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Toy Baseball on Clubhouse Games: basic and addictive.

Nintendo/Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

My family’s not going anywhere this summer. Our months at home are turning into more months at home. We’re digging into board games, taking long walks, setting up some fun in the yard, and trying to eliminate stress in a world that’s overwhelmed with it. Hello, Clubhouse Games, nice timing.

Just like Animal Crossing: New Horizons seemed to arrive right at the moment when everyone was stuck at home longing for human connection, Clubhouse Games may well turn into the new family fun quick fix of the summer for people stuck inside. I’ve been interested in great family multiplayer games on the Switch, and this one’s got a lot going for it. It also has some of the games that made Nintendo’s old Wii Sports games so great. This isn’t Wii Sports… but in some ways, it’s spiritually closer than you think. And the warm spirit of this game is exactly what I need at the moment.

Nintendo’s newest game, arriving June 5, is a compilation of 51 family games, all classics of some sort. Card games, solitaire games, board games, some silly super-simple games, retro-type recreations of mechanical games, and… a piano. Just a digital piano. Hey, why not?

I played Clubhouse Games in its first form about 15 years ago, on the Nintendo DS. I still have it. That was a lot of fun because back then, in 2005, the iPhone didn’t exist. A portable board game pack was special on its own.

Clubhouse Games on the Switch, and the older version on the DS (playing on a 3DS).

Scott Stein/CNET

Now there are all sorts of ways to play card games, backgammon, chess or whatever else on a screen lying somewhere around your sofa cushions. In that sense, well, Clubhouse Games is packaging ideas you could get elsewhere.

Nintendo’s design and presentation are great, though, and almost all of the 51 games are fun enough to keep coming back and distracting yourself for a long while. Most of them have two-player modes, and some have three- and four-player modes. Games can be played on one Switch, huddled over them in a tabletop touchscreen mode, or with detachable controllers. Or docked with a TV.

Playing touchscreen chess with my kid on the Switch.

Scott Stein/CNET

Some use Joy-Cons with motion controls, like bowling or darts — and this is where it feels like the return of Wii Sports. Suddenly, that casual let’s-stand-in-front-of-the-TV-and-wave-your-arms-around feeling is back again. The Switch has surprisingly few games that take advantage of this type of gameplay.

The old Clubhouse Games on the DS was deeper in card games, and had Hearts and even Contract Bridge. The new Clubhouse Games has a more diverse assortment (but no Hearts or Bridge, sadly), and it even has an instructional Mahjong full game (which I’ve been meaning to learn to play). Some international games like Carrom, Shogi and Hanafuda (the card game that got Nintendo started back in 1889) are here, and games I’ve never played, like Nine Men’s Morris, which dates back to Roman times. Want to learn billiards game rules? Spider solitaire? The games can act as instruction kits for real-life stuff you may have lying around. There’s a version of Mastermind, called Hit and Blow.

Nine Men’s Morris. Never played it before, but now I want to set it up with real marbles.

Nintendo/Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

A bunch of retro-style “toy” games were previously on the long-forgotten Wii Party U. They’re a better fit here on Switch. A basic baseball, tennis and Rock-’em-Sock-’em-type boxing game are here — the Toy Soccer game is like tabletop foosball. Air Hockey is perfect with touch controls. They’re easier to just slide into, or play quickly on a TV. A few arcade games — a battle tank game and even a competitive Tetris-like puzzle game called 6-ball Puzzle — are welcome extras.

The games can be played online, and I tried a few games prerelease that launched quickly (Mancala is one of my favorites). Games play well on a TV, too (my family got really into Ludo, and the Shooting Gallery game uses the Switch controllers like little Wii-remote zappers). Local play works across other Switches with a free bridging app that I haven’t gotten to try yet, but I love that idea: Few Switch games enable multiplayer this way without charging extra for another copy. There’s a crazy multi-Switch “Mosaic” mode that adds extra playing space for some games like Slot Cars, a holdover idea from the Wii Party U game too, if you remember. 

At $40, which is a little less than most Switch games, this is a great bundle of board games and multiplayer stuff. Nintendo’s Super Mario Party is also a type of board game for families, but that game — while a lot of fun too — leans on arcade-like minigames. The patient and even educational spin to Clubhouse Games is its own special fun. If you’re stuck inside for a while and have a lot of people to play with, this might be your next great go-to. And maybe it’ll be a little way to connect with friends or family, too.

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