My First (Real) Board Game

Everyone’s favorite hobby starts somewhere. Mine started with a very special key, a cobra and a hatred of Voodoo Specters.

The year of 1992 was a strange time. The Mall of America opened its doors to the public, the people took a new ear to the song Stuck In the Middle With You, and the world just couldn’t lie about how much they loved big butts. In the midst of it all little me was watching the brand new channel, Cartoon Network. It was during the commercial breaks in those cartoons that I saw an ad for something that confounded me.  It said it was a board game, but it didn’t look anything like that board games I had played. No properties to fight over, no chutes to slide down, and no amount of sorry would send you back to start. No, this game was different. And like most things in the 1990’s, the advertisement for it was SUPER RAD!

The game was Key To The Kingdom and it blew my mind as a kid. I had never seen a board game like this before.  Although, to be fair, there weren’t nearly as many “modern” board games as there are now. For those of you who have never heard of Key To The Kingdom, first my condolences, second, let me welcome you to this glorious game of sword, sorcery and nostalgia.

Key To The Kingdom is a dice rolling, exploration, hand resource management game set in a fantasy theme. Players explore the game board, rolling a die and moving that many spaces various branching paths. Sprinkled throughout the board are various Hazards that players will have to overcome to progress forward. Hazards range from ice bridges to rainbow bridges, tiger pits to snake pits, and magic circles to magic wizards. To overcome the hazards, players will have to use the equipment cards combined with luck of the dice. However, the hazards are only a small part of the game.

The main object of the game is to explore the dungeons. The game has 6 dungeons, each housing a random monster and a random treasure. Dungeon monsters are hugely varied in the methods of defeating them. Some require nothing more than rolling not 1 on a d8. Others require you to discard a certain equipment card and roll a specific number in a limited amount of rolls. And finally, some monsters are literally impossible to beat (Avoid the Voodoo Specter at all costs). If successful, the player acquires the dungeon’s treasure card. Defeating the dungeon allows you to take the treasure card of that dungeon. Once a player has found the Key to the Kingdom and one other treasure card, they can escape the kingdom and win the game!

Overall, there are plenty of games that do what Key To the Kingdom does and does it better. However, Key To The Kingdom will always hold a special place in my heart for being the first game to introduce me to the idea that board games could be so much more. In fact, I ended up buying 2 copies of it as a kid. I lost the d8 the game comes with. I had never seen a d8 and I thought it was a rare and unique die which could never be found anywhere else other than another copy of Key To the Kingdom, so I used my allowance to buy a second copy just for a second d8.

The game’s main attraction is the fact that the game board can fold out to reveal an expanded board underneath, allowing players to jump into magic whirlpools and potentially crush other players in the collapsing world. As clever of an idea as that is, it doesn’t really add a whole lot to the game, but it is very cool and fun nonetheless.

I played the heck out of Key To The Kingdom growing up, but my time with it did wane and it would be many years before I rediscovered modern board gaming with Settlers of Catan in college. Since then I’ve found a hobby I love and spend a lot of my time and money on. I’m glad to see how far board gaming has come over the last 25 years and what is on the horizon.

~What your first “real” boardgame that hooked you good? Be honest.

(Top image courtesy of BGG user burns flipper, other inserted images are courtesy of BGG user LordBobbio)
  • dave long island

    I remember one cool boardgame as a kid, and that was where you had to dig your way out of a dungeon. You tried to dig your way out before the other prisoners got out, for some unknown reason. I don’t remember what it was called. Dungeon Dig or some thing. It was okay, and one of my first board games that I can recall.

  • Larry McIver

    Totally had this game when I was a kid, flash back!

  • Heinz Fiction

    I have this board game, too. The german version has a different name & cover art but the interior looks the same. Did never play it much though.

  • EnTyme

    My first exposure to “real” board games was Small World.

  • Laurence J Sinclair

    The UK Tv ad was better. It had a rap. “You’ve got the Key, you’re on your way home, but don’t forget the Cantankerous Gnome!”

  • Tothe

    I’d love to give that game a try. What are the odds it might get a nostalgic reprint?

    My first “real” board game was Axis & Allies.

    • SALLstice

      They attempted a Kickstarter to get a digital version made but it only got 15%ish funded.
      Oh well. There are copies on eBay and such.

  • Severius_Tolluck

    I remember this game. It was so hard to play because attention spans of my fellow students. When board game night came around I would bring something like this, but they would rather play The Urkel Game “oooh did I do that? ” My first crazy game and what sent me down the path of mini wargaming was a game called Dark World, which was a dungeon crawler. I saw it in the window of a KB toys and pleased for what seemed like a year to get it. Was disappointed when I actually got it as the pieces were not painted as they were on the box or window! But it head some neat concepts and was a DnD esque game with a dungeon master. Thing is, I never really got to play it, instead I just used it as a toy,, because no one would ever play it, and I think I was out of my element with it. I think board game geek has a bad review on it now lol. I had to leave it behind when I moved, I was not allowed to pack more than one box of belongings when I moved as a kid. I rather kept my Super Nintendo.

  • sombetzki

    Yes! This was my first game as well, still have it. I’ve got the Dutch version “De schat en de sleutel”. Different cover art as well.
    Loved it! Got to dig it out when my son is old enough.