I’m a Clubhouse Games fan. The 2005 Nintendo DS original is an excellent collection of analog games from around the world. It adapted classics like chess and dominoes in a way that made them fun to learn and satisfying to master. Now, the series is back with Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics for Switch. And like the original, this followup makes the digital versions of board game classics a joy.
Clubhouse Games launches June 5 for $40. And it does what it says on the box. You get 51 traditional games and toys. You’ll recognize backgammon, checkers, and yacht dice (Yahtzee). And you may end up learning about takoyaki or minishogi. Whether you are familiar with the games or not, Nintendo polished each until they glint like a jewel. And that’s a huge element of this collection’s appeal.
What you’ll like
Clubhouse Games has top-notch presentation
A bundle of generic board and card games doesn’t sound exciting. And in different hands, it wouldn’t be. But Nintendo has done such a magnificent job of presenting each game with such love and care. The sound and visuals combine to make games enticing to play.
Games like mancala and Chinese checkers take place on shimmering wooden boards. And when you place the marble pieces into a slot, the sound of smooth material sliding into the grooves of the wood is incredible. It gives weight to the action.
But the slick presentation expands beyond the play. One of the ways to progress through Clubhouse Games is to meet with different characters sitting around a globe. Each of these people have a different theme and a different combination of games. Shivam, for example, loves high-score games like darts, bowling, and toy soccer.
And each time you start a game, you’ll get a short, fun intro scene. The characters joke around with each other about learning the rules and history of shogi, hex, and the rest. Like everything else, these skits surpass a high threshold for quality that make you want to try every game.
Fun to play without anything getting in the way
Clubhouse Games isn’t just about layering fancy graphics on top of games you already have on your shelf. The game just does a great job of getting out of the way. Controls are simple and intuitive. Every game has the option to play against the CPU with varying difficulty levels. When the CPU goes, you can clearly see its moves, but it also goes by quickly so you don’t have to wait.
You don’t have to have to worry about set up or how the pieces move. Clubhouse Games takes care of that for you. That makes learning new games even easier.
It’s the best way to bring a shelf of board games with you anywhere
Even if you have chess or ludo on your shelf, Clubhouse Games has obvious advantages. You probably don’t have every game in the collection. And even if you do, getting them out can be a pain.
Clubhouse Games eliminates all those concerns and puts them in a portable package. You can take a stack of games with you to play on the plane or in the van (if we ever do that again).
The local multiplayer mode enables you to pass a single system back and forth for many of the games. Or you can even play something like air hockey with two people holding each side of the Switch. If you have multiple Switch systems, you don’t need multiple copies of Clubhouse Games. One copy is enough, and everyone else can just download the data they need to participate for free.
If you don’t have friends or family around, then hop online. You can play with your Switch friends or with complete strangers.
What you won’t like
Touchscreen controls are subpar
One of the major differences between Club House Games for DS and this game for Switch is that Nintendo designed the former for touchscreen. You can tell that this version is meant for a TV and a gamepad. And that’s fine most of the time. I prefer it. But some games don’t work with a controller.
Darts is a touchscreen or motion-control game. And the act of actually throwing a dart is fine. It’s everything else that suffers. The interface doesn’t adapt now that you are using a finger. Onscreen prompts act as buttons, but they don’t look like buttons. The “undo” button is just text, and it doesn’t appear like something you interact with by touching.
I played multiple games of yacht dice with my wife, and it took us both some time to figure that out. When you do single-system local multiplayer, you have to use touch controls. So I couldn’t just hit the “A” button to roll the dice. The onscreen instructions just had vague pointing arrows. I thought I was supposed to drag the dice onto the play field, but that often would work.
Eventually, I realized I was just supposed to tap the cup of dice. But figuring that out was a frustrating process.
It feels bad to get good at ‘solved games’
My only other complaint isn’t really an issue with Clubhouse Games itself. It’s just a problem with these kinds of games. It’s fun to improve in something like hex. That’s a game where you attempt to connect a path from one side to the other — meanwhile, your opponent is trying to do the same with a path that runs across in front of you.
As I progressed from “beginner” to “impossible” difficulty in hex, I optimized my strategy. And by the end, it was obvious that hex has an obvious correct method of play. The term for this is “solved game,” and hex is one of many solved games in this bundle.
In a solved game, if each person plays optimally, you will always end up with the same outcome. In hex, player one always wins.
It feels bad to build a skill and then realize that it’s not something that you can apply in the future. In chess, two players can keep pressing one another to improve infinitely. In hex, two players will quickly reach a skill level where the game is meaningless.
Again, that’s not really a problem with Clubhouse Games, but it’s something I noticed.
Clubhouse Games is the kind of game that actually makes a platform for me. The Switch wouldn’t be the Switch without Zelda and Mario, but this is the kind of release that fills out a library. Clubhouse Games is something that you will look back on years from now, and get to say, “oh, yeah — I love that game!”
If roadtrips ever come back, I’m going to give this to my kids to play in the backseat to keep them entertained for hours at a time. And it’s something I will break out regularly for us to enjoy as a family. We’re already doing that with yacht dice. And I’ll probably even jump online for chess, shogi, and more.
Nintendo is releasing Clubhouse Games on June 5 for $40. The publisher provided a review code of Clubhouse Games for the purpose of this review.