6 min read

How to play Forbidden Island Game Rules Guide for those who hate rulebooks

I hate the hassle of reading rulebooks and wish they could get straight to the point. I wrote this guide with the aim of helping you learn how to play Forbidden Island quickly.
If you are looking for a game overview of Forbidden Island, click here to get a view of the gameplay, game mechanics, what makes it fun and videos of the game.

Players: 2 to 4 | Game duration from: 20 mins | Game Complexity: EASY

What is the goal of Forbidden Island?

Forbidden Island rules

Forbidden Island is a 2-4 player cooperative game where you work together to keep the islands from sinking and buy enough time to capture its 4 treasures. Once captured, you escape to Fool’s Landing with your treasures.

Forbidden Island Game Setup 

How to create Forbidden Island?

  • Shuffle 24 Island tiles and randomly place face-up into a grid as show below:
Forbidden Island Grid
Forbidden Island Grid

Place treasures on Forbidden Island

  • Place the 4 treasures – Earth Stone, Statue of the Wind, Crystal of Fire and Ocean’s Chalice around the island
  • Locate the 8 tiles that allow you to claim the treasures
  • Each treasure can be claimed via 1 of the 2 tiles represented by the symbol in the corner
Forbidden Island Treasures
Forbidden Island Treasures and Tiles

Divide Flood, Treasure and Adventurer Cards

  • Separate Flood deck, Treasure deck, and Adventurer cards
Forbidden Island Cards
Forbidden Island Cards

Sink the Island

  • Shuffle the flood deck and place it down on one side of island
  • Draw top 6 cards (1 at a time)
  • Place face-up next to Flood deck to form Flood Discard Pile
  • For each card drawn, flip corresponding tile to “FLOODED” side
Forbidden island rules - flooded tile
Flooded tiles example

Place Adventurers on island

  • Shuffle 6 Adventurer cards and randomly deal 1 to each player
  • Each will take a role of an adventurer with special powers
  • Read aloud your role and powers so that everyone knows your strengths
  • You need to cooperate and use your teammate’s strengths to win
  • Take a pawn matching color of your Adventurer and place it on the corresponding Island tile (has a matching pawn icon in the lower right)
Forbidden Island 2
  • Note: You can start on a flooded tile

Hand out Treasure Deck cards

  • Shuffle the Treasure deck and deal 2 cards to each player
  • Place cards face up in front of you so that everyone can see them
  • If you get a Waters Rise! card, take a replacement card, and shuffle the Waters Rise! card back into the Treasure deck

Set Water Level

  • Place the Water level marker on the left side of the Water meter
  • Set to appropriate starting difficulty level (according to the difficulty you want to play)
Forbidden Island 3

Step-by-step How to Play Forbidden Island Game Rules

How to play Forbidden Island. The game starts with a starting player being chosen at random. In each round, each player will do the following: Take up to 3 actions, Draw 2 Treasure Deck cards and Draw Flood cards equal to water level.

On your turn, take up to 3 actions

You can take up to 3 actions. Teammates can advise you. Select a combination of any of the following actions: Move, Shore up, Give a Treasure Card or Capture a Treasure.

Move Action

How to play Forbidden Island

Move your pawn to an adjacent Island tile: up, down, left, or right, but never diagonally move onto a flooded tile, but may not move onto (or over) the space of a missing tile.
Explorer can move diagonally.
Pilot can move to any tile once per turn for 1 action.
Navigator can move other players up to 2 adjacent tiles per action.
Diver can move through 1 or more adjacent missing or flooded tiles for 1 action.

Shore Up Action

Learn how to play Forbidden Island - Shore up

Shore up (turn over to non-flooded side) any adjacent Island tile or Island tile your pawn is on.
Engineer may shore up 2 tiles for 1 action.
Explorer can shore up diagonal tiles.

Give a Treasure Card Action

Forbidden Island 1

Give 1 or more of your Treasure cards to another player if both of you are on the same tile. Note Hand Limit of 5 cards for each player. Costs 1 action per card. Special Action cards may not be given away.
Messenger may give cards without having to be on the same tile

Capture a Treasure Action

Forbidden Island 2

For 1 action, capture treasure by discarding 4 matching Treasure cards from your hand if your pawn is on either corresponding island tile.

Draw 2 Treasure Deck Cards Action

Draw 2 cards from Treasure deck one at a time and add to hand. If Waters Rise! card is drawn, do not add to hand, follow instructions and discard to Treasure discard pile.

Treasure Cards
Aim is to collect 4 of the same Treasure card to capture the corresponding Treasure

Forbidden Island 3

Special Action Cards
2 types of Special Action cards: Helicopter Lifts and Sandbags
The cards will help you during the game. Special action cards do not require an action. Discard to Treasure discard pile when played.
You may use the Special Action card if you are forced to discard.
Forbidden Island 4

Water Rise! Cards
When drawn, immediately do the following: Move Water Level marker up the next tick mark. Take all cards from Flood discard pile, shuffle and place face down on top of Flood draw pile. Discard Water Rise! card to Treasure discard pile
Forbidden Island 5Water Rise! card
• If you draw a Waters Rise! card, you do not get a replacement card.
• If you draw 2 Waters Rise! cards in a row, shuffle the Flood discard pile only once but
move the Water Level marker up 2 tick marks
• If you draw a Waters Rise! card but there are no cards in the Flood discard pile, just move
the Water Level marker up 1 tick mark
When treasure deck runs out, shuffle discard pile and form new deck.

Hand Limit
Only allowed 5 cards in your hand (including Treasure and Special Action cards) If you have more, immediately chooose and discard excess to discard pile. You may use Special Action card before discarding it

Draw Flood Cards

Draw number of Flood cards equal to current Water Meter Level.
Draw cards 1 at a time and place onto Flood discard pile.
For each card drawn: If matching Island tile is unflooded, flip to flooded side. If matching Island tile is flooded, it SINKS. Remove it and matching Flood card from the game. You cannot play a Sandbag card to save a flooded tile once you’ve revealed matching Flood card.

Pawns on Flooded Tiles
Tile is flipped over and the pawn is returned to tile. If pawn is on a tile that is removed, it has to move to ADJACENT TILE. If there is no adjacent tile to move, it sinks and everyone loses.
Diver may swim to nearest tile, Explorer may swim diagonally and Pilot may fly to any tile. When Flood Pile runs out, Shuffle Flood discard pile and form new pile.

Winning Forbidden Island Game

Collect all 4 treasures and go to Fool’s Landing. Everyone must move to Fool’s Landing. 1 player must discard a Helicopter Lift card for the WIN.

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