Best '90s Nostalgia Board Games (Reviews & Rankings)
It seems the '90s are in vogue right now. From activewear to Friends, to The X Files (no, wait, that's just me), the '90s seem to be cooler than usual. It also seems cooler now than for those of us who grew up in that decade. Then again, that's nostalgia for you.
One trendy thing about the '90s we can all agree on was the humble board game. The 90s was the golden-era of board gaming culture. Game developers were brave enough to experiment and bring out unique games while people were quite receptive to such games. No wonder, most of the currently popular games are based on the mechanics or gameplay of board games of the 90s.
To refresh your memory, we have compiled a list of best board games of the '90s.
So, whether you're looking to relive your childhood nostalgia or are looking to introduce your kids to the classic board of the 1990s, which paved the way for modern games, we have you covered. We even made sure they are games you can still buy today!
So without further ado, let's take a trip down memory lane together.
Our Top Picks for the Best '90s Board Games
- The Settlers of Catan (1995) - Best 'Fun for Everyone' game
- Magic: The Gathering (1993) - Best Collectible Card Game
- 13 Dead End Drive (1993) - Best Family Whodunnit
- Blood Bowl (1994) - Best 'Sports' game
- Pokemon Trading Card Game (1996) - Best 'Who knew this would be so much fun?' game
- Twilight Imperium (1997) - Best Sci-fi Game
- Nightmare (1991) - Best Worst Game of the '90s
- Paths of Glory (1999) - Best Historical Game
- Cranium (1998) - Bargain Pick
- Warhammer Quest (1995) - Best Fantasy '90s Game
1. The Settlers of Catan - Best 'Fun for Everyone' game
- Players: 3-4
- Playing time: 60-120 mins
- Game type: board, competitive, card, dice
- Age: 10+
- Price: under $50
Why we love this game: Now called just plain old 'Catan,' the game of strategy is remarkably popular with newcomers to gaming and die hard gamers. The simple rules belie a depth of play, all the while being good fun for the young, the old, the experienced, and the beginner.
Gameplay: Players are competing to build the largest settlement on the island Catan. The first player to achieve a total of ten victory points dominates the other settlers and wins the game. Victory points are easy to track, with cities, villages, roads, and armies all contributing to your total score.
The board setup is a collection of hex tiles, so no two boards are ever the same, no matter how often you play. The hexes consist of forests, a desert, plains, and mountains, with the sea surrounding all of them.
Players place their starting settlements, starting small and attempt to expand, by collecting various resources like wool, and bricks. Players are provided with ample resources to build settlements and roads. Rolling two dice each turn determines resources collected, and depending on your number, players get to generate resources. This random element prevents planning as the only way to win, as it creates some unpredictability. Roll a seven, however, and the robber is placed on a tile, preventing it from producing resources.
Players may also trade for scarce resources with each other, so there's a social element in trading with one another (to beat your friends, of course).
Here's an in-depth review with playing instructions:
Verdict: Catan is a game for all ages and all experience levels. It is tremendously fun and deceptively easy. Despite its famously bland packaging, this is a game for the ages.
The game has gone through a series of iterations but the gameplay and mechanics are the same as the original '90s game. The 'The Settlers of Catan' is by far the best '90s board game you can get your hands on!
2. Magic: The Gathering (1993) - Best Collectible Card Game
- Players: 2+
- Playing time: 20 mins
- Game type: cards, competitive, collectible card game
- Age: 13+
- Price: under $25 for 2020 core set. Booster pack and expansions additional.
Why we love this game: No '90s games list is complete without Magic: The Gathering. This iconic card game has swept the world and still has legions of fans. The collecting aspect, the artwork, and the addictive nature of customizing your unique deck makes this '90s standout.
Gameplay: Each player represents a wizard summoning magical creatures and spells to defeat each other. Players must reduce their opponent's life points to zero to win.
Each player has a deck of cards that represent their spells. These include thousands of different options, but examples include fireballs and goblins, or zombies, and giants, to mystical shields and walls of thorns. Players cast spells using different 'land' cards, that produce 'mana' - the mightier the spell, the more mana it will cost to cast.
