To emerge victorious in a game of Stay Alive meant more than utilizing strategy. Your trusty fleet of marbles sat above an unpredictable sea of levers, one that could open up without warning and swallow your prized spheres like the Bermuda Triangle. And it wasn’t just your opponents that whittled away at your fleet. A wrong move on your part could be just as disastrous. This combination of tension and unpredictability is what made Milton Bradley’s Stay Alive such a memorable game.
It all came down to the levers, the evil levers. You had to pull them. Everyone had to pull them. And with each gingerly tug, one made with all the apprehension one might expect from a bomb squad and a pair of wire snips, you were either going to victoriously sink your opponents marbles, or lose your own. Unlike the game of Ker Plunk, you could breathe a little easier knowing that a virtual marble avalanche wasn’t on the horizon. Although, at least Ker Plunk allowed you to see what you were doing and estimate the consequences. Here, it was simply blind faith and that last marble was all that stood between you and defeat.
Stay Alive was played on a 7×7 grid of holes. A series of slides that surrounded the board were moveable into three positions, some which covered the holes and some that didn’t. Each player placed five color coded marbles onto the playing field and the fun began. As players took turns at the levers, they opened and closed holes on the surface of the board. Any marbles atop one of these opening holes had the misfortune of falling in. The player with last marble above deck won the game.
Introduced in 1971, Milton Bradley’s Stay Alive was a popular staple of the 70s game closet. When it was repackaged in 1978, the company perhaps missed a prime opportunity to slap the faces of those loveable Bee Gees on the cover in all their disco glory (they were enjoying much success thanks to a hit song by the same name). It seemed so logical but it just didn’t materialize and the ramifications were severe. Neither the game, nor the pop music act, enjoyed much success into the next decade. That’s what happens when you ignore the obvious.
And yet, Stay Alive, the ultimate survival game, lives on in the hearts and minds of many. One can only hope that the traumatizing memories of pulling those sinister levers were replaced over the years by fond recollection.
If you have your own stories to share about playing a rousing game of Stay Alive, we welcome them in our comments section.