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Top 20 Classic Games

classic games
classic games

Classic cars, classic films, classic TV shows. The “classic” moniker evokes thoughts, harking back to a different era. Life was a little more innocent and perhaps more forgiving. In the UK those with money were able to slide behind the wheel of an E type Jaguar. Lesser mortals would squeeze into the mini wearing their 60s tie-dyed shirts. In the cinema Carry On films jostled with James Bond's Thunderball for audience attention. Hancock’s half hour was serving a regular dose of comedy and Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise we’re just starting out. But where do classic games fit into this era?

Game manufacturers and publishers were dominated by Spears Games and Waddingtons in the UK, or MB games in the US. Most games were “dice chuckers” with nearly every family owning a selection of games. Indeed, games then were called box games because they all fitted into a box

This feature takes a slightly “rose tinted” view of these family classics. Nearly all are still in production. They may not have the latest in gaming mechanics, but they are still fun to get out and play for those who fancy a trip down memory lane.


Ask anyone to name a word game and Scrabble is certain to be the first game mentioned. Yes, it is old, it is one of those classic games, and there is an element of randomness and perhaps luck if you happen to draw a rack full of vowels. That said, for a pre-war game that has been translated into 30 languages and sold in over 120 countries, it has universal appeal and recognition. It is said that half of British homes have a Scrabble set.

The key is knowing the unusual two-letter words or even more curious words containing Q, X or Z. Place these on a double or triple letter score, throw in a double word, and you are sure to win. Scrabble nerds might choose to revise before competitive games by scouring the dictionary for curious letter combinations. I have yet to play CAZIQUES- a native chief of West Indian Aborigines! But if I did, I could score 392 points in a single turn.

Scrabble can be played by children with a little help from parents, or on the move, or at the table. My love of Scrabble came from my Nan. I still have her two-letter-word cheat sheet carefully folded in the inside of my Scrabble dictionary.


“Colonel mustard in the ballroom with the lead piping?”




That gets everyone scribbling on their little Cluedo sheets as they determine the murderer, weapon and location in the country mansion. It seems as though the little weekend trip didn’t quite go as planned and all the guests are suspects. Explore the nine rooms using the secret passages to get across the board and inquire of your opponents which cards they might have. Their responses will inform you, but also assist others as to the three clue cards that have already been removed at the start of the game.

Cluedo has shades of a bygone age where the men went to the billiard room after supper to chat and smoke while the ladies might make their way to the lounge. Playing Cluedo is a rite of passage for many children as they learn to navigate to the clues. Beginners might just play by crossing off the cards they have just been shown. More advanced players keep a record of who did not have certain card combinations. Those who have a hankering to be Sherlock Holmes might record the suggestions made and make deductions later.

Overtime this has become one of those classic games that has spawned many other editions. My daughter played a Harry Potter version last week where the potential murderers were pupils from Slytherin House and the player explored rooms at Hogwarts School. Hats off to Hasbro for tapping into the next generation’s sense of fun.

In the last few years the game has evolved. Super Sleuth Cluedo allows players to develop the mansion, placing new room tiles as you explore. Cluedo Cards is a portable version with a twist to find the escape vehicle and geographical location in the UK. As youngsters my children just started with Cluedo Junior and needed to find out who ate the last piece of chocolate cake. The opportunities and variety of games is now staggering.


As I look back on my childhood this, along with Escape from Colditz, was one of the games I so wanted, but was denied by my parents! I needed to go round to a friend’s house, Andy Smith, to spend an afternoon rolling a dice to land on a cheese space and claim the next piece of apparatus. We would have great fun constructing a rickety set of plastic pieces that make an invention in the hope of catching the mouse – almost a Wallace and Gromit like affair. And then, when all is built, and the opponent is in the correct spot the contraption is started.

You would crank the handle to kick a boot, a ball would roll and trigger another area. A bowling ball would then fall through the bathtub and hit a seesaw for a man to dive into a swimming pool, finally releasing the cage over the opponent. After what seemed like hours of play there would inevitably be a glitch and one element would fail to work and the other player’s mouse went free. The game has changed little over the years. The winning or losing is not important – it’s the taking part and laughing together as this crazy apparatus tries to work.

