Everyone grew up playing the popular mass market games that still adorn the toy shop shelves to this very day, Monopoly, Risk, Trivial Pursuit... So here’s a list of some hobby games that share DNA with the classics that you might want to try out if you have nostalgia for the good old days.
If you’ve played Monopoly … Then play Machi Koro
Monopoly is a game of buying up properties, taxing your friends and having a monopoly over sets in the game. If you like all that then Machi Koro will be right up your street.
In Machi Koro players buy properties, such as shops, farms and factories and use them to generate money to build the four big landmarks that will win them the game. Each building you build has an activation number, every time the die is rolled there is a chance your building will activate.
Blue buildings activate on every player's turn, generally generating a small amount of income. Green buildings activate only on your turn but can generate a high amount of income, often time combo-ing off other buildings in your tableau. Red buildings activate on your opponent's turn and generate money by taking directly from your opponent as they eat in your delicious cafes and restaurants. Purple Buildings activate on your turn and like red buildings often take money from all other opponents at the table.
The goal in Machi Koro is generate enough income to purchase the landmark cards, not only do these win you the game but they also unlock powerful new abilities, such as allowing you to roll 2 dice, or take your turn over if you roll doubles.
Machi Koro still has dice rolling but you can manipulate your luck by spreading out the numbers across your buildings or by doubling down on a few numbers that give you lots of cash. It still has those “take that” elements where players have to pay you money or where they activate your buildings meaning you earn more cash than they did, even though it was their turn, but it does away with the player elimination of Monopoly.
And most importantly it still has the monopoly element. Cards like the Cheese Factory or Furniture Factory can generate massive amounts of income if players are allowed to buy all of them or the requisite buildings to power them. However unlike Monopoly, in Machi Koro, your entire strategy is not derailed by one player buying a single property, it’s less powerful but it's still a valid route to victory.
If you’ve played Cluedo … Then play Mysterium Park
Cluedo is a head to head game of crime solving deduction. Players work against each other to work out whodunit, with what and in where. Mysterium Park takes the deduction part of Cluedo but transplants that beating heart into a cooperative game where all the players are working together to solve the murder in a local circus.
The game is moderated by one player who takes on the role of the murder victim, a silent ghost who can only communicate through visions delivered to the players in the medium of surreal art. Each player must use the visions they receive to identify innocent suspects and remove them from the investigation, before moving on to eliminate various big top locations from the pool of possible crime scenes.
If the thing you like about Cluedo is solving the murder before your friends then Mysterium Park is not going to be a good fit. However if you’re all about the sleuthing then this could be the one for you. When the players have narrowed down the suspect and location pool to three possibilities the Ghost has one final round to help them solve his murder.
Mysterium Park also has a bigger brother, which adds more rules complexity and a larger table presence. In regular Mysterium the players must also correctly identify the murder weapon, or with the Secrets & Lies expansion the Motive, to win the game. They can also add in the clairvoyance rules which brings back a little of the competitive feel from Cluedo as players bid on whether or not their fellows are correctly interpreting their ghostly visions.
If you’ve played Yahtzee … Then play King of Tokyo
Yahtzee is a game of rolling dice, pushing your luck and scoring combos but in King of Tokyo you'll be doing all of that and controlling a giant gorilla that is loose in Tokyo City.
King of Tokyo takes the game engine from Yahtzee, roll 3 times, saving results between rolls and rerolling the rest, but wraps a delicious head to head monster battling game around it. King of Tokyo offers two paths to victory, peacefully through victory points or violently through eliminating the other players.
Instead of standard dice, King of Tokyo uses custom dice, the first three sides have numerals, just like Yahtzee, but the other three sides feature monster claws for damage, hearts for healing and energy for special powers.
Every game of King of Tokyo features a card row of special power cards that can be bought with energy to upgrade your monster. Some offer victory points but others allow you to break the game in fantastic ways. Perhaps your monster grows an extra head or has a baby, develops laser vision or fiery breath. And because the stack of special powers is huge every game of King of Tokyo is different.
King of Tokyo offers the same kind of push your luck excitement that Yahtzee does but with the added ability to brutally dismember your friends in a battle royale in the heart of Japan.
If you’ve played Rummy … Then play Archaeology the New Expedition
Rummy, the card game of set collection is a classic for a reason, but many modern board games have taken this idea and introduced exciting new mechanics as well as a healthy dose of theme. One of my favourites is Archaeology the New Expedition.
In Archaeology you are Archaeologists or perhaps more accurately you are treasure hunters. Each turn you dig for artifacts by drawing a card, you can then trade with the market and sell sets of items to the museum for points. Once you sell a set you cannot add to it but more importantly it cannot be stolen from you.
