Over the past couple of decades, board games have been stumbling into a recession, likely due to more children ditching traditional toys and board games in favor of gadgets and electronics. Yet in the 90s, kids couldn't make their way through a Saturday morning cartoon marathon without viewing an onslaught of board game commercials. There's a good chance even as adults, 90s kids can still remember those commercial jingles today.
Tabletop games have been making a comeback of sorts in recent years, however, particularly amongst millennials. This is largely due to the popularity of such games like Settlers Of Catan or Exploding Kittens making their ways to store shelves. Many millennials are also game for having an inexpensive yet social night in. Then, of course, there's the prominent nostalgia of playing actual board games as a kid and reliving one's youth for a snapshot of time.
Similar to the gaming scene, many would point to the 1990s as a sort of golden era of board games. Before the industry's decline, the decade was home to tried-and-true classics that harkened back to the past, as well as fresh, innovative concepts that had elements like three-dimensional sets as well as other amusing props and gimmicks. These sets could often be so elaborate that sometimes the assembly of a game would take longer than an actual playthrough.
This list will take a trip down memory lane and highlight some forgotten board game gems that are sure to invoke warm and fuzzy nostalgia. A disclaimer: some of these might have been released earlier than the 90s, but they were all loved by kids throughout the decade.
Updated June 21th, 2021 by Stephen LaGioia: Whether it manifests in the realms of gaming, TV, film, or just general culture, retro callbacks and nostalgia — particularly of the 90s — seem to be more prominent than ever. Board games remain an especially interesting relic of this decade, as the unique, appealing, and often zany attributes in many of these games so perfectly represent the culture of this era.
And since most of these games are untethered to technology, they tend to age well, coaxing many to dig in their closets and dust off the old board games for some family fun and social gatherings. Between this timeless nature, and the 90s revival showing no signs of slowing down, it seemed fitting to further deck out and refresh this list.
23 Tornado Rex: Dino-Nado!
This action-tinged 3D board game pits players in a competitive scramble to reach the top of a mountain. During this hike, they'll have to contend with the looming threat of a spinning creature that spins and whizzes its way down the slope.
Players will largely be relying on the luck of the draw throughout this perilous journey, as they'll be tasked with drawing random cards that determine the moves — and whether the ominous Tornado Rex will be summoned. There's not a ton of complexity to this child-oriented romp, but that's really part of its charm. It's largely carried by the fun visual spectacle of the whirring dino-nado that often careens down the winding mountain.
This amusing throwback carries the vibe of those campy disaster films which were so prominent in the 90s.
22 Fraidy Cats: A Frenzy Of Fearful Felines
Board games are often made fun and exciting by the slew of random elements, as this family-friendly game colorfully illustrates. Fraidy Cats has players assume the role of nimble felines, who must hop across fenceposts and reach the finish by completing a full rotation.
The kicker here is that during this time, a ravenous dog within the square will randomly scurry about and threaten to launch the cats off their post by clashing with them. Aside from a few safe spots represented by garbage can enclosures, the cats remain vulnerable and at the mercy of the erratically moving dog.
21 Gooey Louie: Messy, Juvenille Fun
Many board games tend to be forgotten on account of their age or obscure nature. But this is one that many have likely blocked out for being particularly grotesque and goofy.
As the game's foul imagery might reveal, Gooey Louie is centered around a figure laced with cringy strings of mucus dangling from his nose. Players will take turns yanking these strings until a seemingly deadly strand will trigger Louie's brain to pop out of his head in cartoony fashion.
Clearly, Gooey Louie embraces full-blown childlike silliness and simplicity with this one, with its zany themes and random chance gameplay. One shouldn't expect any sort of depth or longevity here, though with a game involving pulling snot — that should go without saying.
20 Don't Wake Daddy: A Simulator For Sneaking Midnight Snacks
Most can relate to sneaking out of bed and tiptoeing to the kitchen to grab a midnight snack without waking the parentals. Don't Wake Daddy is pretty much the board game simulator of such events, as you must make your way to the fridge without waking your father.
If you land on a spot with a number, you must press the alarm clock button that number of times, potentially waking your father up and having him send you back to your room at the beginning. Unfortunately, winning the game doesn't result in actually getting any snacks, so it's almost better to just play this in real life once the parents were asleep. My question about the game: what's the backstory as to where these children's mother is?
19 Pizza Party: It's Not A Party Without An Actual Pie
Pizza Party was one of those games that many probably played despite being pretty forgettable. It was originally released in the late 80s, but was fairly popular among 90s kids. It was a pretty rudimentary memory game for the younger generation of board game users, banking on the fact that kids love pizza. Yet, it tends to lack depth from a gameplay standpoint — not to mention the savory flavor of an actual pie.
Up to four people play this memory game, where the players must flip over ingredient discs as they try to fill up all the topping slots with pizza fixings.
The biggest flaw with the game? The pepperoni pizza tended to receive much favoritism, especially compared to unpopular toppings among kids — like mushrooms. At the end of the day, this game didn't tend to achieve much other than make kids crave the real thing.
