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  • Writer's pictureJared Neal

Classic Games and Modern Alternatives

The purpose of this list isn’t to diminish the classics listed, as most of them are games I grew up playing and loving, and I have played every game on this list with my kids. My hope is to identify other games you may also enjoy in addition to these, that share a similar feel, but are a little different or innovative in some way.


Probably one of the most well known classic games out there, Monopoly is a fun game of buying and selling real estate to maximize your rent revenue and minimize your rent costs. The biggest complaints I hear from people about Monopoly, are that the game can run too long, and that there is too much luck involved in the outcome.


  1. Chinatown - in Chinatown, you are drawing city location tiles out of a bag, and then you choose to keep some and discard the others. You are then able to negotiate with other players to trade your tiles with them directly for other tiles, cash, or some combination thereof. Next you draw building tiles, which can be placed on to your city locations, where you are trying to make sets to score the most points. It is quick, engaging, and a good enough balance between luck and skill that the best player usually wins, but not always.

  2. The Estates - this is a game about acquiring real estate as well, but instead of rolling dice to determine what you can purchase, the estates are auctioned off each turn to the highest bidder. This has the feel of Monopoly's economic engine, but then combined with abstract strategy like you would see in Chess or Checkers. This game is visually appealing, and plays quickly enough, that it is still going to appeal to younger audiences.

  3. Raccoon Tycoon or Lizard Wizard - technically these are separate games, but they are mechanically similar. In both games you are gaining resources, that you will use to either acquire cards directly, or trade in the market to gain money to purchase cards. The cool thing here, is that each time you gain or trade resources it effects the market value of those resources, which makes for some interesting tradeoffs in your decisions.

Honorable Mention - Acquire

Guess Who

Guess Who, is an excellent game of process of elimination, and does a great job of teaching efficiently solving a problem, and how to use gathered information to determine the correct outcome. The big problem with Guess Who, is that you are limited to playing with 2 players, so if you have a family of four, unless you have two sets, a couple people are left waiting for the next game. Also, if you feel like you have mastered a certain strategy in Guess Who, then possibly you want to take a step up in complexity to try and solve a slightly more difficult puzzle.


  1. Dinosaur Tea Party - this is a game that has an almost identical feel to guess who, but instead of 2 players it accommodates up to 5. There are 20 different dinosaurs in the game, and 15 possible characteristics that can be present on each card. Each player takes a card, and then you go around the table taking turns asking the other player of your choice about some characteristic of their dinosaur.

  2. Love Letter - you are trying to woo the princess, but you must navigate the castle's treacherous communication channels to get your love letter to her first. This game has a very simple premise, each turn you take a card and play one of your two cards back, using its effect. There are a few different ways you can earn points or be eliminated, but figuring out the cards other people have, and not letting them figure out yours, helps you achieve one of these win conditions. It certainly doesn't play like Guess Who, but it does have some of the same deduction elements.

  3. Outfoxed - in this cooperative game for up to 4 players, you are trying to figure out which character stole the pot pie. Each turn you roll dice to determine if you can reveal either a characteristic or two more suspect cards. If you reveal a characteristic, you then use the decoder to see if it matches the suspect. You are then able to eliminate suspects who either do or don't have the characteristic, which will eventually lead you to the thief. However, if you don't roll the dice you need to take the action you chose, the thief progresses across the board. If they make it all the way to the end of the path, you lose and they get away. This is by far the simplest of the three, and would be more recommended for younger kids.


Clue is an excellent game of deduction, and not so different from Guess Who above, does a great job of teaching the process of elimination, and how to use gathered information to determine the correct outcome. The problem with Clue, is that if you make an incorrect guess, you are then out of the game.


  1. Cryptid - “a unique deduction game of honest misdirection in which players must try to uncover information about their opponents' clues while throwing them off the scent of their own. Each player holds one piece of evidence to help them find the creature, and on their turn they can try to gain more information from their opponents.”

  2. Loot of Lima - by far the most complex game in this category, this one requires you to really buckle in and think through each turn. There are 24 locations, and 2 of them are treasures, with your goal being to eliminate all other possibilities, until you can be sure which two they are. I wouldn’t recommend this one for the feint of heart, or anyone looking for a light simple experience, but if you enjoy a good deduction puzzle you are in for a treat.

