carcassonneI‘ve always been a game player — cards, pool, board games, and outdoor games and sports. For me, it’s not about competition, or winning. It’s about playing. The attributes of the best games are:

  1. Simplicity — I don’t want to have a degree to learn the rules, and I like games that children can play on an equal footing with adults.
  2. Speed — A game should keep moving, and have a natural flow to it.
  3. Strategy — I like to think, and a good game should provide some exercise for the mind.
  4. Sociability — A good game deepens relationships and allows social discourse, and laughter, as it proceeds.
  5. Artistry — Aesthetics, elegance, good design, all add a dimension to a game.

Here’s my list of favourite games, and why I like them. Five years ago I’d probably have come up with a very different list, and I have yet to discover the best game in the world:

  • Dealer’s Choice Poker — Not that silly game they play in casinos where you only get two cards every hand, but the social Friday Night neighbourhood game where stakes are low, bluffing is key, and someone introduces a new variation every time you get together. Favourite variations: Pass the Trash and Do Ya.
  • Chase the Ace — An elegantly simple game that children as young as five can play, and win, but which also enthrals the most demanding adults.
  • Connect / Rivers Roads & Rails / Metro — These are the simplest tile-playing games, essentially extensions of dominoes. Easy to learn, elegant, and often producing a work of art in the final tableau. Our kids and grandkids love these games, and even many of our adult friends like them. I’ve been told I should try a more sophisticated tile-playing game called Carcassonne, and after looking at these lovely tiles I’m inclined to try it.
  • Beach Volleyball — The world’s simplest ball game, one of the few where physical strength, size and finesse are only a minor advantage. Fun for all ages, relatively safe, and good exercise. I prefer the 6-players-per-side game.
  • Personal Preference — An innocuous commercial game that rewards you for knowing what your partner’s personal preferences are. A great game for couples getting to know each other couples, and a great conversation starter.
  • Acquire — One of the most popular and enduring commercial games, this one about building and investing in hotel chains. Educational, elegant, hard to master, and still easy to learn. Kids figure out the strategy of this game maddeningly quickly.
  • Joker Rummy — The Joker variant of Rummy requires collection of runs and sets totalling at least 40 points before laying down. Until you have laid down, you cannot pick up the previous player’s discard, and a joker (which carries a 100 point penalty if not laid down) cannot be used as part of the initial lay-down. For that reason, this two-deck Dutch variant is sometimes called Aggravation Rummy. Still, it’s a great, easy to learn game. If anyone can find the rules online (maybe in Dutch?) please let me know. Contract Rummy isn’t a bad alternative.
  • Balderdash — The only word game on my list, simply because it’s really a bluffing game, not a word game. Since I’m a serious cruciverbalist, no one in my local social circles will play word games with me. But any serious bullshitter can win at Balderdash.
  • Nine-Ball — My favourite pool game. Also elegantly simple, it uses only the first 9 numbered balls, which must be struck (but not necessarily sunk) in order. But the twist is that only the nine-ball counts — and wins the entire game. That means that defensive play can trump aggressive play, and strategy can trump skill.
  • Curling — The token Canadian entry on the list. It’s the consummate game of strategy, and old geezers like me can beat young athletes. When I was a kid we used to play on outdoor rinks with ‘jam-pails’ — one gallon cans filled with cement with a coloured plastic handle on top. With properly pebbled indoor ice and smooth stones you need the ‘free guard zone’ rule to keep the game interesting.

So what are your favourite games (to play, not to watch)? What do you think is the world’s best undiscovered or underrated game? And why is playing games so important to people all over the world, even as adults, an essential social activity?

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  1. I’m an Olympics fanatic, and I always watch as much of the Games as possible on CBC (one of the benifits of lling in Ohio). I fell in love with curling during the Salt Lake City games. It’s the only Olympic sport that seems like I could take up today and make an Olympic team in a decade or so.(CBC complaint–you guys show the “Apology to America” bit from This Hour has 22 Minutes too often. I have literally almost died laughing twice now. I really think the third time will kill me.)

  2. Lis Riba says:

    May I recommend Apples to Apples? Party card game in which you have a hand of nouns. The judge (which rotates among the players) sets down an adjective card. Then all the players rush to choose the noun in their hand they think the judge will consider the best match. [I’ve seen cases where sharks win “cuddly” and “The GOP” wins “evil”] You win by accumulating a certain number of adjective cards.

  3. Marijo says:

    Mankala (many spellings can be found) is an African game using pebbles which I have liked for many years– And I’m not much of a gamer. That Petals thing of Phillip’s still has me angry.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Doug: Hah! Curling is definitely not a spectator sport. If ytou liked the Apology you should come up and see Second City do their skit on the Canadian soldiers early in WW2 complaining about the American pacifists not doing their part to combat terrorism — skewers both American warmongers and Canadian holier-than-thous at once.Lis: Thanks for the reference. Nice blog BTW — when do you find time for games with all the reading you do?Philip: Played NTN a couple of times in bars and had angry patrons glaring at me when I, a newbie, won the bar and even made it into the North American list. Now my wife won’t let me play :-(Marijo: I had played this, but didn’t realize it had so many variations — so thanks, I’m learning to play it all over again.

