Did you play any of these wonderful old games in the lovely 1970s?

Looking now at the instructions for Mousetrap, you can understand how playing it could be frustratin

Looking now at the instructions for Mousetrap, you can understand how playing it could be frustrating, even though its Willy Wonka-ish appeal was compelling. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

We've had the summer solstice, the last ball has bounced at Wimbledon, and now restaurants are advertising Christmas parties. It's got Steven Russell thinking about the games of yesteryear. Did you ever unwrap any of these on December 25?

Did you ever have a Magic Robot? I didn't, but I ached for one. They really did seem miraculous, back in the early '70s and long before we could press a button on a computer and talk to someone in Australia ? face to face, like on Star Trek ?or watch a video of T.Rex or Sweet on demand.

For some inexplicable reason the robot held a wand like a Star Wars lightsaber. You put him in the middle of a circle of questions, twisted him until he pointed at the question you'd chosen, and then moved him to another circle – around which were the answers.

When you let go, he'd twizzle around and point to the right answer. Unerringly.

Apparently it was all done with magnets, though I didn't know that at eight.


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I say unerringly. I once read a very funny satirical piece by someone who disagreed. It ran along the lines of 'Ask the Magic Robot 'What's the capital of France' and he confidently swings around two and a half turns and points to… 'Copenhagen'.'

All I can say is that my friends' robots all appeared to be Mensa candidates.

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I got my 'own' robot 34 years later, when my son was young. But it wasn't a robot. The version we bought had a creepy schoolmaster in gown and mortarboard. His wand looked more like a cane. Not so much fun. He still knew heaps, though, so fair dos. Sadly, my son – a product of the 21st Century – has never been very enthralled. Probably the fact I filleted the teacher with screwdriver and junior hacksaw, to try to get to the bottom of this magnet theory, didn't help. (Mark: 8/10)

Mouse Trap!: I've worked out what fascinated me as a child. Mechanicals and contraptions and automata. (Ironic, considering that in adulthood I can barely wire a plug.)

Mouse Trap! (the exclamation mark is official) had plenty of mechanicals and contraptions and near-automata, and – playing at friends' houses – I was transfixed as the whole kerboodle came together as the game went on: a ratchet tipping a bucket, joined to a set of steps, attached to a slide, and so on. And the mice trapped by a falling cage every so often.

I coveted Mouse Trap! even more than Magic Robot, but it was a dream too far for the family budget. When my children needed one decades later (OK, OK, I bought it for myself) I remembered how frustrating it could actually be to build.

Trying to get all the components lined up perfectly so the ball ran smoothly along the whole painstakingly-assembled construct was a labour of Hercules. And the cage was always on a hair-trigger, so often fell at the wrong time. Still, that guy who dived into a bath was fun.

(Mark: Promised more than it delivered: 7/10)

Yahtzee: A good mix of chance and decision-making. Throw five dice, up to three times each turn. Keep some or throw them again during each go – that's the strategy bit. Each turn, you have to fill in a box on the scoresheet, but you can choose which one – so that's another chance to employ strategy. (The top mark for a turn is 50: a Yahtzee. That's five dice all showing the same number.)

Our old instructions used to say something like 'With experience, a score of 400 is common'. We'd average 240-ish.

On reflection, it's clearly a game much more about random chance than skill. (Mark: 8.5/10)

Take the Brain: I loved this boardgame – sort of simplified chess for those of us dropped on our heads as babies (common in the 1960s and before) and thus shy of the IQ of a genius and unable to understand how to move a rook, bishop or queen.

The squares had arrows on them and pieces could move only in the direction the arrows pointed.

Numbskulls (looked a bit like Plug from the Bash Street Kids) could move as many squares as they wanted, in a straight line. Ninnies (pudding-basin haircuts, bad gene pool) could make only one step – as could The Brain. If your opponent landed on his square, you'd lost.

Our dog Flipper had a wicked eye for Ninnies – would swipe them off the board and give them a good old chew, given half a chance. Every time we play the game, and notice one Ninny that's badly gnarled, it reminds us of him – which is one of the reasons we should never throw out old games. They store our memories like photograph albums.

(Mark: Gets 8.5/10 because it provided the stage for bitter and hard-fought sibling rivalry with my sister. She's such a sore loser.)

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