I'm often asked to suggest a good family boardgame that can replace the likes of Monopoly and Cluedo in dad's secret porn closet. When I get asked this question, there is only one possible answer.
Settlers of Catan.
Only joking. No. Not Settlers, as fine a game as it is. No. See, when I picture a family sitting round a table, a mum and a dad and a son and a daughter, I picture them playing a game with a bit of bite. I like to think of a little boy screwing over his dad, and getting that feeling inside, all “fuck you, dad, you inferior me, you!” I like to think of a little girl proving that she is the dominant female in the home by blasting her mother right out of the game within half an hour, and mum storming off to the bedroom to curse and swear at that positive pregnancy test she kept as a memento.
Family games need to be fun, and memorable, and dramatic, or they don't get played.
And that's why I recommend Survive!
Survive! Has been around for a long time. UK readers might remember it as Escape From Atlantis! US readers will know it as Survive! And the newest edition, the most beautiful edition of the game you'll ever see, is called Survive: Escape From Atlantis! So there's no way you can possible miss it when you see it on the shelves, particularly if you get turned on by exclamation marks.
It's a game for 2-4 players, but you need that perfect unit of 4 to have the optimal game of Survive! Here's how it works. Each player has some little people, and printed on the underside are some values. So you have some valuable people, and some less valuable people. It's just like real life. Think of the valuable people as musicians, and the less valuable people as politicians. All of these little people start the game on an island in the centre of the board. The island is made up of individual tiles. These tiles are either low lying beach, or higher lying forest, or high lying mountains. Each player takes turns placing their little musicians and politicians on the board, choosing a tile to start their escape from. Around the island are some boats. And in each corner of the board is more land – little safe islands you need to get your guys across to. Oh, and there are also sea serpents on the board. Sea serpents.
Each turn, a player has three action points. He can move his little guys around. He can also move a boat if no-one is on it, or if he has the most little dudes on it. Then he removes a tile from the centre island. The first tiles to sink are the beach tiles, then forest, then finally mountains. On the reverse of each tile there will be some instructions printed. Some of these will tell the player to keep the tile until he needs to play it (the tile might defend him from a whale attack, for example) and some will demand that something happens instantly – like a shark spawning at that point and eating any swimmers. Then, you roll a die and the die tells you which creature you can move. Shark, whale or sea serpent. You move them.
And that's pretty much the game. It's THAT simple. Get your guys to the safe islands. Add up the values of the survivors at the end. Highest score wins.
Let's now look at the many ways this game can cause a family to shout abuse at each other.
1. You sink mum's beach tile. Her little guy falls into the sea. You check the back of the tile. It asks you to spawn a shark. You place a shark. The shark eats mum's musician. Morrissey dies.
[Sorry, but this video has been removed since this article was first published.]
2. You see that your daughter is moving her people towards a boat at the north of the island. You move a sea serpent towards that boat, and then smile at your daughter. She detests you.
3. You are in a boat. You see that the man you married is floating in the sea, and a shark is heading his way. He begs for help. You move your boat in the opposite direction. A turn later his Stephen Jones is dead.
4. Your sister has three people in a boat. She has almost made it home with them all. You've never seen your sister so happy! You smash a whale right through her fucking boat. That's life, sis. That's life.
5. Dad is doing really well. He has two people in one boat, one person in another. Two boats sitting alongside each other. He's moving more people in. You sink a tile. Your dad shrugs. The tile had none of his people on it. Big deal. The sinking makes a whirlpool open. Your dad's entire game gets sucked in. Boats, people, everything. Every member of MGMT, dead.
6. You move another sea serpent right in front of the island that your son is fleeing to. There is just no way he'll get those little guys home before the volcanic eruption that ends the game. He changes course, and says “I think I might still be able to get to that other island.” You can see tears in his eyes. Delicious.
7. Your mother, who carried you in her womb, who loved you all her life, has one little guy left. She's been protecting this little fella. He must be very valuable. You, a good daughter, have two of your people in a boat. You smile at your mum. “Okay, mum.” You move your boat over to your mum's little fella, and let him climb in. She thanks you. You both chuckle. Your brother and dad moan about the girls clubbing together. You just smile. And then you sail that boat right down a fucking sea serpents throat. Your worthless Cameron and Clegg, eyes wide with madness, leading mum's maximum value Todd Rundgren to his death.
The beauty of Survive is that it's maybe the most brutal game in existence, but it still holds onto that family game charm. Be in no doubt – every SINGLE turn you are most likely doing something that works against your opponents' wishes. If you move a shark away from you, you are moving a shark towards everyone else. If you jump a boat with one guy, and cheese it out of there, you're leaving your opponents behind. It's BRUTAL. But it's so brutal that it starts to get funny. And then it gets hilarious. And then it's game over. In an hour or so.
No downtime. Massive amounts of interaction. Huge fun. Short playtime. SHARKS. SEA SERPENTS. It's the perfect family game, and I suggest you all pick a copy up. If you had one of the earlier editions, it's still worth picking up the new Stronghold Games edition – it's full of wooden components and is of a production standard in keeping with high-end Eurogames. It's just beautiful.
I guarantee you'll love Survive! It's a classic design, and never fails. NEVER. Guaranteed.
You might have noticed that the big HBO Game of Thrones series is starting soon. To tie in with that, I'll be taking a look at some Song of Fire and Ice board games. I'll certainly be covering Battles of Westeros and its expansions. Battles of Westeros is a Game of Thrones wargame, based around Richard Berg's brilliant Command & Colors game system. I look forward to digging in. I'll also be looking at the Game of Thrones boardgame (if I can find a copy) and maybe the card game too. Hopefully I'll be able to give you a good steer towards the good 'uns.
By the way – I'm still working through the books, so no spoilers in the comments PLEASE. Cheers.
There's an FAQ for Mansions of Madness available for download now from the Fantasy Flight website. http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/ffg_content/mansions-of-madness/support/mom-faq-v1.pdf
It contains a lot of errata, and answers a lot of questions players might have.
Here's a question. When will Fantasy Flight do something about the proofreading of their rulebooks and components? Playtesting of the final product would have exposed these issues (such as the misprinted map). It's really not good enough. A premium product, at a premium price, shouldn't have these basic issues.
Having said that, the game's fucking amazing, and they've fixed the issues now – so GET IT BOUGHT.
Me saying cheerio.