Life

Our 50 favourite childhood games

A recent study found that outdoor play is in danger of eroding, with children spending less time than ever playing on the street in favour of sitting in front of computers and the TV. Here at Stylist we felt a pang of sadness - after all, who didn't love running at breakneck speed to escape the one on it or scrambling up the nearest tree for that perfect hiding spot?

This discussion soon escalated into a full-on debate about over favourite childhood games; from the delights of Buckaroo and the fear/excitement of hide 'n' seek to the sheer elation of Cowboys and Indians or the thrilling mystery of Cluedo. And so we decided to list 50 of our favourite childhood games - many of which we wish we could still indulge in...

Click on the images below to launch the gallery.

Picture credits: Getty Images and Rex Features

  • Monopoly

    This perennial Christmas favourite inevitably leads to blazing family rows, with one person hogging the hotels on the Mayfair strip and everyone else bankrupt.

    Still, what other game would allow you to romp through the streets of London as a dog or a hat (not to mention getting out of jail for a tenner)?

  • Conkers

    The beauty of this is in the simplicity. Choose your conker, thread it, then go forth and conquer (excuse the pun) in the playground.

    What could be more satisying? And it's organic too.

  • Chain Tag

    Like solo tag, but without the isolation anxiety.

    Once you get tagged by someone who's "it" you're part of the chain - and get to chase everyone else around until there's one left in the corner. Genius, if admittedly a formula for scrapped knees.

  • Bed Jumping

    There's more simple pleasure than bouncing like crazy on your bed.

    While as an adult this would equal an emergency trip to Ikea, as a kid it's simply a mechanism for putting off bed time - and a brilliant one at that.

  • Cowboys and Indians

    Why watch a Western when you can re-enact it in your backyard?

    This age-old classic usually started with you and your friend falling out over who gets the gun - but once you'd bypassed that slightly hiccup, it only lead to hours of adrenalin-pumped fun.

  • Jenga

    Whoever came up with the concept of Jenga deserves a Nobel prize. It's such a simple premise - get a bunch of blocks then try to pull each one out without taking the whole tower down - but a totally addictive one.

    No wonder it's been re-branded as a drinking game (though admittedly, alcohol isn't exactly a help).

  • Hop Skotch

    Chucking a stone at a chalked number then hopping to get to it doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs, but by some weird miracle it's been entertaining kids for decades... since the time of Henry VIII, in fact.

  • Rollerskating

    We're not talking your hi-tech whizz-along blades here - oh no.

    It's the old-school, stopper at the front rollerskates that are the real classics. The ones that allowed you to scoot down a hill at breakneck speed then come to a grinding halt just before that fence.

    Adult skating just isn't the same.

  • Wheelbarrow Races

    A Sports Day staple, alongside the Egg & Spoon Race and the Three-Legged Race.

    Granted, there was a fair amount of grass and rough and tumble involved (not to mention raw arm power) - but the sheer excitement of grabbing your partner by their two legs and propelling them down the race track made it more than worth the hassle.

  • Cluedo

    Was it Professor Plum who killed Miss Scarlet in the drawing room with a revolver? Or perhaps Colonel Mustard was the culprit?

    This rainy day must-have opened doors to the thrilling world of murder mysteries, as well as inspiring one of our favourite rainy day movies, Clue.

  • Musical Chairs

    As well as providing excitement of almost epic proportions, musical chairs has a very practical purpose of preparing kids for a lifetime of fighting over a seat on a tube or overcrowded train.

    If only our daily commute came with music, we might enjoy it a whole lot more.

  • Hide And Seek

    "Ready or not, here I come..."

    How is it that those words still leave us with an almost atavistic tendency to dive underneath the nearest desk in paroxysms of fear and delight? A king among childhood games.

  • Skipping Rope

    Skipping, one in-one out, Chinese jump rope, horses - the possibilities thrown up by the humble skipping rope are endless.

    Just don't use one to tie your Brownie teammate to the chair (as one Stylist staffer did in the depths of her murky past), or you might not get invited back.

  • Blind Man's Buff

    The idea of tying a blindfold on someone then instructing them to walk around and not bump into unforgiving walls/shelves/trees sounds a tad suicidal.

    Nevertheless this rumbunctious game has provided kids with decades-full of hilarity and bruises, in almost equal proportions.

  • Pass The Parcel

    A plain present has never looked the same since we sat in a circle passing a parcel round and peeling it open, layer by layer.

