While the popularity of board games has plunged in the recent decades, anyone could attest that the 1990s was its golden era, having provided some of the freshest and most innovative concepts that eventually became tried-and-true classics. Indeed, it was one of the most rewarding years on the tabletop, with kids enjoying the game and striking solid fun playing these board games. Here, let’s revive all the best-cherished memories and bring the nostalgic feels as we discover the most popular board games of the ‘90s!
1. Catan (1995)
Released in 1995, Catan is deemed one of all-time’s most influential and best-selling board games. It was a tabletop powerhouse designed by Klaus Teuber, a former dental technician who created the game in his basement, looking to keep his kids busy. The rest was history as the game blew up, with the game selling more than 32 million units worldwide as of 2020.
Catan was a revelation and unlike anything else when it was launched during the nineties. Players test their luck by rolling dice and drawing cards while strategically raking up resources, establishing roads and settlements, wrestling for territory, and trading goods across the beautiful, fictional, eponymous island.
Catan is a fantastic game that is easy to pick up and learn, promises social interaction, and requires great strategy, all whilst being incredibly fun. It is not a surprise that it has evolved to be a classic that ranks with Scrabble and Monopoly in terms of influence, fame, and recognition.
2. Cranium (1998)
An all-in-one trivia board game that blends the best elements from other fun games like Charades, Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, and Rapidough, Cranium became a quick hit in the ‘90s. It won’t test your knowledge as traditional quizzes would. Instead, you’d be guessing anything under the sun from which your teammate is trying to draw, whistle through a song, sculpt on the clay with his or her eyes closed! While it didn’t revolutionize the world of board games per se, having only borrowed concepts from other games, the sheer light-hearted fun it brought to many families and friends is simply undeniable.
3. Twilight Imperium (1997)
A brainchild of Christian T. Petersen, Twilight Imperium is an epic sci-strategy board game that has left an impact comparable to asteroids colliding. While cinema has Star Trek and Star Wars and their massive universes, Twilight Imperium has been their counterpart in the board gaming realm. It features a galaxy filled with hex-tile planets, spaceship fleets, underwater aliens, lion people, and other creatures, where players attempt to waver conflict, engage in trade, establish domination, pursue political victory, and chase diplomacy. All it promises is thematic gameplay, sweeping strategies, and social interaction, requiring hours-long of solid playtime.
4. Tigris & Euphrates (1997)
Out of the many brilliant creations of legendary board game designer Reiner Knizia like the Lost Cities, The Quest for El Dorado, Modern Art, Medici, The Lord of the Rings co-op board game, Samurai, and hundreds of games more, it’s Tigris & Euphrates which is widely considered as the jewel on his crown. Set in the great rivers of Tigris and Euphrates, this outstanding high-conflict strategy game requires players to build a strong yet balanced civilization. It involves taking the right plan of action, truly brain-burning and ruthless but can be played over and over by anyone without ever getting bored.
5. 13 Dead End Drive (1993)
Aunt Agatha, a family matriarch, dies and leaves her vast fortune. The catch is her wealth is divided equally among everyone. Just how it is, nothing wants that, so the only way to get all of the riches is to kill everyone else. So, all players compete, setting traps while avoiding one’s from the others. You can throw them off a ladder, drop a chandelier on their head, or push them off the stairs. The goal is to outwit all your rivals, make it out alive, and reap all Auntie’s wealth. Though the game may seem pretty dark, the fun of playing this game is just hard to pass up.
6. Atmosfear (1995)
Atmosfear was not your ordinary board game. It defied time in the nineties as it was the first dual-media board game upon its release. Apart from the board and pieces, it came with a VHS cassette tape lasting 60 minutes. In it was the ominous and terrifying Gatekeeper that the players must by racing around the board, collecting keys, and visiting Nightmare Square situated in the middle of the board to win.
Sounds easy? Say that with Gatekeeper popping out and scaring you in various parts of the game. Not to mention that you need to finish the game over the course of an hour or before the tape runs out. Otherwise, you’ll lose to the villainous game master.
7. Mall Madness (1988)
Mall Madness was released in 1988, but its popularity emanated throughout the ‘90s. Released by Milton Bradley, it’s a unique shopping-themed board game wherein the player must be the first to collect all the items in his or her shopping list and make it back to the car. Twenty-two stores are featured in this game with fun names, such as the Sunglass Boutique, 2 Left Feet Shoes, The Writer Stuff Card Shop, I.M. Coughin Drug Store, and Aunt Chovie’s Pizza. Back in the nineties, when online platforms didn’t exist yet, malls were the go-to places for shopping and socialization. So, it’s little wonder why it became a massive hit during the decade. Play the game and relive the feeling of visiting a mall and going on a shopping spree!
8. Don’t Wake Daddy (1992)
Playable by up to four participants, Don’t Wake Daddy is an oddly-themed game released to the toy shelves in 1992. Here, you’d all be acting like hungry kids trying to get into the fridge and grab a midnight snack – without waking daddy. He lies in the middle of the board, but noise spaces like the clown on TV, cuckoo clock, and rollerblades are scattered around. Movement across the board is determined through a spinner. If you land on one of the spaces, you need to press the alarm clock’s button several times. Push it too far, and the alarm will go off. Thus, waking up daddy, sending him into a frenzy, scaring your character off, and relegating you back to the start. Whoever reaches the finish line first, wins!
9. Magic: The Gathering (1993)
Banking on strong gameplay and its beguiling multiverse, nothing else could have done better introducing the nineties kids to the world of trading cards other than the Magic: The Gathering. MTG is the first trading card game released in 1993. Since then, it has amassed a massive cult and continues to be among the most influential tabletop games, even three decades later.
Designed by Richard Garfield, the highly competitive game sees players engage in intense head-to-head battles, using legendary creatures, magical spells, and different items and abilities. Apart from its many expansions, novels, and video game adaptations, MTG heralded the birth of many other trading games, such as Pokémon TCG and Yu-Gi-Oh!, proving its massive popularity and influence since the ‘90s.
10. Ask Zandar: A More Complicated Magic 8 Ball (1992)
Ask Zandar may be among the few popular board games kids didn’t actually know how to play. The board game’s goal was to collect the most number of magic jewels. To do so, they needed to correctly predict whether the talking crystal ball would answer the question on collectible cards positively or negatively. Yet, the fortune-seeking children most probably have forgotten the objective, left completely engrossed by the magical accessory and the fun brought by activating it.
11. Mouse Trap (1963)
Sold on toy shelves nearly three decades earlier, a reprint in the ‘90s plus its catchy commercials paved the way for its resurgence. There’s nothing special about it, but setting up the cheese traps and capturing your opponent’s mouse in this three-dimensional board game surely brought unmatched fun to all players who played and are still playing it around.
12. Goosebumps: Terror in the Graveyard (1995)
Each nineties kid has most likely owned at least one Goosebump book. Coming from the success of the fictional novels that introduced children to the horror genre, Milton Bradley released its board game adaptation, Goosebumps: Terror in the Graveyard, to bring more fright to the young ones. Participants play on a board that resembles a graveyard, trying to defeat a decapitated ghost to win. What makes the game more exciting is the three moving crypts that alter the boards’ symbols that may turn players into monsters, swallow them up survivors, or just keep them safe as they watch others succumb to terror.
Many popular board games added color to the ‘90s. The variety is unparalleled, from the lighthearted to solid fun, simple gameplay to intense strategies, fantasy, horror, and quirky themes. Fortunately, many of these are available today and have been updated and reissued. That means the fun never stops as you can always snag these board games, roll the dice, and bring back all the nostalgia of playing as a kid. Happy playing!