When I first signed up to do this feature I had to decide what was a “Timeless Board Game”. I asked around the collective wisdom of the ZATU band of bloggers and got a fair few suggestions. However, in my mind these were either too recent to be considered timeless like Catan, a mere 28 years old or ancient, like Senet, but not now readily available. In the end being a big pub quiz man, both doing and setting, I used the yardstick is it a game so well known and around today that “ordinary” folk could answer a trivia question about it?
This is what I came up with.
I know, I know, I don’t like it much either but you can’t ignore it! It’s sold in114 countries, translated into 47 languages with countless variations and has sold in excess of 275 million copies, rank that against a modern succesful kickstarter campaign. Type “Monopoly” into the ZATU search engine and you get 172 results.
Born in the 1930’s and published ever since it’s likely to be the first board game that people play and as long as they are not put off by the interminable length or the over competitive nature of the game – even the Royal Family have banned it because it caused too many arguments – they can be guided on to the better games that we all know and love.
But what will Monopoly have taught them? Turn taking, theming, roll the dice and move, card collecting, chance events and even, arguably, worker placement in the form of the houses and hotels. That’s actually quite a lot and arguably given them an appetite for shorter games and ones in which everyone gains to a greater or lesser degree. So maybe give it another go but I would suggest you add a few house rules – most people do anyway!
For a game that was invented by a pratt, Cluedo has stuck around a long time! That’s British board game designer Anthony E. Pratt who first devised Cluedo in 1943 and got it published by Waddingtons in the UK in 1949. Parker brothers (now part of Hasbro) took it on in the states where it was renamed Clue (having little knowledge of Ludo, either the game or the Latin for I play) and it has subsequently sold over 150 million copies. You’ve probably got one yourself. Either the classic game or one of the several variants like Cluedo “Discover the Secrets” shown above. If you haven’t you should give it a go!
In it up to 6 amateur detectives try to find the murderer, means and location of the demise of Doctor Black (other victims are now available!). Ironically the players take on the rôles of the prime suspects so you can be in the position of trying to establish that you, yourself are the murderer! You move around the rooms of the mansion, originally based on the layout of the Tudor Close Hotel near Brighton, to summon suspects and weapons and make a “suggestion” as to Who did it, with What in that room. Having at least one of the suspected cards yourself you then get shown one of the other cards by another player and you can cross that off on your “detective sheet”. Eventually you have narrowed the choices down enough to make an actual acccusation. If you are right you win or else you drop out and play goes on.
There have been many changes through the years to the characters, to reflect modern times, the rooms and the murder weapons but the basic play remains constant. Entire new variants like the above mentioned Discover the Secrets and Liars edition add different rules to the core gameplay and there are many themed versions. ZATU list 25 at the moment surely one for everyone.
The mother of all word games. Invented by Alfred M Butts in the 30’s it first came to the UK in 1954 and surely everyone has played it and if you haven’t you should. Admittedly not everyone can score 1782 points in one go by playing OXYPHENBUTAZONE across the top of the board, hitting three Triple Word Score squares while making seven cross-words downward but you may get the chance to play a 7-letter word for the bonus 50 points. If you do, you are allowed to shout “Bingo” apparently, somewhat confusingly. I never have, just being content with a smug smile of satisfaction.
There are many different types of timeless sets available today and in multiple different languages. It does work best in English though. This is not just chauvanistic but the number, frequency and points values of the letters were based on the distribution of the letters on the front page of the New York Times. Also the spacing of the premium scores works best with English syntax.
There have been discussions over changes, to both tile distribution and points value, since many new words have now been accepted, notably, with “qi” and “qat” now being valid, should a “Q” be down graded from 10 to 8 points but this hasn’t happened so far. This is good news when I am setting quiz questions!
Finally for Cymraeg fans I notice the Welsh version ZATU sells has tiles with double letters on them like “LL” and “FF”. Those Welsh crosswords are always so tricky!
Backgammon is one of the oldest games out there. It is said that the Roman soldiers who diced for Christ’s clothes played an early version of Backgammon. In essence, Backgammon is a race game. Two players set up their men symmetrically opposite each other across a board of four zones of six points each and roll dice to move them around and back to their home and to get borne off the board. One player going clockwise and the other anti-clockwise and merrily knocking back your opponent’s pieces, “hitting a blot”, along the way.
Don’t be deterred by the somewhat negative association with well-heeled gamblers losing fortunes in dimly-lit Gentlemen’s clubs. Backgammon is a great game for all. It is easy to teach and quick to play so you usually play a string of games and if you lose one you can win the next. It has a great balance of skill and luck so that a complete beginner will often win but an experienced player who can calculate the odds probability of a double D6 dice throw will prevail overall.
Whilst super stylish sets can cost a pretty penny I was genuinely surprised to see how low in price were the quite nice basic wooden sets that ZATU were selling.
The original wargame. Two equal-point armies facing each other, each with specialist troops: Cavalry, Clerics, Fortifications plus a mass of basic grunts presided over by a powerful regal boss unit to protect your command centre – no it’s not Warhammer it is Chess!
Whether you think the timeless game of Chess originated in India or Persia (spoiler alert Check Mate comes from the Farsi aka Persian phrase for the King is dead! Just saying.) it’s a deeply tactical tussle for control of the centre ground and ultimate destruction of the opposing head of state. It is the ultimate two-player, abstract strategy game.
Everybody’s heard of it and it can, of course, be played to extreme levels of tournament play which requires years of study and brains the size of half a planet but, on the other hand, have you tried just picking it up and having a go with a casual player? I’ve just reviewed General Orders of World War II, one version of which I likened to playing a chess-like struggle. Well, after you’ve played that why not try the original?
So that concludes my short list of genre-creating timeless games. We’ve seen card collecting, worker placement, deduction (social or otherwise!), racing, word creation, tile-laying and classic combat.
Next I’m going to look at “modern classic” games and examine some of the key stepping stones towards the wonderful board game bonanza we know today.