By Kristin Clarke

With tight economic times comes the inevitable longing for “better days” of years past. But “past” doesn’t have to mean “passé,” especially to families of high-potential, perhaps highly restless children.   

The good news is that you really can “go back” to the games and toys  of yesteryear—and without arguments between your grandparents about “the rules we’re using this time.” In fact, “nostalgia toys” are a major modern-day trend, according to game and toy manufacturers.

As popular as they are, all games do not have to be ridiculously-expensive boxes with three-inch screens that require parents or grandparents to squint for hours, those new high-tech game systems are already losing some luster, and parents everywhere are tired of clutching a small, ridiculously expensive box with a three-inch screen that requires them to squint for hours at light-speed avatars shooting laser dots. Is this what “play” now means? “Why, back when I was your age….”

The good news is that you really can “go back” to the games and toys  of yesteryear—and without arguments between your grandparents about “the rules we’re using this time.” In fact, “nostalgia toys” are a major modern-day trend, according to game and toy manufacturers.

Although many of the games you loved most as a kid are still recognizable (perhaps more than you are now), most of these oldies-but-goodies have been dramatically updated, and frankly, who doesn’t benefit from an occasional nip and tuck? Oh, sure, you’ll still have the wonderful tactile feel of twirling the Game of Life spinner and the fresh smell of wood tiles from a just-opened Scrabble board, but you’ll also have contemporary options like multilingual versions and online or even mobile game versions that add new meaning to “travel edition.”

So move over, Granny, and let’s have a look at today’s rules!

MONOPOLY: Still touted by Hasbro as the best-selling game on the planet, Monopoly has been the source of raucous strategizing across almost four generations of families seeking to emulate Donald Trump’s real estate empire-building. And if intergalactic settlements ever become the norm, the chances are good that this high-life-or-the-poor-house board game will dominate the solar system.  

The first step has already been made with Hasbro’s latest version: Monopoly Here & Now: The World Edition (MSRP: $38.99), which has several unique aspects. First, the 22 new properties (all major cities) that now encircle the board reflect the top choices of an astonishing 5.6 million virtual voters worldwide who successfully “crowdsourced” this hip edition in a 6-week competition held last year. How else would Riga, the capital of Latvia, and Montreal, Canada, end up replacing Park Place and Boardwalk as the swankiest properties on Earth?

Second, you’ll recognize the tiny red hotels and green houses, but look closer: New “owners” can now choose red and green buildings that reflect the architecture found within specific city limits, such as Asian pagodas, African marital huts, and South American skyscrapers. Even those beloved metal “movers” have gone from top hat to soccer ball and the like.

Third, think of a language. No problem—in the spirit of globalization, this Monopoly edition has been printed in 37 languages, which makes it especially convenient for playing with grandparents or friends for whom English is not a first language. Some families with high-potential children taking foreign languages may even want to purposely buy a copy in that language as a learning tool.

Tips: While corporate wonks recommend Monopoly for ages 8 and up, loads of bright children ages 6 and 7 will happily wipe out their parents’ wallets and thrill for the trade-ya-this-for-that side antics of the game. Play with an atlas or globe nearby so that world domination can be properly appreciated visually. This also is a great chance to discuss multicultural differences beyond architecture and business etiquette. Parental bonus points if you download photos of the famous architectural structures now depicted in neon red and green plastic, and keep them with the board. Short on time? Check out Monopoly Express (MSRP: $14.99), which shrinks the game to a mere 20 minutes


CLUE: The makers of this 60-year-old murder mystery favorite (Hasbro) appear to have replaced the game’s ever-proper Tudor mansion—a beloved deathtrap—with a dramatically remodeled sprawling estate, which include extra potential murder locales like a media room and spa. The posh party has changed, too—victims, murderers, or innocents might include an aged sports celebrity or mega-rich video game designer instead of stuffy academics and ancient military leaders. Yes, I’m getting to the weapons—the enlarged cache is certainly deadly, with few victims likely to miss the lead pipe, now replaced by a baseball bat, ax, and trophy.

Best of all, though, is that the game has been made much more challenging and unpredictable because players must consider a second deck of cards. Think of this “makeover” as Clue 2.0—you’ll recognize the basics but enjoy learning some new bells and whistles alongside your young sleuths.

Tips: Hasbro also has expanded the Clue brand through certain character-specific editions, including a very cool one based on the Harry Potter books (MSRP: $26.99). In the latter, the game challenge is somewhat boosted because the board contains wheels that might reveal secret passages or Voldemort’s dreaded Dark Mark, so young detectives must be extra alert. Try playing the Harry Potter movie soundtracks in the background and snacking on Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans (wacky-flavored jelly beans) for extra ambiance.


