Let us set the scene. Your Edwardian cruise liner has been sunk and only you and five other passengers were able to board a lifeboat. Now you are floating in the middle of the ocean, at the mercy of the blistering sun and, even more worryingly, your fellow passengers. Now you have to try and find land as quickly as you can, keep yourself alive and maybe even make some money for your troubles…Welcome to the Lifeboat.
Lifeboat is a card-based survival game featuring resource management along with aspects of social deduction gameplay. The game is themed around six people on a lifeboat, lost at sea. Lifeboat was designed by Jeff Siadek & published by his company, Gorilla Games.
Lifeboat is a 4-6 player game, and each round can take between 45-90 minutes. The gameplay has a lot of “take-that” elements, so whoever you play with needs to understand that before someone gets thrown overboard. Lifeboat is a very easy game to teach to new players. But when you try to explain the way Lifeboat works it can sound a bit like a flow-chart simulator. The Instructions don’t do the game justice, our advice is to play the game with someone who already knows how or look up an instructional video.
Thematically, the unusual Edwardian/Nautical art-style of Lifeboat is beyond charming. Andy enjoys the style and Dom loves the quotes on the cards, “Bacchus has drowned more men than Neptune” on a ‘liquid courage’ card is just our kind of humour! Each character has a portrait and an ability that is unique to them. Frenchy can swim, the Kid is an excellent pickpocket, and the First Mate is an absolute weapon in a fight. These unique elements make the game interesting in each playthrough.
Navigating The Social Sea
Lifeboat always starts with the characters in a certain order, starting with Lady Lauren at the bow (or the front for landlubbers). Which is closest to the provisions and finishing with the Kid is at the stern (the back, obviously) who is in control of the navigation for the boat. The fact The Captain put a child in charge of the navigation probably explains why you are in the lifeboat to start with… Players are then randomly assigned a character & a provision card but are also given both a Love & Hate card each, and this is when the backstabbing begins.
Whichever character you have as your Love, you must do all you can to keep that person alive. Conversely, you must do all you can to deliver your hate card to their watery grave. Due to the random nature of the cards, you can get the same player for both cards (our advice is to choose the one worth the most points) or you can even get yourself for both cards. If you are a narcissist (you love yourself), you get double points for being alive at the end of the game. But if you hate yourself, you are a “psychopath” and get extra points for every other player killed in the Lifeboat.
Essentially Lifeboat is then broken up into three main phases which we will call Quartermaster, Actions and Navigation. First up is the Quartermaster who is responsible for “distributing” the provisions to the rest of the players. Whoever is currently at the bow of the boat draws cards equal to the number of conscious players in the game. That player then looks through the cards and chooses one for themselves and passes the rest on to the next player in line who picks one and so on until all the cards are handed out. “But Dandy! The person at the front is just going to keep all the best stuff for themselves!” Yes. Yes, they are. But you can try to do something about that.
Activities During Your Voyage
Next are the actions. Starting at the bow and moving down the boat, each player can choose to do one of the following:
1) Do Nothing – Sometimes, just sitting back and watching the madness grow is the best option
2) Row The Lifeboat – The player draws two navigation cards (we’ll explain) and can either keep one, both or neither
3) Change Seats – Attempt to swap places with another player, but be aware, they can refuse and challenge you to fisticuffs!
4) Mug someone – Attempting to take a provision card from someone’s hand, again, can lead to a punch-up. On a small Lifeboat. Seems sensible.
Swapping places with another player can be very beneficial if you can get to either end of the boat, granting you first dibs on the provision cards or control of the navigation deck. Mugging other players can be a lifesaver if you need water or healing. However, both of these actions come at the risk of combat. Fighting in Lifeboat is quick and painful. In essence, this is a numbers contest, the player with the largest “size” total wins fights. Players in a fight call on other crew members to help them, either through kindness or bribery. However, be warned, players do not have to pay whatever they promised, but it’s probably not a good idea to annoy the few allies you have.