There are five main types of magic cards: black, red, blue, white, and green. Each color represents a discipline of magic, such as green representing nature, growth, and the wild; or black representing death, decay, and necromancy. Players choose how they want to combine these colors to build their unique deck, providing endless tactical options and styles of play.
Verdict: Magic: The Gathering is addictive. The artwork is beautiful, and the cards full of character. If you want to play a card game with infinite replay value and don't mind endlessly collecting cards, play this '90s hit.
3. 13 Dead End Drive (1993) - Best Family Whodunnit
- Players: 2-4
- Playing time: 45 mins
- Game type: board, dice, cards, competitive
- Age: 9+
- Price: under $35
Why we love this game: Does anyone remember Aunt Agatha? She's the recently dead owner of (cue ominous music and thunder sounds) 13 Dead End Drive. All the players are trying to become the primary beneficiary of her will. It's a classic '90s horror-whodunnit game!
Gameplay: 13 Dead End Drive uses a '3D board' (so hi-tech), which is a fancy way to say it uses cardboard vertical gimmicks. Players win being the sole survivor, or they leave the house when their portrait is displayed, or the detective enters while their picture is up (he is moving up the sidewalk throughout the game).
Every turn, a new portrait goes up on the wall. Players roll to move two characters in their turn (they roll double, they get to change the portrait again).
A player can also trigger a trap by moving to the space, like the chandelier or the bookcase. Triggering it at the right time will kill that character (you may evilly laugh while doing this).
Verdict: Some games seem fun only when remembering them, then you play them again, and it's just not the same. With 13 Dead End Drive, this is not the case. It still holds up as a fun, family, social game. We recommend this '90s board game for kids and a lighter gaming night.
4. Blood Bowl (1994) - Best 'Sports' game
- Players: 2
- Playing time: 45-120 mins
- Game type: board, competitive, dice
- Age: 12+
- Price: under $100
Why we love this game: Blood Bowl is a fantasy football game, loosely based on American football. The variety of fantasy teams includes elves, humans, orcs, skeletons, dwarfs, and more. Oh, and it also has a fair amount of on-field fights, which is all fair play in Blood Bowl!
Gameplay: Two teams face each other on a square-gridded football field board. 'Coaches' may preselect their team or build their own, for a variety of options and replay. Elves, for example, are fast but fragile, whereas dwarfs are slower but sturdy.
There are two halves of eight turns where both teams get to play. One side kicks off, and the ball scatters using a special 'scatter' die. Each coach can move all their players, provided they don't pass the ball and fumble, which is represented by a die roll (as are other moves). Wily coaches will, therefore, save their risky moves till last, if possible, to avoid a turnover before they have moved everyone.
Apart from typical actions that you'd see in real-life human sports like passing, kicking, and catching the ball, players may attack their rivals, or cast spells or throw players, or summon large spiked steam rollers (no joke!). Players may be injured and taken off the field or sin-binned for really bad actions (like killing someone).
Each player has a unique role like linesman, catcher, thrower, or Blitzer. There are also world-famous star players who may be recruited for your team, adding some literal punch (and a fanbase).
Ultimately, teams win based on the number of touchdowns scored, like in real-life football.
Blood Bowl can be played as a season, where teams accumulate victories, injuries, experience, and even fans, making this an excellent semi-roleplay type game.
Verdict: Blood Bowl is a great two-player game if you have time on your hands to play. It has fantastic replay options with new teams and customization. No two games will ever be the same, so you'll always want to come back to this, even when the '90s is just a speck of memory in the past.
5. Pokemon Trading Card Game (1996) - Best 'Who knew this would be so much fun?' game
- Players: 2
- Playing time: 20 mins
- Game type: cards, competitive, collectible card game
- Age: 6+
- Price: under $20 starter set. Booster packs and additional cards extra.
Why we love this game: The Pokemon phenomenon infected everyone for a time, at various stages. Does anyone remember Pokemon Go!? Well, this is a collectible card game before people got lost in the soul-vortex of their phones, and it comes from a simpler time when people interacted in real life a lot more. First launched in 1996, Pokemon has grown out to be a cultural phenomenon with a cult following of its own.