    Sure, the tension was almost unbearable (and there was always one kid who insisted on hogging the parcel a good five seconds past their time), but it made the final prize so much more worth it. Better still were the deluxe versions where you discovered sweets inbetween the layers.

  • Space Hoppers

    It's a strange fact of life that however hard you try, you can never quite re-create the delight that a space hopper held in our younger years.

    As a child, you could bounce on it, flop on it, roll over backwards with it - really the possibilities were endless. But try it as an adult and you end up with hunched, uncomfortable shoulders and a lingering sense that things just aren't the same (we speak from experience).

  • Pogo Stick

    Possibly even greater than the space hopper (though more demanding of athletic prowess), the Pogo is a master among... well, bouncy toys.

    Nothing beat the thrill of flying through the air like a kangaroo with the heady possibility of falling off looming at every corner. Even the name is fantastic.

  • Leap Frog

    A nerve-jangling contest of courage and judgement, it's little wonder that leap frog continues to draw a crowd in playgrounds the world over.

    Get it right and you're soaring through the air; get it wrong and you end up collapsing and/or kicking your mate in the head. Simply put, the odds are enormous.

  • Tree Climbing

    It;s pretty much impossible to see a magnificent, broad-boughed tree and not rate it in terms of climb-ability. As a child, there was nothing better than finding a big old gnarly tree with plenty of branches and footing crags to scramble up and get lost in. They also made pretty nifty dens.

  • Snakes & Ladders

    The thrill of Snakes & Ladders lies in the potential of being swallowed by snakes at every turn. Success was also marked byt the ability to climb ladders if you did well (see the non-to-subtle analogy to life there?)

  • Sack Races

    It had to be a child who spotted the potential of a sack for racing in. Who else would look at a grimy old bag and visualise a mad, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants hopping race with the sole aim being not to fall over?

  • Marbles

    Ah, marbles. Deceptively non-interesting at first glance, they open up a whole world of wonder as a child. You can trade them, barter with them, smash them into each other or amass them as a sweaty collection in your backpocket ... the possibilities are endless.

  • Ker-Plunk

    A cunning extension to the joy that is marbles, Ker-Plunk demanded wit and nerve as you attempted to remove sticks from the plastic tube without letting marbles fall down the skelter.

    Hours of nail-biting amusement guaranteed.

  • Guess Who?

    It's probable that we once knew the intricacies of Maria, Bernard et al's faces better than our parents' at one point. The art of Guess Who? lay in the questioning, with expert players able to correctly guess the name of the face you held in two or three guesses max.

    Special editions featuring Star Wars and Disney make the game even more entertaining (hard to believe, we know).

  • Kite Flying

    Sure, you can fly a kite as an adult but it's not quite the same, is it?

    For one, it doesn't threaten to tug you off your feet at every gust of wind and for another, you don't have the run-til-my-legs-fall-off energy that makes it truly exhilarating.

  • Sprinkler Dodging

    Can anything - even the biggest, most sumptuous chocolate cake in the world - really match the feeling of running through a sprinkler in your back garden on a hot summer's day? We think not.

  • Water Fights

    But sprinklers is for starters; water fights are the real deal. Get your gun (ideally in some lurid shade of pink or green), load it up (water or fairy liquid, depending on who you are) and get squirting your opponents.

    If the game's feeling a little lacklustre, there's always the hose as a back-up (just make sure your parents aren't looking first).

  • Ring a' Ring o' Roses

    Folklore finds the origins of this rhyme from disease and need to ward it off. Nowadays, it only keeps very small children entertained and the crux of it is the falling down bit, which you do as loudly and boisterously as possible.

  • Tug Of War

    That's something innately satisfying about grabbing a rope and tugging on it very hard from both ends. With no complicated rules, it's a recipe for lots of yelling and ultimately, sore bums, as half the team collapses in a heap.

  • Twister

    Spin two boards, identify a colour and body part and get contorting - last man standing wins. So lies the essence of this genius game, which inevitably ends up with someone's nose shoved up someone else's armpit.

    A fave among the adults too, it's a party hit (though alarming to see what effect age has on dexterity).

  • Buckaroo

    In real life, loading a horse up with not only a saddle, but also a hat, a frying pan, a holster and various other miscellaneous items might be deemed as animal cruelty, but in the world of children's games it made for a nail-bitingly thrilling time.

  • Mikado

    Otherwise known as pick up sticks. Take one stick from the pile without moving the others - in colour-coded order.

    It's harder than it looks and strangely satisfying, as any Mikado fan will tell you.

