Games for Castaways

By Shamus Posted Thursday Nov 30, 2006

Filed under: Video Games 36 comments

Jay Barnson poses the question:

Let’s say you were marooned on a desert island, but you somehow magically became stranded with an awesome computer and plenty of power to run it (maybe you are stranded on the island in the TV Show “Lost” or something). But NO INTERNET CONNECTION. (Suckage!)

Now, you get to choose THREE GAMES to take with you. These will be your entertainment to keep you sane for the indefinite period of time you are gonna be stranded on the island (we’ll assume about 3 years), so you’ll want games with replayability in spades.

Pick your games.

John Carmack tackled a question like this once in an interview, and he dodged it by suggesting he’d rather have a compiler than a game, because if he has a compiler he can just make whatever game he fancies playing. Good answer, and I suppose I’d give the same one if it didn’t defeat the purpose of asking the question. So what we really want to know is what three games have the most replay value. Each game has to provide a year’s worth of replay, so it’s gotta have major replay. “Has an alternate ending” isn’t nearly good enough. We need games that are ever-changing.

Here are my choices, in no particular order:

  • Galactic Civilizations 2 – We need some sort of “civ” game. They offer long games, lots of ways to play, and lots of starting scenarios. GalCiv 2 offers all of this, plus a diverting little ship builder and some fierce AI.
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 – I’ll also want a “sim” game, since these have lots of replay value. RCT 3 wins over “Sim City” and its cousins because of the variety of gameplay. There is the “building” part of the game, the financial sim part of the game, the “design and ride your own coaster” part of the game, and the “see how many people you can explode at once” part of the game. That should keep me plenty busy.
  • Latest Unreal Tournament, whatever version that is: The game itself is fun, but the most important feature for me is that it comes with the level editor. I’ll probably spend most of my time on this Island dying of malnutrition, exposure, and infection building levels. This is a highly rewarding activity and can offer more diversion than any game. If I’m allowed to download the contents of the Wiki before I go, I’ll be able to make an endless variety of mods and changes to keep the game fresh and new.

I considered Nethack, but really that game is only fun in limited doses. Once every couple of years I’ll get the latest version and play it for a couple of weeks. I burn out on it easily, and it can be more than a little frustrating.

I thought about Oblivion, but it’s just not nearly as deep as it seems at first glance. I played it for about a month, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it all. The game would be worthless without several user-made patches that fix the various flukes, interface flaws, and bugs within the game. So I guess Oblivion would be worth consideration if I’d never played it before and I was allowed to download all of the user mods. Even then, I don’t think it has the depth to make the cut. The editor is a miserable cuss to use, so I wouldn’t want to spend time making new content for myself.

Fallout would be an excellent choice, but I already played that thing to death. I doubt there is much that I have not already seen or done in that game. I’ve played as many types of characters with many different skills. I’ve visited all the locations and did all the little sidequests. I even had a game where I simply crusied around and tried to purge the entire world of life: Kill everyone, good guys, bad guys, animals, everything. This game would be a good choice if I hadn’t already worn it into the ground.

So I’m going to wind up on the island without an RPG. This is odd, since those are my favorite sorts of games. The problem is that there aren’t any left that I haven’t beaten to death.

Actually, I know what I’ll do: Use the Unreal editor (and notpad) and make myself an RPG in Unreal Tournament. Yeah. That sounds pretty cool.


From The Archives:

36 thoughts on “Games for Castaways

  1. Roy says:

    I’ve played the “what three games” game before. It’s such a tough choice to have to make.

    I kind of cheat, because I read it as “what catridge or disc would you take.”

    1. Super Mario All-Stars + Super Mario World Pack- I’ve been playing Super Mario games since they came out, and I don’t know what it is, but SMB3 is *still* one of my favorite games. I never get tired of it, for some reason. That there was a cart that had all three of the NES SMB games plus Super Mario World, and you’ve got a “game” that’s kept me entertained for over a decade already (back in May, I actually attempted to play all of the console Super Mario games back to back in 24 hours, as seen on Kaedrin. I was, sadly, unsuccessful, but I may try one more time.)

    2. X-Com: UFO Defense – I was torn between this and Fallout. I love turn based strategy games. Fallout is fun, but X-Com edges it out. This is another one of those games that I’ve been playing consistantly since it came out. I still rename my best soldiers after my friends and family, and I still agonize over whether to send them into a given battle (they’re my best soldiers, so I want them there to help take out the alien scum, but they’re my friends, so I don’t want them to die. Ridiculous, I know).

