As Milton Bradley's Director of Product Development and a long-standing game lover, I'm often asked "What is your favorite game?" I usually reply, "Who am I playing with?" It really makes all the difference. Let us assume that my opponents are all friendly people who are fun to be with (not the kind that will turn cannibal if I win too much). Winning a game is like winning a battle. But to enjoy being together with your chosen opponents, win or lose, is to win the war.
If I had to choose only one "game," I must tell you that a deck of cards can provide you with a lifetime of entertainment. From Solitaire to Hearts to Bridge, nothing beats the versatility of cards. Surprise, mystery, suspense, joy, sorrow, greed, humility, intuitionó they're all there for you to savor. And every hand is a new challenge!
You will see a theme running through my list. I like games that are replayable, interactive and that really vary from game to game.
And I would recommend the complex and wonderful Magic: The Gathering card game. Magic has taken gaming to a higher plane. You and your opponent create each game; your deck is an extension of yourself; the combinations are infinite. For those of you who haven't tried it or think it's just a fad, play it while you can. The game is ever-evolving as the available cards change every year. It will most certainly change the way you think. Many thanks to Richard Garfield and the creative staff at Wizards of the Coast who keep this game fresh and interesting.
Veleno is an abstract plastic 3-dimensional game by the prolific Alex Randolph. Each round, your total score is a combination of your efforts and the efforts of the player on your left. You help that person. But you want to hurt the player who is helping you!
Ninety Nine is my favorite 3-player gard game (from the book Original Card Games by the world authority on card gamesó David Parlett. Dealt 12 cards, players must discard three cards to signify a secret bid of how many of the nine tricks they'll take with the cards remaining in their hands. It is very challenging.
Liar's Dice or Bluff by Richard Borg is a great game for 2-6 players. The idea is to guess how many numbers are face up under the players' dice cups. The actual number changes as players can reroll to improve their predictions! It involves intuition, memory, risk, and bluff. This game is as exciting to watch as it is to play. Endgames at my house have become the stuff of legend. You can't beat this dice game for 45 minutes of real fun for any kind of people (friends, parents, neighbors). After they play it, they always want to own it.
For four gamers (not three, not five) I'd take out Cosmic Encounter (by the Eon Games guys), currently sold by Mayfair Games. Again, it has loads of variety, surprise, risk, and luck. The Mayfair version comes with lots of extra rules and components to enhance and complicate gameplay. I prefer the basic game bestó four players with one power each. The idea here is to colonize five of your opponents' fifteen planets by winning the right to "move in." There is a strict sequence of steps that make up a round of play. But each player is given one alien power/identity (and a hand of 7 cards) that changes one rule in his or her favor. With dozens of powers to choose from, the combinations of play are extensive. Four good gamers can balance any game and provide lots of laughter and a suspenseful ending.
Finally, I'd choose Niki Lauda's Formel 1, an out of print German game by Wolfgang Kramer. Milton Bradley made a simpler version of it called Daytona 500. In these games, players are dealt a hand of cards and then bid to own (at least one of) six cars. Most cards move several cars in a specific order, so you bid on the car(s) that you can move longer distances with your cards. Playing your cards at strategic moments lets you block or strand other players on the track. So in order for them to get ahead, they have to play cards that move you ahead (and out of their way!). In the end you get paid for placing first, second, third, etc.
There were a lot of games that I love that didn't survive our disaster at sea. Honorable mentions must go to Bridge, Hare and Tortoise, Wildlife Adventure, Adel Verpflichtet, Modern Art, Quo Vadis, Medici, Shark, and Dungeons & Dragons.
What about games for more than four? I generally don't like to play games with more than three other people. The reason is that I don't like waiting forever for my turn, even if I am stuck on an island! Other (more patient and sociable) people have argued this point with me. Okay, Liar's Dice and Under Cover / Heimlick and Co. (from Ravensburger by Wolfgang Kramer) are great for five or siz. Win, Place, and Show by the Avalon Hill Game Company is a terrific horse racing game for six people. Scattergories, Taboo, and Pictionary (all made by Milton Bradley) are great for a crowd.
Come visit me on my island. Bring Doritos. We'll have fun.
Mike Gray is the Director of Product Development for Milton Bradley and the uncredited creator of a number of Milton Bradley games. Chances are good you've played some of them. One of his most recent is Omega Virus, which may still be available at a Toys 'R Us near you.