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Forbidden Island

Score: 90%
ESRB: 9+
Publisher: Gamewright
Developer: Button Mash Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 2 - 4
Genre: Board Games/ Family/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

A video game based on a board game is bound to disappoint some people. Gains in cute sounds and interactive elements have to be offset by the lack of tactile game pieces and sitting around the table with other players. Pass-and-play just isn't quite the same as shuffling cards and fondling game pieces, is it? Forbidden Island doesn't try to perfectly simulate the board-game experience, but instead offers a version of the game that feels as if it were made for this platform. Replace game pieces with well-designed interactive elements and finely crafted visuals, then add in some nice sound effects. The flooding action that plays such a central role in the game takes on a new tension as you listen to the water rising, or watch the flood meter tick up another notch. Sound effects like the Helicopter Card being used make this version of Forbidden Island fun without going over the top. We really like the way this version offers both a tabletop layout and a pass-and-play option. In the former, game pieces are set out on opposite sides, while the latter retains a static board from turn to turn. Helpful visual indicators make the iPad version of Forbidden Island easy for new players to learn, since it shows clearly the range of movement for each game piece. You can also make an argument that it is easier to see the flooded tiles, thanks to the game graphics. None of this necessarily makes Forbidden Island on iPad a superior experience, but for all the tradeoffs here that fans of the board game may identify, there are just as many unique and fun additions.


Playing a game of Forbidden Island is simpler than explaining it, but here goes. This is a cooperative game, which is a bit unusual. The point is not to beat your opponents, but to work with them to collect treasure and "escape" the island. How you do this goes a bit differently each time you play. There are several roles one can choose in the game, allowing each player to bring a "super power" into the mix and make things more interesting. To win, players must collect treasure pieces and gather their game pieces on a single tile to flee the island. It sounds like a "race" game, which it most certainly is not. In race games, your success is directly related to the dice rolls, and winning is just a matter of time. You only lose a race game because the other guys are luckier. In Forbidden Island, you have to make decisions each turn that can literally mean the difference between all players winning and losing. This adds a very nice twist that keeps the stakes high and makes the average game quick and exciting.

Those special roles we mentioned have a big impact on each turn. The island is slowly sinking, so you always have to choose between moving around in search of treasure and shoring up waterlogged tiles. If a tile floods twice, it's gone forever, which could mean you lose a treasure forever or your way off the island. The Engineer role can shore up two tiles for the price of one, making it very valuable. The Diver can navigate through open water, and more quickly, making it a good endgame role. As you experiment with two, three, or four-player games, you'll find different role combinations that make the game easier to win. All the same, the fact that there is a deck of shuffled cards lends plenty of chance to the proceedings. It's fun to earn achievements in the iPad version, but the biggest achievement is winning against the clock and the encroaching waters of Forbidden Island.


There's a reason that Forbidden Island is pitched as a cooperative game, because it would be nearly impossible to win as a solo player. Arguably, it's easier to gather treasure with more players, but it also becomes harder to escape the island. The first couple of times we played, it was difficult to understand how you would ever beat the odds, since the water rises every turn, with more and more tiles submerged. Our first win was with a combination of Engineer and Messenger roles. The Messenger can pass cards to another player from any spot on the board, compared to other roles that require you to share the same tile during an exchange. These swaps are how you build a hand with enough treasure cards to claim each of the legendary objects needed to win the game. At the end of your turns, you'll uncover new cards, but you may also uncover Flood Cards that increase the number of tiles flooded each round. Cards are replenished quickly, but that also means you'll see those Flood Cards come up again. Once the flood meter rises enough, it's "Game Over," but you'll likely be toast before that unless you can coordinate with your partner to shore up important tiles and navigate around to score treasure. At the end of the game, every player has to gather on one card and play the special Helicopter Card to escape. It's harrowing stuff, and you'll be surprised how much tension a board game can build. The strategy is in some ways simple - not much different than building a suite in Go Fish or some similar game - but there's a deeper strategy around roles and teamwork.

Game Mechanics:

The interface options are extremely limited - a good thing for those of us who just want to get in and play. You'll choose between a two-player game (the default) or add more players, then select roles or let the game assign you random roles. Once in the game, you simply tap to move your game piece, and tap to draw cards. There's a handy Undo Button so that even if you tap the wrong card (relatively easy to do when you have several clustered together) you can call a Mulligan and choose again. When using some of the special abilities, the interface changes, but you consistently see a green path highlighted to show where you can move within the game board. Card management is made a bit more difficult because the majority of the screen is devoted to game tiles, but the tiles are where the action happens. They're also extremely well-designed. You can divert away from the action to read up on the special abilities for each role, scan the rules, or investigate how many treasures you've collected, at any time. Players can use some cards on the other player's turn, a bit of an unusual twist for a turn-based game.

Fans of Forbidden Island will love how it has been adapted for iPad, and any board game enthusiast should check out this app. The cooperative approach is unique, and a welcome diversion from games that stress competitive play or online multiplayer that may not always be an option for iPad owners with WiFi-only models. Here's hoping that games like this do well and herald in a board-game renaissance on iPad; it's clearly a great platform for good developers who can find creative ways to adapt tabletop to tablet!

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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