Games: What to play on cold winter evenings

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The Independent Online
This is the concluding part of Charis Maslanka's survey, begun last week. (See key at end for noise and game-rage ratings.)

The simplicity and versatility of the word game Scrabble have enabled it to sweep the board, selling more than 100 million copies in over 120 countries since the 1930s. Books are written on it and its many forms attest to its popularity. I once even saw a sad character playing it on his own on a train. This Travel Scrabble de Luxe (Mattel, 2-4 players, aged 8+ years, RRP pounds 15, would have cheered him up at least as much as a playmate. It is compact and can be folded away with the tiles locked in place and so is ideal for travellers. (Rating: p, Z)

I suspect Anagram (competitive word play, 2-8 players of all ages, Oxford Games Ltd, RRP pounds 5.95) may not prove everyone's cup of tea, though it is enjoyable enough if you can spell well, love anagrams and have a competitive streak, but it's certainly not a game for dyselxics! (Rating: p, Z)

If in Tom Brown's School Days you found yourself siding with the bullies, Power (2-4 players aged 10 or over) might just be your thing. The instructions are complicated but become clear as the game progresses, the object being to attack other countries and capture their flags utilising all the air power, tanks, ships and personnel at your disposal. In the battle-hardened opinions of Gary (12), John (10) and Dan (10) it was their favourite game. (Rating: ff, v)

Yali (strategy game for two, Falcon, about pounds 19.99) is an engaging and successful balancing game for all the family. Ball-bearings are loaded into a seesaw structure which reacts counter-intuitively; the way in which it tips determines the next move. Gary and Julie (both 12) played it as a game of chance with little insight into what made it tip. Their parents continued long after the children had gone to bed in the hope of deducing the strategy that ensures a win and graduation to a higher level of play. Curiously addictive and an all-round favourite. (Rating: p, Z)

Spite (Board and dice game for 2-6 players or teams of more than 6, Lagoon Games, RRP pounds 9.99), despite its name, proved hugely enjoyable. Players gradually collect enough counters to cover the letters of the word SPITE but also get a chance to demolish the work of others. For adults it is fun and emotion-releasing to the point of being therapeutic, but a word of caution: younger children can become quite upset when ganged up on. I had visions of Enfield's Old Gits coming to blows over this one. (Rating: f, vv)

Mancala (Lagoon Games, pounds 9.99, board game of strategy for two players aged 7 to adult) is a version of the ancient game known as Mankala'h as played in the coffee shops of Egypt, or as Pallanguli as played by the Tamils of Southern India. The seeds have been replaced by glass stones in this beautifully-packaged coffee-table version and it is a great game to gossip and relax to as the advantage veers from one player to the other. (Rating: p,Z)

Lager-laddishness is too often a celebration of pre-verbal behaviour, so Booze Cruise (trivia based, board game, Lagoon Games RRP pounds 19.99) came as a pleasant surprise. Although the aim is to rack up five brewery visits, the questions on drink, travel, culture and trivia are no pushover. For example: (1) Which is the only national flag that has a map of the country on it? And (2) What was invented after Percy Spencer found a melted chocolate bar in his pocket after passing a magnetron in 1945? For answers see below.

A selection of the drinks named in the game were served as we played so I only remember starting the game. Will suit those characters who take their drink seriously (those who can only direct you to places by means of the pubs that lie along the route). Only give to alcoholics anonymously. (Rating: f, v)

Chronology: (2-6 players aged 7 or over, Spear's RRP pounds 20) A reminiscence game, perhaps better suited to the chronologically challenged, intent on reliving the past, or those with an interest in history. The game stretches back to 1066, which should be one in the eye for other reminiscence games. Was "Love me Do" recorded before or after JFK was assassinated? (For answer see 3 below.) (Rating: f, v)

The desire to murder house guests and family can be sublimated by a Murder Mystery Game. Unlike Nativity plays these all have different plots and you don't know from the outset how they will end up. Murder a la Carte's The Brie, The Bullet & the Black Cat (10-12 consenting adults) is a fantasy role play game set in 1942 Casablanca. Participants with wonderfully ridiculous names - Cherie Boot, Countess Bogov, Seamus O'Hack - have to deduce which one of them killed The Black Cat, France's greatest mime artist. The set includes invitations, party plan with suggested menus, character booklets and a cassette to give the guests motive and motivation: a fail-safe way to spend a hilarious evening. (Rating: ff, v)

When the dust has settled from all the socialising you may need to re- centre yourself in solitude by ensconcing yourself in a comfortable chair to contemplate, as did the monks of old, the knot-work in The Celtic Knot Puzzle (Oxford Games, pounds 6.95) or, if you lean more to the East, the hundreds of patterns obtainable from the seven tiles in 300 Tangrams (Puzzle and Book, age 8 years to adult; Lagoon Games, RRP pounds 10). Don't worry; long before you've exhausted all the possible ways of configuring the seven tiles it will be time to buy more games for next Christmas. (Ratings: p, Z)

ANSWERS: 1) Cyprus; 2) The microwave oven; 3) The Beatles hit came out in 1962, the year before JFK was killed.

Noise levels: p - quiet, f - noisy, ff - disturb the neighbours.

Risk of game rage: Z - almost irritatingly inoffensive

v - tread carefully; vv - have a Relate counsellor on hand.

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