There’s no better way to spend a rainy afternoon at a vacation rental or staycation than gathering around a favorite family board game and passing an hour or two together. For me, there’ll always be a place in my heart for the classic games I grew up on: Clue, Monopoly, Life, and so on. But getting my kids interested in those old Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley games? Sometimes that’s another story altogether.
New Twists on Classic Family Board Games
Fortunately, many of the family board games I loved as a kid have gotten some serious upgrades since the days of Saturday morning cartoons and twenty-five cent comic books. We’re talking three-player chess, four-player Stratego, Harry Potter Clue, Star Wars Monopoly, and many more with unique new twists on the classic gameplay.
If you haven’t played your favorite family board game in a while, you might be surprised at these creative updates designed to appeal to a new generation of kids.
Clue: The Classic Mystery Game—Harry Potter Edition
One thing’s for sure: It definitely wasn’t Colonel Mustard in the Ballroom with the Candlestick this time. Fans of the classic board game Clue will find plenty to love in this exciting Harry Potter-themed update, while new players and Potterheads will love the Hogwarts locations, secret passages, and spell cards unique to this edition.
Playing as Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, or Neville, it’s up to you to solve a mystery around the disappearance of a fellow Hogwarts student—who did it, what spell they used, and where the student was attacked. (Professor Snape in the Potions dungeon, obviously.) Added twists like moving staircases, threatening Dark Marks, and magical objects make this edition more than just Clue with a fresh coat of paint.
If Harry Potter isn’t your thing, you can still buy the classic edition of Clue, a retro 1980s edition, Clue Junior for families with younger players, Downton Abbey Clue, Dungeons and Dragons Clue, Clue: The Office Edition, Star Wars Clue, the more challenging Clue Master Detective (more suspects, more rooms, more weapons!), and of course the cult classic movie version of Clue starring Tim Curry.
Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest—Europe Edition
In the classic board game Risk, it’s all about strategy as you station your troops in territories around the world, then alternate between attacking and defending your lands in a game of global conquest. My defining memory of it as a child is of my older brother laying waste to my armies every time we played. And yet I still have a soft spot for this game of military tactics.
Nowadays, you can spice things up with Risk Europe: The Enhanced Game of Medieval Conquest, which takes everything you loved about the original and places it in the midst of warring medieval kingdoms, complete with figures, game cards, and a board unique to this edition.
There are also Lord of the Rings and Star Wars editions, plus Risk Junior if you want to go easier on younger siblings everywhere. I’m absolutely enamored with the retro reissue of the 1959 edition of Risk and the fancy Risk 60th Anniversary Edition, too.
Monopoly—Star Wars 40th Anniversary Special Edition
If it seems like there are dozens of Monopoly games out there, it’s not your imagination. The classic game’s mechanics are easily adaptable to multiple themes. There’s the Monopoly Cheater’s Edition, Monopoly Junior, Monopoly Voice Banking, Monopoly Ultimate Banking, and Monopoly Classic just for starters. (Plus, uh, this version that’s heavy on unicorns and … llamas.)
But as a lifelong Star Wars fan, I of course think the best variation on the Monopoly theme is the Star Wars 40th Anniversary Special Edition, which features classic artwork and creative twists on the game board locations.
Did you even have a childhood if you never shouted, “You sank my battleship!” at a friend or sibling? Now you can introduce the next generation of board gamers to the classic game of naval combat with Electronic Battleship, which is everything you remember about the original only now with more bells and whistles—literally! Electronic Battleship also includes a single-player mode where you play against the computer.
Other variations on the original include the Amazon-exclusive Battleship with Planes, Battleship Grab and Go travel-size game, Battleship Galaxies, Battleship Shots, the retro reissue of the 1967 edition of Battleship, Battleship Pirates of the Caribbean, and (of course) Star Wars Battleship.
Labyrinth: Glow-in-the-Dark—30th Anniversary Edition
First sold in 1986, Ravensburger’s Labyrinth board game quickly became a classic because of its fun premise (collect treasures while navigating a moving maze), easy game play, and genuine entertainment value for both kids and adults. I never played this game as a kid, but instead discovered it as an adult when my own kids were finally old enough to move on from Candyland and Chutes and Ladders.
One of the great things about Labyrinth is that with some simple rules adjustments, which are described in the instructions, you can make it easy enough for younger kids to enjoy or challenging enough to interest more experienced players. It’s a true crossover game that maintains its replay value as your kids get older.
