The concept of “gaming” wasn’t always about immersing yourself in RPGs that last for several hundred hours, or about hurling abuse at random strangers online.
No; in the dim and distant past, before electronics dominated nearly every aspect of our lives, it was about gathering around a table with friends and doing various things with bits of wood, glass beads and playing cards that could, in most cases, be summarised as “tidying up”. And once the digital age first dawned for consumers in the late ’70s, it was about gathering around your family television to play digital recreations of those tabletop pursuits on your woodgrain Atari Video Computer System.
51 Worldwide Games, also known as Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics, marks a delightful return to both of these bygone eras. And in the process, it becomes a true essential for anyone’s Nintendo Switch library.
51 Worldwide Games, as we shall refer to it hereafter, differs from the classic late ’70s Atari gaming era in one crucial way, and the clue’s in the name. Whereas on the dear old 2600 you originally had to buy each digital adaptation of a tabletop game separately, here you have a whole bunch of them gathered together, ready to play at a moment’s notice.
Okay, this point is mostly mitigated by modern releases such as Atari Flashback Classics, which includes versions of backgammon, Concentration, Mastermind, blackjack, poker and numerous others, but there are a few reasons you might want to pick 51 Worldwide Games up for your virtual tabletop needs even if you’ve already sunk as many hours into that delightful collection as I have.
First and most obvious is the presentation. 51 Worldwide Games is presented beautifully, with catchy but unobtrusive background tunes accompanying your gameplay, pleasingly solid-looking playing pieces for all the games, the sort of speedy and slick performance you’d typically expect from a first-party Nintendo game and absolutely excellent sound.
Seriously, this can’t be emphasised enough; a big part of the satisfaction of real-life, in-person tabletop gaming comes from the physicality of the pieces — how they feel in your hands and, more importantly, the sounds they make when you manipulate them, pick them up or put them down. 51 Worldwide Games has absolutely nailed this aspect as much as it is possible to do with a combination of recorded sound effects and a vibrating controller, and these subtle aspects really make these digital adaptations feel incredibly true to life, whether you’re playing them in handheld mode or on your TV.
Second, and probably more important in the long term, is that this is a package of games designed for a variety of skill levels. Despite many of these games being well-established classics, not everyone knows how to play chess, backgammon, draughts and dominoes — and it’s even less likely that those who grew up with a fairly “Western” upbringing will be familiar with games from other cultures such as shogi, hanafuda, mahjong or mancala.
The inclusion of satisfyingly tactile “toy” games in the mix also makes for some interesting variation — as well as another way this title plays homage to the 2600 era with simplified, highly accessible and easy to understand versions of sports such as soccer, baseball, boxing and motorsports.
The beauty of 51 Worldwide Games is that it provides the ability for experienced veterans of all these games to have a good time in either single- or multiplayer mode, while it also takes the time to teach and assist newcomers in various ways.
Of particular note in this regard is the optional “assist” function that many of the games include. Rather than taking your turn for you, the “assist” features highlight possible moves in board games, save you counting spaces manually in mancala, mark the “dangerous” spaces in shogi and chess (including the relative danger level for each player when both sides threaten a space) and even help you out with judging the physics in games such as billiards — in other words, they make your options clear to you rather than telling you the “right” thing to do. They are an absolute boon for inexperienced newcomers to many of these games — but those who prefer a purer experience can easily turn them off if they so desire in most instances, with the physics-based games being probably the most notable exceptions.
So what exactly are all these games? Well, there’s a really broad mix of things ranging from purely luck-based titles such as the card game War to deep, strategic affairs such as the aforementioned shogi and chess. You can pick any of the 51 games from the outset, or you can make use of a “globe” interface to get recommendations of what to play, either from built-in characters who focus on particular types of experience, or from your online friends’ favourites.
While the inclusion of the expected classics such as chess, draughts and backgammon is, of course, welcome, much of the package’s interest comes from some of the more unusual (and “worldwide”) additions to the mix. Carrom is a highly enjoyable billiards-esque game from India, for example, while the inclusion of traditional “folk” games such as Nine Men’s Morris or Hare and Hounds may find you challenging your strategic thinking in different ways to how you might expect — or, if you’re a maths wizard, perhaps even “solving” them!
