By Jeff Dougan
This week we’ll look at two games by the same designer and sometimes thought of as being sibling games. The overall gameplay is so similar that, once you know one of these games, learning the other is a matter of looking for the variations. The “little brother” game is Forbidden Island; its “big brother” is Pandemic, both designed by Matt Leacock. Both games are multiple-award winners, too.
- Not in the Urbana Public Library collection
- Plays 2-4
- Publisher’s suggested ages: 10+ (It’s easily learned by younger players; see notes below.)
- Purchasable at any of the locations previously recommended. Current suggested retail price $17.95.
- In the Urbana Public Library collection
- Plays 2-4
- Publisher’s suggested ages: 10+
- Purchasable at any of the locations previously recommended. Current suggested retail price $34.99.
Forbidden Island and Pandemic are both part of a genre of hobby games known as “cooperative games,” in which the players either all win together or all lose. A different way of phrasing this is that all the players are playing against the game, an effort that will require the players to work together.
As cooperative games, you’d naturally expect cooperation to be high on the list of skills these games can encourage, and it is. They also are excellent at helping to develop the skills of problem solving, logical/strategic thinking, and balancing risks and rewards.
The “story” of Forbidden Island is that the players represent adventurers who are trying to salvage four treasures from an island before it sinks around them. During a turn, a player can take a limited number of actions, chosen from the following:
- Move around the island
- “Shore up” one nearby part of the island that is already beginning to sink
- Give resources to another player in the same space, or
- Trade in a matching set to recover one of the treasures.
To help them in this endeavor, each player will have a unique ability that makes it easier for them to perform one of the tasks above. For example, some players may be able to move in ways not accessible to the other players, or have an easier time moving cards to another player’s hand.
After a player has moved, the island continues to sink. At various points in the game, randomly determined as the treasure cards are drawn, the waters will begin to come onto the island faster and may wash away parts of the island that are already underwater. Should the players recover all four treasures, they then need to return to the helicopter landing site and use a particular card to escape the island. If, at any point during the game, it becomes impossible to recover one of the treasures, if the helicopter landing site is washed away, or if one of the players is on a washed away part of the island and can’t escape, all the players lose.
In Forbidden Island, a player’s cards are always on the table in front of them, so that all the players can discuss possible courses of action and what might happen. This really helps when trying to teach a new player, especially a younger new player, about how the game works and the need to work together. It can also allow a more experienced player to “prompt” somebody if it’s OK to use a card out of turn to help everybody else.
In Pandemic, the “story” of the game is trying to save the world from several simultaneous outbreaks of disease-causing viruses. The fundamental gameplay is similar, although the board is larger and therefore harder to move around, there are one or two additional options for how to spend one’s turn, and (most importantly) the cards a player holds are not placed face-up in front of them. Further, players are only allowed to talk about their cards in general terms; they could say that they could contribute to fighting the blue disease, but not that they have three blue cards, for example. When combined with rules for the diseases spreading on their own, it makes the game more challenging, and, therefore, not as suitable for playing with younger players.
Although both games have suggested ages from their publishers of 10 years and older, I’ve got direct experience that Forbidden Island is pretty easily learned by younger players, if not totally mastered. The Grasshopper really likes the game and can mostly run his own turns. (I’ll sometimes ask him why he did something or suggest that he take actions in a slightly different order.) Forbidden Island normally plays pretty easily in half an hour or so, and during the very hot last part of the summer, we would play at least twice a day and sometime as many as four times.
The gameplay in Pandemic is more strategic, and it’s my opinion that the Grasshopper isn’t ready to handle it yet. From when I’ve gotten to play Pandemic with other adults, it tends to clock in around an hour or an hour and 15 minutes.
Check it out
I mentioned in my first column, the Urbana Free Library has a monthly game event on the second Saturday of the month. This month’s is tomorrow, Sept. 10. They will block off the glassed-in area next to the new books from 2 to 6 p.m., with the entirety of the collection brought down along with whatever else people bring to play.
I’ll have my copy of Forbidden Island with me; the other games I’ve written about so far are already part of the library’s collection.
Almost everybody there is happy to help teach things to new players. Come join us!
Jeff Dougan is a scientist-turned-teacher-turned-full-time dad to the Grasshopper, 5, and the Munchkin, 15 months. A lifelong gamer, he’s always willing to teach a new game to anybody, and equally willing to learn a new game almost anytime.