I was looking for a simple game to play with my kids when I discovered Forbidden Island. I bought the game and after the kiddos were in bed I read the rules. They were clear and easy to understand, but I had a hard time seeing how they came together as an enjoyable game. It's a cooperative game so I figured I could run two characters and play it solo and find out.
The game board is made up of 24 tiles which represent all the places on the island. As you play you draw cards from a deck to see which tiles start to sink, if they sink twice they are lost forever at the bottom of the sea. Most of the tiles this isn't a big deal, the holes will make travel difficult, but don't effect gameplay in obvious ways. Eight tiles are special places where you can collect treasures from, two tiles for each piece of treasure. If both tiles for a piece of treasure sink away before you collect the treasure, you lose the game. There's also a helicopter landing pad which all players need to get to after collecting all four pieces of treasure to win the game.
You aren't racing against random draws from the deck, collecting treasures before the important locations slip away. You have the option to shore up and restore the tiles the first time they are drawn from the deck. What you end up with is a balancing act where you're keeping the island afloat until you gather all the treasure.
Getting the treasure means drawing cards from a second deck. This deck has cards for each of the treasure types, a couple special actions, and waters rise cards. You need one player to gather four cards for one treasure, bring them to one of the tiles for that treasure, and finally advance toward victory. The clock is ticking though, at the end of every player's turn you need to sink some island tiles. If you're unlucky enough to draw the waters rise card, then you start having to sink more island tiles each turn which makes the clock start ticking faster.
That increasing speed time mechanic is what I think makes this game shine. It starts out easy enough, you can shore up sunk tiles as fast as they form. No big deal, then you start getting a bunch of treasure cards so you need to run around the island trading cards to get a set of four. While you're crossing the island you aren't fixing things and tiles start to slip away. Then you cross the island again to turn in the cards for the treasure and more island is gone. Before too long all that's left are these thin trails between the important locations, everything else is fading away.
That's when you realize that the timer isn't speeding only when the water's rise cards come up, it's speeding up every time an tile sinks. There's less cards in that deck, so everything comes around that much faster. Now you've got a better strategy so you play again, except protecting all of the island without getting treasures gets just as hectic since eventually the waters rise cards will still get you. So now you've figured out how you need to balance your actions in the game, except this time...
It's a game that's deceptively simple, strategies seem so easy until the randomization in the card decks turn that plan on it's head. It's quick and easy to play again so it's a lot of fun to try out different approaches.
This simplicity has made it a real winner in my house since my young kids can grasp the mechanics. The tiles are big enough that they can explore the island with their favorite action figure, and the cards have very little text so they don't need to read a lot to play. Games are generally over before their attention span runs out, so they haven't gotten bored and abandoned a game.
For playing with young kids this is a great game. Simple enough that they can participate, but interesting enough that adults won't be eager for it to end.
If you're just playing with adults, I don't recommend it quite as highly. It's still a fun game and you can't go wrong with it on your shelf, but after the novelty has worn off the replay value diminishes. The randomized cards and tiles will make each game unique, but after a bunch of plays they'll start to feel rather samey. For a quick game or two with my wife at the end of the day, its a great choice. If the kids are at grandma's and we've got all after noon to fill, I would go for a game with more substance to it.