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Top 5 Vintage Games

Vintage Games - Mancala

A few weeks ago a group of Zatu bloggers were discussing games that have stood the test of time. So often new games will attract the interest of gamers, but we have a tendence to overlook classics that are still on our shelves. By classics, we do not mean Monopoly, Cluedo or Ludo, but older games that are still just as playable in the 21st century as they were when they were created. We would now class these as the Vintage Games of our collection.

The rules for being part of this exclusive vintage club is that the game had to be currently produced, be present on the gamer’s shelf, played regularly, be considered a quality game, AND [here’s the thing], pre-date the blogger who has chosen this game. Whilst these rules might favour some of the younger gaming generation who may not have been born when Catan was published (1995) or perhaps were learning to walk when Ticket to Ride was first released (2004), a few older, more grizzled gamers looked over their Kallax® and found five classics. All would be worthy of any gaming collection however young the game enthusiast.

[Whilst the gamer’s ages have been removed to help preserve their “modesty” the more astute readers will be able to infer that Hannah is younger that 1500 years and that Sophie must be at least 36 years old!]

Mancala (~700AD) By Hannah Blacknell

There are a couple of games from my childhood that have really stood the test of time for me, and I will happily still play. One of these is the two-player game Mancala, also known as Kalah. This dates back to at least the 7th Century, so considerably older than any of our bloggers can ever claim to be - 100% makes the cut for this list on vintage games! There is evidence that a version of this game was even played in Ancient Egypt, which must make it far and away the oldest game on this list too.

In this turn-based, two player game, you move stones or beads around a series of wells that make up the board. You take turns taking all the beads from one of your wells and drop off one into each well anticlockwise including your “home-y” at the right of your board. If you land the last bead into an empty well on your side then you capture all your opponent’s stones in the opposite well (if any). The game ends when one player can no longer make any moves, at which time all the beads in your “home-y” are counted up and the player with the highest score wins

My Mancala games is a wooden board with glass beads of varying colours. The colour of the stones has no bearing on the play, but it does serve to make this look lovely on the table. This is one of those games which I have often had on display, I love having vintage games as ornaments and this really is perfect for that.

Mah Jongg (~1850) By Pete Bartlam

Pung! Chow! Kong! No not bubbles from an action comic but the three commonest terms in Mah Jongg, the 19th Century Chinese tile-based game. Walk through any Chinatown on a summer’s evening and you can hear the staccato clack of tiles on tables.

Mah Jongg is essentially drafting and set collecting. It has 3 Suits: Circles, Characters and Bamboo having four of each number 1-9; There are 7 Honours: 4 Winds: E, S, W and N and 3 Dragons: Red, Green and White all also having 4 copies. 4 Flower tiles and 4 Seasons which provide scoring bonuses make up the total of 144 tiles. The tiles once ivory, are now usually plastic, some with bamboo backs. Mah Jongg is extremely tactile

Four players each build a two-tier wall with 36 tiles pushed together in a square. They then take 13 tiles and collect sets: three of a kind (a Pung), four of a kind (a Kong) or a run of three (a Chow). Winds and Dragons, called the Honours, can also be collected as Pungs. To win a player needs to have four such sets and a pair all in one suit or Honours: 14 tiles with no discard after your last pick. When one tile off Mah Jongg you say “Fishing” and you can claim your last tile from someone’s discard.

And that’s it! Well not quite. There are dozens of special hands to try such as “Wriggly Snake”, “Little Robert” and “Gertie’s Garter” more than 65. Whilst basic hands might score lower these specials earn 500 or 1000 points.

Mah Jongg, like Backgammon, can be a gambling game and lots of money can change hands. It has a similar blend of skill and luck. My club plays for points but not money and you can get the same sense of satisfaction from collecting a really difficult “special” hand as you do from completing a CCG set.

So try a local club, rack ‘em up and go Chow Crazy with Mah Jongg on this vintage games list!

Pit (1903) By Nathan Coombs

Pit is older than you think, and considerably older than the writer of this blog. It had its first edition published at the turn of the 20th century, but this card game has all the features of an up-to-date enjoyable game. It is quick, family friendly, requires communication and negotiation, and has plenty of replayability. These are all desirable attributes.