18 Splat!: This Game Got All Dried Up
Splat! is another board game from the 90s that had kids craving junk food — though the disgusting concept of squashed bugs usually managed to temper this. Splat! is your typical race to the end board game as you play as a variety of flies trying to steal some human snacks.
There wasn't much to it, but it had one gimmick that set it apart from the rest: rather than playing as a traditional plastic figure, the bugs were made out of colored Play-doh. Make the wrong move? Commence the crushing by a hand mechanism that would squash your bug and mold the word "Splat!" on the board, forcing you to start over.
Eventually, though, the dough would get dried up, so it didn't really have longevity unless you could convince your folks to get restock the game with replacement dough.
17 Titanic The Board Game: Tended To Be Overshadowed By The Film
Titanic: The Board Game came out not long after the release of the 1997 film Titanic, but it really had no relation to the film whatsoever other than capitalizing on a tragic historic event. Since Paramount Pictures didn't technically have rights to the sunken ship, with overty close release date was fair game. In this unrealistic take of the 1912 event, you must race your way to the lifeboat as the ship is sinking.
Naturally, before making your way to the lifeboats, you must collect an assortment of items such as a passport, a life vest, and your room key, just in case you need to get back to your room in the middle of a sinking ship for any reason. Failing to make it to the lifeboat in time spells a watery doom for the player.
16 Mall Madness: At Least You Can't Go Over Your Credit Limit
Shopping malls are far removed from their glory days due to the rise of online retailers. Back in the 90s, though, the mall was the go-to for shopping and socializing for teens. This is one of those games that made it past the nineties and has seen a few different iterations.
The goal of Mall Madness is to essentially traverse a huge mall in order to collect all the items on your shopping list and make your way back to the car. A fun little gimmick included a fake plastic credit card for players to use at the bank to withdraw cash. It might have seemed unnecessary, but it did add to the game's theme and give it some character. One could argue that this was a degree more fun than dealing with the crowds and effort of a real mall run; it's certainly easier to manage.
15 Domino Rally: Hours To Set Up, Seconds To Play
Domino Rally isn't technically a board game in the traditional sense, but most would reasonably consider it close enough. After all, it does come packaged in a cardboard box, contains pieces to assemble, and resides in the board game aisle.
Domino Rally wasn't so much a game as it was a spectacle to watch as you lined up a maze-like line of dominoes into a specific pattern. Players would soon commence pushing one over to create a chain reaction, knocking each consecutive domino down and triggering a variety of fun mechanisms like launching a toy rocket or pushing a minecart.
The problem with this game? It could take hours to actually set up — and even though it was quite fun to watch all the dominoes in action, most wouldn't consider the time investment worth the several seconds of glory. One can get much of the same effect these days simply watching a YouTube video of collapsing dominoes.
14 Crocodile Dentist: The Only Croc You Feared As A Kid
Of course, a board game mostly catered to young kids shouldn't be the cause of too much stress. But much like a real trip to the dentist, Crocodile Dentist likely invoked much anxiety to children playing it. The concept of the game was to take turns pulling teeth from a crocodile's mouth.. Pull the wrong tooth, and his mouth would snap shut on your prying pliers. The sudden, unexpected snap of the plastic jaw would be enough to provoke a near leap out of one's chair.
On top of this, Milton Bradley had a line of tinier, portable versions of their games, and Crocodile Dentist stands as one of them. Instead of pulling the teeth out in the travel size version, you would push the teeth in.. with your finger. Push the wrong tooth in and the jaw would clamp down on your exposed hand, which actually had to potential to inflict a bit of pain.
13 Dream Phone: When You Have More Luck Dating In A Board Game
This one absolutely radiates 90s culture. Maybe it's because of the fashion that the potential love interests wear, or perhaps it's because of the ridiculously oversized pink phone. Dream Phone was all about calling up an assortment of guys from the geeky to suave trying to find clues as to which guy had a crush on you.
They'd grant clues as to what kind of food he likes to where he likes to hang out, as each player would cross off names on the checklist in a process of elimination to figure out who the dream guy was. Every so often the phone would ring and a girl tip you off with — "I just heard, it's not so-and-so" or a gloater would chime in with — "I know who it is, but I'm not telling. Ha! Ha!"
But no matter who the dream guy was, one thing was certain: it was never going to be Steve.
12 13 Dead End Drive: How We All Learned To Bluff
13 Dead End Drive was a kid-friendly version of Clue with more cartoonish characters and an assortment of traps to spring on other players.
Each player anonymously controls certain characters on the board as they try to bluff their way to winning, never revealing which character they were playing as. The goal was to spring traps on opponents while surviving the longest.
If your character's image ends up on the portrait wheel, you were most likely to receive the coveted will, but that also made you the biggest target for the other players. Looking back, trying to off your friends in order to get an old woman's fortune was a rather savage concept for a kid's game back in the day.
11 Taboo: This Buzzer Came With A Game!
Taboo has proven itself something of a staple which has stood the test of time. Premiering in 1989, the game is still is a blast to play today with its intense gameplay. This is partly due to the iconic buzzer that comes packed in with the game which is ironically pretty unnecessary.
