#Tabletop Thoughts: Forbidden Island

If you’ve been watching any of the Geek and Sundry Google Hangouts I’ve been doing recently, you know that, though we haven’t officially been green lit for season two of Tabletop, I’m still playing tons of games so I know what we’re going to play if we do.

Games that we play on Tabletop have to fulfill a lot of criteria:

  1. Do I love it?
  2. Will it play well with four people?
  3. Can we play it in under an hour or so?
  4. Is it complicated enough to be fun, while being simple enough to explain in a few minutes?
  5. Is it fun to watch us play it?

It’s surprisingly easy to hit four of these criteria. The hardest ones to meet are 3 and 5 (stupid goddamn prime numbers have had it out for me ever since the first time I divided by zero.)

So there are games I am crazy about, like 7 Wonders, Dominion, Arkham Horror, Tribune, Agricola and Tichu, that we just can’t put on the show. This makes me sad, but there are even more games that I love that we can play, like Smash Up, King of Tokyo, Lords of Waterdeep, Star Trek Catan, and the game that inspired me to write this post in the first place, Forbidden Island.

Forbidden Island is designed by Matt Leacock, who created Pandemic, which kicked our ass on season one of Tabletop. It uses essentially the same mechanics as Pandemic, but instead of being scientists who are saving the world from infectious diseases, the players are adventurers trying to get artifacts off an island that’s trying to kill them by sinking into the ocean.

Like Pandemic, it’s usually won or lost by a few cards, but unlike Pandemic, it’s really great for kids as young as 8 (or precocious 7 year-olds). The themes are very family friendly, the artwork is beautiful, and the pieces are durable. Here’s what our board looked like when we started a recent game:

Forbidden Island Setup

Those tiles are the island, and the pawns are the explorers. As you play the game, you move around the island and try to collect cards that are turned in to recover the four artifacts. During the game, the island is trying to kill you by sinking, so tiles are constantly being removed from the board on almost every turn.

Here’s how it looked when we barely won:

Forbidden Island Victory

We won by either one or two cards, which was as exhilarating as any game of Pandemic I’ve ever played. For those of you scoring at home, we started on Elite difficulty, instead of the usual Legendary.

You can get Forbidden Island at your Friendly Local Gameshop. It’s a fantastic family game that is challenging enough and well balanced enough for serious gamers to enjoy.

If we get a second season of Tabletop, this is one game I’m absolutely going to play. Maybe I’ll even win this time. (HA HA YEAH RIGHT.)

200 thoughts on “#Tabletop Thoughts: Forbidden Island”

  1. I’ve played the iPad version of this, with a group a lunch, and it’s always a blast! We even hooked it up to a lcd projector and played on a conference room wall. I have a physical copy of the game, but never gotten around to playing that. One person that played the physical version said it wasn’t as much fun as the iPad version.

  2. Darn, I wondered about Dominion. It’s a favorite of mine, but probably not that interesting to watch played. I also love Stone Age, that would be fun to see played (I think). Can’t wait for season 2, fingers crossed!

  3. Some of your favorite games are the ones that we play with our Wednesday night group. Proof that they’re designed well (and that we all have good taste).

    Artemis isn’t a table top game, but that’s also pretty bitchin’

      1. OMG it is SOOO fun. It’s a cooperative game that you can play online and communicate to your teammates via Skype or play in person and be able to see one another’s screens.

        The only thing I dislike is that 1. There’s no Mac laptop version (though there’s an app for the iPad/iPhone) so I have to fire up “Old Grandma” (my PC) to play, and 2. You can’t view the various screens on the same desktop. You *can* long onto the PC and iPad separately to accomplish this, however.

        I like it because it starts you off on easy levels and you can choose harder levels. We haven’t made it past level 4 yet. It ::snickers:: goes up to 11. My friend Troy calls me “Driving Miss Tracy” when I’m Helmsperson. 😉 [It would be an honor to have you play with us if you’d like to try it. Hit me up with a DM. I promise no fangirl squees.]

  4. If you’re planning on covering this game in Season 2, it may be worth waiting for the Matt’s upcoming release, Forbidden Desert. It promises to be a similar game, with increased depth, complexity and, crucially, fun.

