There is a duck in every game. You may not see it, but it's there.
My second review of games for the holidays is one I reviewed in the past. See my disclaimer on my Piece O’ Cake review if you don’t like this particular holiday season. Our time on this planet is too short to spend it bitter over holidays. So I am about to make an incredibly reckless recommendation for a game to play with family over the holidays. This game has a reputation for evilness and hurt feelings that I don’t understand, but many of you will. So, while I am about to say Lifeboats is a really cool holiday game for the whole family, I realize that it may not be for you.
I won’t go into the mechanics as I already wrote about them in the past. I will however quote the beginning paragraph of my prior review:
“Games are innocent vehicles for fun and enjoyment! Or are they? Few people have survived childhood without at least one game experience gone wrong. I strongly suspect that games have even been responsible for those many who did not survive childhood. Risk, Monopoly, Checkers, Diplomacy, and even Candyland have caused strife and hurt for over fifty years. Yet we all played them (or some equivalent game), and we all kept at it. Are we just Masochists, or is there something more? Lifeboats is a game that attempts to answer that question. It has all the mechanics and game play to bring out the worst in everyone. It directly pits people against each other, and urges them to commit despicable acts of viciousness and cowardice. Is this fun?”
So how does that ominous introduction reconcile with my assertion that Lifeboats is a game for a holiday reputedly known for peace on earth and good will to others. Simple, if you are like me, you enjoy the sentiment of getting together and sharing time with your family who you may not have seen in months or even years. Maybe your family does meditation together and plans out your next year goals to save the planet. Mine hangs out, talks about all kinds of things (generally avoiding politics) and otherwise just enjoys our time together. Board games are a social outlet for us. They are not to be slavishly played to the exclusion of all else. We talk between turns and eat things that are really bad for us. But ultimately, we at least like each other if not love each other. Family ties us together.
Enter lifeboats, which is practically a board game form of irony for these holidays. You are not rewarded for altruism, you are not rewarded for kindness, and you most certainly are not rewarded for sacrifice. Nope, in lifeboats you are rewarded for selfishness, malice, ganging up on others, and generally using colorful language to describe what the other player can do to themselves after they voted to spring a leak that sank your last survivor into Davy Jones’ locker.
Lifeboats could potentially cause hurt feelings toward other people. But that’s only if you are obsessed with winning, have no sense of schadenfreude, or just can’t enjoy the journey. If you are that person, what are you doing hanging out with others during this holiday. You need to be evicting the poor to get ahead, grinding your enemies to dust under your heels, and in general being a seriously large part of a donkey that you don’t hear about in holiday specials. In other words, if your family cannot approach a game with humor and not personalize during the holidays then do not play Lifeboats.
If your family tends to be gently sarcastic, family members have a wicked sense of humor, and play games to socialize over win, then Lifeboats is an awesome game to remind you why you really enjoy their company. What makes lifeboats extra cool is that it is not only fun for the six people playing, but it makes a great spectator sport. Every time I play this game, we end up with more people watching around the table, talking, giving advice, grinning, groaning, and otherwise having as much or more of a good time than the people playing. Don’t squelch table talk unless it is dragging things out to long. Encourage bantering, and mock threats and all the other things that families do when they play supposedly family friendly games like UNO. I mean really, your family can handle UNO, but they can’t handle Lifeboats. Puhlease!
What I personally love about this game is that you get to see the bloodthirsty side of family, without there being any blood. Your quiet cousin may have been right at home poisoning relatives for the Medici’s or and putting heads on pikes for Vlad the Impaler… as long as the Medici’s were colorful pawns and Vlad was captaining a lifeboat. And this stirs conversation and high fives or melodrama hisses depending on whether you won or lost that vote. The other great thing about it, in case I haven’t belabored it enough, is that this game is about how you get to the end and not the end. Sure, someone will win, good for them. I rarely win, because I can’t keep my mouth shut. I just can’t resist making one too many deals when I should just be whistling to myself and watch my survivors inch closer to the islands. But who had more fun, the quiet person who did not participate wholeheartedly in the vote and ended up winning, or the people making side deals, and threats, and bluffs along the way? My family is pretty talkative, so you can guess that we value the interaction.
Lifeboats will not be for every family gathering. Some family members are more dysfunctional than others. I can see personal grievances being played out at other times. In other words, Lifeboats is a risk depending on your family situation, so know your audience. I try to ameliorate that risk by setting the stage when I get the game out. This is a “take that” game so it is important not to take it personally. The entire game is shaped by how the six of us play. You can be the best strategist in the world and lose. Do not walk into this game trying to win. Look at winning as a nice bonus at the end. I mean think about it, what does it say about you being the winner because you managed to help kill off your opponents. It just says you were the best at letting others die. Is this a title you want to crow about to everyone else? (gosh I hope so)
So how does a divisive game bring people together. Well, you are all in the same boat (or boats as it were). You all have the same goal, and you like each other already, right. So, Lifeboats becomes one of those games that reminds you that you care about each other for a reason. None of you would ever do this to each other in real life, but it’s fun to bring out those hidden desires we don’t normally show. I know my oldest son gets a little extra pleasure when he gets the upper hand over me in a game. There’s noting wrong with that and I love him more for it. In some ways Lifeboats is a friendly argument over something stupid. Sure you can take sides but you still want to hug that person when it is over. It’s not really about hurting other people, it’s about all of us talking and enjoying each other’s company, and accepting when our mother abandons her maternal instincts and leaves us to be eaten by sharks. That, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe you just did that,” moment is priceless and can live on in family lore for years to come.
And that’s where I fall on games like lifeboats. In my other review submitted today, I talked about a much friendlier game called Piece O’ Cake. It’s fun and enjoyable for almost any family. But I’ve never had a memorable moment come out of it. Lifeboats can be a memorable moment generator. We love villains, they are the most interesting characters in the movies, and Lifeboats gives us our brief moment living on the dark side, so we can appreciate what we have that much more.