The reason doing nothing is sometimes the best option is because all the other actions can risk making your character thirsty or getting them injured in a fight. Any thirsty characters at the end of the round must drink water, which is a provision card and because there is a limited number in the game, eventually the Lifeboat will run out. Running out of water practically ensures someone will die soon, which shows the true skill in Lifeboat: managing your supplies.
Each character can only sustain several wounds equal to their “survival” and take wounds if they are thirsty without water, get thrown over-board or lose fights. Once any character’s wounds meet their survival number, the character is knocked unconscious. An ally can heal you, but an enemy can finish you off. If the character receives any more wounds, they are claimed by Davey Jones. Funnily though, Dead Men cannot tell tales, but they can still win a game of Lifeboat.
All Souls Lost?
Being lost at sea with depleting resources and someone trying to murder you isn’t all fun and games, and Lifeboat does have a few issues. First of all, Lifeboat is a six-player game. Not “up-to” six players. It requires six players to work, any less and gameplay feels unbalanced. This can limit the number of times you will get to play the game as getting six people together to play can be tricky. However, if you are blessed with too many friends and could do with getting rid of some, this will not be much of a problem for you.
As the gameplay is directly competitive and very much runs on a “take that” style of player interaction, you need to make sure the people you play with are not going to get saltier than the sea you’re on. Because of the Love/Hate cards, there is almost always at least one player who will take every chance they have to attack another which, although in the spirit of the game, can lead the player on the receiving end of yet another mugging to feel picked-on. That said, because of the random allocation of the cards, it doesn’t feel quite so personal. “Yes, I am stealing your water and throwing you overboard, but only because the Fates put you in my sights!”
A related issue is that some characters’ special abilities put them at a huge advantage over others. The Kid’s ability to take one card from any other player without consequence can be a real hammer blow when used consecutively against the same player, leaving them without any usable cards. The First Mate is a big guy, and we played a game where he and The Captain had each other as their love cards. Their strength points combined are very difficult to beat without either the whole boat siding against them or using some pretty powerful equipment. With all that said, the game is very competitive, and any advantage is great for the winner and bad for the loser. The main takeaway here is to make sure you are happy with the people you are playing with, so you do not have a mutiny in the middle of your game night.
The final point to address for Lifeboat is about the player’s experiences. Once a character has been knocked unconscious or killed, there is very little for the player to do. They cannot take action and cannot prevent actions from being done to them. So, in essence, you are just going to sit there and watch other people have a great time. The game offers nothing for deceased players to keep themselves entertained, which can be a real drag if you are unlucky enough to be eliminated early into the game. On the bright side, a single game of Lifeboat is usually fairly short, so we are not talking about hours of downtime.
Rating Report: Simon
In our reviews, we like to get the opinion of a first-time player, and for Lifeboat this was our friend Simon. He enjoyed the way the gameplay is repetitive enough so you can learn the rules easily but also allows a lot of variety in players’ actions during their turn. Simon particularly likes that the game “allows you to be deliciously maniacal, plus the way the game builds paranoia as you try to guess who is after you are very enjoyable aspects of Lifeboat.”
Down To The Deep
Dom’s final thoughts on Lifeboat are that the game improves with each playthrough as you will get better at using each character. Although Lifeboat can seem a bit daunting to begin with, you will quickly fall into the rhythm of the game, and it is a brilliant conversation generator for a group of friends. Plus, no two play-throughs will be the same because of the random allocation of characters & cards!
Andy’s final thoughts on Lifeboat are just like Andy himself, all about that sweet, Edwardian stye. Although Andy likes the artwork and overall design of the game, as a player who was eliminated early in one game, he did not enjoy being flotsam for most of a game.
To drop the anchor on this review, Lifeboat is a brilliant social game for a small gathering, and we would recommend it for people who are either new to the survival games or sailors looking for a casual social gaming experience. Also, if you and your crewmates are looking for a good excuse to drink rum and sing sea-shanties, this is your chance!