One thing that I do remember about Mousetrap is constantly trying to balance the basket on the pole without it forever falling down again and again and again. Perhaps we had more patience as kids in those days but it never really bothered us. It was an accepted part of the experience!

Nowadays engineers talk about parallel systems to overcome single points of failure. Mousetrap must have at least six single points of failure in the contraption but it is so much fun hoping the crazy device would work. Everyone should play it at some point in their life.


Versatile, simple, portable, replayable and definitely a well known game in this list of classic games. Uno cards has such a simplicity it is universally known. Play a card to follow the number or colour and be the first to empty your hand. Failure to say “UNO” when you have just one card brings penalties. With wild cards, plus two penalties and even some plus four cards to sting the opponents, there’s always a few twists and turns.

A huge number can play, and with colour and number matching most youngsters can enjoy it too. It is really just a re-implementation of older card games. As a child I played “Whot”, an identical game that predates Uno by 35 years. However, with backing of Mattel, Uno is a global phenomenon. The last 50 years have seen numerous Uno derivatives, Uno Dice, Uno Flip, Uno Spin and Uno Wild to name a few. Like many things in life, often the original keeps it simple and is the best.

As children my kids loved it and I loved playing it with them. It is perfect family fun for up to 10 players- made even better by adding house rules to make it more chaotic.


Take 16, D6 dice, a series of random letters, a 4x4 grid and a three minute timer and you have Boggle. I cannot believe this game had a Golden Jubilee this year. Racing against the timer, players need to create as many unique words [of three or more letters] that use letters connected diagonally or orthogonally. Letters may only be used once per word and points are only scored if no other player has identified your unique word. The longer the word, the higher the points; short three or four letter words are worth just one point, five letters gives you two, six letter words award three.

Do you go for lots of small, lower scoring words hoping to get a few unique ones, or perhaps force an excellent seven letter word [five points] out of the dice?

Boggle is played over many rounds with the winner having the highest aggregate scores. This is fun, fast and frantic and an alternative to Scrabble. Children can find shorter words and, with house rules [adults must have words of four or more letters], we have adapted Boggle depending on who we are playing with. This develops observation skills and is excellent for wordplay and English. The complexity of the game is limited only by a player’s command of language.

Like most “classics” there have been a few reiterations. Boggle Flash is an electronic version with fancy cubes that talk to each other wirelessly. As a family we would be keen to try Big Boggle [with a 5x5 grid and 25 letters]. It is not for the faint hearted and many say it elevates the game beyond the rush to write huge numbers of three letter words to become a much more erudite challenge. I am on the hunt for a copy for Christmas [hint!]


Risk - the game that has been tearing families apart each Christmas for generations.

If ever there was a game that encouraged players to be friendly, form alliances, then renege on their word, Risk has to be considered. If you are the poor unfortunate who has to suffer because a hidden agenda is “destroy the green”, it is easy to feel persecuted when playing Risk. You advance your armies, attacking weaker regions and try to retain captured territory. There is a bizarre satisfaction in having a solitary army holding out against the massed foes who are trying to obliterate you – yet you keep rolling a “six”. The roll of the dice and even the initial setup does mean random chance can determine the outcome.

During the course of this “slow” game, one or two weaker opponents fall by the wayside. This often leaves two super powers slogging it out. I don’t think we ever finished an original game of Risk, instead just shaking hands, counting our armies and putting the game away for another year before tempers get too raised.


More column inches inches have been written about Monopoly and its vices than I care to remember. However, for all that is frustrating about it- randomness, luck driven, duration etc, as gamers we should consider the positives.

It has the “monopoly” on the public’s attention. When I mention that I review board games to colleagues or friends there first comment is “What, like monopoly?”. Who would have thought that phrases like “Do not pass Go, do not collect 200 pounds” are now so ingrained in the public psyche that we forget that they originate it from this classic game.

This is the game that brought us shaped tokens with a battleship or boot, instead of boring pawns. There are some decisions during the game that could be considered as relevant. Is it really worth buying Mayfair when the probability of another player landing on it is quite low? Would it be better to try to collect the properties that are between six and eight squares from the jail?

