When I was a kid, there was a clear divide between board games and video games. You played video games when you wanted to hang out with Mario and Mega Man, and you played board games when your mother got tired of you being in the house and banished you to the garage.
That sounds more negative than it should. I have a lot of great memories of buying stacks of (slightly mildewed) board games from yard sales and playing them with my friends and brothers in said garage on rainy days. Nintendo's Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics does a decent job of capturing that unique sense of peace while maintaining the convenience and speed of a video game. Players can call up their childhood friends and gather them together, just like the good old days—provided they all have a Switch, and they all actually remember who they played with during those long summer months. ("Who is this?")
51 Worldwide Classics is a follow-up to 2005's Clubhouse Games for the Nintendo DS, a likewise lovely collection that was a bit overlooked when it first came out. The "Clubhouse Games" moniker might give some people pause; it makes the collection come across as a stodgy clump of card games. In actuality, the variety of the games on tap is the collection's biggest strength. There are plenty of traditional card games, sure, but there are also board games, action games, and even games that are basically Uno, Connect 4, and Sorry—just not by name. Tired of cerebral games? Move on to some fun with Battle Tanks or Air Hockey.
51 Worldwide Classics boasts one immediately obvious improvement over its DS predecessor: All 51 games are unlocked from the get-go, whereas the previous game had players unlock several titles. Some might understandably miss the unlocking system, as it admittedly forced players to try games they might otherwise not glance at. Locking up games defies the purpose of a collection like 51 Worldwide Classics, however. It's much better to discover new games by playing them with friends via local or multiplayer, or even by hitting the menu's "Random" button. Playing games does yield bits of trivia about the history of said pastime, which is a good way to scratch the "I gotta unlock something" itch.
Starting 51 Worldwide Classics and immediately being presented with a deluge of games is a little intimidating, especially since players probably aren't going to know how to play about half of them. Fortunately, the collection is a surprisingly good teacher that offers clear, concise instructions for each game, in addition to tips, difficulty settings, and optional rule alterations that let players tailor their experience further. I started 51 Worldwide Classics without a single idea about how to play chess, and I emerged—well, not an expert, but at least I know how to avoid scoring on my own goal now. (That's how chess works, right?) Don't know how to play Chinese Checkers? Now's the time to learn, son.
Once all the learning's done, 51 Worldwide Classics' multiplayer has a lot to offer players thanks to the Switch's versatility. I got in some good playtime with my husband, though he unfortunately could only play as a guest. We still had a good time with Match, Dots and Boxes, Billiards, Slot Cars, Air Hockey, Blackjack, Toy Baseball, and more. Yet in another unfortunate hiccup: Bowling's docked two-player option is imperfect. Whoever has the right Joy-Con (the one with the IR sensor) always seems to get a much more accurate shot than whoever's stuck with the sensor-less Joy-Con. Bowling is still a blast if you have the "working" Joy-Con, and it's even fun as a touch-screen game. It brings back those blessed good time vibes from the height of the Wii's popularity.
51 Worldwide Classics' multiplayer mode includes options for online and local play. Game owners can host local guest consoles that don't have the game installed, which is a great callback to the first game's roots on the DS. If possible, try to gather up enough guests to try out 51 Worldwide Classics' "mosaic mode," which lets players line up to four Switches to create one big playing field. I couldn't try it for myself, but it seems extremely cool. Using mosaic mode for the Slot Cars game lets players create enormous racetracks. In the Fishing game, it lets players make long rivers, waterfalls, and even oceans.
These unique "Nintendo touches," in addition to the variety of games on-hand, is what makes 51 Worldwide Classics one of the best mini-game collections currently on the market. A game collection from a licensed distributor like Hasbro might offer games that are much more in-depth like Monopoly and Risk, but the range of games in 51 Worldwide Classics can't be beat. It's fitting that each game is introduced by a little plastic family that doesn't take itself or its job too seriously: 51 Worldwide Classics makes it obvious from the start that players are welcome to bounce from one distraction to another and back again. There certainly are games that encourage deep thought, slow moves, and careful skill, but when players are ready to move on, there's no need to flip the board and turn off the game. They can just sit behind the controls of a toy tank and blast away at opponents for a little while.
Oh, and no worries if you're a loner: I had just as much fun sitting by my lonesome and playing 51 Worldwide Classics as I did playing with others. The adjustable computer A.I. ensures players get a good challenge once they learn how a game is played. This is good news for anyone who tries to recruit their Grade 2 friends for some nostalgic board game action and are told, "I'm putting you on block this time, I mean it."
If you're ready to slow down a bit on Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but you want to keep that good, warm feeling going for a while longer, Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics is worth your time and money. Its clean, charming interface guides you through a wide selection, including classic card games, complex board games based in deep traditions, and simple pastimes that let you fiddle with toys. Don't know how to play something? No problem: 51 Worldwide Classics will happily teach you. It's a great choice for single players and families alike.