In the 1990s, board games were weird, chaotic, and unoriginal

The board game industry has been through a lot. But there has never been a more confusing and perplexing time than the 1990s.

As anyone my age will tell you, the ’90s were objectively the best decade. Anyone who disagrees is clearly bugging and tripping. The 90’s were the bomb and hella tight. Crazy congratulations to my friends who still know that decade was all that and a bag of chips. But what is 4-1-1 in table games then? Were they as dumb as we remember? Not DUH!

Well, okay… maybe not. Board games of the ’90s were a strange breed. The designers really went crazy with some of the games they released. Perhaps it was to better compete with the rapidly growing video game market. Perhaps it was to appeal to the new totally tubular lifestyle of children. Or maybe it was too much Capri Sun making them lose control.

Whatever the reason, board games were a rare combination of innovation and blatant copying. So let’s take a look at some old games and separate the fantastic from the crazy.

grape escape

Grape Escape was a dice-rolling point-to-point movement game in which players used molded clay figures as game pieces. As they moved around the board, they landed on certain spots that could cut, push, crush, or crush your clay figure. If the die rolled ‘Crank’, the active player turned a crank that operates the factory, destroying any unlucky grapes in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Basically the same as Splat, Looney Tunes Smush ‘Em, Mouse Trap

Whoever ran the Silly Putty lobby in the ’90s was doing a great job. There were many games that used plasticine figures. These games had you smashing your opponent’s piece to really drive home the point that they were losing.

Mouse Trap didn’t feature a chance to destroy your opponent’s mouse, but that game was functionally the same: avoid trap spaces and work some mechanical feature to mess up your opponent. Grape Escape’s gameplay was fine for a child. Rolling dice and moving as many spaces are great ways to introduce children to games. But the horror of seeing my figure mutilated was too much for me. It instilled in me a sense of revenge that would follow me to this day. …I’ll catch you someday, Brian.

Classification: Bizarre

don’t wake up daddy

Don’t Wake Daddy is another dot-to-dot dice rolling motion game (get ready to see a lot of them). As players move around the board, they’ll land on certain spaces and (unless they have a certain card) they’ll need to hit the snooze button on Dad’s alarm clock. After a random number of keystrokes, Dad wakes up and the player starts over. Just like Grape Escape, Don’t Wake Daddy is not a good game. But that’s not why you play it. You play it out of 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 surprisingly large group of scary board games. Don’t Wake Daddy and others had this feature of waiting for the game to crash, jump and jump just to make you scream. If you can get your hands on any of these games, try them out with your toughest friends. If nothing else, you will have a lot of fun watching them jump.

Classification: fantastic

Shark attack

Shark Attack is, once again, a point-to-point movement game of rolling dice. The players rolled the die and the color that the die showed was able to advance. The game featured a shark that lunged forward every few seconds. If the shark ate your fish, you were out. The last one not eaten wins.

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

Shark Attack and its similar games featured the same type of gameplay. You would move based on a roll of the dice, then the game would do something random and weird and if the game hit your piece, you were out or sent back to start. They were frustrating to play, but I admit I loved Forbidden Bridge. The thrill of having your scout barely hanging on was exhilarating. But it wasn’t worth the disappointment when they finally fell in the next turn.

Classification: Bizarre


KerPlunk is a game of skill in which players fill a tube with plastic skewers, then drop a bunch of marbles into the top. The spikes hold the marbles in place and each turn the players pull out a spike, collecting the falling marbles. 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, Jenga

The 90s had a lot of physics games. These games were based on the player’s ability to balance something or prevent something from breaking. Ultimately, these games rely too much on the chaotic nature of the universe, and I’m not talking about rolls of the dice. There was too much left for physics. A strong breeze could break the game and any game that might be affected by Mom opening the front door is probably not a very good game.

Classification: Bizarre

mall madness

Mall Madness is a dice roll of sorts, a collection game of sorts that featured an electronic game timer and a referee of sorts. Its mechanics are difficult to pin down. But the main selling points were being able to buy as many clothes and jewelry as you wanted and the electronic device that ran the game.

Whether or not you believe that games like Mall Madness can perpetuate stereotypical social norms is not the point! The point here is that the game was run by the computer. The computer told you how many spaces to move, controlled the game’s timer, and controlled when and where the sales appeared. The computer was the entire functionality of the game.

Basically the same as Dream Phone, Omega Virus

The ’90s were an exciting time for several reasons. One of the most influential was the fact that electronics were becoming very cheap. So this meant that games could have electronic components without really screwing up the cost of the game itself. That’s why Mall Madness and Omega Virus exist. At their core, they are games where you move around the board, collect items, and let 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 fair replayability.

Classification: fantastic


What list of ’90s board games would be complete without Crossfire? The commercial is so iconic by this point that everyone knows the theme song and the burning hell it takes to play it properly. But nobody really remembers how to play. Crossfire requires players to fire their ball-bearing-filled blaster to knock one of 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 is 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 pulling the trigger as fast as you can and hoping for the best. True, Crossfire adds a little more to the game with the need to get the object into the goal. But still, other than having to move slightly left or right at times, they are the same game. Sorry Crossfire, you’re not a good game. Button mashing is not a good tactic.

Classification: Bizarre

final thoughts

So, rereading this article now, most of these games were crazy. Some were pretty big, but if I’m being real, they were still pretty crazy. The ’90s had a lot of really good games, but these weren’t them. But what kind of review article would this be if it rated all games as bad? Either way, these old games aren’t generally terrible and if you can dig up a copy, I’m sure you’ll get a nice sense of nostalgia. And if that’s enough for you to enjoy playing a game, then who am I to say they’re crazy?

Also, I am aware that I joked around with images of ‘Do The Urkel’ and ‘Vanilla Ice Electronic Rap Game’ without discussing them. I know. No problem.

Thank you for reading!

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


Matt has loved games of all kinds his whole life: board, video, war, RPGs. He has worked as a writer for BoLS since 2017. He has worked as a freelance editor for board game rulebooks and has also designed many of his own games.

  • Leave a Comment