Friday, January 3, 2014

Analog Gaming: Forbidden Island

What would you say if I told you there were marvelous riches on some forbidden island, and that they were there for the taking if you knew where to look? What if I told you that the island sinks every moment you're on it? Now, what would you say if I drop you off and flew away?

Captains of a Sinking, Island

Forbidden Island pits players in a co-op game where they are cast to an island that is rapidly sinking into the watery abyss. Players will need to navigate all around the island and gather the cards needed to acquire all 4 treasures on the island, gather everyone to the helipad at Fools Landing, and escape before the island is sunk forever. This is not an easy task, since at the end of each players turn, the island's lush locales take in water one by one through the flood deck. Each location can either be above water (the colored side), take in water (the blue and white backside), or be completely submerged (removed from the game). Basically, once any location is flooded twice, it's gone for good.

And the water level can also rise on you as well. If you unfortunately draw the "Water Rises" card, you increase the chances of having to draw MORE flood cards per turn's end, causing the island to disappear much faster. And if you keep drawing more "Water Rises" cards, the water level would eventually rise too high, ending the game entirely.

Change of Scenary

If you're a frequent board gamer, the mechanics should feel similar. Forbidden Island's creator, Matt Leacock, also created the popular Pandemic board game (old Analog Gaming review here), which shares the same "bad stuff happens after everyone's turn" mechanic. The only difference, really, is the theme of treasure-hunting replaces the scare of viral outbreak. All other elements have been "simplified" to appeal to a more younger audience.

By the way, the Navigator is absolutely useless in a solo game.

But that doesn't make this game any less cruel. Even though the game is simpler to play, it also allows the game to beat you even easier. Unlike Pandemic's world map, your pawns are standing on volatile ground that can vanish at a moment's notice, restricting your movement around the island. And while you don't have to worry about placing research stations to find cures, you DO have to worry about specific treasure spots being buried underwater for good, reducing your chances at acquiring the loot.

Also, unlike Pandemic's static map, Forbidden Island's layout is completely random each time. Sometimes Fools Landing (the one space everyone needs to land on to retreat after getting all the treasure) can be located near the center of the island, within respectable reach. Other times, you'll find it at the island's boarder, making explorers at the other side of the island use all their 3 actions just to move there as fast as they can. And the treasure tiles (places a player needs to be to capture treasure) can either be evenly scattered, or clustered on one side of the island. Strategies change each and every game, giving Forbidden Island wonderful replayability.

Playing Solo is FAST

Sure, it says "2-4 players," but much like Pandemic, Forbidden Island plays quite well solo. And while most people would just control 2 roles at once, I enjoy the one-role challenge. And if you haven't yet, give Pandemic a try with one role; you'd be surprised how difficult it can be, even if you're the Scientist or Medic. And Forbidden Island offers the same challenge as a solo game!

And the game sets and cleans up well, and FAST! Within a minute, I can get a game ready to go, and can finish it within the allotted half-hour timespan. Few games in my inventory offer such instant solitaire gratification, and it's a damn shame not many do.

Not For Everyone

While the game's randomness offers a different experience every time, it's still reliant on getting the right card at the right time, and hoping you don't draw that unfortunate flood card that could end your game. It's these elements that some people may find annoying, and possibly shun them away from this game. But it's safe to say that if you love Pandemic, you'll love Forbidden Island just as much. I mean, just look at these treasures!

Just watch your step, or else you're sunk!

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