During the holidays I use my Good Gateway Games lists to promote family games; that is, games that bring people together for a fun and relaxing time, and strengthen the bonds of comradery between the participants.
Of course, now that the holidays are over …
I'm sure you get asked this a lot, but I'm looking for a board game that is like I'm The Boss--something in which the human interaction really changes the course of the game. Nothing is better then screwing over a good friend ... and having that awkward talk later when you can tell he's seething with anger because you purposely made him lose the game.
If you have any ideas I'd really appreciate it.
Ah, yes. The friendship-enders.
I’d recommend a good negotiation game, but you already own one of my favorites. In I’m The Boss, each player is an investor, willing to throw their support behind a variety of projects in the hopes of reaping a windfall. On a turn a player either draws Influence cards, or becomes The Boss and tries to cobble together a deal. Each deal requires the involvement of two or more of the players and pays out a specified amount of money; to complete the deal, The Boss will therefore need to entice the other players to join him, by offering them a share of the profits. Sometimes a deal needs a specific investor, but other times it will permit The Boss to select from a subset of players, allowing him to play them off one another in an effort to keep as much money as possible for himself.
All this could get real nasty were it not for the Influence Cards, which inject a healthy does of chaos into the game. Wielded at the right time, a well-played Influence Card could send a key Investor on vacation and scupper a deal, allow someone to become The Boss of a deal previously managed by someone else, and even steal an Investor from another player entirely. All this–plus a rapid-fire pace, short playing time (60 minutes), and element of randomness (no one knows when the game will end, for instance)–make it hard to get too worked-up over I’m The Boss, even when the others actively conspire against you. And they will … of yes, they will.
But maybe you’re in the market for something that will wreak complete and irreparable damage to your hard-won friendships. If so, might I suggest one of the following?
- Intrigue: Quite possibly the nastiest game ever invented. Your palace has four job opening, and the applicants belong to your opponents. Before you decide whom to hire, though, each candidate must give you a cash bribe in any amount they choose. After all have done so, you install one person into the position, banish the rest from the game, and keep all the money you received in bribes, regardless of who it was from. And what do you do when it’s not your turn? Why, send your minions off to the palaces of others, where they too will vie for employment. This game is so vicious that I gave my copy away, so I would never be temped to play it again. I’m not kidding.
- Lifeboats: To call this Survivor: The Boardgame wouldn’t be too much of a stretch … except that Survivor is a group hug compared to this. When an ocean liner sinks, all the passengers cram onto lifeboats and sail for shore. Every round one of the boats springs a leak, as determined by popular vote; then, someone in the afflicted vessel gets thrown overboard, and again it’s majority rule. Get a few games of this under your belt and you’ll quickly realize that your friends–and democracy itself–cannot be trusted.
- Citadels: Much less aggressive than the others on this list, but Citadels still affords opportunity for backstabbing. Every round the players secretly adopt roles as they attempt to build up their city. One role is the Assassin, who forces an opponent to lose his turn; another is the Thief, who steals another’s savings. But as these knaves target a role rather than a specific player–and no one knows for sure what role the other players have taken–there’s an element of guesswork that defuses tensions a bit. This is one of my all-time favorite games, and can be played by up to 7 players.
- Junta: The bad news is that this game really only works for exactly seven people, and requires four or more hours to complete; the good news is that if you can assemble a group of willing players … oh, man. The seven ruling families of a small Banana Republic must decide how to divvy up the foreign assistance they receive from an unnamed, no-questions-asked superpower each year. One player is the President, and has the largest say in how the cash is split; but if the other players don’t like the budget, they can always foment a coup and have El Presidenteshot at dawn. I have some great memories of playing this game, and some others I have worked hard to suppress.
- Sticheln: This is my favorite trick-tacking game–and I like trick taking games a lot. Each player has a “Misery Suit”–while most cards he takes are worth one point, cards in his Misery Suit are worth negative points equal to the value of the card. Sure the game is enjoyable for its elegance and exceptional design, but the real fun comes from watching your opponent’s face as you cheerfully hand over a -12 point card.
- Illuminati: At one point this was my Favorite Game Ever. Maybe it still is, but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t played it in a decade, after hurling the dice across the room when a roll didn’t go my way. The game of global conspiracies, Illuminati put players in charge of secret societies–The UFOs, The Network, The Cult of Cthulhu, etc.–and attempting to control organizations ranging from OPEC to the Boy Scouts. And if someone nabs a group before you do, why, you just attack him personally and wrest away control.
- Nuclear war: This is not a good game. That said, played with the right group it can be a barrel of fun. Let fly with your nuclear arsenal, and attempt to be the last man standing in an irradiated world. It is what we gamers dismissive refer to as a “Take That Game”–meaning that, in lieu of strategy of tactics, all it really offers you is the opportunity to initiate or perpetuate grudges with your opponents–but if you don’t take it seriously, and do imbibe non-trivial amounts of alcohol, you can still have a blast with it. Update: Someone asked for my opinion on Killer Bunnies. To my mind, it’s just Nuclear War in fur: a mediocre game that can nonetheless provide for an entertaining evening if everyone is in the mood for tit-for-tatism and can overlook the game’s randomness.
Of course, if you want to play a negotiation game you really can’t beat the great-grandpappy of the genre: Diplomacy. Imagine Risk if, instead of winning battles by dice rolls, you had to do it by convincing the other players to gang up on your target. Diplomacy will be re-released by Avalon Hill early this year; if you can’t wait, or like your wheeling-and-dealing with a bit more theme, check out Game of Thrones, a similar game set in George R. R. Martin’s fantasy world.