    3. Probably Half-Life 2, especially if I get to bring something like Gary’s Mod, too, although Unreal Tourny is a good choice, too.

    Tough, tough, tough.

  2. Cineris says:

    Pretty good choices. I’m with you on GalCiv2, though if I owned/played Civilization 4 I might reconsider that choice.

    Haven’t played Rollercoaster Tycoon, but it looks a lot like Theme Park, which is one of my favorite sim games. Only problem with Theme Park was that it was impossible to keep people happy with the park, keep employees from striking, and make money.

    Unreal Tournament is a definite choice of mine as well. So much customizability and so much custom content it’s probably got more “gameplay” to explore than any other game. By the way, there is/are RPG mods for UT, though most of them are more like a System Shock than traditional “RPG” gameplay.

  3. Samrobb says:

    If you’re looking for an RPG-style game, I’d suggest Arcanum. I obsessed over it pretty well the first time that I played it, and as far as I can tell, I didn’t even touch on a number of different side-quests and plot lines. I also completely ignored one aspect of the game (magic), playing a pistol-packin’ dwarf inventor. I seem to recall that the story plays out differently in some areas based on your character’s race, sex, and profession as well… so, lots of good replay value there, I think.

    I’d toss in one of the Might and Magic games as well – MM VII, maybe. I’ve always been a fan of the MM series, and I’ve replayed each of the games more than once. I could probably spend a year playing and re-playing MM VI or MM VII without breaking a sweat.

  4. This sounds like the island from “Happy Lesson”, where there are electrical outlets mounted on the palm trees at the beach (thus permitting castaways to use rice cookers to make dinner).

    If that island is crescent shaped and has a single big volcano and you keep running into inept man-traps, I wouldn’t be playing computer games. I’d be searching for Kanna’s secret base.

  5. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    You people need to sort out island priorities.

    1st: You need a game that keeps you grounded in reality. For this I suggest GTA SA. This way you if you happen to invent a coconut car you’ll still know how to run things over and scream racial epithets.

    2nd: You know that game that is so hard for you to defeat, that you need ~like forever to beat this game man~. Ya this would be a good time to break THAT game out. My choice would be one of the old Contra games.
    (man those things are hard)

    3rd: Your going to need to learn how to barter and trade with the monkeys on the island. At first I thought Monkey island is a good choice but then I remembered that it doesn’t deal in monkey economics (which was a poor choice on Lucas games part) and I hate queerbo pirates.
    If you really want to delve into the fast paced world of monkeys I suggest getting Tomba 1 or Tomba 2. Both games will help you trade pants and food for helpful items to help you on your journey to destroy the evil pigs on the island. That’s assuming you have to do that sort of thing, but I think all can agree that you will be.

  6. Heather says:

    My first thought upon reading the question was that should you throw in an unimited food supply (read: Combos and Doritos), lots of free water bottles, and basic accomedations, this would be paradise for my sweet, loving husband (read: Shamus). Really. I think a place where he could go and play his favorite games forever without interuption (though I am positive he would need a compiler, he would go insane without it) he would be a happy camper.

  7. Deoxy says:

    Well, I’d have to stop and think a bit to get 3, but i’ve been playing Master of Orion 2 for, oh, about a decade now, and I still enjoy it.

    Actually, if I really had nothing to do for 3 years, I’d probably ven play MoO 3… which took all the fun of moO 2 and added stupendous levels of micromanaging and a zillion areas to colonize (up to 10 planets per system, IIRC, plus up to a few moons per planet, PLUS multiple colony areas per planet/moon). Even a hardcore MoO 2 player like me ditched MoO 3 before finishing the first game.

    I’d have to stop and think awhile to come up with something else I’ve enjoyed like that.

  8. AngiePen says:

    I’ll go for Civ4, although any of the Civ games would do it, even the first one if it still ran on my system, which unfortunately it doesn’t.

    Sims2 with add-ons. Although again, the original Sims with the add-ons would do just as well; I’ve gotten into the whole generational thing with Sims2 but there was more to do in the first one by the time they wrapped so it sort of balances out.

