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51 Worldwide Games review – a playful history of the world

Where to put games. In the tech section? In the culture section? In the kid’s section? Or how about this: let’s put them between the invention of farming and the invention of pottery. The neolithic! This is where the first games are found. Mankind lives in walled environments, someone’s in charge, and these game boards are being created, flat slabs with two parallel lines of holes in them.

These extremely early sorts of games are not directly present in 51 Worldwide Games, a Switch compilation that has had me completely spellbound for the last few weeks. Even so, I like to think it’s all connected, which means that this reasonably priced compendium of dice and board and card games, of mechanical games and paper games and good old bowling, has sort of been in development for at least 5000 years. No wonder it’s such a treat to play! No wonder it’s such a confident, comprehensible thing. It puts Valve Time and Blizzard Time in the context of deep time.

I can make it sound quite bewildering if I talk about how it works. 51 Games supports single-player and multiplayer. Some games like Solitaire variants are single-player only, as the name suggests. Most are multiplayer. Many – mainly excluding card games where you need to keep your hand a secret – are multiplayer on a single Switch, some allowing for touchscreen controls, some allowing for Joy-Cons and many allowing for both. Then there’s local play, which only requires one version of the game, and online multiplayer where everyone needs their own copy. (Online multiplayer’s quite neat incidentally: you select three games you’re interested in and then you can play solo while you wait for matches.)

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