Never again will you be able to look at your charity shop-sourced Scrabble set with the same light in your eyes.
We came across an old set of Sorry! the other day. For those who’ve not had the pleasure of this classic board game, it’s a bit like Ludo — you have to get your men around the board — but has added rules to make it as easy and as entertaining as possible to royally shaft your nearest and dearest just as their about to win. Ancient, tattered, and with one of the red ‘men’ replaced (for reasons unknown) by a miniature whistle, it’s been one of the smash hits of lockdown. It cost 50p from a charity shop.
But could the game be even better? Wouldn’t it be even more fun if the little men were hand-carved from opal, and glided around a board hewn from the timbers of the Mary Rose, and encrusted with diamonds?
Of course it would. That’s the spirit of our Utterly Inessential blog — a gloriously unashamed celebration of things you most assuredly don’t need, but would nonetheless like to have.
Does anybody need to buy playing cards? Almost certainly not. If you don’t have at least a couple of dog-eared packs hanging around in the back of a drawer, it probably means that you have no interest in playing cards in the first place.
But cards are underrated. They’re arguably the most versatile of gaming apparatus: they are beautifully portable, need no batteries or chargers, and offer endless games for groups of literally any size. So don’t use the pack you got free at an Esso station in 1987 — get some truly lovely ones, such William & Son’s set, which would make a handsome addition to any games collection. The two decks come housed in a navy leather presentation box and are patterned with the label’s signature ‘W’ emblem.
Dating back to the Song dynasty in 13th century China, dominoes is easy to learn, hard to master, and — let’s not beat around the bush — the perfect game to play while knocking back a glass or three of beer/wine/whatever else you still have in the house before your next Ocado delivery arrives. Linley’s beautifully hand-crafted box is made from walnut with dyed sycamore marquetry. Swish.
Said to have been passed down by the ancient Incas, Liar’s Dice is a game of bluffing and chance where each player attempts to out-bid, out-bluff and out-last their opponent by issuing bids or challenges. Smython’s elegant version, made in Italy and crafted from the very finest French calfskin, will provide hours of impeccably stylish fun as you and your family try to out-swindle each other.
‘The only athletic sport I ever mastered was backgammon’ — if Douglas Jerrold’s quote rings true for you, indulge your mastery with Aspinal’s luxurious backgammon set, made with calf leather inlays in stylish contrasting tones.
This is the 17″ set — they also make a 15″ set (at £495) and a travel set that’s a bargain at £295 — but we’d go for the big one, so that when you’re finished playing the game you can fold it back up and pretend you’re the Chancellor standing on the steps of No 11 on Budget Day.
In these days of social distancing, when few households run to the seven or eight needed to make up a decent game, poker regulars have taken to playing with their companions via Zoom — something which requires strong WiFi and an incredible level of trust that you’re not playing with friends who might be tempted to deal themselves an extra ace in those mysterious seconds that their webcam ‘got knocked by the cat’.
It’ll make you hanker for proper poker, with the sort of quality chips that you’d expect to find at a private penthouse game of the sort frequented by Tobey Maguire. Step forward Ralph Lauren’s Sutton poker set, made from walnut wood and carbon-fibre leather, with nickel and powder-coated chips.
It’s time to find out whodunnit: was it Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the lead piping, Miss Scarlet in the library with the revolver, or President Trump in the Oval Office with the bungled pandemic response? Okay, so the latter doesn’t actually appear in Cluedo (though surely, one day, an Oval Office board game would be a smash hit), but this classic sleuthing game — first manufactured in 1949 — needs no embellishment. Apart from the ones offered by Geoffrey Parker’s ultimate version, created from leather and embossed silver.
Life itself is feeling rather like a big game of snakes and ladders at the moment, so we’ll understand if you find this classic board game a bit too close to the bone right now. If you can stand yet more ups and downs in your life, then William and Son’s glorious leather board is here for you — if you’re going to slide down a few snakes, at least you can do it in style.
The sport of darts — don’t bother arguing if it is actually a sport — has been played in Britain since the Middle Ages, when archers devised an indoor version of their game to while away the hours lost to rain. Has there ever been a more British reason for inventing a game? And while you could buy one from Argos, Asprey’s version — made from lamb skin and carbon, with silver elements — elevates the ancient pastime to another level of luxury.
What do HRH the Queen, Vladmir Nabokov, Sting, and Barack Obama have in common? They are all reputed to be fans of the world’s most famous word game, Scrabble. Join their ranks with Asprey’s meticulously designed lamb skin board, which is backed in purple silk and sits on a conveniently rotating disc. Even the letters are a cut above: their silver-on-black will match the old-school numberplate on the immaculate Jaguar E-Type which is probably sitting in your drive.
The phrase POA — price on application — is generally reserved for those selling houses, yachts and unscrupulous double glazing salesmen. So it’s something of a surprise to see it applied to a chess set. Though, in fairness, calling this ‘a chess set’ underplays it somewhat: Theo Fennell’s staggering oversized set has pieces exquisitely crafted in the form of game birds — the kings are cock pheasants, the pawns woodcock or snipe, and so on.
Fennell’s chess sets are true works of art — one set chess set commissioned took his craftsmen three years to make, so suffice to say you might well be able to buy a house for the same cost. Or a yacht. As for double glazing? Well, before I tell you that let me talk you through the many benefits it’ll offer your home…