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I don't know about you, but it had been a while since I last dusted off my Scrabble set. But given that we’re all spending more time with the members of our households, rediscovering your game collection—or perhaps adding to it—may be just what the proverbial doctor ordered, in terms of passing the time while sheltering in place.
The following classic favorites you may already own (or, at least, I do), but I’ve included some new rules and twists to spice up the game play. In the market to build or expand your stash? I've got some recs for that, too.
1. For nerdy wordsmiths: Scrabble and Bananagrams
The crossword favorite invented in 1933 is especially beloved by those with large vocabularies, who may or may not have also memorized words that contain Q without U. (I plead the fifth.)
Change the game: The classic rules may lead to some good-natured squabbles over whether what was just played is, in fact, a word (unless you’re also in possession of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary), but my personal favorite alternative way to play makes those arguments moot: Anyone may place any “word” they like, but they must a) pronounce it out loud and b) provide a definition (real or imaginary).
If you love Scrabble, also consider: Bananagrams is a can’t-miss alternative that levels the (word)-playing field when you have, say, one player who just racks up all the points (again, I plead the fifth).
2. For aspiring capitalists: Monopoly and Pay Day
With at least 250 million copies of Monopoly sold in its 85-year history, chances are high that you have one lying around.
Change the game: We’ve been playing it so long (literally, for generations), but when, if ever, have you personally read the official game instructions? In there, you’ll find a potential treasure trove of “new” rules to play by—including the ability to auction off unowned property that a player lands on and doesn’t want to buy(!!)—as well as a number of suggestions for making a shorter game (though, let’s be frank, a longer game may be your preference these days). Already a rule stickler? Change it up (big time) by paying taxes and fees to Free Parking, rather than the bank.
If you love Monopoly, also consider: For another (shorter) game where the object is to acquire the most cash, check out Pay Day. Instead of looping around a board, players aim to make through a calendar month (and aren’t we all?), buying deals, paying bills, and (yes) getting paid.
3. For those who enjoy strategic play: Checkers and Mancala
The game of Checkers has ancient roots, with evidence that a similar game was played as far back as 1600 BC in Egypt. And it’s no wonder: Kids and adults alike delight in “jumping” and taking the other players’ pieces and shouting out, “King me!”
Change the game: Instead of finishing a turn after you use a king to jump your opponent’s piece, you get a second move. (Think of it as speed Checkers, because this will end the game much faster.) Or add onto that, by allowing the single Checkers (a.k.a, the “men”) to move backwards as well—if you opt to follow both new rules, the only advantage to the king is the ability to make another move after a jump.
If you love Checkers, also consider: The object of Mancala is also to collect the other player’s pieces—in this case, multicolored glass pebbles (or animals, in the kids’ version) referred to as “seeds.” Mancala is also an ancient game hailing from Africa, and there are a number of ways to play, but the basic idea is to redistribute the seeds around the board and toward your “garden” at the end of your side’s row, where they become yours to keep.
4. For the card shark: Uno and Blink
Fans of Uno have revelled in forcing their friends to “Draw 4” since the early 1970s.
Change the game: You may already have your own house rules, but this option, from Jon Chan, Reviewed’s lab manager and Uno expert, is our favorite: “If you want Uno games to go on forever, when you play 7s, you get to swap hands with another player. And if you're insane, any 0s played make everyone pass their hands based on the current direction.”
If you love Uno, also consider: The two-player card game Blink has both players racing to discard their half of the deck as fast as possible, by matching the color, shape, or number of symbols on their cards to the ones face-up in play. Quick eyes and hands are the winners here. * Get Uno from Walmart for $5.44 * Get the Blink Card Game from Walmart for $5.39
5. To practice your balancing act: Jenga and Pile Up Pirates
The stacking block game of Jenga forces you to slow down and take your time, while it keeps you on the edge of your seat (probably literally) as the tower grows taller and more precarious.
Change the game: A “house rule” we followed when I was in college was to write Truth or Dare messages on the blocks, for players to answer or perform as they slid out their blocks. (We were not alone, as Hasbro released its own version of exactly that in the 2000s, though it’s since been discontinued.) Depending on whom you live with, jotting down your own (potentially G-rated) questions or stunts on the blocks can both prolong and spice up the game.
If you love Jenga, also consider: The simple stacking game Pile Up Pirates may look like kids’ stuff (and it’s rated for 5 and up), but having careful hands to place the colorful pieces into a tower transcends the generations—and what fun-loving adult can resist the opportunity to utter their best “arrgghhh!” when losing the game?
