Games: Friendship-Enders

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.

Tuesday Afternoon Scratchpad

Building A Bridge to the Late 20th Century

An excerpt from Hillary Clinton’s Super Tuesday speech, delivered a moment ago:

I hope all of you will join our campaign at double-you double-you double-you dot hillaryclinton dot com. Because you know that politics isn't a game. It's not about who's up or who's down. It's about your lives, your families, your futures.

Seriously, though: anyone who still includes the www when mentioning a URL is unfit for office.


Romney, meanwhile, did best among “self-described conservatives.” This despite the fact that, until recently, Romney was pro-choice, in favor of stem cell research, a proponent of gay rights (“All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preferences.“), and busy instituting Universal (or, at least, Massachusettsal) Healthcare. This guy is so phony it’s as if someone Photoshopped him into reality. Apparently “self-described conservative” is pretty much synonymous with “least likely to do the research.”


If McDonald’s “Happy Meals” are named after the emotional state children are in while consuming them, shouldn’t the adult versions be called “Self-Loathing Meals”?

Private to the Guy I Just Finished Playing Racquetball With

I may have lost to you 2-15, but at least I didn’t bellyache like an affluent toddler every time I missed a shot. So, between your admittedly superior athletic prowess, and my ability to stoically endure misfortune, I think we both proved our masculinity today. Except for you, ya fucking craybaby.

Waxy’s Links

I started my linkblog (did you know I had one? It’s over there ——>) about a year ago because, at the time, my favorite linkblog–that run by Andy Baio of–was only updated sporadically, leaving me to search out more time-killers on my own. Well, now Mr. Baio is blogging full time, and his linkblog typically features so many great links a day that I am spending less and less time on my own (not that I ever devoted more than 40 seconds a week on it …). So if you like the stuff that I post, you owe it to yourself to check out Waxy’s Links or subscribe to Andy’s XML feed.




AFI 100: Sophie’s Choice

Yesterday was Superbowl Sunday, so Pa Baldwin and I spent the afternoon as so many fathers and sons do around the nation: gathered in front of the big screen TV, drinking beer, and thrilling to the emotional rollercoaster that is Sophie’s Choice.

All I really knew about the motion picture ahead of time was The Scene; from that I extrapolated that the whole film was set during the Holocaust. I was therefore confused when the film opened in 1947, with the eponymous Sophie safe and childless. Okay, thought I, it’s a framing device: we’ll get 10 minutes of this, an hour and a half of the main narrative, and then a brief epilogue. Wrong again, chief. The bulk of the film is a John Irvingesque relationship drama with genuinely funny moments, thanks to the comic styling of Kevin Kline (in his first movie!) and an extended sequence involving a reformed prude that can only be described as hilarious (an adjective I was pretty sure would not appear in this review). All this was good but not great. Without The Scene, I’m confident that Sophie’s Choice would have long since been forgotten.

And, I must admit, the punch-in-the-gut impact of The Scene was somewhat muted by my (a) foreknowledge of the event it depicts, (b) familiarity with Streep’s acting prowess, and (c) having previously endured Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Into the Arms of Strangers, and probably a few more, the memories of which I have suppressed. Not enough to keep me from tearing up, but I didn’t end the evening rocking in the corner, either. Definitely a haunter, though: The Scene has popped into my head half a dozen times since last night, and I keep watching the clip on Youtube*, seemingly against my will.

I’m finding it hard to assign a rating to Sophie’s Choice, mostly because it was so unlike what I had expected. I think I’d need to watch it again to really form an opinion–maybe Pa Baldwin and I will do that on Father’s Day. For now, 7.5/10.

Next up in the AFI 100 Project: Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Bridge on the River Kwai.

* A warning to those who have never seen Sophie’s Choise: watching this will not “ruin” the move, but, as I have said, will undoubtedly lessens its impact to some degree. If you ever expect to watch the film in its entirely, I’d strongly recommend foregoing the clip.

The Bad Review Revue

Meet the Spartans: “Hey, guys, when you repurpose a disco hit to poke fun at gay men, not only do you look like assholes, you look like assholes who rip their jokes off of YouTube.” — Kimberley Jones, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

Hitman: “Like watching someone stupid play a bad video game.” — Shawn Levy, PORTLAND OREGONIAN

Strange Wilderness: “The funniest part of Strange Wilderness is the trailer for Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay that’s running before it.” — Ty Burr, BOSTON GLOBE

One Missed Call: “If your cell phone vibrates while you’re watching One Missed Call, go ahead and answer, because even a wrong number will be more exciting than what’s happening onscreen.” — Chuck Wilson, LA WEEKLY

Over Her Dead Body: “Is to romantic comedy what Spam is to meat.” — Wesley Morris, BOSTON GLOBE