... Until Somebody Loses An Eye.

We here at Olivia Waite love books most, but we've also got a huge soft spot for games. Board games, video games, word games, fictional games—you name it. So when the always-intriguing ROFL Initiative mentioned an upcoming blogfest on this very subject, we hopped right on board. A light blue box with two rolling dice and light blue block text reading: It's All Fun & Games Blogfest, June 6, 2011.

So here are, in order, my three favorite games and why:

1. Carcassonne.

This was a board game first, but since we live in the future I play on Xbox 360 because the system does all the fiddly scoring for me. This game is the perfect balance of chance and strategy: you can do a certain amount of planning, but the random tile generator thwarts any really intricate long-term hopes. You have to stay agile and quick on your feet, ready to shift directions if the tiles aren't working with you.

I play, on average, about thirty or so games a day.

If this sounds high, I should explain that I use it as a punctuated break in my writing process. If I write two hundred words, I've earned a game. Carcassonne feels like a break, but each game is over so quickly that it doesn't really pull me out of the writing frame of mind and I haven't lost more than five minutes of time. (How many writers can say that about, oh, Twitter?) After two or three game-breaks, I usually get so caught up in how the words are flowing that I forget to take a game-break until three or four hundred words have gone by.

It's safe to say that Carcassonne is largely responsible for the fact that I have two books and three other completed manuscripts of various lengths and genres. Now if I could figure out the right break rhythm to use for revisions, there'd be no stopping me.

2. The World According to Ubi

Ubi is what would happen if a bunch of Freemasons tried to invent the Trivial Pursuit of geography circa 1985. Ubi is the Latin word for "where," and it is the first word of every question. There is a large map covered in numbered hexagons. You are asked a trivia question, and to find the answer you take the reticle that red hexagonal lens) and place it over the part of the map where you think the question is pointing. Your answer is the number of the hexagon (and, sometimes, the particular lettered segment of hexagon).

The game is very, very hard. Not least because maps have gone through great changes since 1985.

Here is a sample question: Ubi Hard-Hearted Hannah?

And to answer, you have to know or guess that there is a song, "Hard-Hearted Hannah, the Vamp of Savannah." Then you have to find Savannah, Georgia on the map, line up the hexagons just right, and answer in numerical form. Done right, there is a very inefficient secret code waiting to be written using this game as a key.

Each right answer gets you a piece of the pyramid, and when your pyramid is done, you win!


Pieces of the board game The World According to Ubi: a triangle box with a giant human eye, four red-block pyramids, a red hexagonal lens, and a map covered in numbered hexagons.

You see why I name-checked the Freemasons.

But this game also manages to ask two trivia questions in one, which as a trivia junkie is like automatically making my cocktail a double at no extra charge. Plus, you can ask hard-hitting critical questions like, Why is there a category for the Americas, for Europe, and for Water -- but Asia, Africa, Antarctica, and Australia are lumped together under Universal?.

And some of the questions are fake, such as: Where was the last unicorn sighted? It is a board game that enjoys messing with the players' heads.

3. Murder

In my first two years of college, I hung out with a lot of theater kids because they were interesting and always up to some kind of trouble. We lit alcohol on fire, climbed onto the roof of the theater, and played a ton of this game, which requires nothing other than a willingness to lie to your friends and hope they're deceived. Theater kids have that in spades.

One person is the Narrator, one person is the Murderer, one person is the Sheriff, and the rest of the players are Townspeople. The Narrator chooses who is who while everyone keeps their eyes closed. The game begins when the Narrator asks the Murderer to open their eyes and point to someone—that person is now Dead. The Sheriff now has a chance to open his/her eyes and indicate which person is suspected of being the Murderer, and the Narrator tells them whether or not the guess is correct. The Townspeople then "wake up" to find one of their own has been killed, and have to nominate one person to execute for the murder. If they are right—they win! If they are wrong—they go to sleep, and the Murderer strikes again, and the next round of arguing starts. Nobody knows who the Sheriff is unless the Sheriff happens to be killed.

If you play with witty people, this is a lot like having your own personal Thin Man accusatory dinner scene, which is enormous fun.

And it turned out that these interesting friends of mine thought they were far more interesting than I was. Which was a sad revelation—but it also gave me a huge edge in this game. It was assumed that since I wasn't particularly good as an actor, that I wasn't particularly good as a liar either.

Turns out I'm a much better actor and liar when I'm writing my own dialogue.

I look back on this game as an early crash course in clarifying motivations and agendas for fiction-writing.