November 19, 2023
October 19, 2023
Reboots and remakes of 90s stuff are common – but did you know the 90s were already rebooting stuff from ancient history? Released in 1996, GoGo’s Crazy Bones put a modern twist on a game originating in ancient Greece and became insanely popular, with the craze lasting well into the early 2000s. Get ready to throw down as we dig deep into this insanely characterful 90s toy sensation.
The original game manual explains that Crazy Bones was actually inspired by a game played in ancient Greece called Astragal (translating to knucklebones). In Astragal, children played with carved sheep knucklebones that, because of their unique shapes, would bounce around in interesting or “crazy” ways.
In the 1990s, Spanish toy company Magic Box Int decided to create a sanitised modern version of the game with plastic figurines (since selling small animal bones to kids probably wouldn’t go over too well). The original series from Spain were called GoGos. Each figure resembled the size and shape of real knucklebones, except they were designed as expressive, wacky characters that kids were encouraged to collect.
Over 350 million packs were sold in the first year alone. In a genius move, brothers Peter and David Gantner secured the US distribution rights and formed the company Toy Craze, manufacturing the iconic graffiti-art style Crazy Bones most 90s kids are familiar with.
Like Pokémon Cards and other collectibles from the 90s, Crazy Bones were sold in blind packs that came with four figures, four stickers, and a game card. Each series had exclusive characters that became rare collectibles, and as you can imagine, kids coveted these pieces like gold.
The actual gameplay of Crazy Bones stayed true to its ancient origins, where kids would fling their pieces (either called a Crazy Bone or GoGo) to score points in different kinds of games. The manual described different versions of the game that could be played, and 90s kids would use their personal army of Crazy Bones to battle for schoolyard supremacy.
Similar to Pogs – besides bragging rights, kids would also “play for keeps”, meaning the winner could take one or more of the loser’s pieces. Few playground contests were as intense as a match of Crazy Bones when two kids put their rare pieces on the line!
The original Crazy Bones manual describes many different games. Each game is designed for more than one player and generally requires each participant own between five to six Crazy Bones. Here’s a brief description of how to play the most popular Crazy Bones games:
Scoring: Considered the standard game type, Scoring is the closest to the original game of knucklebones that inspired Crazy Bones. Each player throws five Crazy Bones on the ground (like a dice roll) and collects points based on how each figure lands. For example, a figure that lands standing up is worth five points while landing on its side is worth two points. The player with the highest score after three throws wins the game.
Battle: Two players line up six or more figures in opposing battle lines. Players agree on a predetermined number of ‘throws’ where they can flick one of their figures to knock down one or more of their opponent’s. The player with the most figures left standing wins.
Airbone: Each player lines up five or more Crazy Bones about six inches apart. On a player’s turn, they throw one of their figures up in the air and try to pick up one of their other figures from the ground while (with the same hand) also catching the one that’s been flung into the air (similar to jacks). If successful, the player throws up the two they have and tries to collect a third, and this repeats until one player holds all their Crazy Bones, winning the game.
K.O (Knockout): As the name suggests, this game is about knocking your opponent’s figures out of a ring (either square or circle). Each player places the same number of Crazy Bones in the ring and, from two metres away, makes throws trying to knock out their opponent’s figures. If a bone is knocked but remains in the ring, it is returned to its original position. Whoever knocks out more of their opponent’s Crazy Bones wins.
Basket: Draw a line on the ground and place any type of container (like a shoebox) a short distance away. Each player stands behind the line and attempts to fling their figures into the container. Whoever gets the most figures into the container wins.
In Flight: Similar to Airbone, this game requires players to place four figures in a small square, with a fifth in the middle. Each player takes turns throwing the fifth figure into the air, trying to collect it and the remaining four in one hand. You get a point for each figure you collect, but only if you also catch the one thrown into the air. The player who scores the most points wins.
These are just a few of the game modes Toy Craze created rules for, but kids were encouraged to come up with their own games and house rules. Everything goes, as long as all the players agree before they throw down.