  • Pillow fight

    Take one sturdy pillow, choose your opponent and unleash the beast.

    So go the immortal rules of pillow fighting, an age-old cracker of a game and one enacted best just before light's out (or after - if you really want to wind your family up).

  • Tether Ball

    At face value, tether ball isn't the most captivating of games - but that's before you get in there, right in the thick of the action, whacking the ball back and forth to your opponent at dizzying speed and ferocity.

  • Operation

    This tense yet thrilling board game no doubt inspired many doctors of today to pursue their chosen profession. Can you get the wish bone out from some random part of the underpanted man without him going bleep? Then medicine is for you, my child.

  • Snap

    One for long car journeys and airport delays, snap is so simple you could easily draft in your annoying younger brother/sister to play (in the absence of anyone better, naturally).

    Throw down your cards, wait for a match and shout SNAP - loudest/quickest wins.

  • Mr Tramp's Dinner

    This gem of a party game involves sitting in a circle and trying to throw a six - then, when you do, scrambling to get on gloves, hat, scarf and various other accoutrements before tucking into chocolate with a knife and fork. The trick is to scoff as much as the sweet stuff as you possibly can before the next person throws a six, and takes over.

    Cue: lots of frantic scrabbling and a vague sicky feeling.

  • What's The Time, Mr. Wolf?

    We should come clean and explain this game doesn't literally involve a wolf. However, the premise is there as a series of kids line up behind the designated "wolf" and ask the time. At any point, the "wolf" can respond "eating time!" before dashing to grab his victim.

    Electrifying (if you extend your imagination a little).

  • Hula Hoops

    As adults, hula hoops have been reclaimed as a way of staying in shape (thanks, Wii-fit), but remember a time when they were there for the pure, unadulterated, fun of it all?

  • Kiss Chase

    A nervy time in all playgrounds, kiss chase is probably the earliest and most innocuous form of flirting between the sexes.

    Boys chase girls or vice versa and whoever gets caught, gets kissed. Simple but effective.

  • Murder In The Dark

    Not one for the faint-hearted, this involved a designated "murderer" selecting a victim in the dark by whispering "you're dead." They would then shout "murder in the dark." The lights go back on and a given "detective" (each role is allocated by cards beforehand) tried to figure out whodunit.

  • Battleships

    Sink all your opponent's ships before they get to yours, using cunning, skill and a good dose of instinct.

    Little surprise this ever-enduring game of strategy has been a hit since the early 1900s. War + game + battleships = timeless classic.

  • Hungry Hippos

    Fingers on the trigger as you get your fluorescent pink/green hippo to gobble up as many marbles as he can. The hippo that eats the most wins. Never was a more frantic thirty seconds spent.

  • Cat's Cradle

    This tricky game of looping string together in a prescribed way requires precision and lots of patience. Repetitive but somehow addictive, it finds its charm in getting the sequence right - then doing it again and again. We lost hours to this game back when we were young...

  • Cops And Robbers

    Like Cowboys and Indians, but with a clearer hero/baddie divide.

    If you've bagged the role of robber you can really go to town, looting the toy cupboard or perhaps the freezer for some tasty leftover ice-cream. But don't hang around too long because the cop is on your trail - and man, does he mean business.

  • Connect 4

    A straight forward yet maddening concept, Connect 4 has the unnerving ability to floor you just when you thought you'd nailed it. It doesn't take a lot of brain power to spot a line of four coming up but somehow it always end up catching you out.

  • Clapping Games

    My Mother Said, Pat-A-Cake, Miss Susie - there's apparently no limit to the amount of clapping rhymes out there and the genius thing is, they evolve over time.

    While classics such as K-I-S-S-I-N-G never lose their appeal, new riddles are continually dreamed up and thrown in the mix (in fact, it's a good thing we're not in the playground anymore, we'd be totally out of the loop).

  • Trampolining

    Yes, you can trampoline as an adult - but not without fear of breaking the darn thing. As a kid, the trampoline always seemed endless and you could leap away to heart's content.

    Backflip? No problem. Double dip roll? Coming right up. Ea-sy.

  • Piggyback Races

    No matter how unlikely (given the existence of gravity, and all), we always convinced ourselves that we could easily carry our older brother to the lamppost down the street. And, somehow, we always just about managed it.

  • Mouse Trap

    From the cheesewheel to the see-saw, every single element of Mouse Trap is just a little bit brilliant. Designed in 1963, this madcap board game has been keeping kids happy ever since.