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Adrift at sea in a Victorian lifeboat with your secret love, worst enemy, and a few other shady characters. What could go wrong?
Each game turn represents one day where players can row towards shore or squabble about supplies and treasures salvaged from their ship in this hilarious game that takes less than an hour to play. This new edition has full color art from original artist Stephen K. Ratter on high quality cards.
- 42 Provision Cards
- 6 Character Cards
- 6 Character Cards
- 6 Placeholder Cards
- 6 Hate Cards
- 6 Love Cards
- 24 Navigation Cards
Average Rating: 4 in 1 review
Battlestations is a tremendous game, mixing space combat with a role-playing element, to become one of the best games I've ever played. I've remained interested in Gorilla Games, the publisher, as they have continued to support the game with expansion after expansion. Lifeboat (Gorilla Games, 2007 - Jeff Siadek) is an older game that Jeff had designed back in 2001, republished with a few minor rules changes, but certainly different than Battlestations.
Lifeboat will likely be confused with the Z-man game Lifeboats, since both have the same theme and have treachery as a focal point. However, Lifeboat has a very different feel as players take the roles of a beleaguered survivor on a lifeboat - with a very interested fate in one or two of the other players. It works great with six, almost as well with five, and barely with four and is an extreme example of a game in which the players collectively determine who wins. I call it "Diplomacy in an hour."
Each player is randomly given one of the six characters in the boat, each with a different size (ranging from "3" to "8"), value (from "4" to "9"), and special ability. The characters are the Lady Lauren, Sir Stephen, Captain, First Mate, Frenchy, and the Kid; and a matching card for each is placed in a row in that order on the table, showing where people are sitting in the boat. A deck of Provision cards is placed near the Lady Lauren on the far left - the bow of the boat, with one card dealt to each player. The Navigation deck of cards is also shuffled and placed at the Aft of the boat, next to the Kid. Players each secretly draw one "hate" card and one "love" card. The love card shows which other player they want to survive (if they love themselves they are a Narcissist and get double points for surviving); and the hate card shows which player they want to die (if they hate themselves they are a Psychopath and want everyone on the boat to die except for the one they love). The first turn is then ready to begin.
To start off each turn, the player whose character is next to the Provision deck is named the Quartermaster and draws Provision cards equal to the number of players. They choose one, pass to the next player in the boat, until everyone has taken a card. Provision cards include:
- Water (16 cards!) - needed to keep players alive.
- Paintings, Jewels, and Bundles of Cash - worth points at the end of the game.
- Oars - used as weapons or for rowing
- Weapons - such as the knife or blackjack
- Medical Kits - heals injuries
- Other equipment - from buckets of chum to life preservers There are only forty-two provision cards in the game; if the game lasts longer than that, the deck is depleted and players have run out of stuff.
Starting with the Quartermaster, each player then takes one action. They have the following choices:
- Do Nothing.
- Change places with another character on the boat. The player being traded with may refuse, causing a fight.
- Mug another player, taking one of their cards - either face up or from their hand. The player being mugged may also refuse, starting a fight.
- Row - the player draws two Navigation cards, placing one of them in a special "Row" deck, and the other on the bottom of the Navigation deck.
- Use an item's special action (opening the parasol, using the flare gun, etc.
At the end of a round, the player closest to the Navigation deck chooses one of the cards in the Row deck to play, putting the rest on the bottom of the Navigation deck. If there are no cards in the Row deck, the top Navigation card is flipped over. This card indicates who falls overboard (a character who falls overboard loses all of their face up cards and takes one wound). The card also points out who gets thirsty. Sometimes the card will show a fight symbol or a row symbol, which means anyone who did those actions was thirsty. Someone can get thirsty three times if their name is on the card, and they rowed and fought and both symbols appear. Players may discard a water card to avoid one thirst but otherwise take one wound for each.
