The step-by-step rules for how to play Forbidden Island board game. Learning how to play Forbidden Island is easy and it is something the whole family can do. The cooperative adventure title was published by Gamewright and released in 2010. As far as co-op board games go, Forbidden Island is a very popular title in the lightweight space. It is about being on a clock and juggling the island flooding while trying to rescue the treasure. Games are quick at around a half-hour and can be played with 2 – 4 players. This is our step-by-step guide on how to play Forbidden Island.

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Forbidden Island was the secluded retreat of an ancient mystical empire known as the Archeans. Mythological lore states that this empire had the ability to control the planet’s four elements – fire, wind, water and earth – through sacred treasures. Charged with protecting these relics, the Archeans hid the treasures and rigged the island to sink upon invasion. Unphased, you and your team want to do the impossible and capture those treasures.

The object of Forbidden Island is for you and your team to rescue the secret treasures of the island and escape. This can only be done by working together and strategically juggling your impending doom.


Time Needed: Approximately 30 Minutes

This is a step by step guide for how to play Forbidden Island the popular co-op adventure board game. Additional notions and special rules can be found below the list. These will be referenced for your convenience.

1. SETUP | Create The Forbidden Island
There are 24 different location tiles. Shuffle those and form the game board. Create a 4×4 grid in the middle then take the remaining 8 and put 2 up against the middle tiles on each of the 4 sides. This will form a “+”.

2. SETUP | Place The Treasures
It is now time to discover the 4x unique treasures in this how to play Forbidden Island adventure, these are what you must capture to win. Take these and place them in the four corners of the board. The exact location of each doesn’t matter. This is mainly for show, the tiles on the board that have that treasure’s symbol are how you actually get to them.

3. SETUP | Divide The Cards
There are 3x different types of cards that will be used – (1) flood, (2) treasure and (3) adventurer. Shuffle these and separate them into piles of their individual type.

4. SETUP | Start Sinking The Island
The flood deck decides which island tiles sink each turn. To kick things off, flip the top 6 cards, one by one. Each card will have one location on it that corresponds to a tile on the board. Flip those board tiles to their faded, light blue side to indicate they are “flooded”. This is one step from being gone forever.

5. SETUP | Form Adventurer Squad
There are 6x different roles players could be potentially be assigned (Explorer, Pilot, Engineer, Diver, Messenger, Navigator). Each one has its own special ability that will help the group. Shuffle the cards and randomly give one to each player. That role will have a color, each player should take their corresponding player piece.

6. SETUP | Start Locations
A tile on the board will have a player icon to match your color pawn. That is your starting location, place your player piece there.

7. SETUP | Hand Out Treasure Cards
Shuffle the final deck of cards, the brown-backed treasure cards, and give 2x to each player. Flip these up in front of you so everyone can see. If you get a “water rise!” card, take a replacement and shuffle it back into the deck.

8. SETUP | Set The Water Level Marker
The long blue piece of cardboard is the water level marker. With the red plastic clip, slide it up to match the start level you are playing at. Novice and normal are at various notches of “2” while elite and legendary start on the “3”. This is important because it is how fast your island sinks.

9. GAMEPLAY | Phase 1 | Take 3 Actions
Gameplay in this how to play Forbidden Island tutorial starts with the adventurers landing on the island. You have 3 different actions you can take and these can be a mix of any of the four options outlined below. You also do not have to use all your actions if you do not want to.

10. GAMEPLAY | Phase 1 | Action Option 1 | Move
Using a move action lets you go one space in any linear direction (left, right, up, down). Many of the adventurer abilities make exceptions to this and are clearly listed on their card. You are able to move onto a flipped over “flooded” tile but not on a space that is missing its tile.

11. GAMEPLAY | Phase 1 | Action Option 2 | Shore Up
Shoring up is the action of flipping over a light blue “flooded” tile back to its original un-flooded state. This is to save something from getting flooded away if its flood card comes up. You can do this to the tile you are on or any adjacent tile (left, right, up, down).

12. GAMEPLAY | Phase 1 | Action Option 3 | Give Treasure Cards
For 1 action you may give any number of treasure cards from your hand to another player as long as you are on the same space.

13. GAMEPLAY | Phase 1 | Action Option 4 | Capture A Treasure
Spend 1 point to get 1 of the 4 treasures. To do this, you need to have 4 matching treasure cards of that type in your hand and be on one of the 2 tiles that have that matching treasure symbol.

14. GAMEPLAY | Phase 2 | Draw 2 Treasure Cards
Treasure cards are a mix of the 4 treasures and 2 special action cards, helicopter lifts and Sandbags, and dangerous “waters rise!” cards. The point of these is to get to 4 cards of the same type so you can capture that treasure. You can only have a maximum of 5 and must discard down to that number whenever you go over. Using a special action card does not use an action. If you run out of these, shuffle all the discards to form a new pile.

15. GAMEPLAY | Phase 2 | Draw 2 Treasure Cards | Waters Rise!
If you hit a “Waters Rise!” card, (1) raise the red marker up one number, (2) shuffle all flipped flood cards and put them on top of the deck and (3) discard the “Waters Rise!” card away from the deck. There are 3 of these in the treasure card deck.

16. GAMEPLAY | Phase 3 | Flood The Island
The last part is the scariest, this is where tiles on your island, and possibly your dreams of victory, fade away. Flip over flood cards equal to the water meter (2, 3, 4 or 5). These will all match location tiles on the board. If the card of a tile is flipped and that tile is on its original side, it gets flipped to the light blue “flooded” side. If the tile is already on its “flooded” side, then it gets removed and has sunk forever. If a pawn is on a removed tile, move it to an adjacent tile.

17. GAMEPLAY | End And Repeat
After the three phases have been completed, your turn is over. The player to the left repeats the three-phase process. This continues until the game is won or lost.

18. WINNING | Capture Treasures and Escape
The way you win the game is by capturing the four treasures and escaping. Follow the “capture a treasure” instructions above. And everyone needs to get to “Fool’s Landing” the tile where the helicopter can pick you up and take you from the island. When all players are on this tile with the treasures in hand, the game is won.

19. LOSING | Island Floods Away
If the island, and your opportunity to rescue the treasures, floods away before you can grab everything and escape, you lose. This happens during the flood phase. If you hit the flood card of an already flooded spot, it goes away forever. When the two spots that let you grab a treasure sink, there is no way to get your treasure.



  • Explorer – Move and/or Shore Up diagonally.
  • Pilot – Once per turn, fly to any tile on the island for 1 action.
  • Engineer – Shore up 2 tiles for 1 action.
  • Diver – Move through 1 or more adjacent flooded and/or missing tiles for 1 action (must end your turn on a tile).
  • Messenger – Give treasure cards to a player anywhere on the island for 1 action per card.
  • Navigator – Move another player up to 2 adjacent tiles for 1 action.


You can tailor your game to the difficulty level of your choice. As the water level rises, the game is more difficult because it means more locations are flooding. For more advanced games you start at a higher flood number. The flood level indicator board has an indication for where you should start based on levels novice, normal, elite and legendary.


  • 28x Treasure Cards
  • 24x Flood Cards
  • 6x Adventurer Cards
  • 24x Double Sided Location Tiles
  • 6x Color Wooden Pawns
  • 4x Treasure Figurines
  • 1x Water Level Meter
  • 1x Water Level Marker


We hope you can now say you know how to play Forbidden Island. This family-friendly cooperative board game has something for everyone. It uses a great race against the clock mechanic and gives each player just the right amount of unique skill to help the overall group in satisfying ways. If you are into co-op games, you should definitely give Forbidden Island a try.