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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.

Posted on February 06, 2008 to Games


I don't know about you but I have never played a game of Monopoly in my life that didn't end in a fight, sometimes complete with screaming and hotels thrown at faces.

Posted by: Ashley on February 6, 2008 11:11 PM

My ex* and I had to give away our copy of San Marco because we couldn't play it without fighting. It's one of those give-your-support-to-another-player-while-screwing-over-someone-else
games, and he got so angry at me for giving my support to someone else that his vision briefly went completely black (something that had only happened to him once before in another fit of rage). He then threw the game just to ensure I'd lose.

The other people playing with us were all, "Uhhhh, AWKWARD!"

But, of course, we're both such competitive people that we couldn't even have a nice game of Go Fish. We eventually decided to only play cooperative games/be on the same team. :)

*Contrary to popular belief, we did not break up because of San Marco.

Posted by: Kate on February 7, 2008 4:44 AM

I think Shadows Over Camelot is worth mentioning. In a given game you can't guarruntee that a specific player will have the chance to betray their teammates, so I suppose it doesn't quite qualify. But knowing that one of your teammates is a traitor (or actually being the traitor youself) does make for a brilliant game. Come to think of it, I tried it after reading one of your reviews. Thanks for that, you've given me some fun evenings!

How about Escape From Colditz? Admittedly there's no chance of betrayal as such, but there' something immensely satisfying about playing as the Nazis to constantly thwart other players' escape attempts. Plus you get to spend the whole night speaking in an over the top Hollywood-style German accent. Awesome stuff.

There's also the classic werewoles, which doesn't even need a board. http://www.eblong.com/zarf/werewolf.html

Posted by: Bugs on February 7, 2008 7:02 AM

My favorite negotiation game, hands down, is Traders of Genoa. Everyone is a wheeler-dealer in Renaissance Genoa, trying to get the most money, and there are many ways to make money; delivering messages, fulfilling orders for goods, ownership in local businesses, and more. But the meat of the game is this: on your turn, you will be able to move to five places, and take the action associated with one of them. The actions at the other places are sold to the other players. So you are selling your turn. At most of these places, you get some item or items; and those things can be sold or traded as well. Basically, EVERY SINGLE THING, including all the parts of your turn, can be traded for ANY OTHER THING, or money. It's all dealmaking. There's no backstabbing per se, since that would be bad business; you've still got to do business with the other people on their turns. But it's two-hours-plus of hard bargaining, making your deals more attractive than others, making other players pay too much for what they need, trying not to pay too much for what you need, or even tricking others into giving what you need for free.

Here's how much I enjoy it: I play it very competitively, try my absolute hardest every time, and I don't care afterward whether I've won. I mean, I say WOOHOO! if I do, but the feeling of joy is still there even when I come in last.

Posted by: Dave Boyd on February 7, 2008 7:34 AM

Ah, Diplomacy. I remember well finishing an all night game of Diplomacy in college and having my dear non-gamer friend turn to me and say, "We shall never speak of this night again. Because unless I can forget this night completely, I will never speak to you again for as long as I live."

Ah, good times. Good times.

Posted by: Dug on February 7, 2008 8:27 AM

When my friends and I get together to play Settlers of Catan, it's actually become tactic to be in second place up till almost the end of the game. When ever someone gets close to wining, no one will trade with them and will do anything else to screw them over.

Recently we've been playing Ticket to Ride. The general rule try to lay track in seemingly random sections so no one can block your route.

There is usually a lot of swearing, name calling and a bit of yelling, but it all stays at the table. Sometimes it's still at the table the next time we get together, but that's part of the fun.

Posted by: Martin on February 7, 2008 8:28 AM

What are your thoughts on Killer Bunnies? That game can get pretty nasty, especially with the Quite Irascible Diffractable Cheese Balls in play.

Posted by: Beth on February 7, 2008 9:24 AM

I second the Monopoly comment above. Plenty of fun evenings with friends have been grudgingly cut short thanks to that damned game.

Posted by: Rick on February 7, 2008 10:20 AM

Similar to Lifeboats is Mall of Horror. Basically each player controls several character who are hiding in various stores in a mall being attacked by zombies. When the zombies break into a particular store, the characters in that store vote on who to throw to the zombies so that the rest can escape. Mall of Horror has more chrome than Lifeboats, including a deck of use once cards that allow your characters to do things like Hide, so that you can't be thrown to the zombies, or Gun, that ensures the vote goes your way.