If a player takes wounds equal to their size, they are unconscious (which means they die if they fall overboard). If they take one more wound, they die. They take no more actions for the remainder of the game. Several Navigation cards show a seagull. If four of these are revealed, then the boat is rescued; and players score. Each player scores points equal to their value, and points if their love one survived and their hated one died. Players also score points for their valuables they are carrying (even if they died and managed to stay in the boat). The player with the highest score is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
- Components: The cards have a Victorian style artwork on them,
albeit in a satirical fashion (the characters are drawn in such a way
that you automatically dislike them all). The cards are very clear on
what they do and fit (along with the wound tokens provided) into one
of those annoying boxes in which you have to slide two halves of the
deck - why are these boxes in existence? The cards are of a good
quality and help provide a bit of a thematic presence to the game.
- Rules: The rules are on two sides of one piece of paper and do a
good job explaining the game, although a few examples would have been
nice. Teaching the game is fairly easy, although new players often
have a hard time understanding why they got stuck with the wimpy boy
as opposed to the powerful first mate. Explaining the Navigation
Phase is the most difficult part of the game; but after one turn,
everything makes sense. Players use markers to point out if their
character fought and/or rowed, so bookkeeping is fairly simple.
- Balance: My first game I received Lady Lauren and was slightly
annoyed because she seemed so weak. Her special power was getting
double points for jewels, which wasn't too wonderful, if she was
killed by the more powerful castaways. However, the game is subtly
balanced in this regard in a few ways. For one, it's rare to draw a
card that washes her overboard, and she gets thirsty less than the
others (especially the Captain, who dehydrates quickly). Secondly, if
someone who is powerful is watching her back, she has a powerful (if
secret defender). Third, if she manages to get a powerful weapon, she
can bully someone like the First Mate around. A straight-forward
talker will have a difficult time with a weaker character, but overall
the game seems fairly balanced.
- Perceived Dilemmas: However, it is possible that a weak person
will love themselves, giving them no allies. Or, perhaps two powerful
people will love one another. These seem like insurmountable
problems, but both have to be dealt with in the diplomatic part of the
game. Only one person can win, so an "unshakable" alliance is
- Diplomacy: And really, that's the key to the entire game. Sure,
there is luck in what cards you get and perhaps how the Navigation
card affects everyone, but it all comes down to how you deal with
other players. Players can make alliances and trade cards but are
never held to any deal they promise, and things can get pretty ugly.
Sometimes it's obvious who loves who, but not always, as everyone is
pretty much only looking out for themselves in the long run. For this
reason, I feel the game works best with a full complement of six, if
only to increase the different alliances during fights (in some ways -
it reminds me of Cosmic Encounter). With four the game simply is much
- Fun Factor: People who want to win a game based on their own
merits may not enjoy this game, because you'll win by convincing
everyone that Frenchy really shouldn't be steering the boat, or by
dumping a bucketful of chum into the water when the Captain falls
overboard just to see him die. While I hope no lifeboat I have the
misfortune of being on becomes this ugly, it can be fun during the
game. You are trying to figure out just who is on your side, and who
is secretly (or openly) plotting your demise. Pulling out the flare
gun at a critical time is exciting, and the game is one of the sort
that lends itself to stories. Death is certainly a factor in the
game, and some people won't like that they can be eliminated. One can
still win if dead, although it's very unlikely; and it's even possible
(a bit) that no one survives. But players make the choices, and
that's what matters.
If you are looking for a backstabbing negotiation game that only takes an hour and a deck of cards, Lifeboat is a good choice. While not as refined as some other games in the genre, it is one of the more heavily-themed ones; and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It does require five or six players to get the full effect, but the shorter time frame makes it more enjoyable and allows players to get into a fun sort of mean-spiritedness that might grate after a longer period. And being the Psychopath is likely joyless in life but amazingly content as you watch the sharks eat your opponents. You can have the jewels and money; I just want to stay alive.
"Real men play board games"