Ravensburger offers a number of variations on the original Labyrinth game, including Ocean Labyrinth, Master Labyrinth, and (naturally) Harry Potter Labyrinth. My favorite, though, is the Glow-in-the-Dark 30th Anniversary Edition of the classic game, which can be played in complete darkness for a unique effect.
The classic game of sweet revenge has been given a Disney makeover. Featuring characters like Snow White, Buzz Lightyear, Tarzan, Dumbo, and Ariel the Little Mermaid, Sorry!—Disney Edition is fun for children as young as six years old, but also enjoyable for older kids and adults who appreciate the strategy and determination needed to emerge victorious.
It seems like everyone knows how to play the game of Charades, and there’s a great family-friendly edition of the classic game to get you started. But when you’re ready for a new challenge, consider Reverse Charades—where instead of a team trying to guess what one person is acting out, it’s one person trying to guess what an entire team of people is imitating.
This creative twist is a great way to spice up family game night when you’re looking for something that feels familiar but also new, or to add to the vacation rental packing list when you’re planning a family vacation. There’s also a junior edition of Reverse Charades for families with younger players.
Game of Life—Twists and Turns Edition
I think kids are drawn to the Game of Life for the chance to role-play as adults building a life and career and family. It’s a classic family board game that has maintained its popularity across multiple generations.
Like the original version, the Game of Life: Twists and Turns lets you choose a profession and encounter real-life events like marriage, buying a house, and starting a family. This update offers more choices and possibilities than the original, however, and it introduces a new feature called “LIFEPod,” a computerized interface that helps track careers, houses, cars, and families. Players also get a Visa credit card, with all the benefits and drawbacks a line of credit entails.
Other variations include Game of Life Junior, Game of Life Classic Edition, Game of Life Electronic Banking, Game of Life Quarterlife Crisis (now with crippling debt!), and even Game of Life: Pirates of the Caribbean and Game of Life: Haunted Mansion.
Is Twister a board game? Well, there’s a board (okay, a mat) and pieces (okay, so the players are the pieces). But I think it counts. And what I love about this update to the classic family board game is the introduction of the blindfold element.
In Blindfolded Twister, the game mat features textured shapes on the spots to make it possible to move around while blindfolded. It’s a fun game for up to four players ages eight and older—perfect for the kids and, uh, perfect for after the kids go to bed, too.
Twister Ultimate is another option for families. With a larger game mat and more colored dots, it’s ideal for lots of kids playing together. And because it’s an Amazon-exclusive, you can play a spinner-less version using the Twister Spinner Alexa skill (Alexa device sold separately).
Ultimate Stratego and Conquest Stratego
The family board game equivalent of capture the flag, Stratego is one of those “easy to learn, difficult to master” games that appeals equally to kids and adults. Gameplay is simple: You position an army of generals, marshals, spies, cavalry, bombs, soldiers, and scouts to defend your flag and capture your opponents’, and then the battle begins. It’s a bit like playing chess without knowing the value of your opponent’s pieces until you attack them. As gameplay unfolds, each piece’s hidden rank is revealed and only the higher-ranking soldiers survive.
Ultimate Stratego takes this to the next level with the introduction of two additional players, allowing for two-versus-two alliances, fast-paced four-player lightning rounds, as well as the standard two-player campaign. Ultimate Stratego is harder to find these days (though you can still buy a used version from multiple sellers on Amazon), but if you prefer a new-in-box game, four-player Conquest Stratego offers a similar experience. Waterloo Stratego and Original Stratego are also widely available. And by now it should come as no surprise that there’s also a Star Wars Stratego (though it’s sadly hard to find these days, too).
In what may be the weirdest (and most brilliant) twist on a classic family board game, three-player chess introduces a whole new layer of strategy to the world’s oldest strategy game.
I’ve seen it sold with both hexagonal and circular game boards. My favorite version is the 18.5-inch wooden hexagonal version from Husaria. This edition features individually hand-crafted wooden pieces with felt bottoms and a folding hexagonal board that doubles as a storage container.
Three-player chess follows similar rules as the traditional game, but it’s not ideal for those still learning to play two-player chess. (Novices should start with a good introductory set like No Stress Chess or The Kids’ Book of Chess and Chess Set.) For experienced players ages 10 and up, though, three-player chess is a pretty cool variation on the classic board game.