The likes of Monopoly, Life and Candyland define a very specific part of my childhood. These were the games that introduced me to tabletop gaming and admittedly, I had a lot of fun playing them back in the day. However, as with almost every game of this ilk, its appeal wore off as I grew up and realized that these games weren’t very good.
Now that I’ve immersed myself in the genre, it’s easy (and board game hipster of me) to simply dismiss anything coming from Hasbro or Mattel as garbage. Some of these old games that have a mainstream retail presence at stores like Walmart or Toys R Us are – and have always been – good. If you’re looking to take part in a game night with old mainstream games that you can pick up anywhere, try these!
Ages 8 and up
Battleship is a war game of deduction. Secretly fielding a fleet of ships of different sizes on their board, each player attempts to shoot down the opposing fleet by firing missiles at different coordinates. It’s a simple game, though it’s one that I think has just enough substance to keep it entertaining decades after its original release. There’s the potential for metagame hijinx by fielding your fleet in unusual formations. Also, when you do score a hit, you’re going to have to take some guesses on the next shot to figure out the boat’s orientation. Battleship also doesn’t wear out its welcome before the game is over, as it usually wraps up within 30 minutes. If your board game night only has two players, bring this one along.
Ages 6 and up
Originally released in 1983, Jenga has grown to become a classic dexterity game. Players take turns removing a block from the tower and placing it at the top. As more blocks are removed, the tower becomes increasingly unstable until the whole structure falls over.
There are a number of things that keep Jenga appealing over 30 years later. For one, it can take a lot of finesse to slide certain blocks out of the tower, especially later on in the game. Furthermore, before you even make an attempt, it takes a keen eye to assess the state of the tower and pick a piece that will minimize your hassle. Finally, that crash of the blocks hitting the table is as climactic of an end as any in gaming. The game itself might be a bit heavy to carry in a bag, but for old mainstream game night, this one is a no-brainer.
ages 10 and up
Scrabble is the word game. Played with two-to-four players, they’ll take turns creating a crossword with the letters they have to score points. Maybe more important than having a big vocabulary is understanding where to place your letters, as many spaces grant bonus points for words that touch them. Knowing what words to play to scoop those up without opening those opportunities to your opponent is critical to your success.
This game has been a favourite of mine since I was a kid. Used to always play this one with friends, family and the computer. It’s always been about the strategy of word placement that kept me coming back, as that element of scoring for yourself without letting someone else score will always be appealing to me. If you play with that in mind, Scrabble becomes a very cutthroat game.
There’s also a very selfish and sentimental reason why this game made the list. For Steff and I’s first date, we got together and played Scrabble. The game may not be the reason why we’re still happily together today and on our way to the altar, but it certainly was one of the first parts of our shared life story. Even if you don’t have the sentimental value that I have for this game, it’s quality alone should make it worthy of a spot on your old mainstream board game night.