Once players get bored spending several minutes spamming the buzzer, the game becomes one of charades and crafty clues to get your teammate to say the answer on a held card. This must be achieved while evading a handful of "forbidden" words shown on the same card. It's tougher than it seems to successfully avoid these hints — as they're usually the most common, accurate descriptions.
Use a no-no hint, and the opposing team gets to hit that satisfying buzzer, which they usually end up doing several times to rub in your defeat.
10 Ask Zandar: A More Complicated Magic 8 Ball
Ask Zandar is one of those games that most children probably didn't really know how to play. Most were probably more focused on the toy crystal ball that came packaged in with the game. It acted as a talking Magic 8 ball, granting positive or negative answers to fortune-seeking players. And as a fun bonus, it actually spoke!
The premise of this fantasy-themed game was to fill up your side of the board with magic jewels. These could be obtained by guessing how Zandar would answer a specific question based on collectible question cards.
Truthfully, though, it's unlikely that most people bothered to play this game the way it was meant to be played. To most, it was more about the crystal ball accessory that came with it, and the novelty of waving your hand over it in order to activate it.
9 Dizzy Dizzy Dinosaur: Showing Kids The Dangers Of Excess
Dizzy Dizzy Dinosaur is a fairly rudimentary role of the dice-style game where each player must move their cavemen toward the end of the board. What makes this one so special is its rather entertaining gimmick. Roll the dice on the dizzy reptile in question, and the player would have to wind up the toy dinosaur and place him back on the board.
The disoriented dino would then spin around the board as if he had a few too many drinks, knocking over any and all cavemen standing in his way. Whichever caveman ended up being a victim of Dizzy's inebriated rampage would have to return to the start of the board.
This zany game proves a fun romp for dinosaur aficionados, and there were plenty to be had in this decade.
8 Fireball Island: Its Fire Continues To Rage On
Fireball Island may have made its debut in the mid-80s, but its popularity held steady well into the following decade. If you didn't own this Indiana Jones-esque romp, there was a good chance someone you knew did.
Players would traverse the island trying to steal the jewels of the island's idol Vul-Kar. However, certain areas steer them into dangerous fireballs paths — basically a small red marble — that could roll down and knock them over, forcing a restart from the beginning.
This game is actually set to make a return, as the company Restoration Games has released an updated version of the tabletop classic.
7 Don't Break The Ice: A Suitable Ice Breaker
This is one of the older games on this list, as it actuallydates back all the way to the 60s. It has passed the test of time, however, as the game is still being produced today. It's pretty ironically titled, as there's no shortage of ice-breaking during player moves.
Two or more players can partake in this treacherous romp, though two would probably be the recommended number. Platforms are comprised of ice cubes wedged in plastic that a lone traveler stands on, positioned in the center. The players take turns hammering out individual cubes, hoping that the rest of the cubes don't collapse under pressure. Hit the wrong block and send the guy collapsing into an icy bath.
6 Stretch Out Sam: The Game Of Balance And Dirty Dishes
This game would likely be relevant to anyone who has ever worked a day in the food industry. The game is entirely about doing one of the more difficult tasks in a restaurant: balancing a tray full of dishes. Stretch Out Sam was a fairly good take on the stresses of tray balancing, though it is a bit concerning as to what restaurant has their servers dressed in tuxedos — while serves lobster next to pancakes.
Players would take turns whirling the spinner and it would reveal what dishes you had to place on Sam's tray. It also produced a number which was the number of times you had to press the button on Sam's back. Pushing it would have Sam's arm extend further and further over his head, making the tray harder to balance as more dishes accumulated on top. The disastrous tumbling of the dishes means it's game over.
5 Mr. Bucket: Buckets Of Fun
Mr. Bucket was and is perhaps one of the most intense games out there, particularly for young kids. Despite residing in the board game section of most stores, this one tends to be more akin to a fun cardio workout than a straight-up board game. The titular character Mr. Bucket would roam around the floor — most preferably a hard floor — and amusingly spit out an assortment of plastic balls from his mouth.
Players are tasked with scooping up their color balls with their shovel and return them to Mr. Bucket as he frustratingly spits them back out. The first one to get each ball back into the bucket wins. While setting the stage for an entertaining frenzy, this one also tended to invoke injury by way of collisions of scrambling kids.
4 Girl Talk: I'll Take A Zit Sticker!
Girl Talk was largely a glorified version of Truth or Dare, while lacking the creativity of having to come up with your own unique dares or questions to ask. It didn't seem to know which age range it was marketed toward either. It suggested eight and up, while simultaneously promoting dares like wearing one's bra on the outside of their clothing for a round, or calling up a crush to say they're into them.
The player could opt out of doing the dare or telling a truth, however, but would have to put one of the red zit stickers on their face. It may have been an amusing visual gimmick, though one could argue it encouraged shaming one another based on appearance well before middle school.
Answering the questions or doing the dares would yield a fortune that would tell of a horoscope of your future. These would often be pretty obscure or "out there," with examples like — "you'll give birth to quintuplets." Get all four fortune cards from each category, and this akward game is won.
NetEase called it a bug, but others called it a feature.