Forbidden Island (Rules and How to Play)

In these Forbidden Island rules, you’ll learn how to become an Adventurer visiting Forbidden Island determined to capture all 4 of the Island’s Sacred Treasures: The Crystal of Fire, The Statue of the Wind, The Ocean’s Chalice, and The Earth Stone.

However, upon the Adventurer’s arrival, the island starts to sink as a defense mechanism to protect the treasures from being taken! Players need to work closely together to help each other collect the treasures and escape the island before it sinks!

Forbidden Island, by Gamewright games, was released in 2010 and has won numerous awards for its cooperative, family-friendly, and strategic gameplay. Due to its popularity, Gamewright has also released two additional games in this “Forbidden” series which are mentioned below!

Can you and your fellow Adventurers obtain all of the Sacred Treasures in time? Or will the Island pull you under with it?

Continue reading below to learn how to play Forbidden Island!

What is Forbidden Island?

Forbidden Island Board Game Info Image

Forbidden Island is a strategic adventure game that requires in-depth cooperation between players. Find all 4 Sacred Treasures and escape before the island starts to sink necessary Island tiles that are needed to complete the game.

  • Number of players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Difficulty: Easy-Medium
  • Length of play:  30min
  • Category: Cooperative, Strategy, Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Grid, Set Collection, Modular, Variable Player Powers
  • Similar to: Pandemic, Clank!, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Spirit Island, Battleship
  • Main Objective: Obtain all 4 Sacred Treasures and escape the Island before it sinks!
  • Why We Love It: We love both the imperative cooperation between players as well as the unpredictability of how each individual game will be played due to the random placement of tiles and the suspense of which Flood cards will be drawn.

What You Will Need to Play Forbidden Island

Everything you need to play Forbidden Island can be found in the box:

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You will find the following components inside the game box:

  • 58 Cards which include:
  • 5 of each 4 Treasure cards
  • 3 Waters Rise! cards
  • 3 Helicopter Lift cards
  • 2 Sandbag cards
  • 24 Flood cards
  • 6 Adventurer cards
  • 24 Double-sided Island tiles
  • 6 Wooden pawns
  • 4 Treasure Figurines:
  • The Earth Stone
  • The Statue of the Wind
  • The Crystal of Fire
  • The Ocean’s Chalice
  • 1 Water Meter
  • 1 Water Level marker

Forbidden Island Rules

Game Setup

Follow these simple setup instructions before starting the game:

  1. Create the Island: Shuffle all of the Island tiles. First, take 16 of these tiles and place them face up while creating a 4×4 square. Leave some space between every tile, so they are not touching (this will help you flip them over easily).

Then, take the remaining 8 tiles and place 2 next to each of the 2 middle tiles on each side of the square you created.

  1. Place the Sacred Treasures: Take the 4 Sacred Treasure figurines and display them nearby.
  2. Sort Cards: Remove all of the cards out of the box and sort them into 3 separate decks.

You will have 3 decks in total: Flood deck (blue), Treasure deck (orange), and Adventurer cards (multi-colored).

  1. Sinking the Island: Pick up the Flood deck and shuffle it. Place the deck face down and draw the top 6 cards, 1 at a time, placing each card into a discard pile next to the Flood deck.

Each of these cards will show an Island tile that needs to be flipped over to their “flooded” side (shaded in blue). Continue until all 6 Flood cards have been revealed and their matching tiles have been flipped.

  1. Assign Adventurer Roles: Shuffle the Adventurer deck and randomly provide 1 card to each player. Each player will now take turns reading aloud their special abilities on their cards for all players to hear.

Then, each player takes a colored pawn that matches the color of their Adventurer card and looks for their starting tile on the Island. This is represented by a symbol of their colored pawn on the bottom right of that Island tile.

NOTE: If your starting tile is flooded, you can still start your turn there!

  1. Deal Treasure Cards: Shuffle the Treasure deck and provide players with 2 cards each. Players will keep these cards face up in front of them so all players can see.

At this time, if a Waters Rise! card gets dealt to a player instead of a Treasure card, provide that player a new Treasure card and shuffle the Waters Rise card back into the Treasure deck.

Be sure to leave a small area next to the Treasure deck for discards.

  1. Water Meter: Take the Water Level marker and place it on the left side of the Water Meter on the difficulty you would like to play with.

If this is your first time playing the game, starting on the Novice level is highly suggested.

Water Level Image

How to Play Forbidden Island

During each player’s turn, they must perform the following 3 steps in order:

  1. Take up to 3 of the following Actions:

Move: Cost: 1 Action per move. 

You may move your pawn 1 adjacent tile per action you spend (diagonal tiles are not considered adjacent).

You can move up to 3 times in a turn, but this will use up all of your actions. Players can move onto a flooded tile but cannot move through or land on any missing tile spaces.

Shore Up: Cost: 1 Action per tile flipped. 