  5. Chuck Welch says:

    To play? That’s easy — baseball. Not what you watch on tv, but what we did the entire summer I was 12. The sky was bright blue and the wind gentle as we’d walk through the neighborhood picking up players. Rousing some out of bed and convincing others to sneak off with chores unfinished. The few with bats leading the way, others grabbing likely bases and occasionally nicking a roll of electrical tape from their dad’s garage.By the time we’d reach the field we were 16 to 20 strong. Shuffled feet and quiet whispers as we’d fan out around the captains. The two most talented would toss the bat to get first pick. Many frozen hearts later we’d fly out onto the field and settle in for a game that had no time limit. Players would come and go all day and scores would stop and start over.I can close my eyes and it all comes back: the infectious laughter; the quick arc of a ball heading toward the outfield; the smell of fresh cut grass; the taste of a toothpick as time slowed in the batter’s box. The time available to stand in the outfield and watch birds fly by. The chance to stand at the plate and perform that most difficult of tasks: take a cylinder and hit a flying sphere squarely.The dusk deepening as we’d head back home. Gangly kids, dusty gloves in hand, knees skinned, smiles bright, veering off to walk down quiet streets for dinner, a bath, some sleep and the chance to do it all again tomorrow.That will always be my favorite game I ever played.

  6. T Wayne says:

    I see you listed my favorite all-time game, Acquire. I haven’t played it in many years, but I would love to find some way to play it online against other Acquire aficianados. I enjoy your site.

  7. David Jones says:

    I developed a game prototype ten years ago – I saw it as the logical successor to Trivial Pursuit (TM) – and there it languishes – under my desk in a box. Anyone want to get me motivatyed to do something with it?

  8. Stentor says:

    You’ve played Balderdash, yet you still think you haven’t found the best game in the world? Balderdash is a definite case of “it’s about playing, not winning” — or perhaps you could say that the real win comes through accumulating the other players’ appreciation for your creative and witty definitions, rather than through accumulating points.

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Chuck: Yes, it’s true, it’s the companionship that makes the game. That’s why I’ve never been able to get into Bridge — not enough space for social discourse and just plain fun. Nice imagery in your reminiscence.T Wayne: There’s a free downloadable software called NetAcquire that will let you do that (just Google NetAcquire to find it) — and there’s a Yahoo Group of serious Acquire players as well.David: We Canadians seem to have disproportionate success at launching games. Tell me more about it and I’ll write it up and see what my readers think of it.Stentor: That’s why it made my ‘top 10’. I’ve found that some people don’t like it at all, and some people are just terrible bluffers, so you have to use a bit of discretion in who you play with.

  10. judith says:

    scrabble – without keeping score – great language dendrite stretch… mexican train – again with or without score – play with a friend recovering from a stroke – helping to find new roads in his brain…

  11. shari says:

    Rainbowland is a kid’s game and teaches kids the value of working together as a team and thinking about the common good. Goal is to make a rainbow together and comes with colored raindrops, buckets, a fairy wand, the like. Of course, it’s not for everyone. The mother-in-law just didn’t get it, refusing to play as a team member. Why should I share, she would ask. Very interesting….

  12. O RLY YA RLY says:

    You seem to have missed a whole genre; computer games. I particularly like No One Lives Forever 2.

  13. gammasync says:

    My husband and I are playing _Alhambra_ these days. It’s a tile game, in the flavor of Carcassone, but more beautiful. The premise is that you are building a walled Arabic city, around a fountain. It has a nice combination of skill and luck.I second the _Apples to Apples_ suggestion. It is my favorite large group party game.

  14. Cary Sweet says:

    Here are the rules of Aggravation Rummy that my family played years ago. It sounds similar to the one that you mentioned:Deal 11 cards, turn 1 upJokers & 2’s are wild cards1) 2 sets of 3 (can be any suit)2) 2 runs of 3 (each run must be the same suit)3) 1 set of 3 and 1 run of 34) 1 set of 4 and 1 run of 35) 1 set of 3 and 1 run of 46) 2 sets of 47) 2 runs of 48) 1 set of 4 and 1 run of 49) 1 set of 5 and 1 run of 310) 1 set of 3 and 1 run of 511) 3 sets of 312) 7 card straight (Same suit) – The person playing the 7 card straight must go out and have the lowest score to win the game. – Any person failing to open on any hand must repeat that hand until he does open – You must open your hand exactly as each hand specifies, laying down exactly the amount of cards and no more – When you open, laying your cards in front of you, you cannot lay anymore cards on your opening cards, but you can play on anybody else’s cards that is open. – Aces can only be played as the number 1 (not after the king)

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