Traditional Board Games

Traditional Board Games for Gaming Night?

Halma, in a modern Spears edition.
Halma, in a modern Spears edition.

Monday, 21st July 2014

Earlier today I asked on social media whether people would introduce traditional board games into regular gaming nights. I thought I'd go into a bit more detail about my own thoughts, more than can be done in 140 characters anyway.

Many of us host or attend a regular board game night. Some of these are organised events, held as a club activity in a public place hired for the occasion. Others, like the one I host most Thursday evenings, and the one I go to one Saturday each month, are more modest affairs, held at someone's home with typically three to six people regularly turning up to play.

Whatever the scale, these are social occasions. There will be banter, sometimes food and drink, and occasional interruptions, especially when held at home. So I'm not talking about serious tournaments here. Modern games are designed for gatherings like these. Usually accommodating at least four players, the games are easy to learn and teach, and fun for beginners and regular players alike.

It's easy to overlook traditional board games in a scenario like this. So many are two-player only. And those like chess - even in a four-player variant - conjure up an image of players sitting in silent concentration, planning their strategy several moves ahead, the grandfather clock ticking loudly as the only thing to break the quiet reverence for the game.

It's understandable that traditional games would be overlooked for both these reasons when planning a friendly, informal game night. But need that be the case? My own game night has given us a different experience of these older games.

For the first point, yes, there are many traditional games that are two-player only. But a significant number support more, often four, sometimes six and occasionally even more. Nyout accommodates two, three or four players; halma allows two or four to play, as does pachisi, along with many other eastern race games. There are four-player chess games, including some lighter games played with dice. Chinese checkers provides for two, three, four or six. And for an even bigger game, leapfrog provides for players without limit.

Even two-player games can have a place at game night. Are all your friends extremely punctual? With the greatest of respect to friends of mine, there's sometimes a short period where two of us are waiting for the rest to turn up. And sometimes players have to leave early. Then what about the time when you have a 2-to-4-player game, and five turn up? A good two-player might prevent you leaving people without something to play.

In my own game nights, we tend mainly to play modern games. It's rare for a traditional game to be the focus of the night. Usually, the traditional games serve the excellent purpose of fillers: nyout is often a great way to round off the night when the main game finishes half an hour early. Halma and Chinese checkers take a bit longer but are also great filler games. And when there are three of us, I'll sometimes give the others a quick 2-player traditional game like senet or the Royal Game of Ur to play, while I sort out some refreshments.

So if you think these older games are too dry for game night, or don't support enough players, then think again: there may just be a use for them. And they have a specific advantage: they're often easily made for free.


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