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Forbidden Island - Interview with Designer Matt Leacock

The designer of Pandemic creates a cooperative family game

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Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island

Image courtesy of Gamewright

Game designer Matt Leacock is on a streak.

His cooperative board game Pandemic, in which players work together to eradicate four diseases, was named Family Game of the Year by Games magazine, won a Golden Geek and a Meeples Choice Award, and it was my pick as the best board game of 2008.

Leacock's 2009 release, Roll Through the Ages, is a brilliant dice game (one of my favorite dice games) and it was my pick as the #2 board game of 2009.

The next Leacock game scheduled to be published is Forbidden Island, another cooperative game -- but this one designed for family play. Forbidden Island is scheduled to be available from game publisher Gamewright in the spring of 2010.

Leacock took some time to answer a few questions about Forbidden Island.

How did the idea for Forbidden Island first develop?

Gamewright approached me in June of 2008 with the idea of creating a cooperative card game. They'd played and enjoyed Pandemic and thought there was a opportunity for a new cooperative game that had all the fun and player-interaction that cooperative games have to offer but in a smaller package that appealed to a wider audience.

I'd become familiar with Gamewright's line because of my daughters (my 6-year old is a huge fan of Rat-a-Tat Cat) and the project sounded fun, so I agreed and we were on our way.

The game originally was composed entirely of cards. One deck of cards was used to represent the board, one was composed of treasures, and the last controlled the rise of the flood waters. Testing showed that tiles were easier to understand and manipulate than cards for the board.

I also started out with a space theme. We tried on different themes, iterating until we ultimately decided on the "Forbbidden Island" backstory. I think it's a perfect fit.

Will fans of Pandemic recognize the feel of Forbidden Island?

The game will feel familiar to Pandemic players: there's a set-collection aspect and the mechanic for flooding the island is similar to the one used for intensifying disease.

That said, the board is very different -- in Forbidden Island, the board gradually disappears while you play and one of the central challenges is determining how to win before there's nothing left to stand on. The island and flood deck gradually get smaller and smaller ... until (gulp) you're looking at a pretty big stretch of ocean with no dry land in sight.

What was it like working with Gamewright to develop the game over the past year?

Gamewright was a great partner in the game's development. They really cared about the story behind the game and helped bring it to life with wonderful artwork and components. They also care deeply about the accessibility of the rules and the play balance, and this all shows in the final product.

Was it difficult to find the right balance of elements in the game?

Balancing the number of components and the rule count was relatively straightforward. I had clear targets for complexity and bit count.

Balancing the game's difficulty, however, took more time since it's so critical and more variable. You don't want the game to be too easy or too difficult the first time out, so a lot of testing was required with all sorts of people of different gaming experience levels: families, kids, gamers, and so on.

Are there different difficulty levels?

Yes. People new to the game (or this type of game) will want to start on the easier levels. Experienced gamers may want to begin with one of the more difficult levels.

How pleased are you with the artwork?

I love the art. It's evident that C. B. Canga had played the game and spent a good deal of energy really bringing it to life. And, for heaven's sake, the game comes in a tin.

What characters can players choose from?

In the box, you'll find the Adventurer, Diver, Messenger, Pilot, and Navigator, and Engineer. Each character brings a different, unique skill to the team.

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