Growing up in the 90s may not have been the best time for new board games, but board games were still a staple of childhood for many of us 90s kids.
We just stuck to playing the classics – and that’s reflected by the games that remained most popular each year.
That said, I’m sure many of us at least dipped our toes into the sea of flashy component-heavy rules-light games that defined the US market in the early 90s. Remember Splat? Don’t Wake Daddy?
You probably at least remember the TV ads for them if nothing else.
It’s not surprising that a lot of those games didn’t really stand the test of time (how are you supposed to keep track of all those components? Where do you store it all when you aren’t playing?), but a few new classics managed to emerge from the chaos.
A new golden age of board games was just on the horizon!
Let’s take a look back at some of the best board games we used to play back in the 90s – from old classics we still enjoyed, to new classics waiting to be discovered, and everything in between.
Best 90s Board Games
Hungry, Hungry Hippos
I can’t be alone in feeling a rush of nostalgia whenever I see these snappy boys. This board game may not be from the 90s, but it’s one of the games I remember playing most often as a young lad.
This game is based on the absolutely correct premise that kids love to mash a button repeatedly, especially when mashing said button makes something else snap up and down loudly. As a bonus, the luck-based nature of the game meant that everybody had a chance to win.
Well, provided one kid wasn’t trying to tilt the board to make the marbles drop into their hippo’s mouth. There’s always one.
Another oldie-but-goodie that remained popular through the 90s and beyond, Trivial Pursuit is only barely a board game but still makes this list due to how easy it always was to strike up a game with a few friends on a free evening.
It’s great for family game night, and when you get older it becomes a great option for a game to play over drinks (hone your drunken knowledge-recalling skills for your local bar trivia!).
You don’t even need to break out the board, really; you could just draw cards and ask each other questions. Maybe I’m just lazy, but that’s how I remember this game being played most of the time.
With special editions for all kinds of topics being made all the time, don’t expect this game to go anywhere anytime soon.
Learn about other trivia board games you can play on game night.
Don’t Wake Daddy
Introduced by Parker Brothers in 1992, this may be one of the best examples of the kinds of board games that were coming out in the early 90s.
The game put you in the shoes of some dastardly children trying to score some extra food from the fridge while not waking their napping pop, who was sleeping in the middle of the board.
The action of the game involved trying to sneak around the board, possibly making noises with each move, and getting sent back to the start every time you accidentally “woke up daddy”, causing him to jerk upright in his bed.
Simple rules and flashy moving parts worked into the game design: this game was peak 90s.
Some things never change; Risk was a staple already going into the 90s, and it remains a staple up to today. This strategic world domination game is a great way to learn which kids are a little too quick to break alliances and be ruthless conquerors to win (I was one of those kids, I’ll admit it).
You always had to make sure you had either a lot of time to play or somewhere you could leave the board set up, though – those big games could turn into a real marathon of backstabbing and shifting alliances!
Learn about some more fun games like Risk.
Don’t Break the Ice
Maybe it was the title (“It’s an ice-breaker! Get it?”), maybe it was the relatively simple rules and interactive game board, but for some reason this game was ubiquitous in daycares and summer camps in the 90s.
The game itself was largely a test of manual skill mixed with common sense. It involved knocking ice blocks out from the board one at a time, trying not to cause the whole structure to collapse as you do. Easier said than done! If you fail, you get to watch this poor little fellow standing in the middle tumble to his doom.
Created in 1996, this board game is somewhat similar to Trivial Pursuit in that it involves answering questions as you move around a board. The difference here was that the questions test your knowledge of the other people at the table, not trivia knowledge.
The creator of the board game took a big risk on this one; he quit his job and lived out of his car as he toured the country trying to sell his new game. Luckily for him, Toys’R’Us picked up a few hundred copies for the Christmas season that year. They sold well enough that they bought more copies the next year, and over 1 million have been sold in the years since.
Apples to Apples
I know, I know. This one isn’t really a board game. However, I challenge you to tell me this game didn’t come out at every party you went to around the turn of the millennium. I’ll wait.
Apples to Apples dropped right at the close of the 90s, 1999 to be exact, but it was an almost immediate classic. It might not hold a candle to Cards Against Humanity nowadays, but it still has its place as a family friendly alternative to break out at get-togethers.
Here’s another classic party game gifted to us by the end of the 90s. Cranium was designed to be a “game for your whole brain”, with various mini-games that tested different skills. The game involves stretching your creative muscles with drawing or acting challenges, testing your knowledge with trivia questions, working through word puzzles, and more.
One could say they tried to stuff a few too many different games into one box, and that’s a fair criticism. But isn’t that what the 90s were all about?
Settlers of Catan
Believe or not, this modern board game staple was actually created back in the 90s – 1995 to be exact.
Originally published in the promised land of board gaming, Germany, it was the beginning of a wave of popularity for Euro-games. Much of the modern board-gaming craze here in the United States can be traced to Catan’s popularity, and it remains one of the biggest names in the market now with a large library of expansions.
For the unfamiliar, Settlers of Catan is a competitive colonization game in which you vie with other players for superiority over an island territory.
You build roads and settlements, gather and trade resources, and try to avoid getting set upon by the robber (or set the robber on others, of course).
When we look at the fantastic state board gaming is in now, with literally hundreds of quality games on the market and more and more people trying out the hobby for the first time, we should be very grateful that games like Catan paved the way for the golden age we’re enjoying.