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.
I 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!
What 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.
I won't go into the details of the gameplay yet again, but this is the second travel Scrabble set I have owned. The first used rubbery tiles that stuck to the miniature folding board by some unknown (and frequently not very effective) method of adhesion. This set however, although still about the same size, uses altogether more reassuring magnetised tiles, and the folding metallic board is substantially more robust, such that it is now perfectly feasible to pack away the board mid-game for later completion. The tiles and the metallic-faced racks are designed to store in a cavity underneath the board, and the whole lot closes to be reassuringly self-contained, not really needing the bag that it also comes with - though it is handy to draw the tiles from during the game, so long as you don't have too big hands! There's a billiards-style sliding scoreboard for each of up to four players, although in all fairness it's easier to use a pen and paper if available. A travel set will always be a bit fiddly to play with compared with a full size one, and it's not easy to shuffle the tiles on the rack, but as compromises go it's not bad and certainly a marked improvement on the earlier generation set. My only grumbles that could be improved upon are that the racks are a bit cheap and nasty, and that the markings on the squares are not the classic symbols - a problem afflicting all current editions of the game as far as I know.
TOCA 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.
All right, here's another computer game, but it involves no mass carnage, is resolutely two-dimensional, and is utterly free. And in fact it's not just one game but a (frequently expanding) collection of no less than 24 of them, all designed to test your logic skills to the utmost. The names may be unfamiliar but many of the actual games themselves are variations on modern-day classics. For example Solo is an excellent implementation of the ubiquitous sudoku puzzle, Mines (perhaps less surprisingly) is a version of minesweeper, Bridges sometimes pops up in newspapers under the name of hashi, and Loopy occasionally as slitherlinks. The games do vary substantially in their intrigue and satisfaction levels (and a couple are instantly forgettable) but all are nicely programmed and simple to play - if not to master. Amongst our favourites are Loopy and Light Up. The collection works on Windows, Unix and Macintosh OS X, hence the "portable" in the name - though they are also portable in sense of being small enough to fit on a floppy disk, what a rarity in this age of games distributed on DVD!
PS: There is a great little tool at http://www.christhomas123.co.uk/solo which will help you enter your own sudoku grids into Solo, so you can play puzzles from the newspaper - especially useful for the new "super-fiendish" puzzles in The Times!
Oh no, more electronics! Nintendo's Wii is in fact the first dedicated games console either of us have ever owned, and we love it. Hardcore gamers sneer at the predominance of titles mainly catering for the more casual player, but that suits us fine, having a life beyond the small screen, thank you very much. Technically, the Wii is a relatively minor update to the GameCube, but the revolution was the inclusion of an innovative motion sensing wireless remote control, which can be used as a "traditional" game controller but is far more fun on those titles that allow it to be used to point, swing, throw etc in a very tactile manner. The console itself is wireless internet enabled straight out of the box, and includes everything you need to get started, including the infamous Wii Sports. The only possible grumbles are that unlike the latest consoles from Sony and Microsoft it does not have the option of high-definition output, so may not be at its best when used with larger television screens, and it rather bizarrely is incapable of DVD playback despite using a DVD-based disc format and being otherwise well specified to do so. Games we enjoy include Eledees, Mercury Meltdown Revolution, Lego Star Wars, Rayman Raving Rabbids, Super Mario Galaxy, Mario Kart Wii and Wii Play - the latter a great way to get a second remote and surprisingly fun in its own right.