Play This: Forbidden Island

It’s a fact: kids are sore losers and so are you. No one likes to lose. Losing is no fun. Trust me, I know a thing or two about this–as a Seattle Mariners fan, I have 15 seasons of disappointment behind me. But I digress.

Winning or losing is the end result of playing a board game, which can sometimes devolve into drama for the losing party–accusations of cheating and unfairness abound. While it may be easier to swallow a loss from a bad roll of the dice, being outmaneuvered can be annoying. Not to mention, adults have a significant advantage in the strategy department. Can’t we have a board game where adults won’t have to “go easy” on kids? Better still, one where all players work together towards a single goal? And provides a challenge at all levels?

Look no further than Forbidden Island.

Forbidden Island


Forbidden Island is a cooperative game for 2 to 4 players that’s perfect for playing as a family. Here is the premise of the game:

You’re a group of explorers hunting after four ancient artifacts on Forbidden Island. This island is about to be devoured by the sea. You must work together to collect all four artifacts while shoring up parts of the island that are sinking. After you gather the artifacts, you must all fly away together from Fool’s Landing.

Simple, right? Not really, but the rules are straightforward to understand and follow. I recommend having a least one adult player to help run the game.

Here is a quick overview.

Players begin by choosing a role for themselves: Navigator; Diver; Explorer; Messenger; Engineer; or Pilot.

Forbidden Island - Role cards

Each role comes with its own special ability. I like the Engineer, who can shore up two tiles in one turn. My son is partial to the Pilot, who can fly to any tile on the board.

Next, we lay out tiles on the table. This is Forbidden Island.

Forbidden Island tile setup

Each tile has a location name. I love how evocative the names are.

Forbidden Island tiles

Hand out 2 Treasure cards to each player, and we’re all set for treasure hunting! Here is the order of play:

Forbidden Island - Order of Play

Each player takes up to 3 actions per turn. That can be moving 3 tiles, moving 1 tile and shoring up two tiles, moving two tiles and exchanging a Treasure card with a player on the same tile, etc. Any combination will work.

After taking your 3 actions, you draw Treasure cards. You must collect 4 matching Treasure cards on a matching tile to capture a treasure.


Then comes the most exciting part… Drawing Flood cards!


Did I mention that this island is sinking? It is. Flood cards specify which tile will begin to sink. The number of Flood cards you draw depends on the water meter, starting at 2 cards per turn. The number of Flood cards you draw goes up if you draw a “Waters Rise!” card in the Treasure card phase.

Forbidden Island - sinking tiles

Flip tiles over on locations specified by Flood cards. A sinking tile is in monotone. You must shore up the sinking tile before another Flood card specifying the same location or it will disappear from the island.

You repeat this process until you collect ALL four treasures and fly away TOGETHER from Fool’s Landing. All players must fly away or you lose! So, “You go on without me, I’ll live on in your memory…” dramatics won’t work here.


The tiles sink fast if you aren’t careful. You also lose if a treasure tile sinks before you collect it.

My favorite part of this game is talking about strategy. The game is quite challenging, so all players must cooperate to beat the board.

On the other hand, if your island is sinking too quickly, you can ignore a “Waters Rise!” card or two to slow down the pace of submersion.

Forbidden Island is recommended for ages 10 and up, but with an adult helping to run the game, younger kids can definitely grasp the concept of the game and have fun!

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  1. says: Christine

    We love the game “race to the treasure” by peaceable games. It is also a cooperative game for 2-4 players.

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