The corners of these old boxes are cracked and split open, the flashy prints on top long worn away, leaving only the dusty, corrugated bones behind. Pencils with broken leads, yellowed instructions, faded homemade scorecards, and assorted sub-ins for lost game pieces litter the box and make it look like that clattery kitchen drawer of assorted knick-knacks. Take a deep breath and you may sniff up a familiar musty scent that takes you way, way back.
For old time’s sake, let’s look fondly on thirteen of the greatest board games of all time:
13. Hungry Hungry Hippos. This game was invented for all the kids who were shooed into the basement to calm down and go play a board game. That’s when us sugar-rushing rugrats caused havoc by pulling out Hungry Hungry Hippos and started smacking plastic hippo mouths at a hundred marbles flying in all directions. Just what mom had in mind.
12. Mouse Trap. This game taught us the meaning of the slow, tantric crescendo. That’s because the first 99% of the game was a boring, play-by-numbers hopscotch. But then it got to mousetrap time, and it was allllllll worth it.
11. Connect Four. Despite the quick set up time, easy rules, and fun gameplay, Connect Four always seemed suspiciously educational. And now, be honest — did you ever realize your kid sister was just about to deliver a four-in-a-row knockout punch and then release the trap on the bottom, spilling all the pieces on the table and denying them their big crowning moment? Hey, I’m not proud of it, either.
10. Battleship. The best part of Battleship was those hard, plastic cases the game came in. It was like its own luggage set and it was hard not to feel important when you flipped one open and began fiddling with all the pieces inside. Kids, those are what we used to call laptops. Sure, no RAM, no hard drive, but check out the 3D graphics.
9. Uno. Now, Uno wasn’t really a board game, but whenever it was Board Game Time there was always that one whiny kid who begged everyone to play Uno instead. But no one would. That’s why it’s called Uno.
7. Risk. Turns out you can’t dominate the world in an hour. As a result, committing to a game of Risk was commiting to giving up your entire evening. Games could go until three, four, five in the morning, with the first person out at 9:00 pm sitting bored on the couch flipping channels for six hours. Too bad, man. Shouldn’t have challenged Siam.
6. Candyland. This game required no reading, no writing, no strategy, and no decision-making at all. You just flipped over a card, looked at the color, and moved your piece to that color. That’s it, really. Candyland ranks high because it’s a gateway board game and gets people interested in the harder stuff.
5. Trivial Pursuit. The hardest stuff of all. I’m talking about the original, heavy box Genus Edition here. You know you’re playing that one when the questions are impossible and everybody feels like an idiot without any pie pieces. Props to the first person who proposes ditching the board and just asking questions.
4. The Game of Life. If you can believe it, Milton Bradley himself created The Game of Life way back in 1861. Now, the game is more than a little preachy — I mean, if you don’t go to college, have lots of kids, and drive around in your station wagon buying insurance and suing for damages, then you probably won’t be able to end up a millionaire and buy that beautiful, white plastic mansion at the end. But there was something pretty cool about Life, too. There was the fact that you got to spin the big wheel on your turn, that every space had a little story to go with it, and that kids got to act grown up for an hour.
3. Scrabble. So apparently they’ve sold over 100 million copies of Scrabble in 29 languages. They sell dictionaries, they have tournaments, the factories are still pumping them out. Not bad for a handful of cheap wood tiles.
2. Clue. This dark and bloody board game about mansion murder was always a winner with happy-go-lucky kids on Saturday afternoon. Yes, Clue was a tense and quiet hour of private note-taking, raised eyebrows, and suspicious glances. A nice break from running around the backyard with untied shoelaces and runny noses, anyway.
1. Monopoly. There were some classic moments in most Monopoly games. First off, who’s going to be the banker? Either you have an excited kid around who wants to do it or somebody caves in and reluctantly does the job. Reluctant Bankers are no good, though. You’ll be reminding them to pay you $200 for passing GO the whole time. Next, what’s the rule with Free Parking? We going with the official rules where it means nothing, popping a big $500 in there, or doing something completely different? Also, every game has the late-inning game-changing trade at some point. It’s the three-way deal that gives the richest player all the railroads to seal everybody’s fate or the tired person who gives up at midnight and just trades away Boardwalk for $100 to meet the rent on Park Place. Whatever your Monopoly quirks, there’s no denying that it’s a classic.
Huddled around the kitchen table waiting on a long pause in Scrabble, sitting in a friend’s basement late at night waging merciless war in Risk, or gathering the family together for a classic Saturday night game of Monopoly, whatever your style — there’s just something about those old, classic board games. They bring us together for some laughs, some ups, some downs, and some plain old good times.
Incredible Candyland Photo Credit: Peggy Dembicer