Seattle Cosmic's Desert Island Games

You're about to embark on a brief ocean voyage from Three Hour Tours, Inc. Observing the patently incompetent skipper swatting the "first mate" with his captain's hat and calling him his "little buddy" (IF you know what I mean), you are not inspired with confidence that you will ever return.

Should you happen to be shipwrecked on a desert island, what five games would you take? According to Peter Sarrett of The Game Report, "On the desert island to which I'm destined, I'm guaranteed copies of go, chess, checkers, and backgammon, as well as decks of playing cards, pencils and paper, and a supply of like-minded castaway opponents. This allows me to ignore the classics and cut to the meatier decisions..." Those are the rules we'll use too. And don't be afraid to bring some of the same games -- after all, we all might end up on different islands. Then we can use our separate boards to play by email, using the inter-island coconut telegraph set up by this professor guy who's coming along...

Here are the games chosen by Seattle Cosmic members, in the order the messages appeared on the SC mailing list.

Ron Hale-Evans

It's hard to pick! Here are my five:

  1. COSMIC ENCOUNTER. How did you guess? I'd want to bring my imaginary super-multi-edition fully-expanded set, with components from Eon Basic + Expansions 1-9, Mayfair CE/More CE and Simply Cosmic, Hasbro/AH, and all the Internet expansions I could print. Plus plenty of crayons and coloured pencils to draw the aliens on the blank power cards. I would have to bring plenty of my patented deck protectors so I could mix and match components from all sets, including the colourful Hasbro/AH Attack cards with the wiseass sayings on them -- something I plan to do eventually with my "real" set. (Incidentally, Cosmic also made Peter Sarrett's two lists, as well as that of Richard Garfield, creator of MAGIC: THE GATHERING, who wrote, "Cosmic Encounter really defies any easy classification. Cosmic Encounter I dearly love, as it taught me what it truly meant to have variety in play.")
  2. NOMIC. Invent your own game! The best self-modifying game. Talk about endless variety in play! I played a single game of Nomic in college that lasted two and a half years. Whenever we got bored of straight Nomic, we'd vote in a subgame of Cosmic Encounter, Illuminati, Black Spy, or Nuclear War.
  3. GURPS. I'd have to bring along some kind of role-playing game to while away the hours. Although I'm not terribly fond of Steve Jackson Games or their policies and behaviour (I could write a book), I have to admit that GURPS, "the Generic Universal Role-Playing System" has some pretty good basic rules, and the widest variety of sourcebooks I've seen for any RPG -- about 150 of them. Besides their own versions of the role-playing games TRAVELLER, BUNNIES & BURROWS, and THE WORLD OF DARKNESS, they have sourcebooks for superheroes, time travel (written by World Fantasy Award winning SF writer John M. Ford), Lensman, Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun (since that's one of my Desert Island Books, I'd be all set for a campaign) and Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (since I bet that would be one of Marty's Desert Island Books, we'd be all set for a lark of a Callahan's campaign too). And The Prisoner too! (Oo! Oo! I forgot about that one. Time to hit Bookfinder.com...)
  4. ICEHOUSE. A unique, boardless, turnless game, almost a sport. Not to everyone's taste, but the Icehouse pieces actually provide a game system akin to a deck of cards or a handful of dice, and can be used to play many, many games besides Icehouse proper. Of course, I would have to bring along my Big Book of Icehouse Games so I could play all the other ones too.
  5. A GAME LIBRARY. This is kind of cheating, but as long as I'm guaranteed Go, Chess, Checkers, Backgammon, playing cards, pencils, and paper, for my fifth "game" I want to bring a handful of books that let me maximise what I've got:
    • A GAMUT OF GAMES by Sid Sackson. Includes all kinds of unique games for standard equipment, including one of my very, very, VERY favourite games, Focus, which is played on a checkerboard. Oh, I'd become such a Focus champ (or at least sharp) if I had the time...
    • NEW RULES FOR CLASSIC GAMES by R. Wayne Schmittberger. Similar to Sackson's book above, but includes discussions of basic principles whereby you can create game variants of your own.
    • ABBOTT'S NEW CARD GAMES by Robert Abbott. Every card game I've tried in here has been brilliantly unique and fun. I look forward to being stranded so I have the time to try all of them. (Also his NEW ELEUSIS pamphlet, which contains the latest rules for one of the better games in the book.)
    • THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHESS VARIANTS by David Pritchard. Something like 1500 chess variants succinctly summarised and rated by playability. The best single book I know of for maximising the playability of a chess set.

