Forbidden Island

Pandemic Lite. Or rather Pandemic Right. While the expansions have made Pandemic more interesting, it’s still an incredibly difficult game. My gaming group hasn’t moved off of the four epidemic level and playing with more than three players has us expecting to lose. And while losing can be rewarding, in Pandemic, it often feels like there was barely even a chance to win.

Forbidden Island is a game very similar to Pandemic. It’s even designed by the same guy. The premise is that the players (2-4) are treasure hunters who have arrived on a rapidly sinking island. The board is made up of 24 uniquely named tiles, on eight of these tiles one of the four treasures can be retrieved. To win, they must collect all four treasures, reach Fool’s Landing and escape via helicopter.

The first major mechanic is flooding. A flooded tile is flipped from color side to blue side. Otherwise the tile is unchanged. If a flooded tile is flooded again, it is removed from the board and player can no longer cross the empty space. After each player’s turn, two (or more) cards are pulled from the flood deck.

Much like Pandemic’s Epidemic cards, there are three ‘Waters Rise’ cards in the treasure deck. These cards increase the amount of flood cards drawn after each player’s turn. In addition, the flood deck discard pile is shuffled and put back on top of the flood deck.

Just like Pandemic, there are many ways to lose:

  • The water level rises too many times
  • Fools Landing is removed from the game
  • Both tiles for an uncollected treasure are removed from the game
  • A player on a tile being removed from the game has no adjacent tiles available to move to

Each player may take up to three actions per turn. With their actions player may: move to an adjacent tile, shore up a tile (the one their marker is on or an adjacent one), give a treasure card to another player on the same tile or collect a treasure (by turning in four of the appropriate treasure card on the appropriate tile).

There are six roles available in the game:

  • The Pilot can move to any tile once per turn at the cost of an action.
  • The Engineer can shore up two adjacent tiles per action instead of one.
  • The Messenger can give treasure cards to any player on the board, not just players on the same tile.
  • The Explorer can move and shore up diagonal tiles.
  • The Navigator can move another player up to two tiles at the cost of one action.
  • The Diver can move through flooded and removed tiles at the cost of one action.

While I’ve enjoyed Pandemic and will continue playing it and buying expansions, Forbidden Island has mostly replaced it for a multitude of reasons. First, it’s far easier. I like winning and Pandemic’s mechanics make the win percentage hover in the 30% area. Forbidden Island is around 80%. It’s okay to lose in cooperative games, but it really shouldn’t be the most memorable thing about the game. Second on the list, Forbidden Island’s setup and play time is around 20 minutes. Pandemic takes around 15 minutes just to setup. Finally, all of the roles in Forbidden Island feel useful. The roles in the base Pandemic game only feel sort of useful and most of the ones in On the Brink feel useless. In the end, I appreciate the challenge of Pandemic. But for trying to introduce people to board games and keep them playing, Forbidden Island is the far better choice.