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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #13: Survive!

Better than that "reality" TV garbage

There are going to be a lot of vintage board games on this list for two reasons. First, because we played a lot of them when I was a kid, and nostalgia is a key ingredient in all of this. Second, because they were awesome! Yeah, yeah, I know there are a ton of great games out there now, some of which will even appear on this list. But it seems to me like complexity of game play has become an end in and of itself, and the harder it is to learn the rules, the better the game must be. To quote a game from an earlier day, Balderdash! There's a time for the uber-complex and there's a time for grip-it-and-rip-it games that let you get right to the action over and over again. You know, have fun? These are games, not preening performative intellectual exercises. Well, except for Trivial Pursuit.

Survive! is not complicated. There's a volcano at the center of the island, and each turn the rising tides eat away at a piece of the land that remains. First the beach, then the jungle, then the rocky slopes of the rumbling mountain itself. Each eroded section yields a message - maybe a marine animal moves into the spot, a whale or shark (more on that in a bit). Maybe a whirlpool or boat! What does it matter? Well, there are people on this island. Your people (and your opponent's), desperate to get to the safety of other outlying isles at the corners of the game board. Each player has a number of little plastic folks, each with a numeric value engraved on their undercarriage, only to be revealed at the conclusion. It's your job to shepherd as many of your people through the turbulent waters to safer shores. You don't know who the high point value people are, so the whole thing has sort of a wonderful veil-of-ignorance aspect to it. Your purple or orange or yellow plastic souls all have equal value because they all might be a six or a one. All lives actually matter.

So you guide your swimmers or boaters, intentionally or because their piece of land got flipped, through the water. There are whales who ignore swimmers but capsize boats. Sharks who don't harm boats but munch on swimmers. And sea monsters who don't discriminate. Navigate past these hazards, and hurry, because once the land piece is turned over revealing the big KABOOM, everyone in the water is a goner and we count up the survivors. That's when we learn whether we saved Gilligan or Thurston Howell. The highest cumulative point total wins. I think it's axiomatic to state how much we enjoyed this game. It's got everything - random die rolls, hidden messages, and the endless frustration of realizing your six-point genius is in a shark's belly while your one-point dopes made it to re-enter the gene pool. See, this is why first-class passengers boarded the Titanic lifeboats first while those in steerage had to take their chances with floating doors and Kate Winslet.

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