    I think it looks really interesting, and I’ll definitely be picking it up on release. You can read more about it here.

  5. Wil, As a fan of Dominion I really think you could do a table top with this game. You would just have to explain that there are tons of expansions and millions of card combinations. But if you just played with the base set it could make for a good show. Same with Ascension if you have ever played that. Another good game that is very 4 player friendly would be Kingdom Builder. That would be an easy show.


    1. The problem with Dominion is that it’s not fun to watch. The stuff that makes that game so amazing is what happens in your head while you decide what to draw and what to play. We don’t have the budget/time/resources to do a bunch of hole card cameras and voice overs, so what you’d get is four people quietly looking at their cards and just … thinking. It’s a fantastic game, and one we frequently play in our game group, but it just won’t work for the show.

      1. Hey Wil,

        If the basic gameplay for Dominion (which I think has one of the most boring themes available) keeps it from being unwatchable some other DBG (Deck-Building Games) you might find more appealing is Ascension, Nightfall or Star Trek (where there is even a card of your character. How awesome is that?). These types of games offer a wealth of options that may or may not fill all of your criteria I leave you to determine that.

        1. Ascension is amazing, and has one of the best iOS apps I’ve ever played. I also love Thunderstone. Unfortunately, they still run into the same problem as Dominion w/r/t broadcast.

  6. Man … I usually start Forbidden Island on novice and we still only win by a few cards. We must be playing something wrong, because the god damn “WATER RISES” cards kill us every single time.

  7. I like this game too Will. Glad to see that you are putting another cooperative game out there! They are some of my favorites. A couple of questions …. I really enjoy 7 Wonders too. It is quick and can be played between other games. What makes it not work for Tabletop? Just curious. And…. I got to meet and talk to you at the cocktail party for Walter Koenig (thank you for being so gracious) and forgot to ask a question about Pandemic. Have you ever tried the Bio Terrorist expansion? If so do you think it functions or takes away from what is great about Pandemic? I can not get anyone to try it. Every time we debate it and then decide it would ruin the fun.
    Again it was a pleasure to meet you and talk about promoting boardgaming ( and wasnt Harlen Ellison hilarious :-). Peace, David

  8. Forbidden Island sounds great. I love it that you show those games to us, The last new game *I* played was “Risk Legacy” which was such a great experience (the game evolves as you play it based on what happens in the game), especially since I really don’t care for normal risk.

    1. I asked my game group if they’d like to do Risk: Legacy, and it went like this:

      Me: How about we play a Risk Legacy campaign?
      Them: That sounds like a lot of Risk.
      Me: Right, but it’s supposed to be more fun and complex than original Risk.
      Them: Do you roll a lot of dice and play it like Risk?
      Me: I think so, yeah, but —
      Them: That sounds like a lot of Risk.
      Me: Okay.jpg

      (They really don’t like Risk)

      1. I know. I know. It would have been so much better if they just created a new game for this concept (or given it at least another name *g*). Anyway I totally understand your group, although to be fair they streamlined the rules a lot compared to the awful game of my youth

        And I completely fell in love with Risk: Legacy when we found a hidden envelope…

  9. As somebody who has played both, I can say that I enjoyed Forbidden Island a lot more than Pandemic – probably because it’s easier by a sliver to be successful in Forbidden Island – or that’s at least what we observed when playing. But seeing they’re pretty similar style-wise, they’re probably suitable for Tabletop.

    In any case, can’t wait for season two either :)

  10. I taught Forbidden Island to one of my younger brothers when he was six. He loved it and played it with other kids his age (without me there to help.) This is definitely near the top of my game list.

  11. I really love this game! I learned my 8 year old nephew to play it this christmas, and we had great ties thinking out strategies to escape the strategies. I was considering to by Pandemic after seeing it on the show, but am afraid it to similar. Any thoughts about it?
    On a side note:I just received my signed copy of Gloom I won on the G&S site! Thanks Wil! I just can’t figure out whose autograph iare on it, but I think yours is on it :-)
    Greets from Belgium (land of the finest beers on the planet)

  12. You have to give “Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre” a try, while there is a lot of thinking, the actual execution of turn is quick and can usually be hilarious.

