TRIED & TESTED / Power playing: Brain-draining or fine family fun? We turn to board games

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Traditional-style games, it is claimed, help to bring the family together. But if the rules are impenetrable, you have to wait ages for your turn and the game grows tedious after just 10 minutes, the only traditional thing it's likely to lead to is the Christmas family row. So if you are intending to buy a game, which is best? We asked guests at the Manor House Hotel in Devon to test a selection. If you want to make sure your board game isn't boring, read on.


The testers gave each game marks out of 10 for clarity of instructions, how interesting and exciting the game was, how much fun it was to play and how keen they would be to buy it. Their marks form a best-buy star rating.


(The London Games Co) pounds 25.99

For 4 or more, aged 8 and above. Time it took to play: 1-2 hours. Exciting and fun. How to play: players mould dough into a shape that conveys a word on a card; the others must guess what the word is.

Players found this game exciting and a lot of fun, although some found the instructions very difficult. 'Crazy mad fun,' said Jackie Monkman. 'A good after-dinner game,' said Sharon Cranleigh. Another player, Kirsty Rogers, commented: 'You don't have to be a genius. It's good family fun.'


(Hasbro UK) pounds 22.99

For 2-6 players, aged 10 plus.

Time it took to play: up to five hours.

For those who enjoy power, an intellectual challenge and have plenty of spare time. How to play: a strategy game, the aim is to dominate the world by attacking other countries and defending your own.

First devised in the Fifties, this game had the most difficult instructions to understand, but players also found it the most interesting. 'I liked it because we learnt where the countries in the world are. I also liked winning lots of countries,' said Daniel Furlong, aged nine. The main disadvantage: the long time it takes to play.


(Spear's Games) pounds 25

For 3-5 players, aged 12 upwards. Time it took our testers to play:

1 hour. Spooky, exciting, makes the time fly. How to play: combines a board with a video tape. On the instructions of the Gatekeeper, a video character, players race against the clock around a graveyard.

Atmosfear lived up to its name - players enjoyed the horror. 'The atmosphere was good. We played it in the dark. As the game progressed, the Gatekeeper aged. That was excellent,' said Ben Hutchison, aged 14, while his brother Jamie, 12, said: 'My best game ever]' Most players found it very exciting, interesting and fun. Criticisms: the video could get boring (you can buy others), instructions were a bit difficult.


(Goliath Games) pounds 24.99

For 2 players, all ages. Time our testers took to play: 1-1 1/2 hours. A good brain-teaser. How to play: strategy game. The first player to push six of his or her opponent's marbles off the board wins.

Players found the instructions rather difficult, but once they got going thought it good fun and interesting. 'Easy to pick up and play any time,' said Chris Hodgeson. 'Certainly makes your brain tick,' said another player, who thought it would be rather hard for children. Chris Acton said: 'Gets the brain working, along with having fun. What didn't I like about it? I lost]'


(Drummond Park Ltd) pounds 24.99

For at least 4 players, aged 15 and above. Time testers took to play: about 2 hours. Best-rated game: very easy to understand and lots of fun, excitement and interest. How to play: verbal charades. Players must describe a word to teammates

without naming it. Teams race around a board, moving forward when they guess the word.

Players gave very high marks to this game on all criteria and found the instructions extremely easy. 'Quick and fast thinking - leads to other conversation,' said Chris Acton. 'Fast-moving and easy to play,' said Pam Rutson, who had only one minor criticism: 'Dull coloured board and playing pieces'.


(Oxford Games) pounds 10.50

For 3 or more players aged 16 plus. Time testers took to play: 1/2 to 3/4 hour. Our players were bored; probably for literature buffs only. How to play: a literary 'Call My Bluff'. Players make up a first or last line in the style of an author and novel, the others decide which is genuine and which invented.

Our players found this game extremely dull. The authors ranged from Saul Bellow to Enid Blyton, but even with the difficult ones, players could immediately tell which line was the real thing. As a result, many found it boring. 'Once you have played the game, you probably won't again,' said one player.

*HOW TO HOST A MYSTERY - Star Trek version

(Transatlantic Marketing) pounds 19.95

For 8 adults. Time testers took to play: 3 1/2 hours. A bit different from the usual run, but no great enthusiasm. How to play: players take on the role of a character on the Starship Enterprise to find the origins of a virus on board and the location of the Orb of Knowledge.

Players thought this was reasonably good fun but not very interesting. Jon Devaney, who did enjoy it, said: 'It took a long time, and if some people get bored and leave early, it makes a mess of the game.' Others said it took too long and was hard to organise.