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Game Overview: The Game: Extreme, or Navigating the Ups and Downs of Life

by W. Eric Martin

Travel, illness, work, and other things have obliterated most of my gaming opportunities in June 2023, and the only game I’ve played so far this month (twice) is The Game: Extreme, both times with my wife, Linda.

You might be familiar with this game since it debuted in 2016, or perhaps you know its predecessor — The Game, a game by Steffen Benndorf and NSV that was nominated for Spiel des Jahres in 2015, losing to Colt Express.

The Game has a simple concept: Play cards numbered 2-99 on four discard piles, with two of the piles counting up and two down, with players required to play at least two cards each turn. You can “jump” backwards in a pile by covering a card with one exactly 10 lower (or higher, depending on whether you’re on an ascending or descending pile). If you can’t play at least two cards on a turn, you lose. Play all of the cards, and you win.

I have so many images like this on my phone…

Linda and I played The Game a lot…then The Game: Extreme was released, and we’ve been back to the original only when introducing the design to someone. I’ve now played The Game: Extreme more than two hundred times, almost exclusively as a two-player game with Linda, although we’ve had a few games with more people.

The Game: Extreme, which was co-designed by Benndorf and Reinhard Staupe, uses the same basic rules as The Game, but with the cards bearing seven different effects or commands:

• You must end your turn immediately, even if you want to play more cards.

• You must play exactly three cards, even if you don’t want to.

• You must cover a specific card, or lose the game at the end of your turn.

• You can’t jump.

• You can’t communicate at all, whereas normally you’re restricted only from giving numbers that you hold.

• You draw only one card at turn’s end instead of refilling your hand.

• You must play all cards on the same pile during a turn.

Two instant death cards and other bad stuff

This last effect is a tricky one. On a turn, you can play on multiple piles until you play this card, then any cards you play after this card must be all on the same pile. If you cover this card on your turn, you can then play on other piles.

We play to win, but we mostly stick to the communication rules in order to stay within the spirit of the game. I might say, “Can I play here?”, and she’ll respond, “Only if it’s small.” Did we cheat? Is that too specific? What qualifies as “small”, a card that’s less than three higher or lower? Five? Seven? Even after two hundred plays, we don’t have an exact code down, so we can communicate without revealing specific numbers — except when we slam a hand on a pile and say, “DON’T PLAY HERE!” That’s pretty clear.

Even so, sometimes you have to override the other player’s desires because you know what you hold and they don’t.

Perfect for travel!

I wrote about The Game line in 2018, but that was mostly a meditation on mortality and why I value playing games with others. Now I’ve played The Game: Extreme another 140+ times since that essay, and I still find it enjoyable. It’s a game I almost always have on me whenever we go anywhere just in case we have 10-15 minutes to spare.

In this video, I go into more detail about the specific card effects as well as why I find this game so captivating:

Youtube Video


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