There are more types of monopoly than can be magined. Most towns have their own versions but no area wants the ignominy of being the Portsmouth equivalent of the Old Kent Rd [other towns and versions are available!]

I have a confession, but I know that any readers of this blog would not be offended. I had been given a Swindon variant of monopoly. It is a bit like COVID Omicron, only less attractive. Having discussed it with the family we gave it to the local Cancer Research charity shop – but only because we preferred to keep our Australia edition instead.

I haven’t played monopoly for over 10 years. It is still occupying shelf space and yet I will probably keep it. Why? For reminiscent therapy for when I am too old to remember why i kept it in I kept it in the first place!

Monopoly deserves a place in the annals of history [two “n”s in annals] as a game that has kept many a family entertained on evenings when there was no other available activity, and has now suffused into western society so much that it is almost part of our heritage.


In the States it is called Downspin. Two or four players sit either side of a screen containing a series of wheels. Each wheel has a couple of slots into which each player’s tokens will drop. Players rotate just one cog at a time to turn their pieces to a more favourable position, or to align other wheels to accept their tokens. The first player to get all 5, or 10, pieces from the top to the bottom is the winner.

Each side has a slightly different positioning of the slots so that you are not sure if in turning your wheel whether you might assist your opponent. There are variations to the rules to enhance play; for example, ensuring that the pieces arrive in the lowest tray in numerical order.

In its day [having been published in 1970] it was a Mensa select winner. There is a degree of fun as a limited race where the game is won more by making a mistake rather than performing a clever move. It is a “blast from the past” and fun to get off the shelf to remind the kids how far we have come in gaming design. In the 70s they certainly knew how to market the games they produced. Just look at the box art on the front of any 70s Downfall game.


This is the original roll and write game from this list of classic games, over 60 years old and still going strong. Five dice, up to three rolls, and the hope to score points in each one of 13 categories. Should you aim for a full house [a pair and a triple] or push on for four of a kind? Each category can score points depending on the pip value of the chosen dice. Sometimes a set of “rubbish” dice rolls could be used to fill the five of a kind space, in anticipation that a player would be unlikely to get a “Yahtzee” anyway.

This little game is portable, versatile, completely language independent and has been a staple of family homes for many years. Roll and Write games are here to stay. There is a relaxation about spending a few moments in solo contemplation, weighing up the odds of certain dice combinations and hoping to get a high score.

Yahtzee is to dice games what Monopoly is to board games. It was there at the “dawn of time”. It will be there when history is wound up (and will stay as the most classic of classic games there can be). It has become a cultural icon and is equally loved and loathed. My view is that it should be treasured, not for what it is, but for what it helped create.


My son is a hospital doctor who is hoping to become an orthopaedic surgeon in the coming years. Operation is not a suitable training programme for Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons! It is a childhood, fun game where a slight slip of the hand and the patient’s nose lights up. It is plenty of fun. There is a little skill. It could be considered one of the first dexterity games [alongside Pick Up Sticks]. There is little strategy – but that does not matter.

As medical students a group of us played operation with alcohol fuelled forfeits paid when the patient “felt” the surgeon’s knife. It is probably best kept for children aged 5 to 10 years!

There is fun and laughter and one thing is certain, a mother is bound to vacuum up the “spare rib” or “funny bone” a few days later so the game will invariably have lost a few pieces after a few outings.

Like many other classics there are now alternative dexterity games, but Operation has an almost cult following. It is brought out in TV sitcoms and comedy sketches and often purchased by grandparents for their grandchildren for Christmas when they are uncertain what to get. It is a safe bet that it will produce laughter and delight if you are of Infant School age, and anxiety and sweaty palms if you are older and not wanting to embarrass yourself. It is more of an activity. However, it is still being produced by games publishers in various guises including Pit stop, a version to remove various car parts.

So many games have become part of our psyche that we forget that at one point they were just a “pastime”. Our language, songs and idioms are all full of phrases with gaming connotations. Only last week I was listening to Man on the Moon [1994] by REM. There in the first few verses is a back catalogue of older games from a previous age; Game of Life, Monopoly, Checkers, Chess, Twister, Risk. It appears even in the pre-Millennium years we had a penchant for looking back and making cultural references to icons of a previous time.

