up so it doesn't need a lot of space.

The premise is that treasure seekers land on this island and need to find the four treasures and escape before the island sinks. So it's a co-operative rather than competitive game which is a damn good reason for trying to get the Bratii to play it.

The island is made up of 24 thick cardboard pieces about five centimetres square with some decent artwork on both sides to indicate if its flooded or not. These are laid out a four-by-four square with an extra two along each side.

Players pick one of six characters, take the matching coloured piece, and locate the island square with that player marked on it and place it there. Each player then gets two treasure cards (which I'll deal with in a moment) and six flood cards are drawn. There is one matching flood card for every island square, draw it and the square is flipped to mark that it is flooded. Finally the separate water level card is positioned to whichever level of difficulty you want to play at, easiest being the lowest level.

Play moves in turns between each player and they can perform up to three actions per turn. They can move one square up, down, left or right for one action; they can shore up any flooded island square they can reach for one action, they can exchange one treasure card with anyone sharing that square for one action; of if they have enough treasure cards (four) and are on the square that allows them to do so they can claim that treasure for one action.

In addition each character has a special ability. The Helicopter pilot can move to any square for one action once per turn; the Explorer can move and shore up diagonal squares as well; the Engineer can shore up two cards for one action; the Navigator can move any other piece by two squares for one action; the Messenger can exchange one card for one action with any other player regardless of position, and the Diver can travel through missing squares.

Once a player takes all of their actions they draw two treasure cards. There are five cards for each treasure, there are also Helicopter Lift cards and Sandbag cards that allow a player to move to or shore up a square at any time for no cost (that includes during someone else's turn). Sadly there are also "Waters Rise" cards.

"Waters Rise" are nasty cards that raise the water level one tick on the indicator, you take the drawn flood cards, shuffle them and place them back on top of the undrawn ones. Why is this nasty? Well if you draw a flood card for a square that's already flooded both the card and the square are removed from play.

This shows up it's nastiness at the next part as you then draw a number of flood cards as shown on the water level indicator. With a "Waters Rise" card you can guarantee this is going to be one that's already been drawn and may not have been reached in time to have been shored up.

If you manage to 'rescue' all the treasurers all the players then have to get back to the helicopter pad (called "Fools Landing") and one player has to use a Helicopter Lift card for everyone to escape. That's the only way to win. There are, however,  multiple ways to lose:

1: The water level indicator reaches the skull and crossbones.
2: A player is on a square when it sinks and is unable to reach an adjacent square.
3. Each treasure has two squares associated with it where it can be claimed, loose both squares before claiming that treasure and you lose.
4. "Fools landing" sinks.

Playing the game was fun. We started off at the easiest level, and played with the Helicopter Pilot, the Diver, and the Explorer. The rules are simple, but as it was co-operative a lot of discussion went on before each player's turn as to what they should do. Some points arose as a result of play.

Firstly keeping track of the number of treasure cards in a hand, you can hold a maximum of five. With the players dotted about the island this meant a lot of discards.

Secondly that only the player whose turn it is can exchange a card with another player. That is player 1 moves to player 2's square and gives them two treasure cards that brings their total of matching cards to four. However in this instance player 1 now has no cards and player 2 has 6 meaning they have to discard one and can't give it to player 1. That was frustrating.

Thirdly the need for a Helicopter Lift card to escape the island despite one of the characters being a helicopter pilot.

Anyhow we managed to win the first game, then as their parents returned played it with along with Bratus Pater with different characters Pilot, Diver, Messenger and Navigator. This time we had the misfortune to run through the Treasure deck which meant shuffling the discards which included all those nasty Waters Rise that had already been played. Bratus Major drew two in succession which pushed the level to Skull and Crossbones. Glug!

So although there is some luck involved the co-operative part really worked well with both Bratii suggesting things and even automatically performing certain set tactics such as always shoring up any squares they could even at the cost of movement or claiming treasure (you never know when a Waters Rise card will appear). They both pointed out squares they couldn't reach on their turn that required urgent shoring ( Fools Landing or the only Treasure square left) as a task for the next player There was surprisingly little argument, with any flaws in planned actions being quickly agreed and changed.

This was the 2010 Mensa Select Games Winner and I can see why. It even made Bratus Minor stop asking to play Munchkin Quest.