Forbidden Island review - Box Feature Small

Forbidden Island Review: Seek Treasure if You Dare!

Play Time: 30 Min / Players: 2-4 / Complexity: Low / Age: 10+ we think 6+ / Publisher: Gamewright Games / Designer: Matt Leacock

Forbidden Island Ratings and Summary

Kids Rating
Teen Rating
Parent Rating


Kids rating from our daughters (6 & 9).
Teen rating from our son (13).

Simple, streamlined and fun. This is a fantastic introduction to cooperative games for younger players and families.



  • Simple rules that are easy to pick up and suitable for kids
  • Different roles with special abilities and variable tile set up add to replay value
  • Great introduction for cooperative gaming for kids
  • Artwork is great and consistent with theme
  • Variable difficulty is great to add replay value for more experienced players.


  • Can only accommodate four players. This might disappoint larger families
  • May be too simple for more experienced gamers.

What You Will Find in Our Forbidden Island Review

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Forbidden Island published by Gamewright has been around for over 10 years and in the time has earned a reputation as one of the best cooperative family games available. It’s not surprising given designer Matt Leacock is also responsible for Pandemic another highly regarded cooperative game. If you are thinking about adding this classic to your collection read on to find out how it’s played and hear our thoughts on the game in this full review. 

How to play Forbidden Island


Forbidden Island asks you to assemble your team of fellow explorers and embark on an expedition to retrieve four special treasures from a mysterious island and escape back to safety. There is one minor catch…the island is actually sinking, so you will need to work quickly to survive. Forbidden Island is a cooperative game, if your new to cooperative gaming, this style of game requires all players to work together to achieve a common objective. Players will either win or lose together.

Players retrieve each treasure by collecting four of the corresponding treasure cards and then arriving at one of the two designated tiles for that treasure to collect it. To win you must retrieve all four treasures, return to the fools landing tile and play a helicopter lift card to escape.

Forbidden Island - Box and Components set up

Players lose the game if:

  • Both temple, palace, garden or cave tiles sink before the relevant treasure has been collected
  • The Fools Landing tile sinks
  • Any player is on an island tiles that sinks and there is no adjacent tile to swim to
  • If the water level reaches the skull and cross bones.

Set Up

The game set up requires each player to select one of the six different adventurer roles, set up the island tiles as directed, and prepare two decks of cards (flood cards and treasure cards). Once that’s completed players can select the level of difficulty and collect two treasure cards, then your all set to play. Set up is nice and quick.


Each turn involves:

  • Taking up to three actions; move, shore up a sinking tile, give a treasure card to another player (if on the same tile), capture a treasure if your on the right tile. Players also have special abilities they can use during their turn, like for example being able to move anywhere on the island if your the pilot
  • Drawing two treasure cards. If a ‘Waters rise’ card is drawn the water level marker goes up and any flood cards are shuffled and placed back on top of the deck. Treasure cards of the right type are required to retrieve treasures but they can also provide special actions. Special action cards can be sand bags to shore up flooded tiles or a ride on a chopper to a location of your choice.
  • Draw flood cards equal to the current water level marker and flood the corresponding tiles or remove them if they are already flooded. Once a tile is flooded it’s flipped over to its flooded side and can be flipped back if a player ‘shores it up’. If a flood card is drawn for a tile that is already flooded it is removed and can’t be shored up anymore.

Gameplay: Forbidden Island is simple to learn and has some good replay value through different role cards to keep things interesting

I am a huge fan of cooperative games and Forbidden Island does not disappoint. I think this will especially appeal to younger players and people who are new to this type of game given its simple gameplay. Lets see if there’s enough in the box for the whole family.

Forbidden Island - Role Cards small

The game is very easy to pick up and our six year old was able to play with a little help. The great thing is that because the game is cooperative, it’s easier to introduce to younger players as you are all working together anyway.

The gameplay is very streamlined and runs smoothly. Turns are quick so this game plays well at all player counts. You don’t feel like turns drag on as there is often discussion amongst team members and interaction with other characters through role abilities or treasure cards.

To win this game team work is really important. Some of the abilities and cards involve other players, so often you will have to discuss the best way to use these valuable abilities. This is a great way to teach kids how to work together and problem solve. The game decisions are not terribly complex but there is enough strategy here to make it interesting and challenging for kids and adults.

The other thing we have found is that there is a good amount of tension that builds as the game progresses and more tiles are flooded. Games are often close and provide a good challenge, overall Forbidden Island is very well balanced.

We have found Forbidden Island has really good replay value. Firstly because there are four different difficulty levels available so the game difficulty can increase as you get more comfortable with the game. Secondly there are six different explorers to choose from that have unique abilities. I have found that each is fun to play and the abilities are different enough to keep things interesting without feeling like any are overpowered.

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Components: The art work and components in Forbidden Island are good quality and clearly laid out

Forbidden Island - Treasure cards small

In the box you will find 24 island tiles, 4 plastic treasure figurines, six player tokens, decks of cards as outlined above and a water level marker.

Overall the quality of the components seems very good and the art work nicely aligns with the theme.

The island tiles in particular are very nicely illustrated and are made of good quality thick card.

The treasure tokens are beautifully made and feel solid, they are a real stand out. All our children really look forward to collecting these treasures and I think younger children will like the look and feel of these.

The final thing to mention is that the rules are really well laid out. We had no trouble finding what we needed in the book to answer any questions we had.

Theme: The theme in Forbidden Island is nicely supported through the gameplay and artwork

Forbidden Island - Island tiles small

The theme is nicely woven into the gameplay and the components. As you play the island is constantly sinking around you and there is some good tension between shoring up the island and grabbing the loot.