    And I’d take Morrowind. I’m with you on Oblivion — even if I hadn’t run into a couple of the progress-killer bugs, I don’t like the basic design philosophy of the game. Levelling most of the monsters means you can go anywhere right off the bat, and the way the Mage Guild joining quest was set up meant you DID go pretty much everywhere right off the bat. There are still all sorts of caves and ruins and whatnot I haven’t been to yet, and I’m only about halfway through the mainline quest, but I felt like I’d pretty much been everywhere in the game, the rest was just more-of-same and I wandered off. When the patch came out I didn’t even bother downloading it. [shrug] I probably will some day but I’m in no hurry. Morrowind OTOH still has replay value for me. I loved trying new races and professions and then making up my own professions, just to see how different skillsets worked. (A couple of system problems that wiped all my save games also helped in the multiple start-over area but that wasn’t the game’s fault.) But I remember starting my tenth or twelfth character and still finding new things I hadn’t seen before right in the area around Seyda Neen — how cool is that? And there are definitely some entire regions I haven’t been to, or which I dashed through but couldn’t or didn’t explore, so I have more to look forward to even now. A more interesting mainline, more factions, more interesting politics — Morrowind blows Oblivion out of the water.

  9. Shamus says:

    Morrowind blows Oblivion out of the water.

    I’m with you on that one. I really have seen all of Morrowwind, if you can believe that. I filled in the dang map, 100%. I might have missed a couple of really well-hidden dungeons, but not many.

    And that final chat with Dagoth-Ur is one of my very favorite conversations in a videogame, ever. Certainly among the most interesting villians.

  10. Rich says:

    Master of Orion 2
    Baldur’s Gate 2

  11. Gothmog says:

    I for one would take the oft overlooked ‘Dominions 3’- a kind of Master of Magic gameplay mates with Nethack depth, ‘Master of Nethack’ if you will. Check it out- the demo is available at

    Instead of GalCiv2- I would take ‘Space Empires V’, which is kind of a Master of Orion mates with Nethack… hmm. I’m starting to see a pattern here. :) Demo for SEV is on shrapnelgames too. :D

    My last one would have to be ‘Slash’em’. Which is, hah-hah, Nethack mated with itself, of course.

    Sheesh- how sad am I?

    Anyone wanna join a Blitz game of Dominons 3?

  12. Wonderduck says:

    Civ3 and the expansion. I enjoy Civ4, of course, but 3 just seems deeper and more fulfilling somehow.

    Grand Prix Legends… because it takes a LOT more time than I have to be learn to drive those 1967 F1 cars at full realism levels, and WIN.

    … and whatever Ultima it was that I played first, because I never did come close to finishing that.

  13. Andrew F. says:

    I’m such a bad gamer that I’d probably get frustrated and give up on every game I brought before a month was up. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever beaten any game without seeking outside help (i.e. from the Internet). Which would be another problem… no Internet access means no GameFAQs to help you out when you just cannot figure out what to do next (this has stymied me in any number of RPGs).

    Oblivion felt like such a game when it first came out (the PC has a Core 2 Duo Extreme Edition processor with dual GeForce 8800s, right?), but the flaws kind of killed its potential. A shame, since it actually improved on Morrowind in a number of ways (and I’m not just talking about the graphics). If only the developers were interested in improving the gameplay after launch, instead of just making bug fixes.

    Wait a sec… there is a game like that, and it’s called NetHack. Though most of the flaws in that one have already been ironed out. It’s fun, deep, and very, very hard–during the course of my addiction, I never came close to beating it. If I was afflicted with selective amnesia and had to discover all the game’s tricks myself, that would increase the replay value. Or maybe make me lose my mind, since there’s lots of stuff not in the Guidebook which you have to know to have even a prayer of winning, but could only be discovered by chance. Haven’t touched the game in a while, but that’s more from fear of getting sucked in. On a desert island, you want to get sucked in; it’s how you stay sane.

    As for the other two games… um… can I just bring a mountain of anime DVDs and fansubs instead?

  14. ngthagg says:

    Civ4 is an easy choice.
    Caesar 3 or 4 would be number two.

    And then, just for aggravation’s sake, the old infocom Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I like the idea of bringing in an old classic to finish, but an action game like Contra would have the monitor in a watery grave and me with 1092 days to kill.


  15. Steve says:

    I know this is not a popular choice by far, but I will be tempted to take one of those main games that I never fully played out because i just moved onto the next game.. like the old Zelda windwalker(?) on the gamecube or resident evil 4 (or really nay of the resident evil series)… so choice one would be a game i should really completely finish.

    Choice 2 sort of encroaches on choice one.. i was thinking something like ADOM… man i tried so hard to finish that blooy game/

    Choice 3 would have to be some sort of strategy type game like civ etc.