Seeded into the deck are several thief and sandstorm cards. If you draw a thief you can immediately take a card from another player's hand. If you draw a sandstorm all players must immediately discard half their cards to the market. In this way the game incentivises you to play cards for points early rather than hoarding them for higher scores, but the choice is always yours.
As well as thieves and sandstorms players may also find maps. In the base game maps can be traded to open special tombs within the pyramid to earn you bonus artifacts. However Archaeology the New Expedition ships with several variant ways to play that change up which dig site you are exploring.
Archaeology the New Expedition will give you that same set collection feeling as rummy but with a dose of direct player confrontation and some beautifully illustrated cards.
If you’ve played Jenga … Then play Rhino Hero Super Battle
Jenga is a test of dexterity, stacking wooden blocks on top of one another until one player makes the whole thing fall. Imagine instead if you were anthropomorphic superheroes battling across an urban skyline, building tall towers and hoping that your hero has climbed the highest before the whole thing comes crashing down.
In Rhino Hero Super Battle each players takes on the role of a superhero, be it Batpenguin, or Giraffe Man or the titular Rhino Hero himself. On their turns they take a floor card from a face up display which dictates which cards they must play this turn. It can be one or two tall or short walls or a combination of a tall and a short. At first the walls may only be placed on the circles shown on the ground floor tiles. After that they can be placed anywhere on the structure.
After placing their walls and topping them with their chosen floor the player may then roll a die to move up or possibly down the tower. If another player is on the level they arrive at they will battle with the loser moving down, battling as necessary until all the players are on different floors. The player highest on the tower takes the medal token. The player holding the medal will win the game when the tower collapses unless they are the ones that caused it to collapse.
Rhino Hero Super Battle has all the tension and excitement of Jenga but comes packed with the endearing theme of superheroes in a colourful package. This one plays perfectly with kids, families and even adults.
If you’ve played Scrabble … Then play Wordsy
Many games have come out over the years that have tried to take the crown from scrabble. Most of them try to tackle the problem of the person with the best vocabulary wins. In Scrabble your score is largely based on knowing long words that use more obscure letters, although this is teamed with a form of area control as you try to get your high scoring letters onto double or triple point spaces.
Wordsy doesn’t make any attempt to attack, nobble or handicap the knowledgeable players at the table in any way. Players with an extensive vocabulary can still play long words or obscure words. Unlike other word games, in Wordsy you don’t have a set number of letters you can use to craft your word, instead eight letter cards are added to the centre of the table and your word can use any letters it likes, but you will only score points for letters that are on the table.
The letters are arranged in a grid, so that each round two letters will score 5 points if used, two 4, two 3 and two 2. Some more obscure letters will have a bonus point or two tacked on. Players can take as long as they like to think of a word using as many of the letters on the table as possible. Once one player is happy with their word they grab the timer and the other players have 30 seconds or so to finish writing their word.
Players then score their words with bonus points awarded to the fastest player or to the other players if they scored more points than the fastest. The game plays for seven rounds, after that players tot up their scores and bonus points, crossing off their two worst scores and the highest total wins.
Wordsy's scoring mechanic and timer mechanism work in tandem to keep the game exciting and reduce analysis paralysis. In the example above, Complex would score just as many points as amplexicaul, meaning players of all skill levels can compete at the same level and if they are faster thinkers they may even net themselves some bonus points.
Wordsy offers a Scrabble-like experience, that is both cerebral yet fun and it does so in around 20 minutes without breaking the bank either.
If you’ve played Operation … Then play Doctor Panic
If you like the roleplaying side of pretending to be a doctor in Operation, or the light hearted funny side of getting it wrong then Doctor Panic has you covered. In Doctor Panic player split into teams of Doctors who are all working to revive a patient that has been rushed to the OR.
Players begin by selecting a patient and then, using the free app, start the timer. Players must then, while wearing medical hair nets, complete a series of tasks, such as suturing the wound, prescribing the correct medication and performing a CT scan. The app will set a time limit for all these tasks to be complete and each team must complete all the tasks in order to win.
Every now and then the patient will flatline and the players must stop what they are doing and perform CRP on a whoopie cushion while the other players charge the defibrillator. Other times the head of the hospital might call giving you additional, ridiculous tasks to perform.
Doctor Panic is a fast and funny game of frenetic mini games that are perfect for a family to play together. The downside to Doctor Panic is that there are no checks and balances. For each of the mini games you perform, you decide if you completed it correctly and then move on to the next task. And some of the tasks can feel like the filler in the frenzy sandwich. Suturing the wound for example has you passing a huge needle through different coloured holes with tweezers which is not only a fun idea but an actual challenge. While prescribing the correct medication simply requires you to match colours and times on a timetable.