Flip any adjacent flooded tile over to their original non-flooded side.

Give a Treasure Card:  Cost: 1 Action per card given. 

Give one of your Treasure cards to another player only if they are on the same Island tile as you. You cannot give another player a Special Action card.

Capture a Sacred Treasure: Cost: 1 Action per Treasure captured. 

To capture one of the Sacred Treasures, you must land your pawn on an Island tile that shows one of the Sacred Treasures on the bottom left of that tile. Each Sacred Treasure has 2 Island tiles you can choose from to land on.

You must have 4 matching Treasure cards of the specific Treasure you are trying to capture. Discard the 4 matching Treasure cards to the Treasure card discard pile and pick up that Sacred Treasure figurine!

NOTE: You can still capture a Sacred Treasure from a flooded tile!

Treasures Image
  1. Draw 2 cards from the Treasure deck:

Draw 2 Treasure cards and place them face up in front of you. At any point during the game, if you have more than 5 cards in your possession, you must immediately discard down to the hand limit. 

If you decide to discard a Special Action card, you may utilize it’s powers before discarding it, even if it isn’t your turn!

If the Treasure deck runs out, shuffle the discard pile and create a new deck to draw from.

If a player draws a Waters Rise! card from the Treasure Deck, immediately shuffle the Flood deck’s discard pile and put them face down on top of the Flood deck.

Raise the Flood marker up one notch and discard the Waters Rise! card into the Treasure deck’s discard pile.

If there are no cards available in the Flood card’s, discard pile when a Waters Rise! card is drawn; simply just move the Flood Marker up one notch on the Water Meter.

  1. Draw Flood cards:

Draw Flood cards equal to the number listed on the current Water Level. Draw and reveal 1 Flood card at a time and flip that matching Island tile over to it’s flooded side.

If this tile has already been flooded, remove it from the game along with the Flood card for that tile. They can no longer be used for the rest of the game!

Adventurer Abilities

As stated previously, each Adventurer is provided with a unique special ability. These abilities will allow Adventurers to perform actions that would normally not be allowed.

Here is a list of the different Adventurers and what their special abilities are:

  • Explorer: The Explorer may move onto any tile that is diagonal from the tile they are currently positioned on. They may also Shore Up diagonal tiles, opposed to only adjacent ones.
  • Pilot: Once per turn, the Pilot can spend 1 action to move onto any existing tile on the Island.
  • Navigator: The Navigator can spend an action to move any other player 2 adjacent tiles.
  • Diver: The Diver may use an action to swim through one or more adjacent missing and/or flooded tiles.
  • Engineer:  Once per action, the Engineer can Shore Up 2 adjacent tiles instead of only 1.
  • Messenger: The Messenger can give Treasure cards to other players without being on the same tile as them. The Messenger must spend 1 action per card delivered.

Special Action Cards

In the Treasure deck, you will come across 2 types of Special Action cards. These cards do not require an action to be spent and can be used at any time, even on another player’s turn:

Helicopter Lift:  Allows you to move onto any tile on the Island – or – Helps you win the game by escaping Fool’s Landing. (3 cards available in the deck)

Sandbags: Allows you to flip over 1 flooded Island tile to their non-flooded side. (2 cards available in the deck)

Once these cards are used, they are discarded to the Treasure deck’s discard pile.

NOTE: You cannot use the Sandbags to save a flooded tile from sinking once you reveal its matching Flood card. 

How to Win the Game

When players collect all 4 Sacred Treasures, each Adventurer must move their pawn onto the Fool’s Landing tile. Once everyone has arrived, one player must discard a Helicopter Lift card to successfully escape Forbidden Island!

However, there are some scenarios that will cause you to immediately lose the game:

  • If both of the Sacred Treasure Island tiles sink prior to obtaining that specific treasure.
  • If the Water Level reaches the red skull.
  • If the Fool’s Landing tile is removed from the game.
  • If an Adventurer is on an Island tile that sinks and has no where adjacent to swim to and does not have a special ability to assist them.

Video Tutorial for Forbidden Island

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does Forbidden Island take to play?

While each game is expected to last approximately 30 minutes, there will be times the game will end sooner due to certain losing conditions.

Can Forbidden Island be played solo?

Forbidden Island is only meant for 2-4 players. Since the game is heavily driven on cooperation between players, playing solo would be nearly impossible!

Is Forbidden Island easy to play?

Yes, but each game can be unpredictable, which makes it quite challenging! Island tiles will be removed and flooded constantly, so players will need to plan ahead for worst-case scenarios before Flood cards are drawn!

Similar Games to Forbidden Island

Gamewright has released two game sequels to Forbidden Island: Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky.

Both games are very similar to Forbidden Island in regards to gaming mechanics and the need for strong cooperation between players, but each game adds their own unique elements differing themselves from the original!

And, if you like to explore more games similar to Forbidden Island, be sure to check our guide for Spirit Island rules.

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