90’s Board Games Were Weird, Chaotic and Unoriginal

Board games industry has gone through a lot. But there has never been a more confusing and bewildering time than the 90’s.

As anyone roughly my age will tell you, the 90’s were objectively the best decade. Anyone who disagrees is clearly buggin’ and straight trippin’. The 90’s were the bomb and hella tight. Mad props to my dawgs who still know that decade was all that and a bag of chips.  But what’s the 4-1-1 on the board games from back then? Were they as dope as we remember? No DUH!

Well, okay. … Maybe not. Board games from the 90’s were a weird breed. Designers really went off the deep end with some of the games they released. Maybe it was to better compete with the rapidly growing video game market.  Maybe it was to appeal to the kid’s new totally tubular lifestyle. Or maybe it was too much Capri Sun making them wig out.  Whatever the reason, tabletop gaming was a weird combination of innovation and blatant copying from each other. So, let’s take a look at some old games and separate the phat from the wack.

Grape Escape

 

Grape Escape was a dice rolling, point-to-point movement game where players used molded clay figures as their game piece. As they moved around the board, they would land on certain spots that could slice, push, mash or mush their clay figure.  If the die rolled ‘Crank’, the active player rotates a crank which operates the factory destroying any hapless grapes in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Basically The Same As: Splat, Looney Tunes Smush ‘Em, Mouse Trap

Whoever was running the play-doh lobby back in the 90’s was doing a great job. There were a lot of games that used play-doh figures. These games had you mangling your opponent’s piece to really drive the point home that they were losing. Mouse Trap didn’t feature getting to destroy your opponent’s mouse, but that game was functionally the same: Avoid the trap spaces and work some mechanical feature to ruin your opponent. Grape Escape’s game play was fine for a kid, rolling a dice and moving that many spaces is a fine way to introduce kids into gaming.  But the horror of watching my figure get mutilated was too much for me to handle. It instilled a sense of revenge that would follow me to this day. …I’ll get you one day, Brian.

Rating: Wack

Don’t Wake Daddy

Don’t Wake Daddy is another dice rolling, point-to-point movement game (get ready to see a lot of them). As players move around the board, they will land on certain spaces and, unless they have a certain card, are required to hit the snooze button on daddy’s alarm clock. After a random number of presses, Daddy wakes up and the player is sent back to start. Like Grape Escape, Don’t Wake Daddy is not a good game. But that’s not why you play it. You play it for the fear.

Basically the same as: Crocodile Dentist, Perfection, Tyrannosaurus Rocks, Gooey Louie, Eat at Ralph’s

Don’t Wake Daddy was probably the most popular in a shockingly large group of jump scare board games. Don’t Wake Daddy and others all had this feature of waiting for the game to snap and jump and spring just the make you scream. If you can get your hands on any of these games, give them a try with your toughest friends. If nothing else, you’ll have a great time watching them jump.

Rating: Phat

Shark Attack

Shark Attack is…yet again, a dice rolling, point-to-point movement game. Players rolled the die and whichever color the die showed got to move forward. The game featured a shark that would lurch forward every few seconds. If the shark ate your fish, you were out. Last one un-eaten wins.

Basically the same as: Dizzy Dizzy Dinosaur, ‘Fraidy Cats, Loopin’ Louie, Tornado Rex, Forbidden Bridge, Fireball Island

Shark Attack and it’s similar games all featured the same sort of game play. You’d move based on a die roll then the game would do something random and wacky and if the game hit your piece, you were out or send back to start. They were frustrating to play but I’ll admit I loved Forbidden Bridge a lot. The excitement of having your explorer just barely hanging on was thrilling. But it wasn’t worth the disappointment when they ultimately fell next turn.

Rating: Wack

KerPlunk

KerPlunk is a dexterity game where players fill the tube with plastic skewers then drop a bunch of marbles in the top. The skewers hold the marbles in place and each turn players remove a skewer, collecting any marbles that fall. The player with the fewest marbles at the end wins.

Basically the same as: Don’t Break The Ice, Thin Ice, Stretch Out Sam, Rock Jocks

The 90’s had a lot of physics games. These games relied on the player’s ability to balance something or keep something from breaking. Ultimately, these games rely way too much on the chaotic nature of the universe and I don’t mean dice rolls. There was too much left to physics. A stiff breeze could break the game and any game that could be affected by Mom opening the front door is probably not a very good game.

Rating: Wack

Mall Madness

Mall Madness is a sort of dice rolling, sort of set collecting game which featured an electronic game timer and arbiter of sorts. It’s mechanics is hard to pin down. But the main selling points were getting to buy as many clothes and jewelry as you wanted and the electronic device running the game. Whether or not you think games like Mall Madness might perpetuate stereotypical societal norms is not the point! The point here is the game was run by the computer. The computer told you how many spaces to move, it controlled the game timer and it controlled when and where sales appeared. The computer was the entirety of the game’s functionality.