This blog takes an archaeological dig at some of these classic games that are probably hiding at the back of many a parent’s game cupboard. Like an archaeologist carefully scraping away the sediment around an ancient relic, let us pick up our trowels and unearth a few treasures from the past.


Over 50 years old, still going strong. Twister is guaranteed to cause no end of mirth, especially if people of a certain generation get down to play [and then have difficulty putting their dislocated hip back in a socket]. This is such a simple concept- six rows of circles, each of a different colour printed on a large mat. A random spinner tells the players where to place their hands or feet. With two players no one can share a circle. Within a few moves you need to be a contortionist. After a couple of minutes players are getting acquainted with each other rather well and soon a variety of compromising positions are being put on public display- all in the name of playing the game!

Twister is a phenomenon a bit like the hula hoop. It has caught the imagination of millions. It brings together all ages. Certainly, as a child I can remember cajoling my grandmother to get down onto the mat and play Twister with my sister and I during one Christmas. My Nan needed a few paracetamol for her back after that event. For a game that favours the young at heart and suitably supple, Twister is here to stay. It also has a recognised Guinness World Record of 2500 students and 1008 twister mats. That is one way to break the ice at a university fresher’s event!


Othello or Reversi- which do you prefer? Like the black and white sides on the circular discs that are used in the game, these names are interchangeable. Reversi was devised in Victorian times [1883] but was immediately marred in controversy as two Englishmen both accused the other of fraud and of stealing their idea!

Othello was the marketing name popularised in the 1970s. It is your classic two-player abstract game where each player aims to cover the majority of the 64 squares [8x8 grid] with their colour. The name is derived from Shakespeare’s play with the interaction of the Moor, Othello and Iago. The “green eyed monster” of jealousy is portrayed by the green background of the game board. Each turn a new disk is placed adjacent to at least one of the opposite colour. By sandwiching a line of opponent’s pieces between two of your colour, you can switch these pieces and then they become yours. The central 16 squares are used initially, but once you start to stray beyond this 4x4 area you can become vulnerable. If the opponent gets a finger-hold onto the side then these pieces are more challenging to switch. The corners are crucial. Control of the corners makes the game almost a certainty. There are very simple rules. Most games take less than 15 minutes. Like any abstract game, it is eye-catching with its contrasting colours and is a good warmup game for a night before a meatier challenge.

classic games - pickup sticks

Pick Up Sticks

This physical game of dexterity is also known as Jack straws or Fiddlesticks. For a simple concept it can bring out the “Thinker”, the “Engineer” and the “Obsessionist”. Simply drop a bunch of wooden sticks into a pile on the table [or the floor]. Each player, in turn, attempts to remove a stick without disturbing any of the others. In some versions the sticks might be colour coded and worth different points. Often the other players will be watching with hawk-like observation whether another stick might move. This game requires a very steady hand and nerves of steel. Some sticks can be flicked away in the hope that the speed of movement will mask any inadvertent fault.

The first few moments of the game are easy. The spare and scattered sticks are alone, single and touching nothing else. Soon, these easy pickings are taken. Now there is a nest of sticks with one resting on another or cantilevered across two others. The challenge is working out which one might be simply resting on top, and not integral to the whole structure. For a little bundle of sticks Pick up Sticks is great for kids but perhaps even more enjoyable for adults, especially if they start to take themselves and the game far too seriously.

Game Of Life

What would you choose?

How do you define winning at life?

This is, of course, a hypothetical question. Many of us have little choice in some of the events that shape our life chances- our parentage, birth circumstances, education, natural abilities. However, it is what we do with our “hand” that we have been dealt that can make a difference.

Game of Life sees players navigating life’s ups and downs. In the original game, as in life, there are a few choices- should I go straight to work or choose to pay and get a university degree in the hope of [perhaps] getting a better paid job? Each turn you can then earn that as your salary. The game takes a linear path- get married, perhaps have children, perhaps buy status symbols. These might be useful when you choose to retire. There is plenty of chance and luck. The best part of the game is the central spinner that clicks loudly as it rotates and gives the equivalent of a D10 dice score. Ultimately, this is a race to millionaire’s mansion. The first over the retirement bridge has certain pension benefits and bonuses. It is a bit like the current situation where older people who are already drawing their pension today are being supported by a younger generation with our current pension contributions! Maybe life is a game or more importantly this game is more like life than we care to admit. Ultimately, we all have one destiny but then it all ends up in a box after a short spell in retirement!

