You Should Play: Forbidden Island
[These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.]
As Shakespeare once wrote, “There are more board games in heaven and earth, Horatio, than Clue and Monopoly.”
Well, something like that, anyway.
But it’s true: Board games have come a long way since the likes of Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley, and thanks to the iPad, you can carry many of them with you wherever you go.
Forbidden Island is such an undertaking. You and up to three of your friends can cluster around an iPad as you try to rescue ancient treasure from an island. Sounds easy enough, until you add a wrinkle: The island is slowly sinking into the sea.
It’s impossible for a single person to win Forbidden Island; if any of the adventurers is trapped on a part of the island that sinks completely, the game ends. You’ll need to work together, coordinating your actions, if you’re going to make it off alive—and with your hard-earned treasure.
Each turn you can take three actions, including moving, shoring up tiles that are flooded but have not yet sunk, giving a card to another player, or capturing a treasure if you have four matching cards and are on the correct tile. There are also a couple special cards that you can play at any time for more powerful effects.
Of course, the stakes get higher as the game progresses, with more and more of the island falling into the ocean. If you and your buddies can get all four treasures and escape by helicopter, you’ll have earned victory—if not, well, enjoy the hospitality of Davy Jones’s locker until your next outing.
The iPad’s a great medium for board game adaptations, and Forbidden Island is no exception. I’ve played the tabletop version several times, and while I appreciate the high build quality of its construction and the tactile nature of its tile-flipping mechanic, it’s nice to be able to schlep the game around without having to worry about spilling plastic and cardboard pieces everywhere.
Still, there are plenty of board game adaptations for the iPad, so why pick this up instead of a tried-and-true classic like Risk or Boggle?
Cooperative: The Red Sox. SEAL Team Six. The A-Team. Together, people can accomplish more than they can on their own. That’s part of the reason I’ve developed a fondness for cooperative games, those that require you to work with your fellow players towards a shared goal, instead of antagonistic zero-sum games where there can be but a single winner.
Scalable: Originally, I was going to say that my only complaint with Forbidden Island is that some players might find it too easy—then I lost the match I was playing by the narrowest of margins. So far, a lot of the games I’ve played have been on the Normal setting; the game also offers one lower level, Novice, and two higher levels, Elite and Legendary. Each controls how much of a jam you’re in when the game starts. But don’t worry: Things always get worse.
Tense: Watching tiles get subsumed by waves has a way of making the heart quicken, especially if they happen to be right underneath your pawn. I’m not a math person, but there comes a point when every player starts trying to calculate exactly how likely it is that a crucial tile is going to start sinking in the next turn or two.
Specializing: Each player takes on a different adventurer role, including the engineer who can shore up two tiles for a single action, the messenger who can give cards to non-adjacent players, the pilot who can fly around the island, and more. The different special abilities provide a more puzzle-like experience to the game, as you try and figure out how to leverage them to your advantage. Plus, you’ll probably want to give them each a try.
Design: The developers at Button Mash have managed to fit all the relevant information onto the iPad’s screen without making it seem cramped or cluttered, and they’ve gone above and beyond by adding handy features that you can only really do in a virtual environment, such as the ability to pause and resume multiple games, and switch between pass-and-play and tabletop board layouts. (In pass-and-play, each person sees the board from the same orientation, whereas in tabletop mode you’re arranged around the board.) It’s a great example of designing to suit a particular medium.
Developer: Button Mash Games
Platform: iOS (iPad only)