Sunday, February 10, 2013

A close escape from Forbidden Island

The second Saturday of every month is when I catch up with my school friends. For yesterday's meeting, most of the boys were not free and based on the RSVPs, I knew it would just be three of us.

Given that during our January meet, I successfully introduced 5 of them to two new games - No Thanks and Blokus - and saw their receptivity to board games, I decided to take along Forbidden Island this time around. It is definitely my favourite gateway game and plays well even with 3 players.

Forbidden Island, designed by Matt Leacock (also the designer of FI's much more famous sister game, Pandemic), is a cooperative game. In a cooperative game, all players work together to accomplish one or more goals. Players all emerge victorious or lose together. The theme of Forbidden Island is as follows:

Since it was the first time Swami and Guru were playing FI, I decided to go with the basic tile layout* (the tile layout representing the shape of the island at the beginning of the game before the island starts sinking) and kept the flood marker at the "Novice" level.

I then handed out the roles. Swami played messenger (allowing him to give treasure cards to a player anywhere on the island for 1 action per card; normally, one needs to be on the same tile to give treasure cards), Guru played engineer (allowed to shore up 2 tiles for 1 action; normally, shoring up each tile is an action), and I played explorer (allowed to move and/or shore up diagonally). 2-3 rounds of play was sufficient for both of them to pick up the game mechanics and things really began to get heated when we the Temple of the Moon sank even before we had captured The Earth Stone and Fool's Landing (which is the tile from which all the treasure hunters have to escape the island) got repeatedly flooded. We got The Crystal of Fire first, followed by The Earth Stone. By this time, about half the island had sunk and the flood marker had moved upto level 3 - meaning that with every person's turn, 3 island tiles got flooded. Just as the flood marker moved up to level 4, Swami captured The Ocean's Chalice. A couple of Waters Rise! cards later, Guru had all the cards required to capture The Statue of the Wind, so Swami and myself made our way to Fool's Landing, awaiting Guru to capture the final treasure and join us. Guru captured the treasure but by this time the flood level marker had reached level 5 and pretty much the whole island had sunk. We had just two tiles afloat, Fool's Landing and Gold Gate, which was flooded. Even as Guru reached Gold Gate, it also disappeared into the abyss but fortunately, it was just adjacent to Fool's Landing and Guru could swim to Fool's Landing when I discarded a Helicopter Lift and got us out! It was a superbly close game - probably the closest I've ever played. I cannot recall another time when I've played FI and had only one tile left and still won.

Rules explanation, setup, game play, and pack away were all completed in about 45 minutes. Subsequent plays should play closer to the 30 minutes as printed on the game box. And both, Guru and Swami, enjoyed the game and seemed enthusiastic enough to try it again with some of the variant tile layouts. 

Forbidden Island is a good game to play, especially with childhood friends to relive that feeling of trying to jointly accomplish something challenging. And as the objective is to steal treasures, you also feel that long forgotten thrill of doing something that you are not supposed to. 

Overall, yesterday's session cements FI as my go-to gateway game. Retailing for less than $20, its value for money quotient is simply stellar. 

All 3 of us had a great time and here's hoping for more plays in the days to come.

*To see how the basic tile layout looks, see this page

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