Basically the same as: Dream Phone, Omega Virus

The 90’s were an exciting time for a number of reasons. One of the most influential of them was the fact that electronics were getting dirt cheap. So, this meant that games could have electronic components without really ruining the cost of the game itself. It’s for this reason that Mall Madness and Omega Virus exist. At their core they are games where you move around the board, collecting items and letting the computer run the show. These games were fun because they were basically analog video games. If nothing else the random component, as determined by the computer, allowed for some fair replayability.

Rating: Phat

Crossfire

What list of 90’s board games would be complete without Crossfire? The commercial is so iconic at this point that everyone knows the theme song and the burning hellscape which is required to properly play. But no one really remembers how to play. Crossfire requires players to fire their blaster full of ball bearings to knock one of the two objects on the board into their opponent’s goal. It’s basically soccer with guns and two balls. Which should be super rad. But it’s not.

Basically the same as: Hungry Hungry Hippos, Jumpin’ Monkeys

At the end of the day, playing Crossfire is the same as Hungry, Hungry Hippos. You’re mashing your trigger as fast as you can and hoping for the best. True, Crossfire gives a little more to the game with needing to get the object in the goal.  But still, aside from needing to move slightly left or right sometimes, they are the same game. Sorry Crossfire, you’re just not a good game. Button mashing is not a good tactic.

Rating: Wack

Final Thoughts

So re-reading this article now, most of these games were wack. A few were pretty phat, but if I’m being real, they were still pretty wack.  The 90’s did have lots of actually good games, but these were not them. But what sort of review article would this be if I rated all the games as bad?  Either way, these old games are usually not terrible and if you can dig up a copy I’m sure you’ll get a good sense of nostalgia.  And if that’s enough to give you enjoyment playing a game, then who am I to say they are wack?

Also, I’m aware I teased pictures of ‘Do The Urkel’ and ‘Vanilla Ice Electronic Rap Game’ without discussing them. I know. You’re welcome.

Thanks for reading!

Did I miss your favorite board game from the 90’s? Let me know in the comments!

  • Severius_Tolluck

    XD I actually was given the Urkel game as a hand me down from friends of the family! However I have played all these stinkers along with Dark World which got me interested in warhammer! Honorable mentions would be IT from the Pit, 1313 Dead End Drive, Tuba Ruba, and so many weird ones!

    • Matt Sall

      I watched some game play videos of the Urkel game and it looks…. great……… lol

      13 Dead End Drive still holds up really well. I wanted to mention it here, but it really does stand out as being original. So it didn’t really fit the theme of this article.

  • Apocryphus

    Oh man, you mentioned Omega Virus. I still have a copy of that sitting in my closet. I actually still think that game is pretty cool.

    • Matt Sall

      Omega Virus is definitely super cool. I just wanted to opportunity to release it to Mall Madness lol

      But those games did start a minor surge in computer assisted boardgames. Although I’m glad it didn’t stick around. Electronic Battleship was a clunky mess of a game 🙁

      • Apocryphus

        I never played Electronic Battleship, but always wanted it as a kid. I was too busy spending my allowance on Crash Dummies. 😀

        • Matt Sall

          Out of every possible thing to become strangely popular, Crash Dummies have got to be top 10 of all time. Toys, games, cartoons. What a bizarre decade lol

          • Apocryphus

            Bizarre but adventurous. Call me nostalgic but they sure don’t make em like they used to, which isn’t always a bad thing lol

          • Matt Sall

            But on the other hand, my old grey brick of a gameboy still works perfectly.
            Can we sort everything into ‘Dont make them like they used to’ and “Please make them like they used to’?

  • Carlill

    Kerplunk is from the 60s.

    • Adam Marshall

      Crossfire is also much older, 70s? Just look at that box art!

      • Matt Sall

        Yup. From what I could research, Crossfire released in 1971. Still, it regained popularity in the 90’s with a rerelease and the aforementioned awesome af commercial.

    • Matt Sall

      You mean something from my childhood existed BEFORE I became aware of it? That doesn’t sound possible! 😉

      But yeah, I didn’t realize that KerPlunk has been around for so long! It released in 1967. I maybe should have excluded it from this list. But ultimately, I figure because it did get a rerelease and new marketing campaign in the 90’s, it stands to stay.

      • Carlill

        Seems like you’re setting a dangerous legal precedent. Do Star Wars and Blade Runner count as 90’s because of the re-jigged versions? This way madness lies.

        • Matt Sall

          Hmm… good point.

          My only real point to stand on would be that ignorance of the fact that kerplunk had been released before I thought it had.
          Still though, ignorance isn’t a viable defense.

          BUT if or when I do another article like this, I’ll definitely spend the few extra minutes to be sure I’m not making any assumptions on things. I’m always aiming to improve my quality of content.

          Thanks for changing my view point! (That sounds like sarcasm, but it’s not lol)

          • Carlill

            This is the internet, you’re not supposed to take salient points on board.

          • Matt Sall

            oh right….. um…
            That was my friend. He took the keyboard and typed all of that haha
            What I meant to say is ur dum lol

  • G Ullrich

    There is always a grab bag of crap games from Hasbro/Milton Bradley…but the 90’s was the decade of the Eurogame invasion …Settlers of Catan, Tigris and Euphrates, El Grande, Lost Cities, hell, it made the era of modern board games possible.