Gameplay: Two players assemble a deck of cards, consisting of Pokemon, resources, and trainer cards. Players then duel their Pokemon to victory - the first player to defeat six of their opponent's Pokemon wins.
Players can use a bought, pre-set deck or customize their own, according to their favorite Pokemons. There are almost unlimited choices.
Pokemon cards may attack, but only if you have the right resources to activate their attacks. They also upgrade to their 'evolved' forms, making them more powerful. Card attacks vary in style and types of damage and often call for coin tosses, which add a random and unpredictable game streak.
Here's an in-depth review of the game:
Verdict: Love or hate Pokemon, this card game is strangely addictive, with endless replay value and is sure to ring the bells of your childhood nostalgia. It's fun and easy to play for the young and old alike, without having to be a Pokemon fan (though it helps).
6. Twilight Imperium (1997) - Best Sci-fi Game
- Players: 3-6
- Playing time: 4-8 hours
- Game type: board, dice, competitive, cards
- Age: 14+
- Price: under $120
Why we love this game: Twilight Imperium is arguably THE epic game to end all epic games. Comprehensive rules, galaxy-spanning storyline, a vast array of components, pieces, and tons of cards make this a gamer's delight. Now in its fourth edition, who knew this grand space opera had been around for over 20 years?
Gameplay: The board uses modular hexagonal tiles, which make every setup unique. The center of the board is always Mecatol Rex, the capital of this sector of the galaxy. Occupying this planet gives you bonuses and strategic advantage, but also opens you up to all your opponents' focus of jealousy and ire.
The aim is to conquer the other players by being the first to gain 10 (or 14) Victory Points. How you do this is up to you. You might do it through war, trade, science, diplomacy, or any combination of these or other ways. It is breathtakingly open as to how you might win.
There are seventeen races from which to choose, like the Arborec or the Emirates of Hacan (space lions. SPACE LIONS.), who gain trade bonuses, being a mercantile race. Each race has unique cards, which play to their character and strengths.
When fights inevitably break out because you've betrayed your friends, a simple dice system resolves combat, which is one of the few simple aspects of this vast game.
Verdict: A game as vast as the 23 years that have passed since it first graced gaming tables, we recommend this for the serious gamer, or for those who want the ultimate experience in epic board-gaming. Although not cheap by any means but if budget isn't a constraint, choose this '90s nostalgic board game - it's worth every penny.
7. Nightmare (1991) - Best Worst Game of the '90s
- Players: 2-6
- Playing time: 60 mins
- Game type: interactive VHS tape, board, dice, cards
- Age: 12+
- Price: around $120 (collectible as it's now out of print)
Why we love this game: Ahhhhhh VHS, no '90s list would be genuine without a reference to a VHS tape. A charming and nostalgic game, infamous for its use of a spooky interactive tape that counts you down to damnation. It's not a great game, but it deserves a place for being surprisingly fun despite this.
Gameplay: Players have sixty minutes to escape The Gatekeeper, who talks to you from the tape on the TV. Each player must collect six unique keys (each grant an ability, like 'escape from the Black Hole' space) to flee, and win the game, by approaching the center of the board.
Players write their worst fears on a card and place it in the center on the Nightmare Square, a vortex of nightmares made real.
A dice roll moves players around the board to collect their keys. Once a player has their keys, they may head to.... the Nightmare Square in the center! They draw a nightmare card, and if it's not their worst nightmare, they win. If it is their worst nightmare, they lose.
Verdict: The best worst game, that makes an entry here for its infamy and the memorable VHS interactivity with...The Gatekeeper! Mwahahahahaha. We recommend this only if you're really serious about taking a trip down memory lane.
8. Paths of Glory (1999) - Best Historical Game
- Players: 2
- Playing time: 8 hours
- Game type: card, board
- Age: 14+
- Price: under $70
Why we love this game: At 8 hours long, this might be the game to end all games. Paths of Glory is a game based on the events of World War 1 (1914-1918) in Europe that is incredible in its scope and ambition. It is so comprehensive and immersive that you have to try it to believe it.
