Before I start, Disclaimers:
My perspective of games is quite specific to how I am as a gamer (obviously). I'm a:
- ~65% Timmy: The kinda gamer who wants an experience. In other words, I want to have an awesome journey through the game and be able to tell a story.
- ~35% Johnny: The kinda gamer who uses games as a form of expression. In other words, I like trying to innovate/use alternative/quirky strategies and test to see if they work.
=Summed up, I like to innovate my fun and my experience. I'm not very worried about winning or losing, but am more worried about crafting a unique journey through the game. The end objective of winning is still on the books though, but it's not the single most important part of the game for me.
- On the aesthetics scale, I see myself as a 80/20 vorthos/melvin. In other words, I highly value art, theme, immersion and story, and don't put as much stock into mechanics of the game.
Anyways, onwards to Forbidden Island:
- It's a deceptively simple game
↳it's basically the pandemic engine, but less fiddly (no disease cubes!) and simpler to play. That is definitely a plus.
↳The simpleness of the individual roles means that each player knows what they should be responsible for.
↳quite easy to teach as well, unlike, for example, forbidden stars.
↳can even become 'semi-competitive', in that one player can try to capture all the relics and leave the others behind. the game doesn't tell you that that player won, but let's face it - that guy won!
↳even though it doesn't look it, there are actually quite a lot of things that the individual players can do in the game. And not everything is as simple as it looks. One can sandbag to prevent flooding or simply ignore it and hope for the best; one can try to trade or try to deal with another problem elsewhere!
- Tense gameplay
↳everything that happens in the game is kinda bad for the players. Some worse than others, but there is a certain kind of good tension where when the flooding phase comes, it's quite a reveal.
↳a lot of back-and-forth in terms of figuring out what the best thing to do would be (or at least with people who can't stand the thought of losing).
↳The hallmark of a good co-op game.
- Solid Components
↳I've seen forbidden desert, and I think the relics in forbidden island are actually cooler than the forbidden desert.
↳Very chunky relics; I've been playing with them as toys with my 2 year old for a while, and they're still all undamaged.
- alpha player syndrome
↳basically, if there is one player who's played it more often, thinks s/he knows the game best, or just has a louder personality, that can lead to one person dominating the game.
↳We fix this by not inviting those kinda players back, but you know, its not an in-game fix.
↳there is nothing in the core game that alleviates this whatsoever. Moreover, since it is a deceptively simple game, it becomes even easier for a loud person to just 'point out the obvious' instead of actually cooperating and trying to puzzle solve.
- perhaps too simple?
↳after the first time i've played it, it wasn't very challenging. But even with the amping up of the difficulty, its tricky, sure, but it sure isn't ultra-tough to win.
↳then again, when my kids turn say 5 or 6, it might be time to whip it out again!
- sometimes, the cards stack
↳like normal pandemic, the cards stack, and there are some scenarios that I don't think are winnable.
↳it's like in solitaire, when your 2 of spades is stacked on top of the ace, just more convoluted.
- the pawns
↳yes, I'm a power gamer, and i like the visceral feel and look of a game like forbidden stars and blood rage. And these pawns leave a lot to be desired. In fact, my white pawn looks more grey than anything, so i had to swap it out for my white pawn from pandemic legacy
↳I've also recently gotten a set of civilian minis from Elheim, and they're replacing the pawns from the game. it helps a lot!
- the packaging
↳this is a very small niggle, but metal boxes don't stack well with anything else.
- the theme
↳unfortunately, the art is mostly good, not great, but the role cards are a pretty big letdown. why do we get an image of a symbol and not say of a pilot? it'd make the game more personable, and less mechanical. In pandemic, it sort of feels like the players are in a coordination centre trying to send orders out, whereas here, it doesn't have the same feel. yet in pandemic we get a dossier with an image, and here we don't.
↳Also, I didn't completely get the theme of having cards in hand that cashes in the relics. I just made up that they are some sort of code that unlocks the doors of the temples, but that's kinda pushing it.
↳it has the start of a bad pub joke: "a pilot, a messenger and an explorer walk into the pub..." It's not really all that bad, but they really should have names!
...and the ugly
- a letdown win/on rails at the end
↳so you know that critical moment in pandemic, when you've cured a number of diseases, and you're basically counting down the turns to win, 'cuz you already know what cities are going to come up and everything's all down pat? it's like that here too. There comes a point when a player has all the cards needed to win, and most the relics, and it's literally just going through the motions until the players win. That is a MAJOR issue I have with the game.
↳It wouldn't be such a huge problem if it doesn't happen all the time, except it happens in a surprising number of times.
↳another issue I have with it is that the players are on rails at the end. In other words, they are set on a defined 'best choice' path that if they deviate from it, they won't win, but if they stick to it, they most definitely will win, so therefore its silly not to stick to it. robbing players of perceived meaningful agency in a game is not a good thing, especially at the end. this will make them feel like they didn't actually achieve the victory when in fact they should.
Overall, I think its a good game to have. I don't really whip it out for any reason beyond showing it to new board gamers or probably for my kids when they get older. It doesn't really hit on all cylinders for me; the theme is a bit too abstracted, the mechanics are too prominent and it's not as intense as other co-ops i've enjoyed.
I think if one is looking for an introduction to co-op games, you can't go wrong here. If you're looking for something more intense/difficult, I'd suggest looking elsewhere, possibly at the original pandemic (it'd also work as an intro to co-op games, but is a lot fiddlier).