  3. The Search for Planet X - here you are trying to determine in what sector of the solar system, exists a mysterious undiscovered planet. One of the more interesting things about The Search for Planet X, is that you discover and make predictions about other space objects during your search for Planet X, and even if you don’t discover the planet you may still win. This is a heavily app driven experience, which allows you to make incorrect guesses, and not be eliminated from the game.


Checkers along with Chess, is one of the biggest classic abstract games. Abstract games, are just games where the pieces you’re moving around don’t really have any theme, and are typically perfect information games with little to no luck. Similar to what I will say about Chess, there isn’t really any issues with Checkers, but these are a few games that give you the same feel, but with a little more fun theme.


  1. Battle Sheep - in this one you start by taking turns placing board tiles, which means each game the board can be different. Then you take your stack of 16 sheep chips and place it wherever you want on an edge, and each turn you split your stack and move one half in a straight path as far as you can on the hex board. The strategy here is mostly coming from trying to not let any of your stacks get trapped with multiple sheep you can’t move, and to try and trap your opponents sheep.

  2. Hey, That’s My Fish! - this plays somewhat similarly to Battle Sheep, but the board starts in the same layout each game, and you place your penguins in turn order. Then you can move them in straight lines as far as they will go, and once you move them off of that space, you will collect it for the number of fish, leaving a hole in the ice sheet. The strategy here, is to try and remove ice chips to strand your opponent, and not get stranded yourself.


Chess is maybe the most iconic abstract game there is, and while it is hard to find too much fault with it, the biggest issue I think most people have is the difference in player ability. In other words, people who really like chess tend to be really good at it, and thus it isn’t going to be very fun for someone with average ability to play with them. Below are some alternatives that are a little less well known, and have fun themes to help draw kids in more.


  1. Hive - as the title suggests you’re building a hive, and must protect your queen tile from being surrounded, while trying to surround the queen of your opponent. Each turn you can either place a new tile or move a tile, and each player has a variety of differnt bugs with different movement abilities to choose from. This is an incredibly simple game to learn, but has lots of depth that becomes more apparent over time.

  2. Onitama - each player has two open cards that display a possible move for any of their pieces. There is a fifth card that cannot be used by either player. On a player's turn, they choose one of their cards, move one of their pieces according to the chosen card, then replaces the card they used with the fifth card. The other player then chooses one of their cards, moves accordingly, and exchanges that card with this fifth card — which is, of course, the card the first player just used.

  3. Santorini - in this one, each player has two characters, that must move and then build each turn. There are numerous different Greek God characters you can play with in the game, that give you special abilities to keep it interesting. Not only is the gameplay really fun, but the board and 3-dimensional components are excellent.

Honorable Mention - Yinsh


Who doesn’t love the sound of their opponent having to mutter “oh no, you sunk my battleship”. This classic is always loads of fun, but many modern games simulate this same feeling, but add in a few wrinkles that make them worth your time if you enjoy Battleship.


  1. Captain Sonar - this is an incredible party style game, and while you may already be thinking how could this possibly be like Battleship then, it takes the concept and turns it into a team building exercise. There are two teams of four players, and each team is driving a battle ship. Each member of the team has a very specific thing they are able to do, and so all four of you have to be in sync, or the other team will find your ship and sink it.

  2. Sabotage - “the game is played on a 4x4 grid. Both teams have their own copy of the map, separated by a divider. Four dice are rolled each round, and all players program their moves simultaneously by spending those dice. The villains execute their programmed moves first, followed by the spies. When spies take a move action, they must announce some information about their location to the villains, who use this to deduce and track the spies. Both sides have the ability to unlock new tools and get access to more dice each round.”

  3. Telepathy - the first time we played this, we got it set up and I thought to myself this is going to be too simple, but boy was I wrong. You have a board with an 18 x 18 grid, and each square has a unique column, row, color, and symbol on it. You select one of those cells, and so does your opponent. In order to try and guess your cell, your opponent will guess random cells, and if any of the four parameters match your cell you say yes, and if not you say no. Again this seems so simple, but I can almost guarantee you, that you will sink all of your opponents battle ships quicker than you can find their single cell here.

Honorable Mention - Pyramid of Pengqueen


Dexterity games appeal to a much wider audience, partially because they are quick and easy to teach, but also because the skill set required to be good is very different than most other board games. Operation was never one of my favorite games personally, as the thought of accidentally lighting up the patients nose gave me considerable anxiety, but I know that many people love this classic.


