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Six ways to freshen up old board games

Plugged In

Classic board games are classics for a reason: they’re well-designed. But there’s only so many times you can pull out the Scrabble board before boredom starts to set in. Here’s a set of variations on six timeless family favorites that’ll make them fresh again -- and with no purchase necessary.

Scrabble – Lose the tile racks

So many great Scrabble variations exist that it’s hard to pick just one or two, but a simple tweak that’ll add loads more strategy is simply to play without tile racks. If you can see your opponents’ tiles, you may be able to predict their moves.

If you prefer a faster-paced game, try Take Two Scrabble -- the full rules are here, but suffice it to say that everyone plays simultaneously using their own Scrabble grid. Take Two is such a favorite that a commercial version, Bananagrams, was released in 2006 to considerable acclaim.

Monopoly – Shuffle up and deal

Monopoly fans will argue that there’s nothing wrong with the game as it stands. But they’re wrong -- unless your idea of a good game is a dragged-out slog with far too much time between the point at which the winner becomes obvious and the point at which they finally win.

Try the Short Game variant instead: at the start of the game, shuffle all the property cards together and deal three to each player. Drop the number of houses needed to build a hotel to three -- and if you’re really feeling like a short game, ignore the rule about needing to own all the properties of one color before you can improve them.

Jenga – Build down

Family classic though it is, Jenga isn’t the most varied of games. Build ‘em up, pull ‘em out, knock ‘em down, laugh, repeat. Next time you play, try this reverse-Jenga variant: instead of building the stack in the regular way, with three bricks on each level, build it like you’d already been playing the game, with alternating layers of one and two blocks. Instead of pulling a block from the stack and placing it on top, take one from the top and insert it in one of the gaps. How low can you go?

Sorry! – More cards, more strategy

Liven up this family classic by dealing each player a hand of five cards before the game starts. During your turn, you can choose which of your five cards you want to play; once you’re done playing, you draw cards until you have five again. Not only will this give you far more options to choose from, you can start to plan ahead, holding back cards until you have the perfect play. Whether you use that power for good or evil is up to you. We suggest evil.

Trivial Pursuit – Ditch the board

A set of Trivial Pursuit cards is the gateway to a thousand quiz games. Simple tweaks to the Triv formula include playing in teams, allowing bonus rolls for players who correctly answer other people’s questions, or varying the length of the game to suit your preferences. If none of those appeal, throw the board away entirely and use the questions and scoring tokens to recreate a game like Jeopardy.

Chutes and Ladders – Double the pawns

Fun for the kids, deathly dull for the adults, and determined entirely by the whim of the dice, Chutes and Ladders is nowhere near as much fun as it looks. To add at least some decision-making to the proceedings, give each player two pawns to move. When you roll your dice, you can choose which of your pieces you want to advance. It’s not going to turn it into a tense, poker-like contest of wills, skills, and thrills, but come on, it’s Chutes and Ladders.

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