The name is derived from the old trading pit of commodities where a trader would negotiate the buying and selling of stock on the floor of the Stock Exchange. Pit has a similar frenetic feel. Between three and eight players start with a hand of nine cards. Each card shows a commodity that is to be traded [gold, wool, oil, sugar etc].

The object is to be the first player to create a hand containing all the same commodity cards, for example nine cattle cards. Commodities are exchanged between players simultaneously and blind to what is being swapped. Players may exchange any number of their cards with another player, but these cards must all be of the same type.

The only information allowed is the number of cards being offered. This causes calling out of numbers simultaneously, “Two, two, two!”, if perhaps two coffee cards are available. Some commodities have more value. Collecting gold will allow more points to be accumulated which means that often the sheep cards are “doing the rounds”.

This is a frantic game. With all players calling numbers simultaneously multiple trades are occurring across the table in a crazy “swap shop” of commodities. As soon as a player has a complete hand they hit the bell, shout “PIT!”, and score the points of their complete set of cards. Most rounds take between 30 seconds and two minutes.

This game crosses continents. I have played Pit with Europeans, Africans and Americans whilst travelling abroad and it has needed no rule changes. For children the number of cards of each commodity can be reduced to make it easier for them to hold their cards in their hand.

Pit has given nearly 120 years of gaming fun to families. It is a great ice breaker and so accessible to non-gamers that we often play it if people visit. There is plenty of vintage fun in this handful of cards. Every gaming collection should have one in my opinion. Vintage games are still just as fun now s they were all those moons ago!

Cosmic Encounter (1977) By Jim Cohen

Cosmic Encounter was first released in 1977, making it three years older than Jim. It has since seen multiple re-issues and re-prints due to one simple factor. Cosmic Encounter is a fantastic game. This game can credibly associate itself with the establishment and development of many different game mechanics such as negotiation and bluffing but most importantly, Unique Player Powers.

Cosmic Encounter is a ground-breaking game for its rule breaking individual Alien race powers that tear apart the fabric of the game many brilliant ways; win by loosing, send your planets into battle as well as your ships, set booby traps, or win battles by playing negotiate cards. The look on the other players faces when you do something that they rightly assume you cannot do, and then you reveal your alien race, and explain that you very much can do this! It’s boardgame heaven for me.

Cosmic Encounter has largely kept the game the same over the last 40 plus years (certainly one of the fan favourite vintage games). The art has been updated, and some minor amendments have been made to the components. But the game remains mostly as it was four decades on, showing what a great game, years ahead of its time, that Cosmic Encounter is.

If you are looking for a game that will surprise and excite you, game after game; now with oodles of expansions and years of history I would look no further. Cosmic Encounter is a modern classic that has aged beautifully. I would put it up against any new release game and would back this game to still look fresh, exciting, and ground-breaking. It is as close to an essential game for any board game collector as I can imagine for anyone who enjoys games that work in larger groups, enjoys unique player powers, or wants a game that encourages table-talk through negotiation.

Labyrinth (1986) By Sophie Jones

Created in 1986 by Ravensburger, Labyrinth is a game which has withstood the test of time. It’s a brilliant introductory game for young players which will have them using their smarts to outwit opponents.

Labyrinth has a simple premise. Find all your treasures in the maze and return to your starting point. However, to get there you must traverse through the maze which is everchanging. Some tiles remain fixed, but all the other tiles are subject to move. Each player must add a new tile to the mix on their turn. When doing this they will push tiles off the board and change the direction of the maze. It’s a great game to play with siblings. Especially when you trap them in a dead end.

Yet, Labyrinth isn’t just for children. Its simple mechanics make it easy for newcomers to learn but it also has lots of strategic depth. Pushing people off the board and generally messing with them never gets old either. Over the years this game has been reskinned to appeal to newer audiences. It now has a Harry Potter version, Super Mario version and more.

This game has followed me from childhood into adulthood. It was one I used to play with my sisters on rainy days and I now play it with my nephews. It’s a family game with elements of trickery which means no two games are the same. As the saying goes, it's an oldie but a goodie.

And there you go - Zatu Blogger's top 5 vintage games (that we could think of).