September 28, 2021
July 28, 2021
A look back at the best 90s board games. Find gems from the era, old favorites and more than a few surprises.
These classic board games include everything from crazy themes, inventive gameplay, kooky gimmicks to intense strategy. Many of them have been updated and reissued, some remain game night staples, while others inspire the latest and greatest board games we play today. Basically, the 90s were a good time for rolling dice.
Designed by a former dental technician in Germany, Catan or ‘Settlers’ was a revelation for board games. The game consists of collecting resources, trading goods and building settlements and roads across the fictional island on the gameboard. Players can trade goods, wrestle for territory and roll the dice to gather resources and build a civilization from the ground up. Catan was unlike any other tabletop board game when it was released in the mid 90s – and since then, it has become a true classic.
As of 2020, Catan has sold more than 32 million units in 30 different languages, making it one of the best selling board games of all time.
Pizza Party is your typical memory game with a tasty twist. Parker Brothers originally released Pizza Party in the late 80s, although the game was more popular among 90s kids, and marketed toward the younger players of the generation.
Up to four people can play this simple memory game where the players flip over ingredient discs in an attempt to fill up all the topping slots. Think classic pizza fixings like pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions. Win or lose, Pizza Party gave you a strong hankering for a pizza post-game.
This is one of those board games from the 90s that a lot of kids didn’t really know the rules to, but remained fascinated by.
Zandar is kind of like a talking Magic 8 Ball. Players draw a question card and guess whether Zandar will answer positively or negatively. If the fortune-seeking players guessed Zandar’s prediction correctly, they could take a gem of their color. The weirdest thing about this game (aside from the talking wizard) is the question cards. Some of the darker questions include, “Will aliens kidnap me and make me their queen?”, “Will I invent chocolate flavored liver?” and “Do I have an evil twin?” among plenty of light-hearted questions like “Will I get an A+ on my next test?” and “Will I get a new pet?”
The prize for winning the game is to have a special fortune read by Zandar.
Cranium is the all-in-one trivia game that blends art with common knowledge, offering up one of the best board games for players looking for a little light-hearted fun. Cranium combines other throwback games like Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Rapidough, Scrabble-style puzzles, and Charades.
On your turn, you could be guessing anything – from which object your teammate is sculpting out of clay, to decrypting a scrambled word or trying to guess which song your teammate is whistling. Remaining extremely popular, it has helped win the developer over 130 awards.
Mall Madness absolutely radiates 90s culture. This original shopping-themed board game by Milton Bradley was released in 1988, but the game spiked in popularity in the early 90s after the electronic talking version came out in 1989. The goal of the game is to collect all of the items on your shopping list from 22 stores, including I.M. Coughin Drug Store, Sunglass Boutique, Aunt Chovie’s Pizza, 2 Left Feet Shoes, and then make it back to the car.
Mall Madness is one of several board games from the 90s that made it past the decade. The game was redesigned multiple times in its 33-year history, including special-edition Hannah Montana and Littlest Pet Shop versions, but it was off shelves for over 15 years before the latest version was released in 2020.
Pretty Pretty Princess is the jewelry dress-up game that makes players feel like royalty. It was highly marketed to young girls throughout the 90s and didn’t require reading or complex counting skills. Players have to collect the kid-sized jewelry pieces on each round in an attempt to collect a complete set. If you loved this game, odds are you loved the Dream Phone board game too.
Can’t find your vintage Pretty Pretty Princess box? Hasbro still sells slightly updated versions of the 90s board game.
Up next is Titanic: The Board Game. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t a massive seller for its publisher, Universal Games, despite how popular the Titanic film was during the late 90s. The game features an unrealistic depiction of the 1912 tragedy where players race to a lifeboat as the ship sinks. On the way, players have to collect random items like a life vest, passport and room key. Failing to make it to the lifeboat in time means a watery doom.
Operation was initially designed in the 60s, but we had to add it because it was beloved by so many 90s kids. This classic board game was actually invented in 1964 by a University of Illinois industrial design student. The student sold the rights to the game for a measly $500. To date, Operation’s estimated franchise is worth $40 million.
The family game-night staple comes with an “operating table” and the objective is to remove “Cavity Sam’s” various plastic ailments like his wishbone, charley horse, stomach butterflies, broken heart, and Adam’s apple with a pair of tweezers – all without touching the metal edge of the cavity. If you touch the edge, it triggers the buzzer and makes Sam’s red nose light up – equaling an unsuccessful operation.
This 57-year-old board game is still in production, and in 2020, Hasbro introduced a new variation on the game called Operation Pet Scan, where players have to remove objects from a pup.
Who remembers Fraidy Cats by Milton Bradley – the game of luck, nimble cats and ravenous dogs? Roll the dice, push your cat forward, avoid an erratically moving motorized bulldog, repeat. Although the game had about just the right amount of gimmick to make it in the 90s, it was ultimately too basic for longevity and doesn’t quite hold up to the memories.
Next up is none other than the iconic Crocodile Dentist. This was the game where players had to take turns pulling teeth from a crocodile’s mouth – just don’t pull the wrong tooth because the croc’s mouth will snap shut on your dental pliers (or fingers, if you like to live on the edge).
Even though Crocodile Dentist was one of the stranger board games of the 90s, it was one of the best-selling during the 1991 Christmas season, and even won an award in 1992 from the ‘Bizarre Toy Awards.’
13 Dead End Drive was the introductory bluffing game for plenty of 90s kids. The game centers around the death of wealthy family matriarch Aunt Agatha, and players compete to inherit Agatha’s fortune.