Apart from being cheap, collectible, and easy to pick up and play with, Crazy Bones were successful because of the clever way they were marketed to kids. When Toy Craze began distribution in the US, they gave out free sample packs wherever kids gathered, like fairs, scout meetings, and club groups. Apart from giving out free samples, there would also be demos teaching kids how to play.
This meant each kid went home with the beginnings of a Crazy Bones collection and the knowledge of how to teach other kids to play. This grassroots approach helped the game spread like an underground cult through schools, where word of mouth from kids did all the marketing. Not only did this help skyrocket sales (earning $3.5 million in the first year), Toy Craze saved a significant amount of cash they’d otherwise have to spend on traditional TV and print ads.
As with every successful toy brand from the 90s, Crazy Bones eventually expanded to include other kinds of merchandise, including special coffin-shaped carry cases and a sticker album. Of course, there were also subsequent series of figures released over the years. One called ‘Sports’ had a soccer theme. Another series simply called ‘Things’ had figures depicting anthropomorphized versions of household items like TVs, telephones and lightbulbs (very 90s).
The variety of Crazy Bones is…well, crazy! There were so many different unique versions that only the most dedicated could hope to create a serious collection. And since they’re so small, they’re much easier to lose track of than other 90s collectibles.
Still, there are a few types of Crazy Bones now worth more than their original value. Some of the rarest include:
Precious Metals: Many different sets had figures coated in shiny silver or gold paint and were the rarest you could collect from standard packs. These figurines are still coveted by collectors today.
Tie-dye: Tie-dye figures are when two colours appear mixed together, and since they aren’t documented in any official guide from Toy Craze, it’s speculated they are simply due to a manufacturing error. However, if you’ve read our guides to the rarest Pokémon cards or most valuable Beanie Babies, you’ll know that errors only make something more collectible!
Whistlers: Like tie-dye figures, Whistlers were the result of a manufacturing fault where there was a hole through the plastic. However, Toy Craze actually acknowledged and embraced this in their promotional material, letting kids know they could whistle their favourite tunes with them (nice save!)
1999 Cap’n Crunch Power Bombers: Exclusive to a short-lived promotion with Cap’n Crunch, these figures are all but impossible to find today.
1998 Hubba Bubba Promotion: Like Cap’n Crunch, this promotion was also short-lived, but the figures are even rarer since only around 500 were ever made.
Sadly, the original Crazy Bones we loved as kids were discontinued in 2003. However, the original creators (Magic Box Int.) rebooted the toy in 2007 with a new roster of more humanoid characters. This series was released worldwide, and like the original, different counties had unique characters you couldn’t get elsewhere (like the Most Wanted set in North America), which made them notoriously hard for collectors to gather.
They even tried to expand the universe with an animated show, and you can watch the pilot on YouTube. It’s pretty generic, so no surprise it didn’t get greenlit, but it’s still interesting to see.
Of the original run of Crazy Bones in the mid-to-late 90s, there are over 340 unique figures to collect. However, this number doesn’t include the special crossover promotions (such as McDonald’s Happy Meal and Dragon Ball Z). Many of the later releases are unique alterations of original characters (like being glow-in-the-dark).
Individual figures aren’t usually sold for high prices. Instead, the highest-priced listings on eBay today are for sealed packs or someone trying to sell their entire collection at once. For example, as of writing, there is a listing for 36 sealed packs of the ‘Mutants’ series for $620!
The point of Crazy Bones, at least officially, was to collect and play games with them, with the games designed to be simple enough that they could be set up in any schoolyard. Kids could build their collection by buying blind packs or by playing for keeps against other kids. However, not all kids wanted to risk their figures and were happy to just collect the fun characters.
Lee is curator of nostalgia and a long-time collector of loveable junk. An 80s baby, 90s kid, he knows he had it good when it came to Saturday morning cartoons. Spends his life trying to recapture the dopamine hit of playing Game Boy for the first time and believes Beanie Babies will make a fortuitous comeback. Obsessed with everything (and anything) retro, he is your trusted guide to a world of 90s toys, games and collectables.
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November 19, 2023
October 19, 2023