Playing games is fun, but learning them can be a struggle. Early losses and complex rules can put beginners off of board games especially, which rely on written instructions in contrast to digital games, which can explain themselves through play with tutorials. Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics, released earlier this month on the Switch, solves this problem by presenting a collection of board and card games wrapped in an accessible, inviting package.
A Course in Classics
It’s often easier to learn a game by watching it than reading the rules, and Clubhouse Games lets you do just that. After you select a game, the software plays a short intro video depicting it in action. These clips are the perfect length to go over the general layout of the game, but not so long that they become overbearing. They’re narrated by a set of character game pieces, each with its own personality and voice, whether they’re praising regicide in shogi or struggling to explain how a piano works. By populating the game with abstracted, playful figures, Clubhouse Games makes you feel like you’re watching a group of friends crack jokes and have fun while you learn.
From there, there are a bunch of different tutorial options to choose from, depending on the game. Most include the general rules and goals, along with some hints to guide play. Others, like chess and shogi, offer more in-depth tutorials. These tutorials go step-by-step on each of the pieces used for the games, and get into some of the basics of tactics.
For instance, as an unsuccessful chess club member in my elementary school days, I know that chess can be a complicated game to grasp. But the expanded tutorials in Clubhouse Games break down the different nuances of each piece and explain how you can best use them. While they don’t get into advanced techniques, they provide a strong foundation. Additionally, the inclusion of an assist feature and an undo button help you understand and avoid beginner mistakes.
For many American players, Clubhouse Games will be their introduction to games like shogi, carrom, and hare and hounds. But it also provides interesting context on more familiar games. I’d heard of Mancala before Clubhouse Games, but had no idea of its origins as a representation of planting and harvesting crops in time for winter. And while I grew up playing tennis, learning why it has such a baffling scoring system after all this time was a genuine delight.
The included games are from all over the world, but Clubhouse Games eases the player into new experiences by comparing them to things they might be more familiar with. Carrom begins with an intro video comparing it to marbles. In the intro video for chess, the two narrators discuss a slight difference between how pieces function once captured versus in shogi. The Guide Globe houses different combinations of games to play together, along with players from around the world that have similar interests as you. Guides introduce you to themed sets of games — for instance, card games, social games, and games produced by Nintendo before video games existed.
Part of the value of Clubhouse Games is simply its concentration of dozens of physical games, making them portable and easily playable in locations where a physical board would be impractical. And while nothing can compare to holding a pair of dice in your hands, the toylike aesthetic and use of rumble helps simulate the tactility of handling game pieces.
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Global Games 101
Clubhouse Games goes above and beyond the premise of a collection of classic games. The tutorials encourage the player to explore unfamiliar games and, in an improvement from the original title on the DS, engage the player in step-by-step introductory playthroughs. Unlike an impatient older sibling or merciless card shark, Clubhouse Games never looks down on you but encourages you to learn through trial and error.
The best play experiences can come from teaching and sharing with others. Clubhouse Games emphasizes this with its focus on crafting a collection of games from around the world. It’s a game that feels like it’s meant to be shared with others, whether on the couch or online. Ending my nights with a round of mancala and waking up early to learn the intricacies of mahjong before work has made me feel refreshed and focused, and in doing so I’ve developed skills I can take away from my Switch to play these games in person. Clubhouse Games is a celebration of gaming in its purest form, and a testament to the enduring appeal of the classics.