The key is to avoid other players’ booby traps around the house, while using your own to kill off your inheritance rivals – all in a bid to claim the wealthy old woman’s estate and win the game.
The success of 13 Dead End Drive inspired Milton Bradley to release a spinoff in 2002 called 1313 Dead End Drive. Both versions are still in production and available today.
Inspired by the 1995 movie, Jumanji is a classic fantasy game made so that you can relive that 90s movie magic in the comfort of your own home. Milton Bradley released this shortly after the cult-favorite film came out, and both the movie and the board game revolve around Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book from 1981.
The actual gameplay is relatively simple, and sadly no wild animals will suddenly charge your living room. Instead, a roll of the dice determines if the jungle will overtake the players before they finish the game. The first player to reach the center before the Doomsday Grid fills up wins, but only after yelling ‘Jumanji!’
An updated version of this throwback game was released in 2017 by Cardinal Games. Just remember, “don’t begin the game unless you intend to finish it.”
While technically released in the early 60s, the 90s reprint made way for this nostalgic game to be added to almost every family collection. The goal is to build a chain reaction-type machine (Rube Goldberg machine) to trap the cartoon mouse in an elaborate cheese trap. The first player to capture everyone else’s mouse is the winner.
Milton Bradley cranked out catchy commercials for Mouse Trap throughout the decade, and while there may not be any new ads for it, Mouse Trap is still being sold in stores 58 years after its original release.
Buy and sell priceless paintings to make a buck! In Modern Art, players are gallery owners and art connoisseurs buying and selling valuable paintings to turn a profit. The works of art are the playing cards, one of which they must offer at auction on every round. Auctions include open bidding, fixed-price sales, secret ‘sealed’ bids and rounds where players have one shot to present their highest offer. After four rounds, the player with the most money wins.
While Modern Art was a hit upon its release in 1992, some critics claimed the game’s own artwork was anything but beautiful, some even dubbing it as “the most unsightly game ever made.” The makers of Modern Art took notice, and later editions of the game included real-life paintings by contemporary artists.
Following the success of the children’s horror fiction novels, Milton Bradley released Goosebumps: Terror in the Graveyard to give 90s kids even more good old-fashioned scares.
The board resembles a creepy graveyard with hedges, moving tombs and a crypt containing a headless ghost. Players must defeat the decapitated ghost to win. The game is controlled by a roll of the dice where players attempt to foil the competition by drawing cards that allow them to turn other players into monsters, steal cards, and move others into dangerous spaces.
Goosebumps: Terror in the Graveyard is understandably no longer in print, but you can look for vintage versions of this 1990s board game on sites like eBay or Etsy for some nostalgic tabletop creepiness.
Another classic Parker Brothers creation, Don’t Wake Daddy had players sneaking around the board in an attempt to grab a midnight snack – and… not wake daddy. Introduced to toy shelves in 1992, it quickly became one of the hottest board games of the Christmas season and although now adopted by Hasbro, is still available.
The rules are simple. Made for up to four players, ‘sleeping daddy’ lies in the middle, and movements around the board are determined by a spinner landing on your pre-chosen color. The board holds ‘noise’ spaces such as rollerblades, baseballs, clown on TV and a cuckoo clock, and if your color lands on one of these, the player who made the ‘noise’ must press the button on the alarm clock next to the snoozing parent a certain number of times. If you’re the unlucky one to push the alarm clock too far, it’ll go off, suddenly jerking daddy awake and sending the offender back to the start. The first player to make it over the finish line and to the refrigerator is declared winner and claims victory – the ultimate midnight snack.
Best played with lots of real snacks.
Rounding out the list of the best 90s board games is the kiddie-version of the game everyone loves to hate. A simplified version of the original, Parker Brothers released Monopoly Junior at the beginning of the decade, pushing a strong marketing campaign.
Monopoly Junior was created for kids between the ages of five to eight years old. Rather than using street names (like the original), the game features child-friendly attractions like a zoo, a video game arcade, and the quintessential 90s pizzeria.
In 2013, Parker Brothers revised the game again to modernise the look and today, Monopoly Junior has capitalized on every trend with themed-releases from Frozen, Peppa Pig, Cars, and even Finding Nemo.
Although they’re not technically board games, the list didn’t feel complete without including these legendary trading card games…
The first trading card game, Magic: The Gathering was released in the early 90s and still has a massive cult following nearly 30 years later. MTG introduced 90s kids to the thrill of opening a sealed pack of cards hoping for the best ones. MTG combines the appeal of collecting cards with intense head-to-head battles. This competitive fantasy-themed game includes a host of magical creatures and spells where players compete to defeat their opponents by building up lands (mana), to play legendary creatures, spells, and other items and abilities.
The brains behind MTG is famed game designer Richard Garfield, who is also responsible for Netrunner, another legendary 90s card game. MTG still has millions of loyal fans who regularly play online or in-person all over the world.
If kids of the 90s shared anything, it was a love of Pokémon. The franchise infiltrated classrooms, took over morning television and were social currency for the generation. The TCG was hatched in 1996 by Media Factory (Japan) and initially released in the US by Wizards of the Coast (1998). These tabletop trading cards were an adaptation of the original Game Boy RPG and became a collectable sensation.
90s kids everywhere collected Pokémon cards in hopes of getting their hands on rare cards and a coveted ‘shiny.’ Some first edition cards from the original sets are now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Did you keep yours in mint condition? Bet you wish you did.Whether you bought them to collect and keep in pristine folders, or were actively living out your Ash Ketchum dreams by dueling friends, nearly every kid in the 90s loved Pokémon cards.
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September 28, 2021
July 28, 2021