  16. Brian T says:

    Mine would be a little different as I’m mostly a PC strategy gamer –

    Like ngthagg and others, Civ 4 would be a must.

    Then Caesar 4, although I haven’t played it enough to know if it really is better then C3.

    Finally, Europa Universalis 2 (or 3 when it comes out next year). A great real time strategy/exploration/wargame.

    btw- got here for the LOTR comics and found the rest just as good. Thanks.

  17. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    but what about the monkey economics people

  18. Will says:

    I’m with you on the GalCiv 2 and Unreal, but I think my third would have to be Command & Conquer:Generals. Sometimes if I’ve got a dead hour or two, I’ll just blast through a skirmish against a map full of medium bots.

    The only troubling part about the editor in the later editions of Unreal is the need for other software to create new static meshes.

  19. Actually, I know what I'll do: Use the Unreal editor (and notpad) and make myself an RPG in Unreal Tournament. Yeah. That sounds pretty cool.

    YES! Come join the dark side!

  20. greywulf says:

    Oooo! Good question, but easy to answer:

    1. Sims2. Because people need people too.
    2. Elite for the PC. All those trade route and Thargons too. This would probably get the most playtime. I can be lots in Elite for weeks, easy.
    3. Panzer General. Tactics with tanks. Who needs more?

    Of course, I’d also want to take my ancient D&D Rules Cyclopedia with me. All the role-playing goodness you need in a single book. Probably the bestest RPG product ever made.

  21. the_Corruptor says:

    I have to add an RPGmaker to the suggestion list. Because, technically it’s a game, as you can buy it for the playstation2, and the editor isn’t too bad, plus if you have three or more years, you can use that time to, literally, program anything you want. Then, if you wind up with the next blockbuster you’ll be rich upon return!

  22. DM T. says:

    There are many opinions out there about the entire Elder Scrolls games.
    I recall playing through Arena in the old days (when I had the time) and then again when Daggerfall came out and was buggy like hell, I still played it through.
    Morrowind was somewhat of a pinnacle when it came out along with the Tribunal expansion and it led me to try and capture the game and deliver it to my D&D campaign but it was (still is) too huge for my spare time.
    Oblivion is still installed on my computer and I’ve been toying with the new expansion (Knights of the Nine) too now, which is cool but short. Sure, it has flaws, but I still enjoy the world, the races, the whole campaign feel just makes it so immersive for me.

    My picks would be:
    — Morrowind + Tribunal (I didn’t like the second expansion though)
    — Oblivion + downloadables
    — SimCity 4 + Rush Hour (again, still installed and loving it)

  23. Zanfib says:

    Three games? Bah!

    Dwarf Fortress is all I need.

  24. Freggle says:

    Definitly Morrowind,

    I never played, Oblivion, but from what I heard and my own experience with Morrowind, it surely beats Oblivion in replay value. C&C Generals is surely not on the list, cause of it’s slow gameplay, and not really nice graphics for 3D. Better the old C&C Red Alert 1 + Counterstrike and Aftermath, and level editor ;). So, (fp)RPG and Strategy are covered. Leaves a sim, a civ or another RPG (sure my favorite genre). Doubt them between Arcanum and Baldur’s Gate then. I’ll go for Arcanum there indeed, again because of the variance in playstyle, and thus good replay value.

  25. Bryan says:

    The Sims 2 as I could probably play it forever.
    Civilization IV – ditto.

    I’m at a loss for the third, at least for PC games. I’d probably take Culdcept (a monopoloy/Magic the Gathering hybrid for PS2.) Or a box of Bisquick.

  26. Chris says:


  27. NBSRDan says:

    Jay is basically asking a combination of what the best three games in existence are, and, more importantly, what three games have the most replay value.
    Halo and Super Smash Bros. Brawl quickly come to mind, but the replay value there comes from multiplayer, and I think it’s implied that you’re stranded alone, with just the computer to keep you company. Not to mention those are both console games. Multiplayer = no.
    So we’re talking about a game that is completely solitary, yet has infinite replay value (or atleast a year’s worth).
    Frets on Fire comes to mind, with an unlimited supply of user-made content. However, “user-made” means one user making it for himself – no fancy internet to gets songs from. It’s easy to fault a hypothetical for specifics not accounted for, but my interpretation of “an awesome computer” does not add the specifics “YOUR awesome computer that has thousands of songs stored on it”. Any game that requires external resources is another no.