    And of course, I'd want to bring a few "Hoyles" for all the standard board and card games, maybe the following:
    • THE NEW COMPLETE HOYLE REVISED by Albert H. Morehead.
    • THE NEW GAMES TREASURY by Merilyn Simonds Mohr.
    • A DICTIONARY OF CARD GAMES by David Parlett (and his book on solitaire too in case I pissed my friends off and no one wanted to play with me that day).

--Ron Hale-Evans, 4 April 2001

Paul "Spoilsport" Unwin

Ever watch the movie The Time Machine? At the end, Filby (Alan Young) and the housekeeper come back to the lab to find that the inventor, the machine, and three books are missing. The housekeeper wonders what books the time traveller took. Filby suggests that the housekeeper (and the audience) ponder instead what books she (and they) would take. That final scene has stuck with me since the first time I saw that movie.

The question of which games to bring is very hard, since I can't think of a single game (or book for that matter) that wouldn't begin to get very boring after a very short while of having little else to do. One might suggest role-playing games as being infinitely variable and as fun as one might want to make them, but for me, intense study of any RPG has only highlighted its flaws and holes more strongly. Being marooned would provide ample time for making the "perfect" RPG, I suppose, but couldn't you just do that from the ground up?

In short, I think I would end up passing on the whole game concept at that point. Maybe I'm too stuck with the idea of the Swiss Family Robinson, in which I have to spend my time making an amazing tree house, fending off pirates, and training monkey butlers (who would then train others...). Perhaps the conditions should change to being stuck on an outbound spacecraft, but I guess then I would have computers and a murderously-smart AI and that gets us away from the whole boardgame concept.

Sorry I'm such a party pooper.

--Paul Unwin, 4 April 2001

Marty Hale-Evans

Here are my picks. I chose them not only for "infinite playability" value, but also to create a well-rounded group of diverse "playstyles," if you will. No matter what flavor of game is your favorite, you'd get tired of it if you only played games of that type, so that definitely affected my choices.

I also conferred with Ron to make sure that the "basic game set" he gave as part of the original question included standard playing cards (for Spades, Hearts, Poker, etc.) and Go, and also conceded that you could play Focus/Domination with a checker set that would be included (eliminating that from my formal list).

Given that, my final picks are:

  1. Diplomacy
    I haven't actually played Diplomacy yet, to tell the truth, but it has always looked fascinating to me, and seems as though it has a lot of replay value. Given the vast fanatical following it has, I expect one could take a lot of time to really explore it. This one fills the niche of "territory-taking" game.

  2. Settlers of Catan, with all expansions
    I've suddenly joined the ranks of believers on this game after playing one of the expanded versions. I couldn't understand the widespread appeal playing the vanilla version, but the expansions make it a much more interesting and complex game. This is to fill the "resource gathering and management" niche.

  3. Scrabble
    Hello, my name is Marty, I'm a word person, and I really love Scrabble. It never gets old for me. Being really the best and most basic word game, that's its niche.

  4. Facts In Five / Scattergories
    I combined these because they're essentially the same game with different card sets and scoring mechanisms. I like the play and scoring of FIF, but I'd enjoy mixing in the Scattergories cards because some of the topics are funnier and lighter. This is one of my favorite social games; I like to play this just to see what the other players will come up with for answers, and it's endlessly cool and funny to see how other people think. Also, I think this could spawn some really interesting conversation with other players about all kinds of subjects.

  5. Scruples
    This is one of my other favorite social games. Again, I chose it more for the quality of interaction with other players and the interesting ethical and philosophical conversations it brings out. Ron was a bit testy with me for picking games for their social effects rather than their sheer game value, but I maintain that as different people play different games for different reasons and pleasures, that would have an impact on how different people compose their lists. For my part, I would like to have some games as a means for getting to know my fellow strandees better and having fun together with them -- for gaming's social aspects as well as its intellectual challenges. Sometimes, maybe always, the most crucial equipment for any game is the players.

I have to mention, finally, that there was one strong runner-up to this list: if I could pick a sixth game, it would be all known versions of Trivial Pursuit. It eventually lost its place because one would run out of new cards at some point, although it would take a REALLY long time to play all the variations and expansions.

--Marty Hale-Evans, 9 April 2001

Games discussed on this page:

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Page last updated 9 April 2001.