Connect 4

Connect Four is a two-player connective game is nearly 50 years old. It was created and published by MB games and Hasbro in 1974. The two players sit either side of a 7 by 6 grid. In turn they drop coloured tokens into the grid, the first ones falling down to the lowest row. The first player to get four in a row either vertically, horizontally, or diagonally is the winner. It is a very simple concept with a huge following. The key thing is to think several moves in advance to try to block your opponent from placing their piece and forcing a win. Its simple rules are perfect for children and adults alike. The biggest issue is that sometimes I knock the bar at the base, releasing all of the disks mid-game before a winner is found. Remove the gravity element and this becomes a simple “four in the row” challenge.

Simple it might be, but with four trillion different possible arrangements of pieces, it is actually quite complex. There is an advantage of playing first, to grab the centre row. Computer analysis has shown that playing first in either of the outer two tows [on each side] will allow the second player a chance to force a win. Perhaps that ought to be included in the rules. We get around this somewhat nerdy observation by simply enjoying the Connect Four and allowing the loser to be the first player next time.

classic games - mastermind


Not the black chair and a series of questions on a chosen specialist subject, but an asymmetric 2 player puzzle of a game. Pegs of six colours, four holes, 1296 different combinations and a code to break, in order to work out your opponent’s colour sequence. Using logic and hints it is possible to deduce which colours are in what position in a hidden row.

“White: right colour, wrong place. Black: right colour, right place”

The game has a variety of scoring options. By swapping roles between code setter and code breaker each turn, the players have a chance to defeat the other. We play that for every guess that is made a player will score one point. The player at the end of several turns with the fewest points [guesses] is the winner. Mastermind has developed many similar games. Super mastermind increases the number of colours and rose. This increase is possible combinations. It is easy to adapt for younger children, perhaps by avoiding double or triple colours, reducing the numbers of colour pegs available, or by not allowing blank, unfilled peg holes. With practise and a keen eye, it is rare to take more than five turned to complete a four-colour challenge. Wordmaster was created in the late 1970s and now millions play a variant on their phones, knowing it as Wordle®. For me, that simplicity of the four pegs and half a dozen colours evokes memories of playing mastermind with my father. He patiently explained logic and reasoning. It is these skills that I am trying to instil in my children through this classic.


When did a pile of building bricks become such fun for adults and children alike? Take 54 wooden bricks and stack them in 18 layers, with three bricks in each to create a tall tower. Now take it in turns to remove one block from a lower section and place it on the top. The tower becomes more unstable as it grows in height yet has fewer supports below. Each brick is wooden and most have a slightly different density. They are also not perfectly square. This means that within a few turns there is often a slight lean or alteration in the weight distribution. Some bricks are fractionally thinner so can slide out more easily.

Local rules abound in Jenga. “If you touch it you have to take it. Only one hand must be used. No stabilising the top of the tower with the other hand.”

Is this a game? Not in the sense of a winner or loser. It is more of an event, like an icebreaker that brings people together. With a large group taking turns, you are desperately hoping that someone more clumsy than yourself will cause the blocks to tumble before your turn comes around again.

I first started playing Jenga decades ago when a friend of mine bought it for his children to help them develop “fine motor skills”. It calls for a keen eye and a steady hand. Jenga has been developed and reimplemented. Garden Jenga involves industrial-sized wooden blocks. When we play this at home with my nephews, I ensure they are wearing crash helmets because we get often have a tower two metres tall. There are not many games that could come with a head injury health warning- but hey, this is a love-child game of the 80s. I look back at those times with fondness when health and safety was a somewhat lax affair and things seemed slightly better for it.


This is a charade- style game for two or more teams. It involves trying to guess a word or phrase that is being drawn within a short period of time. The level of difficulty can be varied. Some words are extremely simple, such as zebra. But for more challenge there may be clues for concepts such as rejuvenate!

