Oldies But Goodies – The Best Classic Games

Classics are classics for a reason. (Wow, what piercing insight to kick us off.) But you know what I mean, whether it’s a book, a song, or even a piece of clothing, classics stand the test of time for a number of reasons.

But primarily, it’s because they have a timeless quality. Something that stays engaging and beguiling across the generations. A simplicity that belies something that has the potential to hook you in and bring a deeper connection

In the board game world, I reckon classics can be split into two categories. The first, a game for people who rarely or never play. One that can be picked up quickly, has simple mechanics and an engaging theme. You’ll bring them out at Christmas to play with the family, you’ll find them in a pub, they’ll be left on the side at your seaside AirBnB to lend a cosy, familiar quality to your stay and give you something to do when it inevitably chucks it down and you can’t go to the beach.

And then there’s the next step up. These classics are the first ones you’ll reach for when you’re starting a collection of your very own. They’ll typically feature a few more mechanics, perhaps one or two more complex elements, and perhaps take a little longer to resolve and find a winner.

But in both cases, there’s a reason the usual suspects appear on any collection starter list, and that is because they tickle that part of your brain that makes you want to play games in the first place.

So here, I thought I’d gather together a few examples for each tier of board gaming classics.

First up, Entry Level: games you’re likely to see if you walk into a general store, or if you image search “Board Games” (And yes, I did check that!).

Cluedo

Obligatory “It’s called Clue in the US.”

First up, look, I know to some Cluedo doesn’t stick the landing, but this is my list and it is one of my all-time favourite games.

It’s not hard to see why, honestly. First of all, the mystery solving element, stemming from the murder of Doctor Black, which neatly plays on the Very British obsession with that particular crime. But an old-fashioned manor house filled with characters who base their entire aesthetic around the fact that their surname happens to be a particular colour? High camp and I love it.

Logic puzzles are always fun to solve, and the theming allows for new players to form a connection with the game and stay focused. Sure, it can be clunky at times, but it’s a flavourful and simple game that is just the right amount of twee.

Also, the movie is exceptional. Flames on the side of my face.

Jenga

A game so iconic that its name has become both a verb and a battle cry. Simple as you can imagine. Take blocks from the tower and put them on top of the tower, but don’t knock the tower over lest ye be judged.

It starts off nice and easy, but the longer you go, the more tense it becomes, and strategy ends up being key. But even so, said strategy is simply “which brick can I safely dislodge,” meaning the game is available to a much greater audience than most.

It just taps into simple, primal excitement, and there’s a reason this game – and not Monopoly – is the one that ends up in student house parties with “Never Have I Ever” scrawled all over its bricks. (Although now I’ve said that, anyone for a round of “Monopoly But..Fresher’s Week”?)

On a personal note, one of the most exhilarating moments in my life was playing Giant Jenga in the green room of a convention in Toronto. The tower got higher, the base bricks became fewer, the structure became wobblier, but nevertheless we persisted until finally the tower crumbled. (Not at my hands, I hasten to add.) And as we stared at the rubble, we knew that was the day we were no longer little girls, we were little women.

Taboo

A classic of the Party Game genre, Taboo simply requires you to get your teammate to guess a word on your card. The catch is that said card also features five other words you can’t say while you try and guide your team to the right answer. Good luck trying to get them to guess the word “moustache”, for instance, without saying the words “nose,” “face,” or “hair”.

The joy here comes from two places. Firstly, watching a loved one have a bit of a meltdown while they try and figure out how to get around the Taboo words. But also from the literal buzzer your team gets to use to keep the opposing team in check. Whenever they DO let one of the Taboo words slip out, you get to chastise them, and if that isn’t the most pure form of satisfaction and glee, I don’t know what is.

A relatively new game, certainly compared to others with the Classic tag, but one that’s more than earned its place and wormed its way into the format of countless other party games.

 

And now let’s take a quick look at some Next Step titles: these are the ones that are still accessible to new gamers, but ones whose presence on shelves are a surefire giveaway that you’ve truly got the board gaming bug.

Pandemic

Is something that was published since the turn of the millennium old enough to be considered “classic”? That’s something I don’t like to think about too much, but in the case of a game like Pandemic I think the answer is absolutely “yes”.

A co-op game that sees you try to find a miracle cure for four plagues before they take over the world, it’s something that still gives me the collywobbles if I’m honest, but it’s worth it.

Each member of the team gets a specialism, so you have to work together and strategise to find a solution, but with a time pressure to get to that solution before it’s too late.

I love a competitive edge to a game, but with the right group of players, there’s something even more gratifying about working together to find the solution.

Ticket to Ride

While there’s definitely more to get your head around in Ticket to Ride, in the words of the game’s designer Alan R. Moon, “the rules are simple enough to write on a train ticket.” I love that as a pitch for its commitment to the bit, but also because that instantly makes even a next level board game feel accessible. No need to be intimidated, this is still nice and simple!

You’re using various cards to lay claim to train routes across North America, picking up cards as you go. You’ve also got to try and fulfill specific goals, bringing two destinations together, for another trove of points. It’s simple, colourful, uncomplicated fun.

There’s also a variety of editions, featuring different locations across the globe. So wherever you are, no collection is complete without one of them.

Carcassonne

When you’re looking for a next-step game that still meets the criteria for “easy to get out and play at a family gathering,” Carcassonne absolutely fits the bill thanks to its simple rules, it’s quick playtime and the fact that – joy of joys – no one gets eliminated! So no grumpy uncles sat stewing in the corner, moodily pushing about a half eaten slice of Christmas pud.

It’s a tile-laying game which sees players build the landscape over the course of the season – cities next to cities, roads next to roads, etc. “Like Dominos,” you’ll say, to an approving murmur around the table. But the key to winning is placing one of your ‘followers’ on a previously laid tile, claiming it as your own. The game ends once all the tiles are laid, the followers counted up, and whoever has the most points is declared the winner.

Nice, easy, but with just enough cutthroat strategy to achieve true satisfaction.

Catan

Easily one of the most instantly recognisable games, there’s a reason Catan is often referred to as the ultimate ‘gateway game’ – the one that’ll take an intrigued newbie and coax them into making it their hobby and, subsequently, their whole personality.

The premise is simple: you land on the unsettled island of Catan, and the goal is to gather the right resources to build infrastructure, link settlements on the islands and ultimately upgrade them to cities.

The dice element of the game adds a lot of fun – we all know what a cruel, fickle mistress those pesky little things can be – and trading between yourself and your fellow players being crucial to success in the end, leading to lively chat around the table.

Plus, as the game is modular, you’ve got the standard set up and then plenty of varying alternatives to keep it fresh if that rainy-day turns into a rainy-week.