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The old board games that still toy with our affections


Classic: Guess Who

Classic: Guess Who

Classic: Guess Who

So, David Beckham likes to play with his Lego set. Not just any old Lego set either, but a bespoke £210 model of an iconic London sight. The former England captain said that the classic children's toy helped him relax.

"The last big thing I made was Tower Bridge," he told a magazine."It had about 1,000 pieces.

"I think Lego sometimes helps to calm me down."

The construction also has more than 80 windows, a black taxi to drive across and a drawbridge which opens and closes.

No doubt Beckham could tell wife Victoria – with some justification – that sons Brooklyn (13), Romeo (11), Cruz (8) and two-year-old daughter Harper needed a hand with it.

And it's not the only retro toy that the footballing superstar still likes to spend the odd hour with. He also revealed he plays Seventies bestseller Connect 4 with his children.

Of course, Becks isn't the only one to discover the joy of being briefly transported back to those innocent days of childhood, when you could be wildly competitive and cheat like crazy ...

We asked some well-known people what retro games they still take out and dust down from the toy cupboard.

Cheating, lying and throwing tantrums are all part of family fun, says Alex Kane

I was an only child and my parents (middle-aged when they adopted me) were card players, particularly whist and bridge: so it was often clear from their faces that Happy Families never really did it for them.

But Mr Bun the Baker was my hero when I was about seven, because it was Mr Bun who was responsible for my first win at any game. And after that win, I forced them to play it day in and day out for weeks on end, until the cards disappeared.

My dad blamed the dog. I found that dog-eared pack 20 years later – a couple of weeks after my father had died – in the bottom drawer of a desk he always kept locked. I remember thinking it was a bit mean of him, but when my girls developed their own obsessions for particular games, I appreciated his wisdom.

We never had many board games in the house, although I do remember Ludo and Snakes and Ladders, along with a game which had something to do with linking pictures of famous people to events and places. Dear Lord, it was dull stuff!

My mum loved jigsaws: not the simple ones featuring two dogs and a ball, but huge, kitchen table-sized panoramas of the Vatican or the House of Commons. I hated them and I still hate them. What is the point of putting something together only to break it up again and begin the whole process a few months later? Unless, of course, you want to get involved in local politics at some point! So, thanks, mum.

I could never see the point of Lego or Meccano or, indeed, of anything that involved construction. That required hard work – something I've always had an aversion to. But I did love those little packs of plastic armies and I used to have battles that lasted for whole weekends, often pitching Roman soldiers and red Indians against German infantry and confederate Yankees. I rewrote history and the rules of warfare and learned how to remove miniature generals from dog poop a few hours after any unexpected raid from our Labrador.

Monopoly came late to my life and unveiled both my innate mean streak and an unexpected aptitude for cheating.

Years later and both those qualities can be rekindled when I play the game: and I have been known to sweep the board off the table, curse like a trooper and storm from the room. And that's when I'm playing against my girls!

I have a lingering fondness for Cluedo, but only because it allows me to say: "It was Mr Bun the Baker, in the toilet, with a blunt excrement." I'm still the only one who chuckles.

At the moment Lilah-Liberty (4) is hooked on Donkey, although she insists on clinging onto it rather than passing it on. She also loves playing Guess Who? with Megan, but since she always chooses the same character (Sarah) and happily lies when you ask her a question, it does make for a very peculiar game.

We are also teaching her to play Jack Changes and marvelling at the sheer scale of her tantrums as, failing to grasp the nuances of the rules, she ruins it for everyone else. Yep, she clearly has my genes!


Emma Fitzpatrick (36) is a Citybeat DJ and lives in Belfast. She says:

"We had the Hungry Hippos game when we were growing up and we still have it. We were weird children and kept everything so our version is the original one from the 1980s which even has the original marbles. My nieces and nephews play with it now.

My favourite board game which we also still have is Blockbusters, the game from the TV show. The bad thing was that you didn't get the Gold Run section with the game and had to buy that one separately.

I never had Operation – the game where you can play doctor by removing various organs from a mocked-up torso – as my mum thought it was stupid. My cousin had it though, so I always played it at their house. I had wanted Mr Frosty, a game which enabled you to make iced-drinks, but I never got that one either."

Leesa Harker (35) is a playwright and lives in Belfast with her two daughters. She says:

"I wasn't really into games when I was growing up. The funny thing is an old boyfriend bought me Guess Who? for Christmas and we would play it every night until the novelty wore off. It features a set of pictures and you had to ask questions about the faces your opponent has to figure out who was on a particular card.

My best friend Jennifer had a huge cupboard full of just about every board game going when we were younger.

We would play all of the old ones and I bought Operation for my kids years ago. It wasn't the same though; it seemed smaller and not as much fun.

I think we should encourage kids to play old-fashioned games. I held off buying an iPad until just before Christmas and my kids have been glued to it since. Now the battery has run out and I can't find the charger and I'm happy to keep it off!"

Jeffrey Donaldson (51) is the DUP MP for Lagan Valley where he lives with his wife Eleanor and his daughters Claire and Laura. He says:

"Our favourite game at home would be Scattergories. You roll a dice to choose a letter, then your team has to fill in a list of chosen categories that all begin with that particular letter. That's the one that's played on Christmas Day – we had it out this Christmas past.

I was a big fan of air hockey growing up but that's not so much a board game. We still have Monopoly and Scrabble that we play from time to time. Sadly these days they only get brought out on special occasions."

Joe Lindsay (40) is a DJ and TV presenter. He lives in Belfast with his wife Mary. He says:

"We play Connect 4 every Christmas. I play it with my niece. We used to get compendium of games every Christmas. It would have snakes and ladders, checkers, Ludo and a few other things all in one, that would keep us amused for hours.

We were never a Twister family so I missed out on that one.

I don't like that board games are getting too specialised. You get Star Wars Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit dedicated to the 80s. Trivial Pursuit is one of the greatest board games ever made though."

Meagan Green (24) is the reigning Miss Northern Ireland and lives in Lisburn. She says:

"Monopoly still comes out at Christmas or family gatherings. We had a selection of games growing up including Buckaroo and Operation and we do enjoy a good old-fashioned game of charades too.

Monopoly has always been an old favourite. The debate about who's going to be banker is as long as the game itself.

We've probably only finished the game a handful of times. It can go on for hours and people will give up their place at the table to other family members so they can go off and get a cup of tea.

Twister is a good one, too. There are lots of children in the family and everyone gets involved with it. Those that don't join in stand and watch and try and distract you to make you fall over."

Tracey Hall (47) is director of model agency Style Academy and lives in Belfast with her fiancé Stefan. She says:

"We're obsessed with Scrabble. Stefan and I play it on our phones and he actually proposed to me on a Scrabble board. His family always bring the game out at Christmas – his dad is a genius at it.

My family play Jenga or a version of 20 questions. You have to put the names of 20 people into a hat and divide them into a girls' team and a boys' team. Then one person has to describe the name they draw out without actually mentioning it. The girls always win."

Dolores Kelly (54) is the SDLP MLA for Upper Bann where she lives with her husband Eamon and their four children. She says:

"Monopoly was the big game in our house. Even though our family have all grown up they still play it every Christmas. They like Trivial Pursuit, Connect 4, Twister and Scrabble as well. As we were growing up there would have been a lot of card games and draughts. Games were a big deal growing up because you didn't have iPads and computers. It's still great fun but I think there can be a bit of cheating at times. We've learned that you need to clarify the rules before you start playing!"

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