If played as a gamers game, Doctor Panic may underwhelm, but for families it’s a fun game of roleplaying that’s bound to end with laughs as players perform chest compressions on a whoopie cushion and contort themselves into bizarre shapes to match the X-ray cards.
If you’ve played Mastermind … Then play Letter Jam
Mastermind was a mainstay of our collection as kids. We had travel versions that we took in the car on long journeys as we tried to solve a sequence of colours with tiny black and white pegs.
Letter Jam takes the deductive mechanics of Mastermind but has all the players playing simultaneously and cooperatively. Each game of Letter Jam begins with one of your fellow player creating for you a five letter word, you shuffle these letters and lay them out in front of you, placing your first letter into a stand so that you cannot see it but all the other players can.
Players can then take turns to spell out a word using the letters they can see at the table. This is done using numbered chips, allowing players to know which position their letter is in in the word but not the letter itself. Clever clue giving will slowly allow all the players at the table to deduce their letters and by the end of the game they can hopefully all correctly guess their original 5 letter word.
Letter Jam is a very thinking game, eschewing table talk in favour of a deep cerebral experience. Every player at the table can see all but one letter and yet that can make the difference between being able to give an incredible clue and being able to give no clues at all. Some clues can help all the players at the table while other clues might only help one player but will guarantee they can get their letter and move on.
Letter Jam encourages cooperation as your final score is dependent on every player at the table working out their word, therefore it is in your best interest to ensure everyone keeps pace.
If you’ve played Trivial Pursuit … Then play Half Truth
Trivial Pursuit is a game that has players matching wits across different trivia categories. The downside to Trivial Pursuit is that the cleverest person at the table has a significant advantage.
Half Truth gets around this problem by allowing players to push their luck. In every round of Half Truth a category card is revealed with six possible answers, 3 are right and 3 are wrong. If you get one right answer you will move up on the score track, but you can always choose to guess more answers. The trick is that if you guess at two or three answers, you’ll get bonus points for correct guesses, but if you get even one wrong you get nothing at all.
In this way Half Truth allows all the players a 50/50 chance of being right, but those that think they know more can always shoot for extra points at the risk of walking away with nothing. This goes a long way towards leveling the playing field.
The categories are an eclectic mix with over 500 questions included in the base game. Perhaps there might be a question on Books of the Old Testament or characters from the TV series Breaking Bad. Some of the questions are a little U.S centric but you could optionally skip these.
Half Truth is also played simultaneously so all players are involved all the time, no waiting for your turn to come up or endless rolls to land on the right space to gain your last piece of pie.
If you’ve played Risk … Then play Cry Havoc
Risk was the defining game of my teenage years, as we all fought to take control of Australasia and thus dominate the rest of the globe. We loved risk and we went through various editions of it, playing them to death. Risk is a game of global dominations. It features dice based combat, area control, set collection, hidden goals and variable end game victory conditions.
Cry Havoc from Portal Games takes the area control aspect but adds so much more. In Cry Havoc players control one of four factions. The Humans are capable of fast deployment and tactical combat, the Pilgrims dislike fighting but can win through mining precious crystals, the Machines are slow but deadly opponents and the indigenous Trogs are numerous and widespread.
The combat in Cry Havoc revolves around controlling different objectives, taking control of a region, capturing prisoners or destroying opposing units. This means that even if you are outnumbered not all is lost and with the addition of tactics cards you may even be able to turn the tables on a superior opponent through tactical play.
Each faction has their own tactics cards that help define how that faction functions along with their own series of structure tiles that the players can use to create buildings on the map. The Machines can construct drones that will enable them to attack distant territories while the Pilgrims can build harvesters to gather more crystals. Each faction is their own puzzle to explore and offers dozens of hours of gameplay to master their particular style.
Cry Havoc gives me the “dudes on a map” feel of risk, but with asymmetric armies, cool player powers and a tactically rich, luck free, combat system which isn't always about who has the larger force.
Honorable Mention - Dust
I would be remiss to talk about Risk and not mention Dust. Dust doesn’t make the list because it is very out of print at the time of writing but Dust is Risk on steroids. Dust has the same world map and a very similar dice combat system to Risk but where it differs is in the units you can build.
Alongside your basic ground troops, represented in Dust as tanks, you can also recruit giant mechs, bombers and submarines. Players vie for control of power centres to provide their factories with energy allowing them to build more units. Each round players choose ability cards which determine how much they can build, how often they can move and fight and it gives them a special ability, like being able to drop mechs into an opponent's capital!
Dust is the game Risk should have been and one I wish I got to the table more often.
And that's our list, which games would you recommend as alternatives to these mass market offerings or as next steps into the hobby board gaming world? Let us know down in the comments.