  1. Hammer Time - kind of the opposite objective to Operation, in that you are trying to hit the game box which has plastic crystals stacked on top of it, with a soft hammer with just the right amount of force and placement, to knock off just the crystals you need. You collect the gems you knock off to complete goal cards in your hand, unless of course you knock off more than 9, in which case you have to put them all back. The only drawback here, is if you get someone without much self control, an extra hard hit to the box can send gems flying such that they may never be found again.

  2. Icecool - this one is such a blast, as you are flicking little plastic penguins around boxes, and trying to get them to slide through doorways before they are caught by the hall monitor penguin. One player is the hall monitor each round trying to catch all the other penguins, before they are able to make it through 3 doorways successfully. The penguins have a rounded base, and are heavier on the bottom, which means they don’t always slide how you expect, but can do some fun tricks once you get the feel for it.

  3. Tinderblox - this game comes in a small tin box about the size of a box of crayons, and is just some wooden cubes/columns, and a few cards. Each turn a player draws a card, which tells them which cubes they must add to the bonfire (collective stack in the middle of the table). There are a couple of catches however, as you may have to use your off hand, you have to use a pair of tweezers to pull the cubes from the tin an stack them, and then move the stack altogether to the bonfire. This one is so small it is really easy to take anywhere, and the concept is so simple anyone can jump right in.

Honorobale Mention - Anima Upon Animal and Rhino Hero


Risk is about as approachable of a war game as you will get, and definitely isn’t everyones cup of tea, but this was one of mine and my brothers' favorites growing up. The main issue with risk is, a fair amount of dependence on the luck of the dice rolls, and between two balanced players it can stretch out quite long.


  1. Bunny Kingdom - this might be a bit of a stretch, because there isn’t any direct conflict in this game, but it is one of the most fun area control games you will ever play. You draft cards each round, which give you the ability to place bunnies over certain territories on the board, build certain structures, or gain additional scoring conditions. The artwork is incredible here, similar to Risk much of the game is about tactical strategy, and it almost never plays longer than an hour.

  2. Carcassonne - you are laying tiles to build a central map each turn, that is shared by all players. These tiles will contain various land features like roads, cities, cloisters, and grassland, and depending where you place you player pieces, you can score points based on things like how big a city is or how long a road is. Only one player can play a piece on each feature however, and so especially as the map starts to expand, you are having to weigh not only how your placements will impact you, but also how it will help or block your opponents.

  3. Small World - you play as dueling factions of creatures, who are trying to takeover and control as much space as possible, in a world that isn’t big enough for everyone. As you move into spaces to conquer them, the outcome is determined solely based on how many troops you have (with the only exception being your final conquest of a turn, where you roll a reinforcement die that may effect adjust your attacking force by 0, 1, 2, or 3 troops). Throughout the game as your forces get exhausted, you trade out for other races of creatures, which keeps the game exciting, but also adds layers of strategy and decisions to make. This game plays much faster, has far more direct conflict, and has much less luck than risk.

Candy Land/Chutes and Ladders

Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders are the quintessential kids racing games, and for a lot of people among the very first games they ever play. These games are so simple and easy to jump into, but rely extremely heavily on luck to come out on top.


  1. Camel Up - This game is going to be a fair amount more complex than Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders, so if you are looking for something more in that line of complexity, check out the next two entries below. “In Camel Up, up to eight players bet on five racing camels, trying to suss out which ones will place first and second in a quick race around a pyramid. The earlier you place your bet, the more you can win — should you guess correctly, of course. Camels don't run neatly, however, sometimes landing on top of another one and being carried toward the finish line. Who's going to run when? That all depends on how the dice come out of the pyramid dice shaker, which releases one die at a time when players pause from their bets long enough to see who's actually moving!”

  2. Hoot Owl Hoot - you are baby owls trying to get back to the nest before the sun rises, and you are all working cooperatively to move your owls around a spiral track as quickly and efficiently as possible. The track alternates 6 different colors in different sequences, and you have 3 color cards in your hand, one of which you will use to move one of the baby owls to the next spot of that color on the track. If another owl is on the next spot of that color, you move past them to the next one after that. So you are largely trying to figure out the best order to play your cards, so that you can get the most spaces out of each movement. This game is a hoot for sure!