Each game is introduced by an amusing animation featuring a cast of plastic playing piece characters, and these all do a good job of giving you an overview of what the game is all about as well as a brief demonstration of how it might unfold. They’re all delivered with good humour and sass to reflect the fact that although it is possible to take these games seriously, they’re ultimately about having fun with friends — and perhaps a bit of friendly trash talk at the table.
Following the animation — which plays each time you select the game for the benefit of any partners you might have brought with you to play, but which can also be easily skipped — you’re provided with a concise but comprehensive rundown of the rules, including a few hints and tips and optional variations where such things exist. Interestingly, the actual game controls are not mentioned at all at this point; instead, they simply appear as on-screen prompts during gameplay itself, allowing those trying a new game for the first time to concentrate on reading and digesting the actual rules before jumping into the action.
Shogi and chess, as the most complex games in the collection, both also feature interactive tutorials that gradually introduce the various ways the pieces move, and most games feature four levels of AI difficulty to compete against if you’re short of human opponents. This option is omitted for games that are primarily luck-based, which can’t easily distinguish between someone being “good” or “bad” at the game from a skills perspective.
Several games feature variants to explore — billiards includes both 8-ball and 9-ball, for example, as well as a “Simple Rules” version where whoever pots any 5 balls first wins — and there are often options to tweak such as who the starting player is and variants on individual rules where different people like to play in different ways.
Single-player mode features medals to be won for accomplishing various tasks — usually beating the AI on various difficulty levels, where applicable — as well as trivia tidbits for each game that unlock with successive plays. There’s nothing with the depth of Stamp and Mission mode from this game’s predecessor 42 All-Time Classics on Nintendo DS but that’s not necessarily a terrible thing — while nice in theory, several of the missions in that game were nigh-impossible to complete because they were almost totally reliant on luck.
The true longevity of this game will come from its multiplayer, however, and there are lots of ways to play. A significant number of the games can be played on a single Switch using Joy-Con controllers — while the Pro controller is supported, several games do make use of motion controls, so the game is actually best experienced using a single Joy-Con. Any games with “hidden information” — such as games where you have a private hand of cards — cannot be played on a single system, however, which makes sense.
For that type of experience, you’ll want to turn to the Local Play mode, which allows multiple Switches to be networked together for everyone to have a screen each. There’s also a “Mosaic Mode” where games with variable layouts, such as slot cars and fishing, can be rearranged by laying several Switches flat on a table and “drawing” a line across their touchscreens. Fishing is even clever enough to create a waterfall at the head of your river if you stand one of the Switches up!
Even better, you only need one copy of the game to play local multiplayer; much as 42 All-Time Classics allowed use of the DS Download Play feature, so too does 51 Worldwide Games provide a free downloadable app for other Switch-wielding players to join the fun without having to buy a copy for themselves.
Finally, there’s the online multiplayer. This allows you to pick several games you’re interested in competing against other players in, and also indicates games where people are already waiting for an opponent. While you wait to be matched with someone, you can continue playing single player; once the online game starts, however, your moves are on a timer in order to keep things moving, and the game urges you to ensure you know all the rules of the game you’re about to play before jumping into live competition!
Online play allows you to match with anyone or specifically play with friends, and the former option is compatible with the Nintendo Switch Online mobile phone app for voice chat. Sadly, this version lacks the Pictochat function of the DS original, so there’s no hurling crudely drawn cocks at your shogi partner in an attempt to throw them off their game. Probably for the best.
51 Worldwide Games is a true evergreen game that you’ll be able to get out at any time, whether you’re alone or with friends, and have some fun. It’s much easier and less time-consuming than getting physical sets for all these games out, which means you can bang out a surprising number of different games in a relatively short period of time, but it also provides an excellent opportunity for anyone to really knuckle down and learn these games properly, even if they’re a complete newcomer.
With that in mind, in the coming weeks I’m going to be taking a closer look at a number of the games in this collection on an individual basis. We’ll explore the presentation, the rules, the implementation of said rules, customisability and how good each virtual recreation is to learn from, where applicable. Perhaps by the end of it all I might not even suck quite so bad at chess… stranger things have happened!
Anyway, 51 Worldwide Games is great. Buy it. And hit me up if you fancy a game of something!
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