About a hundred thousand years ago, before everything went digital, you used to be able to pick up a box of assorted board games; a compendium of assorted family-favourite games that have stood the test of time. The thing would always contain a collection of poorly printed cardboard sheets, little cut-out pieces and plastic tokens. They’re probably still available, but I can’t say I’ve seen one of those in years, as simpler collections of ancient physical games have made way for flashy modern video game adaptations.   

Nintendo’s 51 Worldwide Games for the Switch is a bridge between those worlds. A revival of its similar DS-bound collection of classic games known as Clubhouse Games (which had the plainer, infinitely more boring name of 43 All-Time Classics when it was released here), 51 Worldwide Games once again eschews the Clubhouse bit  – but it pretty much is what it says on the tin.

It’s a simple, lovely digital collection of classic games – board games, tabletop games, card games and more – many of them with their genesis in antiquity. I don’t think there’s any real point in listing every single game available in the collection (Nintendo’s done that already, in the handy video below), but it’s likely that you’ll find a few that resonate.

Most of them are incredibly simple (and not so simple) familiar games: ubiquitous tabletop games like Ludo, Draughts, Chess and Chinese Checkers are all represented; as are several cards games like Solitaire, War, Blackjack and Texas Hold ‘em – along with pub fare like Billiards and darts.

Thanks to copyrights, there are a few games that have some interesting names. There’s a game called Last Card that’s very clearly Uno but without the licencing. Yacht Dice is plainly Yahtzee, but without Milton Bradley’s official stamp of approval.

Because many of them are simple (though beautifully presented) digital takes on old standards, they play as expected. Chess is Chess, and it always will be – but the presentation makes up for familiarity with fun tutorials and somewhat interesting bits of post-game trivia. Thankfully, unlike the DS game this succeeds, all 51 games (52 if you include the Piano that lets you tinkle away on digital ivories) are available from the onset. There’s no need to collect stamps as you proceed to unlock games. It removes any sort of tangible goal, but I’d rather not have to play seventy games of Ludo just to get to the good stuff.

Though you can browse through the entire collection and play whatever you like, you can also make use of the globally-scattered game guides – little plastic figurines with their own personality – who group games into collections. One might have a selection of touch-screen games available, another might suggest games that are best played alone, and another yet might proffer an assortment that relies more on luck than skill.

There are a few games that go beyond the classics. There are lovely digital versions of old-school  mechanical toys, letting you play Boxing, Football, Tennis or Baseball, with spring-loaded mechanisms recalling toys of yore. There are games involving RC tanks, giving us a modern, chibi take take on Namco’s arcade and NES classic Battle City. There’s also fishing, for some reason.

You could reasonably argue that the collection itself is moot; many of these games are available to download (often for free) on mobile platforms, but it’s lovely to have everything together in a single package. It’s especially nice because of the multiplayer options. Though there are various AI difficulties, these games are more fun when played with others. There’s a certain magic to putting the Switch down in tabletop mode and playing a digital version of a board game as you would a physical one. Yeah, sure, that sort of thing’s been possible since the iPad debuted over a decade ago, but never in such a nicely collated package. There’s a bit of magic beyond what’s possible on something as pedestrian as a tablet; with support for the Switch’s mosaic mode.

Arrange a few Switches together and you can plot out an elaborate, Multi-switch track for slot cars. Line up a few switches and you can play an entire digital piano, instead of being constrained to a single octave. And because this is Nintendo, there are some games that can use motion controls, like bowling and darts. They are, to my mind, some of the weakest games of the lot as there’s little to no nuance to their control. Neither game can be controlled using the Joy Cons as controllers either; they’re either controlled through motion or, worse, through touch.

There are some games that are just boring to play; horrible time wasters that aren’t worth more than a few tries. As there’s no need to unlock games, and no real achievements, there’s little impetus to play the games you don’t really like. That’s not necessarily a bad thing unless you need a digital checklist to make you play games. Me? I’ll be playing that curiously compelling mechanical baseball game for months to come.  

Last Updated: June 1, 2020

51 Worldwide Classics
It's a simple digital collection of old standards, card games, mechanical toys and pub classics - though not all of them transfer well to the medium. Those that do are a delight to play. It doesn't have the usual charm you'd find in Nintendo games, but the presentation makes up for it with familiarity, fun tutorials and interesting bits of trivia.
51 Worldwide Classics was reviewed on Nintendo Switch
82 / 100

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