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Safe For Wife: Forbidden Island

Updated: Sep 19, 2019

Hi, I’m Brad Cummings I entered into the hobby in 2009. I had previously owned Settlers of Catan and had played Magic, Warhammer etc while growing up, but it was not until 2009 that I started collecting and playing a wide variety of boardgames.

I have been reading Unboxed reviews for the past few months, and expressed interest in contributing. The quality of reviews on this site is very high, and I hope that you enjoy this slight change of focus. Please let me know if there are ways that I can improve, I am always looking for advice.

The Safe For Wife Angle

I was married 10 months ago to my beautiful non-gamer wife. I have slowly introduced my hobby to her, and though not every game is a success, we have found several that we love to play together.

I have been writing reviews that look at games from the angle of how they will work with a non-gamer wife, and by association other non-gamers. Obviously, not every wife is the same, but I will attempt to review each game based on several aspects that I feel can make or break a game for a wife. These include: Theme, Length of Play, Components and Size, The Screw You Factor (Direct Conflict), and Rule Complexity.

Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island is a co-op game designed by Matt Leacock and published by Gamewright. It is clear by its complexity and design that it is aimed at a younger or more casual card. Is it “Safe For Wife?”

SFW Meter: 7/10.

Co-op games do not generally work with my wife. She feels (as well as my non-gamer family) that co-op games lack the excitement and competition that they feel games thrive on. Both Lord of the Rings and Pandemic bombed. But after a play or two of Forbidden Island it worked. Though I do not agree, I can understand her point of view and will explain why Forbidden Island worked where others did not.

Components and Size: 9/10.


  • 58 Playing cards (Flood deck, Player deck and Role cards)

  • 24 Island Tiles

  • 6 pawns

  • 4 treasure figurines

  • 1 water meter

  • 1 water level marker

In terms of sheer value, Forbidden Island excels. For around $12 you get tiles, player pawns, playing cards, and treasure markers (moulded out of soft and hard plastic) all contained in a decorated tin. There are no real complaints for a non-gamer wife here. It is has small storage space and minimal price, what is not to like? (I would mention that the lid of the tin can pop off occasionally allowing pieces to scatter, but this is not a problem if everything is stored properly on a shelf). One of the reasons Forbidden Island succeeded with my non-game wife where other co-op games failed is the board. Unlike Pandemic the board in this game is modular. Each time different needed tiles will be in new areas. As the game progresses different tiles from the board will sink and be lost forever. This type of board is simpler and really changed the way my wife viewed the game. The spread of diseases seemed somewhat abstract to her, but deciding whether or not to stop a tile that is directly underneath your feet from sinking seems more direct.

Length of Play: 10/10.

This is one area where Forbidden Island really shines. A game will usually take around 30 minutes. One of the things my wife disliked about co-op games it that you spend an hour playing only to throw your hands up and shout, “Everyone’s a Winner” or worse “Everyone’s a Loser.” With Forbidden Island, the co-op game does not need to be the main event. She is often willing to play Forbidden Island knowing that we will play something competitive afterwards.

The 30min length of Forbidden Island is perfect to play with those who are on the fence about co-op or who are new to this style of gameplay.

Theme: 7/10.

I have heard the theme for Forbidden Island described as a classic hollywood B adventure movie. I like this description, but, honestly, in Forbidden Island the theme seems fairly unimportant. The names of the locations and the shapes of the treasures add flavor but not much more.

The most important element of the theme is the island and the fact that it is sinking. The tile board is perfect at showing this, as towards the end of the game only a fraction of the island will remain. This element of theme is one that was appealing to my wife. It creates a high level of tension that we did not feel while playing Pandemic.

Direct Conflict or the Screw You Factor: 0/10.

Let’s be honest, in a co-op you are all playing against the board. In this pure co-op game there is no conflict between players. However, the high level of tension created by this game can fill the competitive void. You must work together as your footing literally disappears.

Conclusion: 8/10.

For a non-gamer wife or non-gaming family I would argue that Forbidden Island would be the best introduction into co-op gaming. In terms of fun, complexity, quality, and value, it cannot be matched.

As a gamer I enjoy this game. I actually recently traded Pandemic because I was only playing it solo and Forbidden Island was a better value. However, if I were to play a co-op at a game night I would vote for Ghost Stories or Shadows Over Camelot. For casual gamers and my wife this is the perfect fit.

My Two Cents

Thank you Brad for bringing a perspective to the blog that I don’t, finding games to play with “the wife” is a common gamer problem and I’m really glad you are willing and able to offer your point of view.

I do however however have one small thing to note. While the US can enjoy that $12 price point (which is approximately £6) the RRP of the game in the UK is actually £17 which is considerably more expensive. For a game with so much in common with Pandemic, I really can’t justify owning both.

Editorial Note: I now own both!

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