  13. If at some point you decide to add a few “older” games to your docket… the one I think would be a fantastic addition to the show is Illuminati. Visually it is really interesting to watch people create their Power Structures, and with only four players you most likely can get the game down to about an hour (and most of the time of the game is spent on the math and the spending of megabucks up and down, which are easily edited out).

    I know Steve Jackson Games still keeps it in print, so that’s what I’d love to see. Nothing is more amusing in watching a board game than listening people talk about how “the CIA is going to try and control the Convenience Stores, with some help from the Goldfish Fanciers”.

    1. Illuminati is the game that made me a captial-g Gamer. I don’t know how it holds up, or if it would make for good television, but now I’m curious and will look at it.

      1. Illuminati is such a classic, and the power structures that get built can be so hilarious and fun to try and rationalize. It would go especially well with any guests with a link to the conspiracy theme (say, any of the Lone Gunmen from the X-Files, for example!).

      2. As a game it still holds up fabulously. Ever summer my gamer friends and I have a weekend camping trip and a six player Illuminati game is always played. Check out the full-color Deluxe Illuminati edition that was printed in ’99. The illustrations on all the cards look awesome, and they are made of a really strong laminated semi-gloss card stock. Yeah, Illuminati is a game that was create 30 years ago… but is still a game that people should be playing today if they don’t already.

  14. I play Pandemic with my 7 and 9 year old boys. They love it! Although the 7 year old just wants to run around and treat disease, while the 9 year old is starting to understand the need to ‘cure’ the disease… it sort of works out.

  15. I would love to see Battlestar Galactica done on Tabletop. I think the confessionals where people speculate who the Cylons are would be fascinating.

      1. I would absolutely love to see a BSG episode. I think the whole hidden role aspect would make for a GREAT episode. I really hope tabletop lives to see a second season. The first was great!

  16. I look forward to seeing you run Lords of Waterdeep. I’ve only gotten to play it a couple times (not a lot of gamers into anything more complicated than Ticket to Ride in my family and friends are too far or too busy or both).

    What about Privateer’s Bodgers series of games (like Heap and Infernal Contraption)? One of my favorite games, though, is Android though I suspect it might be hard to fit into the shoe…still an awesome game (if you knew me you’d know I absolutely love complicated games with lots of ways to play/win). Agricola’s a fun game and I see it’s on your verboten list…any reason why?

    There was this one game I saw being played at PAX, I think it’s a Rio Grande game that’s similar to Alhambra (as far as buying buildings with specific colors of currency). [stand by, time travelling]…nuts, too far past the time threshold.

    Even though it’s a bit silly I’d also recommend Galaxy Trucker. And, though I don’t know if it doesn’t meet your criteria, Level 7’s an interesting game…sort of like a Last Night on Earth but Alien-style.

  17. We’ve bought way too many games because you and Tabletop. Don’t know if I’m thankful or just broke.

    Would Carcassone be one you could play? We’re interested in getting it, but I’d like to see it played first. I never would have thought that watching people play games would be fun, but we nearly cried when Tabletop went on hiatus. Zombies!!! might be fun, but there’s similarities to Last Night on Earth, and I’m not sure if it meets #5. Honestly, I’d also be interested in watching you guys play some of the oldies but goodies: Clue, Monopoly, stuff like that. Again, #5. Damn that #5!

    In a completely random sidenote I’m rewatching Next Gen for the first time in probably over a decade, and I’m having a hard time reconciling young Wesley Crusher with mature, bearded Wil. I remember how much I loved this show, though, and I can’t believe people hated Wesley (if he was a bit of a goody-goody in the first season).

    1. I almost played Carcassonne last season, but decided not to because I was so worried about making an illegal play or messing up scoring. I’ve pretty much traded the tabletop version for the iPad version, so I don’t trust my instincts and ability to not screw up.

  18. I had picked up forbidden island on a whim last year because I found it for $12. Turned out to be one of our favorite games in our library. Love tabletop. If for some reason you don’t get a second season, then whoever makes the decision better get sacked.

  19. Forbidden Island is one of my go-to intro-to-board-gaming games. That will be a blast to watch as well as King of Tokyo and Lords of Waterdeep. You should write up a post that is essentially a long list of games you’ve enjoyed playing. Between Tabletop and various podcasts, I’m adding so many games to my collection.

