I was watching TV a while ago and the movie Castaway came on. While I was watching Mr. Hanks have a conversation with his volleyball buddy Wilson, it got me thinking about desert island games. I’ve seen plenty of people have conversations about “if you were trapped on a desert island, what game would you bring”. As fun as those conversations are, I thought it would be fun to take a more literal approach. What is the best game about being trapped on a deserted island?
And you know what? There are not that many of them. First I had to set my criteria. Just any game with the word “Island” in the title wouldn’t do. To make it onto this list, the island in the game must be, more or less, deserted. No villagers, no civilizations. Maybe a few natives if they are hiding in caves or something. Second, there can only be one island. No island hopping or chains. Its Top 5 Desert Island Games, not “Islands”. Finally, the game should be about surviving on the island…and preferably it’s trying to punish you as much as possible during the game. Desert Islands are no tropical paradise. So, as good as they are, that immediately tossed out games like Bora Bora, Amerigo, Hawaii, and Archipelago.
So with that in mind, I present our Top 5 Desert Island Games. Being a castaway was never so fun!
Top 5 Desert Island Games
Honorable Mention: Lifeboats
Lifeboats doesn’t quite fit with the above criteria, but it’s close so it gets an honorable mention. Every other game here is about escaping an island, this one takes players back in time a bit. Your ship has sunk and players are trying to reach the safety of a deserted island. However, the player’s lifeboats keep springing leaks, so what’s a survivor to do? Throw some people overboard of course! Lifeboats is a game about negotiation, alliances, and betrayal. During the game, players will be moving in from various boats and will be trying to keep their survivors from being tossed overboard. For groups that like a lot of social interaction, Lifeboats makes a good choice.
3-6 Players • Ages 12+ • 90 minutes to play • $43
5. Fireball Island
Fireball Island was a game from my childhood that I still fondly remember. The game play isn’t super deep or even that complicated. It was a classic “roll and move” American style game. But the components are what made it awesome. The game board was a 3d map of an island made out of molded plastic. Players had to get their adventurer up to the top of the island, steal a gem, and then make their way out. However, an idol at the top would occasionally spit fireballs out of its mouth (red marbles) and they would roll down the paths, possibly knocking out an unlucky adventurer. Fireball Island is long since out of print and I really regret not holding on to my copy I had. Oh to go back in time and talk some sense into that little kid. If you can find a copy of it, hold tight, it makes great addition to your game library.
2-4 Players • Ages 7+ • 45 minutes to play • $100+ (Out of Print)
In Castaways, players are stuck on a tropical island and must try and get rescued. For the most part, Castaways is highly thematic, worker placement game. Players will be choosing what activities they can do each day with their pawns. The thematic natures comes from the fact that the game has an almost “choose your own adventure” like feel to it. Players will be exploring the island as they try and stay alive. As they do, they’ll be drawing exploration cards that tell the player what happens on their expedition into the depths of the island. Many of the cards will have choices on them that need to be made and sometimes this will involve new cards being put into the various exploration decks. As clever as this mechanic is, it does hold the game back a little as players spend a bit too much time hunting down cards to move in and out of the various decks. Still, if you are looking for a highly thematic game about escaping a desert island, check out Castaways.
1-4 Players • Ages 14+ • 120 minutes to play • $30
3. Forbidden Island
In Forbidden Island, players aren’t so much stranded as they are racing against the clock. They are treasure hunters that landed on this sinking island and they must race around the island trying to find the 4 ancient relics before it’s too late. As the game progresses, more and more of the island will be disappearing into the ocean, making the player’s job harder. This cooperative game is really easy to learn and does make for a great family game. Often dubbed “Pandemic-Lite”, Forbidden Island will keep you on your toes even with its simple rule set. If players can find all the relics and make it back to the safety of the chopper, they will emerge victorious…no easy task I assure you.
2-4 Players • Ages 10+ • 30 minutes to play • $17
Friday is unique in that it’s a game for only one player. In Friday, players take on the role of Friday who is trying to help Robinson Crusoe escape the island he’s been marooned on. Friday is an easy to learn deck building game that will have players helping Crusoe to overcome the hazards of the island. As he works his way through the deck, he will gain valuable skills to help him take on the pirates at the end of the game. Friday plays quickly and offers a good challenge for its one player. It’s unique, fun, and great for when you don’t have anyone else around.
1 Player • Ages 10+ • 25 minutes to play • $15
1. Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island
No game on this list better captures the essence of being stranded on a desert island than Robinson Crusoe. The game comes with 6 different, sometimes punishing, missions that players can attempt. The most basic of these missions is to simply try and get rescued. With some great game mechanics, players will be exploring the island, fighting off wild animals, gathering food, and just trying to survive the elements. Let me warn you, Robinson Crusoe is not for the faint of heart. The game will punish you for playing poorly, but that’s part of what makes it so awesome. When you win, you know you deserved it. I love exploring the island, creating tools to help try, and survive and also enjoy how each player gets a unique character. If you are looking for a game that will challenge you and your fellow players, and is also highly thematic, then look no further than Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island.
1-4 Players • Ages 14+ • 120 minutes to play • $75
So there you have it. Our Top 5 Desert Island games. It was a hard list to compile as this is actually a somewhat underused theme, but I think we found some great representations of the genre. Did we miss your favorite Gilligan’s Island theme game? Let us know in the comments below!