    All that said, here are my 3 picks:

    1. StarCraft
    While the mechanics of battling the computer can get pretty samey, there is a map editor, which doubles as a campaign editor, thanks to its trigger system. Since there is no limit on user-made content, anything with an editor is a natural choice.

    2. Ancient Domains Of Mystery
    No content creator in this one, but the sheer amount of content is overwhelming. A huge variety of classes, enemies, items, and procedurally-generated dungeons culminate to create infinite replay value. It’s extremely difficult and has the harshest death system of any game I know of, but on the rare occasion of success, the game takes about 100 hours to complete, busywork notwithstanding.

    3. Soldat
    A very multiplayer-oriented game, but the AI is competent enough. A flexible map editor boosts the replay value to infinity.

  28. recon says:

    I’m surprised that nobody noticed that “(and notpad)” is probably a typo.

    That said, I’m probably going with Dwarf Fortress, FreeCiv, and Fallout 3 (if only for scripting missions and such).

  29. 1. Chrono Trigger. More than a dozen endings, New Game Plus, amazing characters… I’ve spent a blissful hour just listening to the first town theme alone.

    2. Seiken Densetsu 3. With the amount of choices you can make for your ending Dark-Light paths, you could play the game thousands of times and have a unique experience.

    3. Lumines. I’m addicted.

  30. Chamale says:

    I would definitely want some games I could mod, at least a little.

    1. Fallout 3 + G.E.C.K. and DLC.
    2. Civilization 4 + expansions
    3. Impossible Creatures + Insect Invasion, Wide Open, Creatures of the Knight, and Creature Chaos

    I would have taken a more action-oriented game like Left 4 Dead or Battlefield 1942, except that I’ve sunken so many hours into these 3 games that they are simply the obvious choices. I could mod 2 of them, which would be a great way to spend some months, and if I ever just went insane I could catalog all 127,392 units in Impossible Creatures.

  31. dyrnwyn says:

    1. Baldur’s gate: Dark Alliance. this is the game with the most impressive replay value I have ever seen. I have gone through the game 8 times and I still feel I could keep going.
    2. Paper Mario. I can’t get enough of this game it’s so good that I still play it to this day.
    3. Resistance. This is in my opinion the definition of an awesome shooter it story is loose and unclear the weapons are fun the weapon wheel is great and I never get bored.

    one of these might be replaced with 007 Nightfire when it came to crunch time. Also I noticed that two of my choices are RPGs which are not known for their replay value. I figured I would pick a racing game or a fighter like Soulcalibur that have a constantly fun system built in but it turns out I like playing through the some plot over and over and over.

  32. Daimbert says:

    Assuming consoles count:

    Persona 3: FES
    Persona 4
    Suikoden III

    All told, I’ve got over 500 hours in the first two, and have played S3 a number of times. Put them on a cycle and I might never get bored …

  33. goatcathead says:

    I would only need one: minecraft (with INVedit and yogbot)
    but the other two would be:
    any civ and
    teh latest unreal tournament

  34. WWWebb says:

    If we’re allowing ourselves to download wikis and expansions…I’d say a Neverwinter Nights bundle and a couple hard drives full of NWVault would be enough to keep your RPG itch scratched for a few years. That doesn’t even get to the editor and making your own content.

    Civ type games certainly have a lot of replayability, but it’s the same kind of play over and over again. NWVault is a library of thousands of different stories (some better than others).

  35. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

    My 3 games would easily have to be these (considering that this was posted in 2006 so I will try to keep it there):

    1. Star Wars Battlefront
    2. Star Wars Battlefront 2

    (Both those games I pretty much lost my childhood too, still fire it up on my ps2 occasionally, the AI is actually pretty good)

    The 3rd choice is going to be hard, as the first 2 would easily satisfy me, so maybe a game I was never really able to finish, or a deep RPG, or possibly Mario Kart or something… hmm… I will have to pick…

    3. Sunset Riders (with SNES emulator of course) I played this game and I loved it when I was about 6, and I still haven’t been back and completed it, and maybe I could kind of bend the rules and take Earthworm Jim and Doom or even Donkey Kong Country along with me as ROMs. :)

  36. Thomas Steven Slater says:

    Sid Meier’s alpha Centauri. Out of all the strategy games it is the one I’ve played the most.

    Age of empires 2. As it has a scenario editor.

    Undertale as their are loads of different endings and many parts of game that only comes up on some play throughs.

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