    Red November, Galaxy Trucker, and Wiz-War all strike me as possible Tabletop games.

  20. Wil if you ever do one of those quick game shows again; ie Zombie Dice. You should show Timeline. It is a fun game. I play it with my son (7) and he is learning a ton of things. I got the game around the time you guys did Dixit, which made me go out and get it. He loves it.

  21. SURVIVE! is one of my all time favorites. They released a 30th Anniversary edition this year (although I still have a vintage original. Thx ebay!) It’s more of a “casual gamer” game, but super fun. Of course, I am simple.

  22. Gloom I think would be a good, family friendly one. It’s an older game. Each player (2-4) get a family that they try to make miserable by playing negative point cards on them. Each point card has a scene on it which you have to use in the character’s story line. Players can play positive points on other players cards, and the goal of the game is to kill off your family in the most miserable way you can. It sounds a little gruesome, but it’s lots of fun, and I think kids would get a kick out of it.

  23. Wil, I know you’ve mentioned The Resistance in a couple of places as a new favourite. It is one of mine too, and I think it would absolutely kick butt on a TableTop episode. You could potentially even have two edits, one with ongoing interviews and voiceovers inserted (ie: identities revealed to the audience) and one without (ie: the audience is guessing as well). My question is, would you make an exception to rule # 2 for this game? It only just works with 5 and IMO is best and most chaotic with 7-8.

    Forbidden Island is great too – simple and fun, plus you can really pump up the tension just by starting on a higher level.

  24. Wil did you get a chance to play X-Machina that I gave you at Gencon? It was the cross between Junkyard Wars and Apples to Apples.

    Good Luck with season 2.

    1. Hey, John! I know you! You’re that guy who came and played all kinds of Steve Jackson games with us at Korben’s 9th Birthday party, and I run into you at Jonathan Coulton concerts and all over the internet. Hi. :) And eternal gratitude for the giant Munchkin D6. It’s one of his prized possesssssions. (spell check told me I spelled that word wrong no matter how I spelled it, so I threw in a bunch of extra sssssss.)

  25. Man, I love the show. From my lips to YouTube’s ears, there’s no way you won’t get picked up for another season! Love love love.

    Anyway – I was thinking how much I enjoyed the Fiasco two-parter (well, three if you count the Setting Up the Game episode), and I think you could definitely get away with doing more two-parters in Season Two – maybe for those slightly longer or more complicated games?

    As a roleplayer I would love to see some attempt at a roleplaying-type game (and hey, Fiasco was a great and visually interesting version of just such a game) although I do understand how these types of games are: a) massively complicated to explain initially, or play for the first time, b) can be visually boring and c) can go on for way too long. An hour? Pfft, please. You’d still be on the intro!

    But I’d like to see you try, Mr Wil Wheaton.

    Roleplaying? Larping? Freestyle? Some kind of Murder Mystery dinner party thing? Whatever man – I’d watch it!

  26. Wil, have you ever played Village by Inka and Markus Brand. It won the 2012 Kennerspeil des Jahr. It’s a great Euro and features a very neat time/death mechanic that means you have to mercilessly kill off… Erm, I mean carefully select which of your family members bites the dust as the game progresses. It might fall into the trap of Agricola and others, but the death mechanic might liven gameplay up?

  27. I love this game. I’m eagerly awaiting an unofficial set of expansion cards with different roles and island layouts on them. It is, like Pandemic, a wonderfully frustrating game. Another good one, kinda similar but different enough for my tastes is Flashpoint.

    If you are still looking for games for season two (and seasons three, four and beyond!), how about Red November and Ghost Stories? They should both be playable in the time available, both should be fun to watch (especially if you get players who really react to the whims of the game), both feature enough strategy to be interesting but not so much that you’d have people sitting for five minutes deciding what to do and both have a mixture of attractive tiles, figures and dice to be visually attractive. Plus with Red November I’d love to see if anyone fails to resist temptation and abandons his or her fellow gnomes :-)

  28. Wil, I just want to thank you for Tabletop, even though it’s going to make me one poor lady. My husband and I had been looking for something new to play that would be good for 2 players (because we like to game together) as well as more than 2 players. When I saw Ticket to Ride, I made it my mission to get it for Christmas – which I did! We play it almost nightly, and are seriously considering one of the many variations to add to our collection. Please keep up the good work, so my list of games to buy will keep getting longer!