  3. Monza - you are each driving a race car around the track, which is 3 lanes wide, and again has multiple colors that alternate around the board. On your turn you roll the 6 dice, which have different colors on each side matching the spaces on the track. You then in any order, can use each one to move to an adjacent space of that color. Similar to Hoot Owl Hoot above, the main strategy here is just trying to figure out the optimal order to play your colors in to get the most out of your turn. Still a good amount of luck, but definitely more strategy involved than in Chutes and Ladders.


I don’t have any numbers to back this up, but I suspect Uno may be the most widely played game in existence (I know this is actually Chess, but it feels like it should be Uno). This is based on the fact it has such a reasonable price entry point, is easy to learn and play quickly, and is available from a broad array of retailers. Uno involves a little bit of take that, but not so much people get too upset, and involves quite a bit of luck, but does allow for some strategy.


  1. Cockroach Poker - this is effectively a bluffing game, where you are trying to get other players to take cards, without getting stuck with cards yourself. On your turn you play a card facedown in front of another player of your choice, and make a claim at what the card is (which may be true or false). The other player can either say which they think it is, or they can pick it up and look at it, and then present it facedown to another player making a claim at what the card is (which again may be true or false). Whenever someone finally calls the person on whether they are telling the truth, if they were correct the person passing the card puts it in front of them, if not the person who called them on it puts it in front of them. You ultimately lose if you collect too many of the same kind of card, or if you run out of cards. This game without fail leads to lots of laughs, and an all around fun experience.

  2. No Thanks! - in this game you start out with a supply of tokens, and a card is played to the center of the table. On your turn, you may either place a token on it passing, or pick it up taking it into your tableau and taking the tokens into your inventory. The value of the cards in your tableau count towards your score, unless you have cards in sequence (ie 7,8 9) in which case only the lowest value card counts. The goal of the game is to take the least points possible, so the main thing you are trying to manage is when it is worth taking a card instead of paying a token to pass, so that you can save those tokens to pass on bigger cards later.

  3. Sushi Go - probably the most accessible drafting game there is, you start with a hand of cards, select two of them and pass the rest to the next player, and then repeat until all the cards have been claimed. Then you score for the round based on the cards in front of you. This will be repeated three times, and then you do a final scoring after that. The two things that really set this game apart for me, are it is simple enough to jump right in, but there is some strategy to be had if you have played a few times, and the artwork is absolutely adorable.

Honorable Mention - Gudetama, Skyjo


Yahtzee is the the game that comes to mind when you think of a family dice chucking game, where you try to fight against luck and optimize the dice that were rolled. I still find Yahtzee fun on occasion, but there are several games that utilize similar mechanisms, and add a more engaging theme on top of it to expand the experience of the game.


  1. King of Tokyo - this is a game where you are playing as different monsters, largely inspired by the Godzilla universe, and trying to battle for territory of Tokyo. “At the start of each turn, you roll six dice, which show the following six symbols: 1, 2, or 3 Victory Points, Energy, Heal, and Attack. Over three successive throws, choose whether to keep or discard each die in order to win victory points, gain energy, restore health, or attack other players into understanding that Tokyo is YOUR territory. The fiercest player will occupy Tokyo, and earn extra victory points, but that player can't heal and must face all the other monsters alone! Top this off with special cards purchased with energy that have a permanent or temporary effect, such as the growing of a second head which grants you an additional die, body armor, nova death ray, and more.”

  2. Noctiluca - the premise is you are trying to collect glowing noctiluca (a type of jellyfish) represented by beautiful translucent colored dice. You place pawns at edges of the board, and may collect all the dice of a certain value in a straight line from where the pawn was placed. You then use the dice to fulfill color requirements on scoring jar cards in front of you, and pass any you can’t use to the next player. Similar to Yahtzee, this is a very quick playing game with a fair amount of apparent luck, but also lots of strategic options to maximize your turns.

  3. Sagrada - there is a large unfinished cathedral in Spain, that has been under construction for over a century. In this game you are building a stain glass window from the cathedral, and trying to score the most points by following certain placement rules in regards to what colors and numbers can go in what spots. To start you can’t place the same number or color orthogonally adjacent to each other, and then you get a unique player board with certain additional color and number restrictions, and lastly have scoring cards that give extra points for even further things. This is a game that is very simple to play, but has a good amount of what’s called emergent complexity, where you have to really think about the future impact of the things you do on each turn.

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