The silver Settlers of Catan: Board and card games for non-gamer over-50s

Statler and waldorfWhile building relationships with some over 50s websites for my proper job, two things struck me: first, I’m much closer to being an ‘over 50’ myself than I used to be and second, games are a perfect fit for this demographic. So why are modern games not a bigger pull for them?

I think it’s simply a problem of perception. For those of us who were kids in the sixties and seventies playing board games is often associated with Dungeons & Dragons or long drawn out war games. While these games are still common the board game hobby is much closer to those older games we loved as kids (Cluedo, Monopoly etc) – the games are just better.

As for the older generation, many still enjoy classic games such as bridge, rummy, chess, Scrabble and backgammon, with games a favourite pastime in most retirement homes and clubs – and let’s not forget the phenomenon that is bingo. But while these games are great, there are so many more out there. Here’s my short guide on how to start to freshen up your game collection.

Leave the monotony of Monopoly behind

uncle moneybagsHigh street board games tend to be either children’s titles or the likes of Risk and Monopoly.

Despite a revolution in the quality of board and card games dating back to the 90s, these old 60s relics continue to fill the shelves of WHSmiths and Debenhams due to a monopoly on space by traditional manufacturers Hasbro and Mattel. But:

  • They’re too long: While most people enjoy a good game, an hour is fun and many can happily play for two – but beyond that it can get a bit much, especially when…
  • They’re unforgiving: They rely on player elimination, which can lead to bad feelings and some players being out of contention way before the end of the game.

But luckily there are thousands (literally) of fantastic board and card games out there, some selling in their millions around the world – and they’re all now easily available from online stores such as Amazon, and increasingly some high street stores (such as Waterstones). Here are my top picks to get you started.

1) Diamonds

Classic card games such as Whist and Bridge have ensured the trick-taking genre will always be a staple diet for traditional game players – but especially with Bridge, it can be seen as having a high barrier to entry. Diamonds, from designer Mike Fitzgerald, is a great example of distilling the best parts of trick taking and sending them off in a slightly different direction, adding some neat twists while keeping it simple.

Other clever modern takes on simple card game ideas include For Sale (auctions), Parade (hand management) and Tichu (ladder climbing) – all of which can be bought for around £10 and have very small rules overheads. But that’s not to say there isn’t deep game play and emergent strategy for those who play the games often (although For Sale is a much lighter game).

2) Ticket to Ride

ticket_to_ride_boxRummy (and its many variations) has always been a popular card game, but several modern games have taken its set collection ideas to the next level.

The most popular example is Ticket to Ride, a board game in which players collect coloured cards in sets to complete train routes on a board (click the link for a review). If you’re looking for a simpler set collection game, Coloretto is a fine example.

Ticket to Ride is what many call a ‘gateway game’: a great introduction into modern hobby games as it has simple concepts anyone familiar with traditional games will easily grasp. Other popular examples include Settlers of Catan (trading and route building) and Carcassonne (tile laying and area control). Each has sold millions of copies to the family market worldwide.

3) Ingenious

Abstract games such as drafts, backgammon and chess have long been gaming staples, but there are many more great games on the market today. One of the best is Ingenious; a game in which you draw domino-style coloured tiles from a bag and lay them on a board to score points. The scoring system is indeed ingenious and it’s a game that’s easy to teach but tough to master – and plays two to four players.

Other great examples include Hive (a chess-like tile game with no board, so great for travelling or small tables), Patchwork (a two-player tile placement game with a quilting theme) and Tsuro (a short, oriental themed route building game).

4) Forbidden Island

forbidden islandA popular style of game that may be unfamiliar to traditional gamers is the co-op, or co-operative game. In these the players are working together to ‘beat’ the game, so everyone wins (or loses!) as a team.

In Forbidden Island, players move their pawns around an island (constructed in a grid) trying to collect artifacts – but all the while the island is sinking (putting pressure on the players to complete goals in time).

A more complex version of the game (Pandemic) has proved hugely popular, and the genre now has hundreds of games. A great but very different example is Hanabi – a simple cad game in which each player can see all player cards except for their own (imagine playing scrabble with your letters facing the other way!), and have to rely on clues from their friends to work out what they have – and then play them in the right order.

5) Wits and Wagers

Party games such as charades and Triv still prove popular, but have also been vastly improved upon over the years. Trivia game Wits and Wagers adds a betting element to the game, so it isn’t just the know-alls that can win – it’s more about guessing which of the answers people give is the correct one.

A game that offers another interesting change of pace is Dixit. The game comes with a beautiful set of oversized cards with a different abstract drawings on each. One player will say a word or phrase inspired by a card then place that card face down on the table. Each other player also puts in a card inspired by the word or phrase, they’re shuffled, then everyone tries to guess which card the clue-giver played. They only score points if a few people get it right, so you can’t e too abstract with your clues.

Cheap, varied, simple and fun – and great for the brain

As I get older myself, I see the board gaming hobby as a huge blessing. Not only is it sociable – you can play at home, in the pub, on the train, anywhere – but it also keeps the brain active. There are games for all abilities, plus games that last anywhere from five minutes to five hours and that are for solo play (card game Onirim, for example, knocks patience into a cocked hat!) to social games that can take 30 or more players.

If anything the biggest barriers to entry are ignorance (despite growing popularity, many of these games still don’t get much shelf space on the high street) and the seemingly bewildering array of choice if you do start to enter the rabbit hole. But if you do take the plunge, and have some specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask (or check out my beginner’s guides linked at the top of this page).

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