It’s easy to see Forbidden Island as a cheap cash-in. After all, if you read through the instructions the first thing to pop into your mind should be Pandemic. Which would pop into your mind anyway as the author of this game is Matt Leacock, the creator of said anti-virus co-op board game.
Forbidden Island blatantly uses the same mechanics and that initially makes it a bit hard to swallow. Instead of infected cities you now have parts of an island giving way to the sea as you and your fellow players scramble across it in order to retrieve four cur-… I mean four treasures by discarding four similar coloured city car-… I mean treasure cards while being at a research sta-… I mean treasure site.
It really is scathing when you put it like that, but it also misses the point. There are gazillions of games out there using the rather successful auctioning mechanic, why wouldn’t a single author be allowed then to use a successful formula he devised and streamline it a bit. Because that’s what Forbidden Island does with the Pandemic source material.
There is no game board with cities to keep into account, it is instead created randomly from tiles. And while faffing about with the virus cubes was all nice and dandy, Forbidden Island replaces those with tiles featuring three states: good, flooded and gone. That’s about it. There’s less materials to keep track of and the flow of the game is thus a bit lighter than you might be used to in Pandemic. That’s not to say the game is simple to the point of it being too obvious. Especially the roles of each player can cause a few rule conundrums, but they don’t ruin the game’s feel.
The one thing I have against the game, is that it feels a bit silly to collect the treasures. While the cures seemed to be a correct abstraction of Pandemic’s goals, the treasures are a weird non-event for Forbidden Island in comparison. They kind of keep out of the game entirely and don’t feature within the game’s board or something like that; they’re pretty much four elaborately sculpted McGuffins. It’s basically a result of each treasure having two tiles it can be claimed from, otherwise they could have been placed on the tiles. It makes the treasures kind of intangible, which is probably meant to be countered by the prominent sculpts they received.
In the end it’s a useless nitpick. The game itself is far too much fun, and like in Pandemic you can spend quite some time finding a proper sequence of actions only to find it wrecked when the water rises at exactly the wrong moment and swallows parts of the island.
It is an excellent game then with a solid feel thanks to the materials and a fast turnover. You won’t be waiting long in this game and it certainly won’t take hours to complete (the manual suggests half an hour). Forbidden Island is thus a fast-paced Pandemic that swaps its epidemic mechanic for a shrinking playing field. An excellent evolution of the formula and a great game to introduce to casual board game players.