Posted by: Eric on February 7, 2008 1:20 PM

Carcassonne can be good for this.

Posted by: Jason on February 7, 2008 2:31 PM

Matthew, you should give John Nash's "So Long, Sucker!" a try. It's a very simple four-player game whose subtle rule set results in maximal nastiness. (As you might guess from its name.) You just need a few poker chips in four colors and the rules, which JC Lawrence has put up on boardgamegeek.com.

Posted by: Bob Rossney on February 7, 2008 2:56 PM


I think there are a number of games that use the Sissyfight model...

Posted by: Ben Donley on February 7, 2008 4:17 PM

I've heard that Dune is very much a good 'be a jerk' game. It sounds like it's very hard to find as it's been out of print since the 70s or something, but oh mans I would like to give it a whirl. From what I can tell, it's Diplomacy in that you move your units around and settle attacks sans-dice or randomness and in that there's lots of, well, diplomacy. It's also Puerto Rico in that each player has a clearly defined role in the game that is very different from the others. Finally, it's also (also) Cosmic Encounter in that every player has some way of hideously breaking the rules (often as part of the roles mentioned in the last sentence) that seems like it would make the game totally unfair, at least until you see the rest of the powers.

Has anyone here tried it? I'm tempted to build my own game if I can't find it for sale at a decent price......

Posted by: Andrew Crowe on February 7, 2008 4:30 PM

I believe Intrigue pretty much killed our social circle. Good times.

Posted by: Melissa on February 7, 2008 9:24 PM

I have seen people thrown to the ground and physically assaulted over games of Diplomacy. There really is nothing else quite like it.

Posted by: phooky on February 8, 2008 12:10 AM

Yep, gotta go with Diplomacy. Made the mistake of playing it in high school with a group that included a young, hip teacher. You should have heard the speeches about "honesty" and "responsibility" that came out when a bunch of us stabbed him in the back. (luckily I never had to take one of his classes after that)

Posted by: paul on February 8, 2008 12:03 PM

I second Killer Bunnies, especially since mischief is taken as a part of the game - it has become common in my circle of friends for cards to be hidden down bras, slyly stolen from one another or swapped for better/worse cards in the course of just one game! In fact, we all make sure to go to the bathroom BEFORE a game begins because god help you if you have to leave the playing board in the middle of a game...

Posted by: Ellie on February 8, 2008 9:57 PM

There's always good old fashioned Spite and Malice: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spite_and_Malice . The name says it all, really.

Posted by: media girl on February 9, 2008 11:01 PM

I almost broke up with a boyfriend over Illuminati, and he wasn't even the one with whom I was (directly) furious. Other than that, I've found Pictionary to be the worst friendship-risker. As someone who usually plays games only to complete a team (and therefore attempt to be a good sport), I don't take it well when people yell about the perceived mediocrity of the drawings. I can't draw well under pressure!

Posted by: Alkelda on February 10, 2008 1:26 PM

One of the coolest things about Illuminati is that the rules actually encouraged you to cheat. For example, if someone left the table you could turn one of their cards around so that the power arrows no longer matched up, and if they returned and played for a round without noticing, that entire sub-tree of their power stucture went back into the unowned area. Interesting rule, but not good for maintaining relationships.

Posted by: Pat on February 11, 2008 4:46 PM

I completely agree with your opinion of Killer Bunnies. I thought it was a fun game, but the randomness of the ending soured me on it.

Posted by: Jon on February 13, 2008 12:16 PM

Citadels is also one of my favorites. Just played it again with a completely new-to-me group Monday night and figured I had been accepted into the fold when I was targeted again and again. Only played Game of Thrones once, when the guy teaching it to me said "Oh, you'll be fine as long as you aren't green." Then I turned over my piece and yep, I was green. I was the game's whipping girl and spent the last 1/3 of the game effing with everyone near me cause I had been so cut to shreds. Man, that and T&E are dead to me. Never again.

Posted by: Erin on February 13, 2008 3:01 PM

What, no Munchkin? That has to be the best "screw-over-your buddy" game I've ever played. Though I'm going to have to give Illuminati a try, judging from the comments. Go Steve Jackson, go!

Posted by: Heather on February 14, 2008 2:08 AM