Gameplay: The board is a map of Europe and the Middle East during the events of WW1. The two players represent the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and allies) and the Allies (Britain, France, and Russia). Each side gets a deck of cards that represent actions and events that unfold in the years of 1914-1918, and as the years progress, so does the scale of events. For example, 1914 cards are more 'mobilization' type cards, whereas cards from 1916 onwards are more 'total war' type cards. The more cards you play, the closer you approach the 'total war' part of the game, so this game is interesting in that it allows you to play a 'what if?' remake of historical events.
On the board, armies play strategically, meaning your placements matter to prevent your opponent from winning outright, often planning many turns ahead, like chess.
Victory is points-based - if the Central Powers achieve forty points, they win. The Allies are attempting to prevent this from happening, and if they force the Central Powers to zero, they achieve victory.
This is the game in a nutshell: it is impossible to portray the sheer scope and intricacy of this game in a short space.
Verdict: Paths of Glory is a game for those who want to invest the time. Play this if you are two people looking for a historical re-run on an impressive scale. It's not only a great game from the '90s, but a great game representing a pivotal moment of human history.
9. Cranium (1998) - Best Family/Party Game
- Players: 4-16
- Playing time: 60 mins
- Game type: teams, board, cards, dice
- Age: 13+
- Price: under $65
Why we love this game: Cranium is an iconic party game from the '90s, combining classic games of Charades, Pictionary, and a dash of Trivial Pursuit.
Gameplay: Teams must cover the track on the board, then complete a final lap in the center to win.
Land on a brain on the board, you pick a category: Red (Trivial Pursuit type questions), Green (Charades type questions), Blue (clay-sculpting, or picture type questions) or Yellow (Word game questions). Depending on how quickly you answer a brain question, you'll progress on a fast, medium, or slow track to the next brain question. So, the quicker and better you are at answering questions, the faster you progress!
Verdict: This is a classic party game, perfect for family occasions and large social gatherings. Cranium still holds up twenty years on and is one of the classic board games of the '90s era.
10. Warhammer Quest (1995) - Best Fantasy '90s Game
- Players: 2-5
- Playing time: 60-120 mins
- Game type: Dice, modular board, cards, miniatures, co-op vs. one
- Age: 12+
A special note on this game - The original has gone out of print, and there are several new editions. While not identical to the original, they are similar types of games. We are looking at a current version available to purchase, called Warhammer Quest: Shadows over Hammerhal, released 2017.
Why we love this game: Warhammer Quest is a high fantasy style game, where adventurers quest through dungeons and fight monsters to plunder its spoils. They gain experience and grow as you progress through the story, so it has a role-playing element too. It's loads of fun and a fitting addition to round off the board games of the '90s.
Gameplay: As mentioned above, players quest in dungeons under the mystical city Hammerhal. The board sets up according to the quest taking place.
Players choose one of several characters, like the Aelven Loremaster, or the Lord-Castellant. One player plays the dungeon master, who controls the events and monsters fighting the adventurers.
Warhammer Quest is scenario-driven, so you'll progress the story with each dungeon you complete, culminating in the final dungeon adventurer where you'll fight the chief trouble-maker, the Chaos Sorcerer Lord Redomir (a suitably dramatic long evil name).
Players take actions in a turn. They may move, fight, search, or play one of their special abilities, such as the loremaster's spells. Enemies will retaliate according to the dungeon master's wishes.
Between adventures, the players may recover in Hammerhal. It's the place where they can upgrade and improve their abilities or rest for the next adventure.
Verdict: If you want a good old high fantasy dungeon adventure quest with beautiful miniatures, look no further than Warhammer Quest. We looked at Shadows over Hammerhal here, but there's also the compatible 'Quest for the Silver Tower,' and a separate sci-fi version called 'Blackstone Fortress' if that's more your cup of tea.
Let's Wrap Things Up:
There you have it: the world of '90s board gaming brought into the year 2020. We hope these games will take you to the nostalgic trip down the memory lane and reminisce about the 90s.
As we mentioned, all these games are readily available, apart from Nightmare, which is a collectible out of print game. There's a wide variety of games here to revisit or try for the first time - we think you'll be in for a treat.
We sincerely hope you liked our recommendations, and if we missed any, please feel free to comment below.
Till then, Happy adventuring!