    • Matt Sall

      Totally. The 90’s did have some actually good games. These are definitely not them lol

      This was more the list of games advertised on saturday morning cartoons.

  • Fredddy

    I really enjoyed Mouse Trap with that crazy machine 🙂

    • Matt Sall

      I wonder how many people actually played the game correctly versus just build the machine and set it off over and over.

      I know that’s what I did!

      • Fredddy

        We played it correctly:) But sometimes the machine did not work.

  • euansmith

    One factor in favour of all these games; they aren’t Monopoly.

    • bobrunnicles

      Or Clue 🙂

    • Matt Sall

      To be fair to Monopoly (I know, let me finish), according to the rules, if a player doesn’t buy a property it goes up for auction to all players. This hugely speeds up the game and is a rule that is often overlooked.

      Still, as discussed in my linked blatant self promotion, Monopoly basically has no real gameplay.

      http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2017/11/popular-mechanics-randomness-in-games-readyish.html

      • euansmith

        THAT’s a rule? Well I never. never ever.

        • Matt Sall

          If the player lands on an unowned property, the player may buy it for the price listed on that property’s space. If he or she agrees to buy it, he or she pays the Bank
          the amount shown on the property space and receives the deed for that
          property. If he or she refuses to buy the property for the amount stated
          on the deed, the property is auctioned. Bidding may start at any price,
          and all players may bid. The highest bidder wins the property and pays
          the Bank the amount bid and receives the property’s title deed.
          Railroads and utilities are also considered properties.

          • euansmith

            Is this auction a sealed bid with proper regulatory oversight?

          • Matt Sall

            Actually, that could be more fun than a standard oral auction.
            I recommend a Vickrey auction where the highest bidder wins, but pays the price listed in the second highest bid. That MIGHT make Monopoly have actual strategy! :O

          • euansmith

            I’ve never heard of a Vickery Auction, but, then, my knowledge of auctions comes from Bargain Hunt and Lovejoy.

          • Matt Sall

            I only know from this Numberphile video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kWuxfVbIaU

  • ellobouk

    I mean, the 90’s also gave us Hero Quest and Space Crusade… both of which you can thank for my ever growing miniature collection

    • Matt Sall

      For sure, there were tons of games from the 90’s that were really good.

      This article was more meant to be a fun look back at some of the more cheeky games and see how they hold up.

  • Rich

    I have one counter argument to all of the games above.

    Fireball Island.

    Also, Heroquest was cool.

    • Matt Sall

      Actually, I did sneak Fireball Island in there! It’s under the Basically the Same As list for Shark Attack.

      Fireball Island is actually especially similar to Forbidden Bridge. Both those games you’re grabbing a gem and trying to escape and hoping the game doesn’t knock you down and send you back to start.

      Heroquest is definitely super rad.

  • LordKrungharr

    Going back to the 80’s, I will hold high Crossbows & Catapults! Not sure if that counts as a board game, but before Warhammer, that was my Viking fantasy action time, alongside those plastic knockoff D&D toys called Dragonriders of the Styx, which should have been a board game but was more like plain old cowboys n indian toys soldiers.

    • Matt Sall

      Crossbows & Catapults looks great! Even though I put down dexterity games here, they definitely can be a lot of fun. Yeah, they’re random and chaotic and hard to control but nailing the perfect shot is exciting!

    • Malevengion

      I really enjoyed Crossbows and Catapults (the kid next door had the game and all the expansions.) For the 80’s though I’d have to go back to 1981 and Dark Tower for my fun.

      • Matt Sall

        I played A LOT of Key to the Kingdom as a kid. That was probably my first real fantasy style game. Magic and monsters, swords and sorcery, etc. Plus, gameplay wise, it holds up pretty well.

  • KreskinsESP

    I need to figure out what size rubber bands my old Torpedo Run set needs. God I loved that game.

    • Matt Sall

      Looking in this game I think my friends and I would have quickly devolved into shooting each other with the disks.

      I had a TMNT pizza-shooting van and that’s all ever did with it lol

      • KreskinsESP

        I think they knew kids would be doing that they designed it so you had to keep it flat on the board before it would fire.

  • Matt Sall

    The only ghosty games I can come up with would be either the Goosebumps: Terror in the Graveyard game, Ghost Castle or Superstition.
    Any of them sound familiar?

    • Severius_Tolluck

      some do, but there was one where you would creep through the graveyard hunting a vampire I think, but you could fall into a grave, and the board would open up. Can’t recall the name lol. There was also one where you went up a mountain and a tornado would come knocking you down. Also weapons and warriors, also an early entry to warhammer for some of us, and last but not least dizzy dizzy dinosaur!

      • Matt Sall

        Tornado Rex is the spinning mountain one!

        Key To the Kingdom (my favorite childhood game) also had a board opening up feature. It blew my mind as a kid! TWO sides?! :O

        • Severius_Tolluck

          I recall that one for sure.