#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 recently had the chance to play Seasons, and I think it could work wonderfully on Tabletop. It’s visually appealing and meets all the other criteria listed in the blog post. I end up playing a lot of games due to both being an aficionado and being a contributer to a gaming podcast, but Seasons instantly grabbed me immediately probably more than any other game this year.

    I would also love to see some of James Ernest’s Cheapass Games, especially since he just successfully Kickstarted Unexploded Cow, and Deadwood (one of my favorite games of all time) will be up next for Kickstartville. From his older stuff, The Big Idea also seems very well suited for Tabletop.

    1. I’d love to do a whole episode of the classic Cheapass games, like Devil Bunny Needs A Ham, like the three quick casuals we did in season one.

  2. Wil, have you reviewed Flux series of card games? They are a standard at my house with everyone from the 19yo boy to the 6yo girl. The game is fun & funny. We have almost every deck plus the boosters for most of them.

  3. I’ve only watched a few episodes, but already bought several games as a result: Tsuro, Zombie Dice, and Star Fluxx (we were already avid Fluxx collectors — this one was a no brainer!). Definitely hoping you get the green light for season 2 — if only for the selfish reason that I want more excellent recommendations for fun family activities!

  4. I think that one game that you can consider for season two is “Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mount Skullfyre”. It’s insanely fun, really random, and while it may seem like it takes longer than an hour, it moves really fast at all times.

  5. One thing I thought on seeing the Dixit episode was “I wonder if they’ll do Balderdash too?” It’s a vaguely similar concept but requires players to be creative in a more literary manner than Dixit, which people like me who struggle with abstractness would appreciate! The new version is better, which has obscure acronyms, dates, movie titles and names as well to make it more varied.

  6. May I just say that reading through the comments section is going to totally break my bank? I feel like I’m a little kid excitedly listening in on a great conversation, desperately wanting to be a part of it, and realizing I’m only just beginning and therefore have nothing to contribute. That’s okay, though, because I’m thoroughly enjoying it anyway.

  7. As a kid I loved “The aMAZEing Labyrinth” it was simple, had strategy and was always lots of fun. I don’t know if it would be a good game for the show but I would still recommend it as a game to play with (older) children (who have a little tolerance for getting their plans constantly sabotaged).

  8. You should take a look at “City of Horror”, it’s a zombie game that really captures the flair of an apocalypse-survival movie.
    Fun to watch, interesting game mechanics… only (minor) drawback is the game time; the box states 90 minutes, which is quite realistic.

    Every player gets a number of different characters (e.g. the Blonde, the Geek, the Soldier, the Schoolgirl…) and tries to keep them save over all four rounds to score as much victory points as possible (no one has to play the zombies, so no Dr. Hannah-incident here 😉 )
    The main element of the game: When the number of zombies at one of the six locations exceeds a certain value, they attack; but instead of any dice-rolling, the players vote on which character is killed! Bribing and making deals is explicitly encouraged by the rules.
    But even if a player is not very good at negotiating (like myself), he has still a good chance to win: every character has a special ability, every player has a handful of action cards, all of them able to turn a situation around when played at the right moment. But using a special ability reduces the point-value of a character, and once-played action cards are not automatically replaced.

    It’s a backstabbing game with a surprising amount of tactic and strategy.

  9. After reading this post and all the comments chiming in on how wonderful Forbidden Island is, I convinced my husband to run out and buy it. We played for the first time tonight, and it was so much fun even while learning how to play. I predict it’ll become a favorite as we internalize the rules and game play becomes more seamless. Thanks for Tabletop and this recommendation in particular!

  10. Wil,
    Forbidden Island is a game that I will never forget. My (now) husband and I played it about a month before our wedding. I was all stressed from wedding planning, and he said, “Why don’t we play a game?”

    We won with only the helicopter pad left.

  11. So out of curiosity, (and if there’s a FAQ out there with this answer in it, someone please direct me there) who makes the call about whether there’s going to be a season 2? Can we start a petition? (only half-kidding)


  12. I love Forbidden Island! Especially that it’s very playable by two players. Finding games suitable for two players is a challenge… Hey, maybe you could to a TableTop episode that highlights games for two! :)

  13. I think if you were to take the chance of doing a deck building game, Thunderstone would be the way to go. At the start of your turn, the first thing you do is reveal your hand, so the viewer gets to play along with the player as they make their decisions . The theme is easy to relate to and the killing of monsters is fun and thematic. I own all the Thunderstone base sets and expansions. Would every game of Thunderstone make for great WebTV? Nope. With millions of card combinations, could a set of cards be suggested that would make for an exciting game to watch? You bet your axe!

