Gaming may be in, but old-school board games are having a renaissance too. Absolutely Education picks some new arrivals and old favourites

Just when we thought the world had gone entirely digital, games of the old-fashioned board and dice, chips and pieces are having a moment. You might almost suspect a renaissance. These activities that used to while away a rainy day, dominate Christmas holidays came out of the cupboard and back into our living spaces during lockdown.

In fact, the figures are staggering because we also yearned for these familiar friends. Sales of board games went up by 240% during the first official lockdown, according to research from NPD Group. We were re-hooked on classics, with Monopoly Classic the best-seller, along with Cluedo, Scrabbble and card games such as Uno. Jigsaw sales were up, in fact there wasn’t an area of traditional ‘gaming’ that didn’t see a spike.  

Board rules – why board games are good news
Board games are educational and social – helping to get children away from screens

There’s every reason for parents to encourage board games at any time. Apart from the obvious benefit of getting children away from screens, they are social, can be adapted to nearly every age group and subtly but effectively improve numeracy, spelling, creative thinking, playing by rules – and, very possibly, sleight of hand and skilful deception. One thing that’s good to know is that tabletop games development is a UK strength, just like video games development. Indeed, Edge Hill University even offers games development internships with Crooked Dice through its Creative Writing course, so this could even be a career-building pastime. Here are some of our favourites to keep the family entertained during the cold dark months ahead.

House of Games
House of Games tests general knowledge relentlessly

Richard Osman’s House of Games

Based on the unofficial quizmaster general’s hit BBC2 show, House of Games tests general knowledge, relentlessly – everything from spelling and anagrams to trivia knowledge and emoji recognition. Every generation can learn something new and its links to a popular TV programme makes it a winning formula for younger players. The game format is question cards, but there’s also a buzzer and winners’ trophy.

Recommended for age 12+ and it’s suitable for 3+ players. From £24.99 at Prezzybox.

Taskmaster N E W
Taskmaster broadly follows the TV format, with fun and games even for younger players


Another offshoot of a TV show (this time hosted by Greg Davies), Taskmaster veers towards the absurd and is great fun for younger players. As with the show, to win you have a go at completing silly tasks, such as getting an egg as high as possible without breaking it. The format includes a game board, task cards and scoreboard, playing pieces and trophy. There’s also a downloadable taskmaster timer app and you can also get exclusive video assignments.

Recommended for age 8+ and suitable for 3+ players. From £20 at John Lewis.

The classic game is reborn – with lifelines available via your mobile device

Who Wants To Be a Millionaire

You have to be of a certain age to remember when this was the must-see Saturday night event. But it’s back, and the game’s combination of tricky questions make it a good option for challenging family fun. Released ready for the Christmas rush, it gives you the chance to win a virtual million and lifelines are accessed by your mobile device. More than 700 questions mean there’s something to test everyone.  

Recommended for age 14+ and suitable for 2+ players. From £29.99 at Smyths Toys.

Carnovsky jigsaws are anything but the dull option with their 3D specs and interactive format

Carnovsky Animals Jigsaw Puzzle

Let’s face it, jigsaws are a bit of a Marmite invention, but their great benefit is that they can be entirely solitary or a group activity. Also, provided you have the space, the game can take place over days rather than hours. Younger children develop skill at recognising shapes through the painstaking process of piecing the puzzle together, and probably build patience along the way. Our pick would be Carnovsky Animals Jigsaw, which has jazzed up the format by making it interactive and 3D. It comes with three pairs of 3D specs, each of which makes the puzzle reveal entirely different animals. Even better, you can scan the QR code on the box to turn your phone into a viewing lens.

Recommended for age 8+ and suitable for 1+ players. From £14.99 at Find Me A Gift.

Further reading: Journals and games to help children express their feelings