6. For the True Detectives in your midst: Clue and Betrayal at House on the Hill
Clue—or Cluedo, as it’s called in the UK—dates back to World War II and was “born of boredom” during the long nights of air raids its British inventor whiled away in his native Birmingham, England. (Let that one soak in.)
Change the game: All good mysteries unfold at a metered cadence, but sometimes we all wish we could fast-forward to the good parts. Adding a second die to Clue—with the option to exit and return to a room via a different door if your roll is high enough—should move things along without ruining the suspense of who did what to whom with what and where.
If you love Clue, also consider: For crowds of ages 12 and up, Betrayal at House on the Hill has players assume alternative identities and build a haunted house—and thereby the game board—as they put down the game tiles. Along the way, one player becomes a villain and must race the others to complete his nefarious mission—or be stopped in his tracks.
7. For two games in one: Dominoes and Domino-like blocks
Dating to the 1300s in China, Dominoes most likely got their design—or at least their count of pips, or those dots that bedeck them—from their visually similar game-playing cousins, dice.
Change the game: Even the basic pip-counting game has multiple “official” ways to play, in terms of how you are permitted to match the pips and lay your tiles on the table. One true variation is Chickenfoot, in which your aim is not only to get rid of your dominoes before the others, but also to have the lowest pip count in whatever you have left when the first player goes out each round.
If you love Dominoes, also consider: For some, those blocks are most enjoyed when set up in (sometimes elaborate) long lines to knock over and watch topple and topple. If that’s more your bag, a set of pip-free colorful domino-like blocks enhances the visual effect.
- Get a set of Dominoes from Walmart for $10.83 or $20.99
- Get the 120pcs Wooden Dominos Blocks Set from Walmart for $25.99
8. To get on a roll: Yahtzee and LCR
As legend has it, the popular dice game Yahtzee got its name from its 1954 inventors, “a wealthy Canadian couple" whose aim was "to entertain their friends on their yacht.” (If pretending you’re aboard a luxury leisure vessel makes playing while cooped up in your living room easier, so be it.)
Change the game: The official rules state that once you roll any of the Poker-like combinations, you don’t get credit for doing the same one again, apart from the two bonus boxes for additional Yahtzees (five of a kind). But Reviewed’s e-commerce staff writer Isabelle Kagan offers a twist: “If you get any subsequent Yahtzees after your first one, you may also allocate that score to another box (say, your three or four of a kind), as well as adding those 100 bonus points you already get.”
If you love Yahtzee, also consider: LCR (Left Center Right) is another dice game based on luck with a simple concept: Players are divvied up chips to pass to each other or into the center kitty based on the roll of the L-C-R-labeled dice. The player with any chips left at the end of a round wins them all!
- Get Classic Yahtzee from Walmart for $5.99
- Get the Original LCR Left Center Right Dice Game from Walmart for $7.98
9. For knowledge geeks: Trivial Pursuit and Smartish
The question-and-answer-based game Trivial Pursuit was invented in 1979 by a couple of newspaper staffers over drinks at a bar, which should be surprise no one who knows (or is) a journalist.
Change the game: Chances are good that there’s an old (or really old) version of the game lying around your house, with questions so dated that the odds are stacked in favor of, let’s say, the senior-most members of your household. You can still use those cards for players of all generations by referring to the answer side only and creating your own questions to ask. Or, alternatively, by reading an answer aloud to test if the other player can come up with a pertinent question. (Bonus points for phrasing it Jeopardy-style.)
If you love Trivial Pursuit, also consider: Smartish aims to reduce the dread some might feel in having to get a yellow Trivial Pursuit question right, by allowing you to assign points to categories based on your level of knowledge in them. You move your piece around the board based on correct answers—and have the opportunity to “steal” questions from your opponents to get to the finish line first.
10. For crews with serious senses of humor: Cards Against Humanity and What Do You Meme?
The newest (and NSFW-est) game on this list, Cards Against Humanity, invented in 2011, isn’t even old enough to play itself. Yet it has inspired many imitators—and many more eyerolls, groans, and gasps—since it debuted just nine years as a free download you could print out yourself.
Change the game: The rules, not unlike the family-friendly Apple to Apples, involve a judge who reads aloud a black prompt card, to which all other players play a white response card from their hand, in hopes that the judge will pick their answer and they’ll “win” the round. Wanna switch it up (and shorten the game)? Deal out the black cards and use a single white card as the prompt.
If you love Cards Against Humanity, also consider: The game What Do You Meme? replaces CAH’s prompt cards with a funny photo—which you may recognize from the internet—and players dole out caption cards for the judge to select among. The Family Edition ensures no awkward conversations with your kids ages eight and up.
- Get Cards Against Humanity from Walmart for $25
- Get What Do You Meme? Family Edition from Target for $19.99
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.