    Other games I would like to see:
    King of Tokyo
    Lords of Waterdeep
    Cosmic Encounter
    Stone Age
    Space Trucker
    Robo Rally
    Shadows over Camelot
    Mice and Mystics

    Thanks for creating something amazing!

  14. Funny, we *just* started playing Forbidden Island this week. As we were playing the first time, I thought to myself, “This would be a great game for Tabletop.”

    I agree with your age assessment too. I have a 7-year-old who has a lot of experience with strategy-oriented board games (and she’s highly motivated to keep up with her older sister) and she did pretty well with this game. At 8 this morning, she asked, “Can we play Forbidden Island again today?” so I think she liked it. :)

  15. Wil, what criteria discounts 7 Wonders? Dominion I get might be too complex, and the others on your list too long, but 7 Wonders seems the perfect length. And can’t be more complicated to explain than Elder Sign or Pandemic. (I would think.)

    Really like the show, and just would love to see you spread the word about one of my favorite games. :) Keep up the great work.

  16. What do you mean you haven’t been greenlit?!?
    Seriously dude, i love that show.
    To whom can i pen a reverent email on the show’s behalf?
    Niki in Blatimore

  17. Have you thought about Pirate’s Cove by Days of Wonder? While it plays best with five and then usually takes 90 min, it still plays well with four, and then takes just about an hr. I played a four player game tonight, quite enjoyable, pretty close….winner wasn’t determined until the last turn (I won, by the way), at least one battle each turn.

    1. I’ve played it a few times, and while I think it shows great promise, I think it’s pretty flawed. For example, it’s very easy to get damaged on the first turn, and spend the whole game just trying to repair your sails, so you never really get to do anything else.

  18. My husband and I have seen a lot of fun games that we’d love to try to play more often but unfortunately, because of our schedules, we haven’t had time to find a group to play with since we moved.

    I know Tabletop has the 4-person set-up but I’ve often wondered what sorts of games out there are fun for just two people. Our work schedules mean we can’t get out and meet people very often and sometimes we just want to play a game on the rare occasion when we’re both home at the same time. I think it would be interesting to see some episodes of Tabletop where you have more unusual group numbers, just as a special episode or two. Games with 2 people playing or games with 5 or more, for those who like really big group games.

    Anyway, we really enjoy your show and I hope you get another season! And then another one after that, and then another one. 😉

    1. This is us exactly. What are good games for 2 people only? My bf and I usually end up playing online MMO’s with our long distance friends since we don’t have others that can come over to play games in person.

    2. We’ve looked out for 2 player games because my brother and his wife are in a similar situation. We have found and can recommend a few: Jaipur, Lost Cities, Medici vs. Strozzi, and Hive- all of which are only for two players. We also found Blue Moon, which is two-player and highly respected but we haven’t played it yet. Mansions of Madness wasn’t bad with two, but it’s essentially a player and a GM at that point. Possibly not what you’re looking for.

      Unusual group numbers would be nice- we shop for games that go from 2-5 players because we have 3 kids and that is definitely a odd range in the industry.

    3. Ooooo, I thought of another one, and it’s expandable to 4 players (thus pretty Tabletop ready): Army vs. Aliens/ Pirates vs. Ninjas! We only have Pirates vs. Ninjas (a present for my daughter-who-wants-to-be-a-ninja-when-she-grows-up, she needs to learn who her enemies are), but apparently you can mix the two sets and play all 4 at once. It’s dice- based, somewhere between Quarriors and Zombie Dice. Pretty quick, too. :)

  19. I am a new and big fan of the show Wil! I first caught wind of Table Top via a twitter feed through Flipboard. I watched it and the episode was covering Settlers of Catan. The show inspired me to look into getting Settlers of Catan. While at it, I found Catan Junior which I first bought and my wife and our 7 year old love it! I also saw Castle Panic and watched the show on this as well. I bought that as well as Ticket to Ride and Forbidden Island (it was recommended on Amazon). I was hoping that you had covered it already but sadly, not yet. I haven’t played it yet and am looking forward to seeing you play this out on your new season (I can’t see how you won’t get a second + season)…
    Keep up the great work! I love the show. The format, the humor and best of all, the fun times had by all playing..

