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November 2012

Forbidden Island - mini review

Image ©Gamewright - all rights reserved - used as download permission given on their website.

At the weekend, I had the fun of playing a game with Nathan (nearly 6) and his Grandmother (somewhat older) which didn't end up with either a small boy tantrum, or me deliberately throwing the game. The game was Forbidden Island and I deliberately bought it because it is cooperative. You either all win, or all lose. The opponent is the game itself.

Nathan loved it, and caught on well despite it being promoted as suitable for 10 years +. That age is probably right for picking up and learning the game yourself, but if you're guided by an adult I think it's easily suitable for 5 year olds.

The premise of the game is simple; you are a team of adventurers who have travelled by helicopter to an island which is sinking into the ocean. You are there to recover four treasures which are hidden on the island and get away by calling the helicopter back for the whole team.

There isn't a game board as such, rather twenty-four sturdy and attractively designed double sided tiles that represent the different locations on the island. They have names like 'Phantom Rock', 'Fool's Landing' and 'Cliffs of Abandon'. One side is illustrated in full colour (representing the initial state of the location) and the other side is a shade of blue, representing flooding before it finally sinks into the ocean never to return. Some locations are marked as starting points for different player roles, and there are two marked for each treasure as a location they can be retrieved from by the players.

The pawns for each player are wooden, and the treasures moulded in plastic, and the game comes in a sturdy tin. The game also includes a set of cards which give each player a unique role (for example a pilot or diver), treasure cards, and the flood deck. Finally, there is a water meter that governs the rate of flooding.

Game play is simple - each player takes a role card to start. This gives them special abilities, for example the explorer can move and shore up parts of the island diagonally. The game is based around 2-4 players, and there are more roles available than the number of players.

The island is set up as a 4x4 grid, with a further two cards centred on each side. A number of flood cards are then drawn, and the relevant locations immediately flipped to flooded. This has no direct effect on them for play, but puts them one step away from disappearing.

Each player is dealt two treasure deck cards which are placed face up so that the other players can see them. There are treasure cards showing the items that you are after, cards with special effects (the sandbag card to sure up anything at anytime and the helicopter lift that allows a group of pawns to be moved from location to another at anytime, or for the game to be won) and the dangerous 'waters rise' card. This one is replaced and shuffled back into the deck if dealt at the start of the game.

Each turn, a player can take up to 3 actions. These include moving, shoring up an adjacent section of island (flipping from flooded to untouched), giving a treasure card to another player in the same location and capturing a treasure (by discarding 4 of the appropriate treasure cards at the right place). Players can also carry out their own special move if appropriate.

Once actions are completed, each player gets two treasure cards, against a maximum hand of five cards. If a waters rise card is drawn, the water meter increases one level. Initially, a normal game will be set so the flood level is 2, but this slowly goes up higher as the game progresses. The waters rise card also triggers the flood card discard pile being shuffled, then placed back on top of the flood deck, effectively intensifying the flooding locations. Pandemic players may recognise the clever game mechanic, and it should be no surprise that the games share the same author.

The final step of a player's turn is to draw the appropriate number of flood cards. The locations shown are immediately flipped to the blue side if untouched, or permanently removed if already flooded. If this happens to a location with a player, they can swim to an adjacent tile if it is a legal move, but if not then they drown and the game is lost.

Retrieving the treasure requires the player to get four cards showing the same treasure in their hand. There are five in total for each in the treasure deck, so if you discard more than one between the team then you would have to wait for the deck to refresh before finding that treasure. As you can only get each treasure in two locations, should these sink before you find it then the game is lost.

Once the treasures are retrieved, the players all need to get to Fool's Landing and then play a helicopter card to escape and win. This clearly means that Fool's Landing sinking is a bad thing to happen, as the game is lost.

Finally, the game can also be lost by the water meter raising as high as the skull and crossbones icon on its top.

In play, it feels quite tense when the flood cards are turned over and the waters rise. The limit that you can only pass cards one way in your own turn is also quite frustrating, in a good way, as you need to plan carefully. It kept Nathan's attention for the 40 or so minutes it took to play, and I suspect that a rematch would be under half an hour. It's great fun, and the mechanics and feel all combine for a lovely team game. I'd recommend this for 5 years to adult.

The game has a retail price of £19.99 but you can pick it up for £12.99 if you shop around places like Amazon.

Gamewright: http://www.gamewright.com/gamewright/index.php?section=games&page=game&show=245

Apple Maps

Apple Maps Crewe
The search returns ‘Odeon Crewe’, but not if you search for the Odeon!

I was deeply skeptical about Apple Maps after reading about the issues on the internet. However, the reports don't match with my experience of using it as a SatNav. I've done this three times so far, and it's taken me to the location by the shortest route, and without misdirection. Where I do find it weak is in the search engine side. For example, last night I put in "Odeon Cinema, Crewe" and it couldn't find it, but "Cinema Crewe" worked fine.

The vector tiling for the map sets is very effective for keeping a larger area within the navigation range and scaleable in comparison to Google Maps. This means you can still zoom in and out and track location when you have GPS but no cell connection.

The lack of effective public transport and pedestrian routing is disappointing. The turn-by-turn navigation works well.

Overall, as a product, it needs tweaking, but it's nowhere near as broken as some commentators have made out.