In particular the island tiles fit nicely with the theme and each of them looks unique and interesting.

Final Thoughts: Forbidden Island is a great introductory cooperative board game that our whole family enjoys

We really enjoy this game as a family. It’s great to have a cooperative board game in our cupboard that is simple enough for our six year old to enjoy and be able to participate in meaningfully. The theme appeals to all of us and it’s fun choosing a different explorer each game to keep things interesting. The variable difficulty levels are also a great way to adjust for different ages and levels of experience. Our only gripe is that Forbidden Island only plays up to four players, not quite enough players for our family. Overall this really is a wonderful introduction to cooperative gaming.

Is Forbidden Island easy to learn? Simple to learn, the complexity comes in working together and in the higher difficulty levels.

What will Forbidden Island teach my kids?  Like most cooperative games it will teach your kids to work together with others towards a goal. It will also help them learn how to be heard and voice their opinions in a group setting.

What age is appropriate for Forbidden Island? Because this is a cooperative it’s easier to support younger players during the game. We think the rating of 10+ is quite high for a game with such a simple rule set. Our youngest daughter was playing from 6 and we think most kids would be fine from this age.

Does Forbidden Island have good replay value? Forbidden Island has great replay value. The different roles, varied difficulty levels and randomised tile placement all contribute to keeping the game fresh for a long while.

There are actually three cooperative games in the Forbidden series, but this is the easiest to learn and most suitable for younger kids. Forbidden Desert is a small step up in complexity and Forbidden Sky is the most complex and challenging of the series. We have a great comparison of Forbidden Island vs Forbidden Desert vs Forbidden Sky If you like a challenge Pandemic also by Matt Leacock is a fantastic cooperative game but very hard.

We hope you enjoyed our Forbidden Island review. If you have any more questions or just want to share your thoughts on this game please leave a comment below, or get in touch through our contact page.

About the Authors

We are parents who love board gaming. We have three children and have been enjoying board games as a family ever since we had our first child. We share our real unbiased experiences and opinions on board games so you can decide if they are right for your family. We also write guides and articles to help you get the most out of your family game time. If you enjoy our content and want to support us you can do that through our Ko-fi page by clicking on the button below.

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Other Games to Consider

If you are looking in to Forbidden Island then you may want some other ideas for good introductions to cooperative board games. Aside from the Forbidden series, here are some ideas worth exploring below:

  • 5 Minute Dungeon (review): Unlike Forbidden Island you have a time limit in 5 Minute Dungeon, which means it can be played in as little as 5 minutes and usually no more than 10 minutes. In 5 Minute Dungeon you select one of 10 heroes to battle a dungeon full of monsters and obstacles, represented by a dungeon deck. This game requires you to think quickly which is great for teaching kids how to make decisions under pressure, but can also be chaotic at times. Player interaction here is high and will generate a lot of laughs as you frantically work with your team mates to play the right card combinations to defeat the next dungeon card. Be aware given the time constraints this game has a lot more tension than Forbidden Island.
  • Castle Panic (review): Castle Panic is a cooperative tower defence game that is great for younger kids aged between 6 and 10, unlike Forbidden Island it is probably too simple for kids older than 10 years. To win you must defend your castle from rampaging orcs, trolls, goblins and a range of boss monsters. If the monsters reach the castle walls, they will begin to destroy them, if you lose all 6 castle towers you lose the game. The choices here are simpler than Forbidden Island and mean that young kids can play confidently once they have a game or two under their belt.  
  • Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game (review): Unlike Forbidden Island, Legendary Marvel introduces deck building and is semi-cooperative which means you can compete for bragging rights if you get the most points. For Marvel fans this game is a great option. It’s fun and easy to learn which makes it a great introduction to cooperative games. In Legendary Marvel, you will use your team of Marvel heroes to defeat an evil mastermind and his villains. If you aren’t a Marvel fan, there are a wide range of other themes on offer. To name a few, Legendary has created games for the following popular themes, James Bond, Aliens, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Files and more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Forbidden Island a good game for adults?

Absolutely, although the rules are simple, there is a lot of strategy involved in working together to win. The game also presents a good challenge as you adjust the difficulty level.

Can Forbidden Island be played solo?

Forbidden Island is not intended to be played solo but with 2-4 players. However, one player could control 2 or more characters to create a solo experience.

How does the diver work in Forbidden Island?

The diver in Forbidden Island can move through flooded or missing tiles. They can move through as many flooded or missing tiles they like using one action, provided the spaces are connected.

What’s the difference between Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert?

Both these games are designed by Matt Leacock and are cooperative games, but they play quite differently. The theme of adventurers looking to retrieve something from an inhospitable place is the same for both, although in Forbidden Desert the adventurers are retrieving four machine parts in a desert setting. Here are some of the main differences:

  • Forbidden Desert is a little more complex than Forbidden Island
  • In Forbidden Desert the tiles shift as the eye of the storm moves, the tiles do not shift in Forbidden Island
  • In Forbidden Desert the tiles are hidden and must be excavated to reveal what’s underneath. This is how engine parts are discovered which are required to win the game. In Forbidden Island all the tiles are visible from the start of the game
  • In Forbidden Desert instead of tiles being flooded they progressively accumulate layers of sand. There is a finite number of sand tokens and if they run out the players lose
  • In Forbidden Desert water is required by each player to stay alive, this concept doesn’t exist in Forbidden Island
  • In Forbidden Desert the loss conditions are different. You can lose if a player runs out of water, run out of sand tokens or are swept away when the sand storm meter reaches the symbol.
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