  20. Hi Wil!

    We love your show, and can’t wait until you get he inevitable green light for season 2. I was trying to think of some games that I’d like to see you play on TableTop, and here’s my list:

    Long Shot
    Blood Bowl: Team Manager
    King of Tokyo
    Sentinels of the Multiverse
    Formula De

    Short games for a filler show:

    Love Letter (I don’t know why everyone laughs so hard when we play this, but it never fails to happen)
    For Sale

    Thanks for putting on such a great show. I appreciate everything you’re doing to expose hobby games to the masses, but also for the geek community culture in general. I’ve still never watched Star Trek, and I suppose I technically qualify as more Geek-Adjacent (as you describe your wife), but I’ve really enjoyed reading what you’ve written since discovering you via TableTop. Keep on fighting the good fight, Wil Wheaton.

  21. Have you considered doing the occasion “special” episode to feature some of the games you mentioned as not currently feasible for the show? I sent a contact…. thing on Geek and Sundry before I found this entry, so I apologize. I have so much fun with Dominion, but its been hard drummin up much enthusiasm in my group for it. I had really been hoping there would eventually be an episode featuring Dominion, the Wil Wheaton seal of approval would do wonders for getting others interested in playing.

    1. I have, yes. It’s not something I can do, though, because I have a finite budget to spend on the show, and it doesn’t make sense to pay to produce an episode of games that don’t work for some reason, when I could spend the same money on an episode with games that do work.

  22. How about Dungeon Lords or Dungeon Petz? by Vlaada Chvatil, author of Galaxy Trucker.
    In “Dungeon Lords” you have to breed and feed minions (goblins) so they can built your dungeon and dig for gold. But beware! Each spring the dungeon will eventually be attacked by heros. To prepare for that you can get monsters and traps. If the other players let you have them…
    In “Dungeon Petz” you are breeding pet monsters for dungeon lords. You have to buy them at the market, built stables, feed them properly, muck out and entertain them. Then you can present them to the dungeon lords at the fair.

  23. The only “dream episode” I have is an On-The-Road style where you show up at the Scalzi Compound and play something (anything) with John and his family.

    Thanks for the fantastic shows. You really are accomplishing what you set out to do, as evidenced by my increasing game closet. : )

  24. After reading this I bought Forbidden Island this weekend. My kids and I love it but I have a question. If anyone could clear this up it would be great. The instructions say that when you draw a water rises card you are to suffle the discard pile and place it on top of the treasure card pile. Then place your water rises card to start the new discard pile.
    I can’t make sense of this because if you draw a water rises card early, place it in the discard pile. Then say discard a few cards and draw another water rises card, you shuffle your discard pile that has a water rises in it and place it on the top. If you do this then you will never get past those first few cards and deeper into the treasure deck. We figured it was a misprint and just shuffled the discard deck into the whole treasure deck.
    Is this what everyone does or am I missing something obvious?


    1. When you draw Waters Rise, you shuffle the discard pile from the “locations deck” (I forget its formal name off the top of my head) and put it on top.

      You leave the treasure deck alone until it is empty, and that’s when you reshuffle that one.

  25. Not sure if you’ve done this one, Wil, but have you considered Lunch Money? I know it’s hard to find (I can loan you my deck. I don’t have either of the expansions, though.) but it is a quick and fun one. (I am behind on episodes) Or any of the D&D card/dice games (Three Dragon Ante, etc.) Maybe grab a fifth person and do a table of Star Magic (Magic: The Gathering variant, everyone plays a single color deck, tries to take out their opposed colors.)

  26. Have to agree with most people about looking for good 2-player games. Settlers of Catan doesn’t work and Alhambra requires a dummy player to make 2-player even get close to working. Pandemic and Ticket to Ride work wonderfully. Other games mentioned below that work well include Flashpoint: Fire and Rescue, Dominion and Stone Age. We’ve also found St. Petersburg and Bohnanza to work well. Those two also might be candidates for Tabletop.

    There are also 2-player exclusive games like Lost Cities and Hive that are fun. But, it is always better to get reviews and see it played because games aren’t cheap.

  27. Hmm.. I thought I had put up a post suggesting Glen More, but I can’t find it.

    Anyway, Glen More. It’s a great game for 4 people, can definitely play in less than an hour, and you can use funny Scottish accents and talk about whiskey. It would be perfect for the show!

  28. To make a quick recommendation for Tabletop and gamers in general: we received a promo copy of a new game from Rio Grande called Monster Factory. It looks cute and is easily played by our 6 year old but has the adult strategic element of “messing with the other players” that makes it fun for everyone. Playable by 4, simple in that the play is similar to Carcasonne, complex in that you can mess with others, and easily done in under an hour (there’s only so many tiles). Might be fun to watch, too. It isn’t perfect but it is fun.

  29. Looking at your possible ideas for games, I’m pleased to see Lords of Waterdeep on the short list. I got to play it once and was hooked, almost immediately going out to buy my own copy.

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