Forbidden Island: The game everyone everywhere must own. Now.

Run, run, RUN to your Barnes and Noble at once and buy the too-good-to-be-true game Forbidden Island before somebody wakes up and realizes what they’ve done.

There is no reason not to buy this game. Here are some major arguments for getting off your couch now and springing into action:

  1. It’s fun. Well duh. No game worth my recommendation would be anything else. More on this in a moment.
  2. It’s cheap. Fifteen bucks. $15. For a game with this many pretty, pretty components, a less-than-30 price tag is unheard of. Outrageous. It’s worthy of full-on, used-car-commercial promotion: “Low low low prices! How do we do it? I don’t know — it’s just crazy! No wonder they call me Crazy Vinnie!” From the sturdy cardboard cards to the amazing art to the miniatures of priceless artifacts, it’s just astounding how many awesome goodies made it into this tin.

    Go down the contents list: Four fancy "artifact" playing pieces, beautiful and sturdy cardboard tiles, wooden pawns, scads of cards and a nifty sliding-counter tool that measures rising flood waters. Oh, and joy -- that just doesn't show up on film.

  3. It’s easy to find. Every now and again Target surprises me by adding an unusual or hard-to-find game of quality to its wares, but that feels rarer and rarer these days as it descends into a soulless purgatory of Whack-a-Mole rip-offs and creaky Monopoly reskins. Usually, a game of this caliber would have to come from a specialty game store, which are hard enough to find as it is. But Barnes and Noble seems to have put the pedal to the metal on fine gaming recently. Their revamped Games section also carry such gamer’s games as Agricola, Dominion, and Settlers of Catan (about time this stealthy juggernaut reached the shores of mainstream stores).
  4. It’s co-operative. So many games pit me versus you, and that’s fine. But it’s a real gem to find a game that lets everybody in the family work together to defeat the game itself. We dither and dicker and barter about who will do what as tension mounts and the game races to defeat us. This means all ages can play, from my 6 to my 10 to us adults. A rare bird.
  5. It’s easy to learn and quick to play. For some people, those two criteria are deal breakers if unmet, and I’m happy to put to ease the minds of those reluctant gamers who look at rows of pretty components and have visions of a 12-hour Risk marathon. This is nothing of the sort. The rulebook is particularly well-written for getting a game up and running on the fly.

These are reasons enough to buy it. You have my permission to stop reading if you, as I assume, are so filled with the Gaming Spirit you must leap to your feet and flee to B&N. If your knees are a bit sore, or you need to finish your morning coffee, I give you leave to take another minute to contemplate the beauty of the gameplay.

You and your team of explorers have touched down on a mysterious island on the hunt for artifacts from an ancient civilization. But the moment you touch down, an ancient curse causes the island to begin sinking. Can you find the four artifacts and escape on the helicopter before the island swallows you all? Can you?

Early in the game, and already we're missing chunks of island.

The actions you can take on each turn are simple: Move. Give a card to another player. Claim an artifact. “Shore up” one of the island pieces (when a tile begins to sink, you flip it over to reveal a washed-out image; this means that a tile is starting to sink. But you can still keep it from sliding into the abyss, if you are swift!).

After your movements you draw cards that help you collect treasure — but which also might trigger the dreaded “Water Levels Rise” action, wherein the island sinks even further.

Later still in the game, and it's starting to feel a little moist around our ankles.

My kids actually shake with anticipation at this point, as the island creeps closer and closer to swamping us. As we scour the island for treasure cards, we shore up crucial pieces of land to keep them from disappearing. The game can beat you two ways: if the right kind of tiles disappear (the tiles where you can claim an artifact), or if the helicopter pad sinks. As these two types of tiles become imperiled, everyone begins to get antsy.

“We’ve got to save the Temple of the Moon!”

“But I need to give you my treasure card so you can claim the chalice!”

“I know, but the waters are due to rise, and if we lose the temple, the game is over!”

“Maybe we can give the chalice cards to someone else so they can claim it before your turn!”

“No time, I’ll never make it over there! We’ve got to take our chances that the Palace of Tides won’t sink before my turn.”


And so on. But when you win — and it’s been about 50-50 so far when we play — the table breathes a sigh of relief as you board the helicopter with your salvaged booty and take flight.

For $15? That’s more than a great purchase. It’s a required purchase. I require you. Go. Now.

Oldest Boy celebrates our victory by re-enacting our helicopter escape from the island. Note the three upside-down tiles in front of the pink-robed girl, representing the last soggy patches of land on the isle; this one was a nail biter.

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