The Games We Play

Kill Doctor Lucky or blow up a mad cow. . . .

When I was a kid, my parents almost divorced over family games of Pictionarynot for lack of strength in their relationship, but because neither could figure out what the other was trying to draw. Conversely, my brother and I were telepathic. I'd draw a straight line, and he knew I meant lightning rod. Lacking challenge, Pictionary became boring, though we kept playing for the entertainment factor of my parents' fights. Other games (Sorry!, Uno, Clue) were similar: Compete, get bored waiting for your turn, hate your cousin for knowing who played shortstop for the Yankees from 1978-83 in Trivial Pursuit, and then get bored some more. How many times did we play Monopoly, become angry and tired, and never finish the game?

I recently invited some friends over for a much needed "unique" games night. We started off with Apples to Apples (Out of the Box, $19.99, 4-10 players, ages 12 and over), a game that took less than five minutes to learn and begged to be replayed once we had finished it. No one had to wait their turn, because the game involved everyone's participation each play. Everyone laughed a lot. The competition was light, and it didn't matter who won. So if you like to be cutthroat, this is not for you. It is the perfect party/family game.

The other Out of the Box (www.otb games also had short learning curves and were easy to play, although they weren't as much fun. The trivia game Whad'Ya Know? ($19.99, 4-10 players, ages 12 and over) was mildly amusing at best, but so are most trivia games. Based on Michael Feldman's public-radio quiz show of the same name, the object of the game is to earn points by guessing the answers to trivia-type questions. At the same time, and even if you don't know the right answer, you need to convince the other players your answer is right in order to garner more points. Half of us were pretty passive, so the arguing portion of the game never really took off. I imagine extroverts would really enjoy it, though. Everyone was disappointed that the actual answers were not more explanatory, and the jokes that accompanied them were NPR-ish and infuriatingly corny. The game also wins the prize for the silliest accoutrementthe Michael Feldman bobblehead. It served no purpose whatsoever. Mind you, the game went quicker with an increase in alcohol consumption, but that didn't enhance the play.

Hands down, the most riveting and original games came from Seattle company Cheapass Games (, whose products come with only the bare essentials: boards, cards, and rule books. The "bits" (dice, playing pieces, money, etc.) can be bought separately, or you can provide these things yourself from other games in your collectionhence the games are cheapass. Each game has an over-the-top funny story line, providing a good hook and reason to play. Kill Doctor Lucky ($7.50, 3-7 players, playing time 60 minutes) is such a game. Your goal is to find a weapon, track the old doctor down, and do him in. When my friend Heather had finally caught and killed him, I was filled with a murderous urge to play again just so I could feel the pleasure of taking out Doctor Lucky, too.

The other Cheapass games we played, Unexploded Cow ($7.50, 3-7 players, playing time 60 minutes) and Freeloader ($7.50, 3-6 players, 90 minutes), were also riveting. The only downside was mustering the concentration to follow the directions. Although well written and witty, the instructions were verbose and not as clear as they could be. It made the first time playing through the game frustrating, because we didn't know what we were doing. Once we got the hang of it, though, unanimously we all wanted to play again.

We ended the night with High Society ($19.95, 3-5 players, ages 10 and over), a game by ܢerplay (, another Seattle company. It was quick and really easy to learn. In the game, you are a millionaire ex-dot-commer who got out before the big crash. Your goal is to become the wealthiest tycoon of them all by acquiring things like private islands and basketball teams. We had fun hamming it up with the fake money and bidding on items like expensive cars and castles. In a way, it felt like a creative version of poker: There was bidding, bluffing, and an ante to be won. Had it been a real poker game, at the end of the night I would have gone home with my own private island (with a heliport to boot) and $13 million.

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