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I'm going to buck the trend here, and predominantly list games that require no computer, no PlayStation, no television screen, not even any batteries. I find it rather sad to go into even a more traditional shop like W H Smith and discover that their interpretation of the word "game" really has little to do with mine.


TantrixI was first introduced to this game from New Zealand by a kiwi house-mate, but never quite got into it at the time. However, I found a website (www.tantrix.com, unsurprisingly) with an on-line version of it, and the bug finally bit. So finding a local shop was an official stockist, we bought a set - as a present for my sister's family. But then bought one for ourselves too, thankfully. The 56 chunky hexagonal bakelite tiles come in a neat canvas zip-up bag also containing the game instructions. The tiles are painted with short stripes and arcs of colours, and the aim of the game is for up to four players to try and combine tiles in order to make either the longest continuous line of their colour or even better (for double points) a closed loop. There are various restrictions and requirements governing placement of the tiles at various stages in a game, which were carefully refined over several years and generally work well. Overall, it's a game we now love. The tiles are great to handle, and although with no board there is no set playing area, games require only a modest amount of space, take only about half an hour at the most and only have to be scored at the end. It's the kind of game that can be enjoyed at any level so long as all competitors are reasonably matched, and it's especially good with children because if nothing else they enjoy the pretty colours and patterns, and the game is played "open handed" so grown-ups can easily give advice if need be. There's also now a fridge magnet version, with a giant one for the garden/beach to come - though I shudder to think how big the bag will be!

Rating: 5/5

Website: www.tantrix.co.uk


ScrabbleWhat can we really say about Scrabble that's not already well known? Up to four players take turns to add up to seven letter tiles at a time to the board to make words crossword-style, scoring each turn according to the face values of the letters (Q, Z, X etc scoring significantly more than E, T, N etc) and aiming for the highest total. Some squares have "bonuses", either doubling/tripling the face value of the letter tile on top, or doubling/tripling the face value of the entire word involved. Use all seven tiles at once, and fifty extra bonus points are won. Needless to say, we like it. We like words, even if we always need to keep a dictionary to hand to double check our wilder flights of fancy! Technically a dictionary is only supposed to be used for checking challenges, with the turn forfeited if the challenge is successful, but like most people we are a little more lenient. We also generally play the controversial "swapping blanks" rule, which means that wildcard blanks on the board can be swapped with the letter they are supposed to represent, so they can be used more than the usual two times and can result in slightly higher total scores due to more opportunities for seven-letter bonuses. Thankfully our set dates from the previous revision of the game, so although it has the modern green board (unlike the grey one I grew up with) it has the correct symbolic markings for the bonus squares, which later versions (including the magnetic travel Scrabble we also have) bizarrely omit. Like most generation sets, the manufacturing quality is generally top notch. My only real grumble would be that if a game is clearly going to go one way, result-wise, the length of games (up to an hour or more) can rather prolong the inevitable.

Rating: 4/5

Website: www.scrabble.com


TOCA 2TOCA 2 is about the only action-based computer game we currently have, but it's fun and works very nicely on the most modern hardware, finally able to have all the graphical detail turned on with no problems - and still works more than acceptably even on older PCs. It's a motor-racing game, allowing you to compete in individual races or a whole season of the British Touring Car Championship - that means driving in relatively ordinary cars like Vectras and Mondeos, though there are some more interesting vehicles that can be driven, some of which need to be "unlocked" by performing well, or knowing the relevant cheat codes. There are also extra tracks that can be unlocked, with the Loch Ranoch one being particularly fun and interesting with off-road short cuts and very varied terrain. The graphics are perhaps not quite as realistic as on the latest games, but they are more than passable and display very smoothly. Not really too much to complain about; the skill levels are about right and the "artificial intelligence" of the other cars is credible (if slightly dull, but then we are racing against Mondeo Men) so gameplay is generally top notch - and although it benefits from using a proper force feedback steering wheel, it's actually quite playable just from the keyboard. There are a few glitches, e.g. on one circuit there is an innocuous looking bend that throws you on to the grass for no obvious reason unless very quick to correct, but nothing that seriously detracts from this being a whole lot of harmless fun.

Rating: 5/5

Website: www.codemasters.co.uk/toca2

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