Winning Ways

All the fancy gadgets in the world can’t beat the enduring charm of well-made old-school games.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

If the pandemic has taught us anything about people, it’s that we don’t respond too well to being asked to stay indoors. So, here’s an idea for those who have run out of corny names for their sourdough starters and burned through the entire Netflix catalogue: play a game.

Not the ones on screens, but meticulously crafted game sets with pieces you can feel, pick up and knock around for that sweet ASMR effect. Luxury superstars like Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. have been making these sets for years in the form of designer poker collateral, chess boards and even Scrabble that add a touch of refinement and old-world elegance to living rooms and dens. There’s also a market for antiquated games and spinning tops, which fashion label Brunello Cucinelli has beautifully revived.

Even boutique purveyors of luxury items such as British stationery specialist Smythson and lifestyle brand Aerin (named after founder Aerin Lauder, granddaughter of Estee Lauder) have been expanding into traditional game sets with a mission to promote craftsmanship and a slower, more sumptuous pace of life. The pandemic isn’t going to keep us down and in forever, so this is the best time to treat yourself to a medium of entertainment that harkens back to the simpler, less stressful days of our childhoods.

My Reading Room


The same skilled hands that stitch together your custom Berluti loafers can cover anything else you might desire in leather, too. From dumbbells to dice games, clients are restricted only by their imagination and, hopefully, common sense. Size doesn’t seem to be an issue, as evidenced by this Venezia leather-covered foosball table made in collaboration with Bonzini. the players and goals are made of brushed aluminium and the playing surface is graphite. everything takes at least 75 hours to produce.
My Reading Room


Hermes is synonymous with fine leather, so why wouldn’t it apply the same material over every tile in this extravagantly upholstered mahjong set? the leather is an Hermes fine-grain calfskin known as Swift that’s selected for its amazing softness and colour so the set not only looks and feels great but is significantly quieter, too. the box and score sticks are made from solid rosewood that, according to the brand, has a “delicate rustling sound” when handled.
My Reading Room


The only way to turn identical cuboids of wood into objects of desire is to start with the wood itself. What Aerin did was to craft all 54 Jenga blocks out of beech wood. their smooth finish ensures that there is none of the panic or rage-inducing stickiness most of us have experienced while trying to remove a block without the entire structure rotating. Or you could just attempt to replicate the empire State Building with them as an exercise in coffee table toppers. Storage is a tactile joy, thanks to a shagreen-coated box and lid, complete with brass edges and suede lining.

My Reading Room


Nothing hints ever so slyly at the possession of intellect like a chess board lying around the house. this one from Smythson will entice queries even from guests with no interest in testing their strategic mettle because of the board that’s fashioned out of black full-grain leather and black and light blue calfskin. For those who don’t know how to play, the box opens up to reveal additional pieces for checkers and dominoes. the pieces for each game come in a nubuck pouch.