  29. Forbidden Island was the first game I bought after Tabletop got me all hyped. It was possibly the greatest impulse buy I could make! It’s so fun, fast and exciting AND cheap! It kicked my tapletop game hype into hyperdrive. I can’t wait to see it on Tabletop!

    WHEN (not IF) you’re doing season 2 you should do a sequel to Castle Panic with the Wizards Tower expansion, maybe even bring back the original guests as well. The Castle Panic ep is on of my favorites.

  30. Haven’t played Forbidden Island yet; now I know I must. And I think you’re totally right about Dominion: awesome game to play, not as much fun to watch. I’d definitely like to see King of Tokyo and Lords of Waterdeep in the (as yet) hypothetical second season. I got Lords of Waterdeep just before Christmas and now play it every chance I get. (For some reason, it’s easier to get people to play that than it is to get them to play Agricola… maybe I’m doing it wrong?)

    Another game I think would be fun to see on the show is Discworld: Ankh-Morpork. I usually stay away from boardgames attached to a brand like that (yes, even the Star Trek ones), but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The rules are relatively simple and easy to explain, but still deep enough to provide for a fun game.

  31. Wil,

    Have you thought about Escape Curse of the Temple? It’s so thematic with the soundtrack, and fits right within your 30 minute timeframe with explanation and wrapup.

    1. I really love Escape, and play it with my friends all the time. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to edit because of sound overlaps. It’s the same problem we have with Space Alert and Space Cadets, which is a bummer, because they’re all awesome games.

  32. Home about “Kingdom Builder“ by Queen Games, which got the 2012 Game of the Year award here in germany. It should fit in your timeframe and is really nice to play.
    We really enjoyed playing it.

    1. I haven’t played Kingdom Builder yet. It’s designed by the same guy who designed Dominion, right? I asked a couple of my gamer friends about it, but I think they said it was too simple for their taste.

  33. Forbidden Island is delightful and is always good for fun table talk at our place.

    A new game that I’d strongly recommend is “Pirate Dice: Voyage on the Rolling Seas” by Gryphon Games. It’s a Kickstarter game that came out a few months ago and has taken over our gaming group. It’s basically a lite version of RoboRally with Pirate Ships. Like RR, each player plans out their next few moves simultaneously, then reveals their actions and chaos ensues. Silly, simple, and fun. I think it would rock on the show. The only down side is that it’s not available in mass market stores, just specialty game shops & sites.

  34. You touch on something here. These games are fun for families with kids too. Maybe have someone and their child on and demonstrate that game night isn’t just adult time.

  35. I don’t think I’ve seen it mentioned, so I’d like to tell you about my current favorite. Mayfair has a Discworld board game that’s really easy to pick up and super fun. I tried it out on some friends of varying experience and enthusiasm over the holidays, and we all had a blast.

    The twist that makes it interesting is that, more often than not, you’re all working towards different goals. For example, Lord Vetinari needs to have a minion in a large proportion of the areas, while Chrysoprase the troll needs to have a total value of AM $50. To accomplish these goals, you draw cards, which allow you to place minions or buildings, steal money or cards from other players, or assassinate their minions. Also, some cards start events, which can either help you or hurt you, depending on the roll of the dice.

    It sounds really complex, but is actually very easy, and not too long. Our games lasted around 45 minutes. Being a huge fan of Terry Pratchett’s stuff, I was worried that my husband and his friend, who were not into that, wouldn’t find it fun or funny, but they did both.

    I also wanted to thank you for Tabletop; I’ve always been into board games, but it really got Scott, my husband, into them. When we went home for the holidays, we actually spent less time on the video games and more playing board games, which made my friends happy, because then they could play too!

  36. I love Forbidden Island! It’s a good game for two people. I also dig Pandemic…another collaborative game.

    Once we’d “mastered” Forbidden Island, we started to experiment with the layout of the cards. The toughest layout we came up with was a rectangle, two cards deep, with a big “lagoon” in the middle. It’s freaking difficult, but messing with the game structure a bit helped to keep it interesting once we’d played it about a zillion times.

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