DOMINOES: Reportedly played since 1120, Dominos remains true to its core game concept of matching divided rectangular tiles of varying dots (technical name: pips) end to end. However, that doesn’t mean this centuries-old game hasn’t experienced some modernization that even old-timers will love. Bendomino, for instance, contains the traditional 28 tiles but bends them like mini-rainbows and adds bright colors. The result is a twisty-turny layout that requires more concentration and strategy (you can block opponents whose tiles may not fit into the layout). As a nice aside, socially responsible manufacturer Blue Orange (http://www.blueorangegames.com) plants two trees for each tree it uses in production of their games. Also, be forewarned that the manufacturer has labeled the tiles as choking hazards to children age 3 and under. Wooden “junior” (MSRP: $19.99) and spiffy “deluxe” (MSRP: $34.99) versions are also available. 

Another version—Fundomino (MSRP: $19.99, Blue Orange)—mimics the roundness of Bendominoes but players must match colored and numbered tiles to try to reach 120 points first. Action is kept lively because some of the dominos are “wild” or direct players to “draw” or “play again.”

If your children are older or desire serious challenge, consider turning to High-Rise Dominoes (MSRP: $34.00, Fundex Games). Recommended for age 8 and up, players “match and stack” their tiles vertically to build a skyscraper. Testers give the game extra “cool” points for its revolving, 5 ¼-inch plastic board and the spacers that help hold the ever-changing construction together. Another plus is that “wild” tiles can help lead to dramatic swings in the scoring, so everyone has to pay close attention from all angles.      

Tips: Bendomino is priced at $16.99, inexpensive enough that you can do what many families do—buy two sets to double the size. With 56 tiles, players can create very large snake-like designs across your dining room table. Playing time with two sets is about 20–35 minutes, and half that with only one set. Meanwhile, High-Rise Dominoes, which comes with 36 tiles versus 21, takes much longer than the other two versions—often more than an hour, although the time goes by quickly.  


SCRABBLE: With more than 18,000 U.S. schools hosting Scrabble clubs that compete at local, state, and national levels, your child may already be deep into the world of wooden letter tiles and timed spelling. Now add in the 200-plus adult clubs, the nearly-as-many sanctioned tournaments of the National Scrabble Association, the game’s ever-expanding global distribution, and the crazy-hot Facebook version Scrabbulous (which was challenged by Hasbro for trademark infringement when the game was the ninth most popular application on this social media site). Thus, few should be surprised to learn that one third of American homes contain this National Toy Hall of Fame winner.

While creative marketing and a fair price tag (MSRP: $12.99, Milton Bradley Hasbro Games) have helped keep Scrabble on parents’ must-have lists, so too has the variety of game versions that go well beyond just a Disney version or “Junior edition,” for instance. These contemporary takes keep things interesting by changing the rules, speed, and structure.

Scrabble Upwards (MSRP: $19.95) turns a flat crossword game into a 3-D stackable version that lets players rack up huge scores because even tiles that are built five-high are counted in the final word. Kids love scores in the hundreds! The same holds for Super Scrabble (MSRP: $24.95, Winning Moves) with its super-sized board and 200 tiles that let everyone create even more words.  

Scrabble Express (MSRP: $12.95) mimics Monopoly Express by condensing game time to 20 minutes, but the newer version that really scored high with young and young-at-heart testers was Scrabble Me! (MSRP: $19.95, Winning Moves). You’re on your own here, and no one is squirming while waiting a turn, because everyone is playing all the time with his or her own board. Between plays, everyone can choose either an unknown tile from the bag or a face-up letter from the “prize tile podium.” Adding to the craziness are “wild tiles” that, when used, require an opponent to swap boards with that player.

Tips: Although aimed at 2 to 4 players, Scrabble Me! can be great fun at a neighborhood or school game night with multiple sets. It can be a bit confusing at first to children under age 8 (the manufacturer suggests age 8 and up for all of these versions), but they do catch on, even teaming up at times to increase their competitiveness. The wild tile trades are particularly popular and draw enthusiastic shrieks, even from the “classic” crowd.

Clearly, whether centuries old or minutes new, when a game concept is strong, the appeal to play will hold across both generations and innovations.


Aurthor’s Note

Kristin Clarke is the parent of two high-potential children, and a longtime journalist, editor, and Web content developer who still remembers losing in the Scrabble Club semi-final in seventh grade. She can be reached at fishtrail@aol.com.




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