Pictionary is sure to cause some people to exclaim “oh, I can’t draw!”. For Pictionary this is not so much about drawing but about getting across a concept. A stick man with an arrow pointing to a triangle on his head is perfect to explain “hat”. The pressure of the timer always causes some anxiety. Each card in the adult card deck contains five categories. A dice roll determines how far the player may move and the colour of the square determines which category is chosen, for example an object, person or place, action, challenging words or phrases, miscellaneous. The junior card deck will give a clue or category at the top of the card. This can assist any guesses of the words, for example “found at the zoo”.

When a team gets an answer correct, they retain control of the dice. Shake the D6 dice and move along to the next coloured square. In the more modern Pictionary editions there are a number of stop squares. No matter how successful a team might be, they must stop at these points and allow the dice and drawing to pass to the next team. This prevents a runaway winner.

As a family we prefer the game of Speechless. This has a similar mechanic, drawing a name, word or phrase within a given time. However, for this game there are additional challenges. The categories are more difficult and often include phrases and idioms. There are more “all-play” squares and sometimes the opposite hand is mandated so this is perfect for those who are ambidextrous. Of the two versions my family feel that this is more game and certainly Speechless is more entertaining. Pictionary is probably more suitable for children.

Trivial Pursuit

Trivial Pursuit is another classic game that has become part of our modern culture. So many sitcoms have groups of young adults sitting around a coffee table asking trivial questions in the hope of winning a “cheese”. The traditional game has six categories that may include sport, history, science and nature. By correctly answering a question the player or team may continue to move around the board. At key locations there are category headquarters. A correct answer is rewarded with a “wedge” and this is inserted into the players piece. Once all six major categories have been completed and six different wedges collected, then a player moves to the hub to answer a question in a category of a type that is selected by one of the other teams. There is an element of chance in that the D6 dice is used to determine movement. The questions are all printed on a huge stack of cards.

Since its release in 1981 there have been numerous editions published. Some cater for specialist knowledge or interest or maybe even promotional. Others bring the fun of this game to a younger generation with a Family or Harry Potter edition. There are many other question and answer games, but Trivial Pursuit must be the considered the grandfather of them all. The light-hearted questions cover a broad range of categories. With team play it is usual that a six-cheese winner can be found as there is often someone in the team with an obscure knowledge of a particularly minor incident in the history category.

Escape From Colditz

This older game has had a recent rerelease and re-marketing as part of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two. In the UK this game was first released in the early 70s and codeveloped by one of the escapees, pat Reid MBE MC. He was one of the few prisoners-of-war who escaped, crossing the border to neutral Switzerland.

The game is ahead of its time. It is an asymmetric, semi cooperative game. One player needs to be organising the German security officers who are guarding the prison. The remainder are allied escape officers. This game requires careful planning, assembly the escape equipment, plotting escape routes and perhaps distracting the prison guards to allow others to escape. Rope and ladders are needed for some routes. Wire cutters or keys may help for other attempts. The huge board is a top-down plan of Colditz with inner and outer walls. The escapees have a few hiding places that they can rest in the hope of making a break. Sometimes the guards can call a roll call forcing everyone back to the centre.

Escape from Colditz is an iconic, historic, re-enactment of events in World War Two history. It is a game that countless generations of youngsters grew up with in the 1980s. I had to keep visiting my mate’s house, Ronald, to play his version. Now that I am an adult my wife gave me the 75th anniversary edition as a gift. This game shows that a previous generation were made of the “right stuff” and that we owe the previous generation of men and women a huge debt of gratitude.

So now, when I say classic games, you say... no not classic games. What games do you now think of when you hear the words, classic games? Yes, that's right, you can say the games on my list of classic games. Wow, I said games alot there.

Twenty classics. There are sure to be others who could consider different games as “classic”. That said, these games form the backbone of most gamer’s playing experience. All of these are well known cultural icons that have stood the test of time. And they are still being enjoyed by a newer generation of players. The question is, whether in 10 or 20 years, when we look back, which games might be considered as millennial classics? Watch this space in 2032.