Board games are the ideal thing to bring your household together during the coronavirus pandemic. Here are an expert's top picks
But, well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the era of self-isolation, many of us are remembering that the chance to spend time with other people, to sit around the kitchen table with our households, is a treat.
As I flick through board games on Argos’ website, I’m told that over 100 people have bought Cluedo in the past 24 hours, while over 100 people are just looking at Monopoly, presumably pondering whether, if they started now, coronavirus or a game of that would end soonest.
Board games are just the thing to bring households together, distract us from our worries, and they may even be good for our health. That’s according to a recent University of Edinburgh study, which found people who played lots of board games tended to have stronger thinking skills in their old age than those who didn’t.
So, if you want to get into boardgames, where do you begin?
Best classic board games
“It's a good time to be creative because some games manufacturers aren't bringing out many new games this year,” explains Peter Jenkinson, board game expert and founder of Toyology. This year he’s expecting more updates of classic titles than anything new, but it might be worth searching on eBay instead of buying new. “The classics are always better in their original format,” he says.
However, for added fun you can mash-up old games to find clever ways of putting them together. “It isn't as challenging as you might think. Maybe when you're playing Scrabble, once you get 20 points then it's your turn to sink a battleship or something? It's not that geeky, it's quite a fun thing to do.”
Here are Jenkinson’s top recommendations for the classics...
The original celebration of unfettered capitalism is a stone-cold classic, but Jenkinson says he usually agrees some ground rules with fellow players before he starts so that the game doesn’t go on for ages. He also recommends looking up a few strategies online to become a monopoly master: “it’s quite cool, I think, like being able to solve a Rubik's cube.”
Snakes & Ladders
An easy one to play with the kids which everyone stands an equal chance at winning. You could even get them to design their own board. “You can make it more fun by putting minstrels on the squares,” adds Jenkinson.
Like all great games, Connect 4 is a simple premise but one which requires a great deal of strategy, as you and your opponents lock horns in a battle of measures and countermeasures.
Requiring patience and a light touch, Operation combined with the Covid-19 news headlines might be just the thing to inspire the next generation of doctors and nurses.
'Does he wear a hat? Does he have a little nose? Does he look like he’d be self-isolating or being a covidiot?'
A bunch of different people find themselves locked in a big house together and then… well, try not to read into the parallels too much when playing this one. Jenkinson recommends finding the old board on eBay if you can. “I prefer the original sinister-looking Colonel Mustard who looked like he was actually a murderer, whether or not he did it.”
Best family board games
The classics are classics for a reason, but there are plenty of good reasons to seek out the newer ones too. These are some of Jenkinson’s favourites ones for smaller players which give the kids just as much chance of winning as parents.
Llamas In Pyjamas
A simple word-game from British company Orchard Toys. This one in particular is a firm favourite among Jenkinson’s friends but a lot of the company’s games have similar play patterns, so why not let your little one pick out something they find exciting?
Arguably the most famous of the modern classics, Bananagrams combines the brainy word-forming gameplay of Scrabble with the frenetic, everyone-playing-at-once action of Hungry, Hungry Hippos.
“My kids love this one. Each turn you pick a card with a question along the lines of: ‘how many times has Donald Trump tweeted since 2017?’ Everyone chooses a range of numbers and whoever has the smallest range and closest to the exact figure on the card gets one point. If you get it exactly you get two points.”
Serious boardgames for dedicated players
If you’re living in a houseshare or at least have a few grown-ups around, these might be ideal: they’re quite bulky and require some setup. “They're designed in a way that requires you have a bit of insight and be prepared to do a bit of learning as you play,” says Jenkinson. But don’t let that put you off, these will really test your strategy skills and those who play the long game will be richly rewarded.
“It’s much less boring than it sounds,” Jenkinson reassures. “You get loads of different-sized trees and the whole board is surrounded by a sun. Each turn the sun changes and shines a different way, so different sized trees shade your opponents so they lose points. It's very clever and really simple to play.”
This one has become something of a phenomenon among board game geeks recently. You play as a bird enthusiast seeking to build the best wildlife park to attract rare and unusual birds. Characterised by its beautiful art and engrossing gameplay.
The last thing you want when you’re cooped up in self-isolation is to end up fighting with your loved ones over a particularly intense board gaming session. So why not try a game where you’re all on the same team and see if that helps heal divisions?
Designed to be played for at least an hour, players must work together to build defences for their towns before Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man descend. There’s a sliding difficulty scale and you can even play it by yourself if you’ve ended up all alone in self-isolation - just try not to get too spooked!
A new boardgame based on the classic film. You play as the three fishermen against the shark. First you battle the shark on the island, then if you win you flip the board to take the fight to the open ocean. “It's not the easiest game in the world but it looks beautiful,” says Jenkinson.
You knew this one was coming. Prioritising teamwork and communication, players must work together to fight a pandemic, coordinate a response, and find a cure. If you’ve ever wondered what world leaders must be having to deal with right now, this might give you an insight.
There’s a smorgasbord of different options out there but the premise is simple: this is the boardgame equivalent of an escape room. Crack the clues as a team, work together, and you’ll manage to well, exit. If you’re obsessed with escape rooms, this is for you.