The 1990s were a decade of cultural highs. This is what people said. In music, they gave us Nirvana, the Wu-Tang Clan, and the Spice Girls, to name a few. We saw Babe, Starship Troopers, and The Nightmare Before Christmas on movie screens. Fresh Prince, Twin Peaks, and the golden age of The Simpsons were all on TV.
It was also a good time on the tabletop. In the last 30 years, a lot of the best board games from the ’90s have become modern classics. These include tabletop games that have been influential for a long time, like Monopoly. Some are now having a comeback thanks to new Jumanji movies and new Pokémon apps and games that keep coming out.
During the nineties, trading card games like MTG came out in 1993, and Eurogames, board games that don’t have a lot of luck and instead focus on strategy, started becoming more popular. Catan won Germany’s prestigious Game of the Year award, the Spiel des Jahres, in 1995.
There were a lot of tabletop games that were released before the millennium, but many of them have since faded away into analogue gaming history. The best ’90s board games have had many new editions, spin-offs, and even inspired some of the best board games of the last few years. If you want to go back in time and play some of your favourite games from your childhood, or if you want to try out some classics for the first time, these are the best board games from the 1990s.
The Settlers of Catan
Before it was known as Catan, The Settlers of Catan was a big deal for board games. Klaus Teuber’s game of collecting resources, trading goods, and building settlements and roads across a fictional island marked the start of so-called “Eurogames” becoming more popular in the mainstream. This is still true in the current golden age of board games.
For its mix of luck (dice rolls and card draws), social interaction (players trade goods and fight for territory), and variety (the island’s modular hexagons are changed each game), Catan was unique when it came out in the mid-nineties. In the years since, it has become a true classic. It is the closest modern game to games like Monopoly, Scrabble, and Cluedo, which have been around for a long time, in terms of popularity, influence, and recognition.
After selling over 30 million copies of the original, there have been many expansions, spin-offs, and digital versions of the game. There’s also going to be a movie version of the game, which celebrities like Kristen Bell and Carly Rae Jepsen have said they love on social media.
Whether you know it as Settlers or Catan, it’s still one of the best board games from the 1990s. It’s also one of the best games of all time.
Magic: The Gathering
Today, it’s hard to think of a world without trading card games because so many people play them. Whether you’re tearing open physical booster packs or clicking on loot boxes in digital card games or other video games, the thrill of discovering what lies inside a sealed pack hasn’t faded in the almost 30 years since MTG first hit the tabletop.
Playing Magic: The Gathering was the idea of Richard Garfield, who will show up again later in this list. The game took traditional trading cards and made them more collectible by adding in a tight, intense battle between two players’ duelling mages.
The simple rules that make up MTG – draw a card into your hand each turn, then spend mana to play creatures and spells to get your opponent down to zero life first – allow its cards to have a wide range of abilities and keywords. Millions of people have been playing Magic: The Gathering for nearly three decades, and they’ve been playing with new cards in unique decks, as well as playing the game in different ways.
This is one of the best games of the 1990s because of its strong gameplay and interesting multiverse. It is also one of the most important tabletop games in history. Look no further than the many trading card games that came after Magic: The Gathering. These games, as well as their spin-offs like the Pokémon TCG and Yu-Gi-Oh!, show how MTG has had an impact on games both on and off the tabletop. There are also a lot of different versions of the game, like video games and board games. There is also a successful tournament scene, as well as video game and board game adaptations, novels, an upcoming Netflix show, and supplements for the new version of the game, 5E! When it comes to big tabletop games, there aren’t many that are bigger than this one.
The best trivia games do more than just check your ability to remember facts. A board game called Cranium isn’t the most original one ever made, but it combines elements from a lot of other games that have worked well to make something that’s more than just a quiz.
Also, Cranium has Pictionary drawing and Rapidough clay-sculpting, as well as word games like Scrabble and a little bit of charades, so you can play with your friends. On your turn, you could guess what song your teammate is whistling, what object they’re sculpting out of clay with their eyes closed, or figure out a word that’s been mixed up.
All of this is put together in a colourful cartoon that is more fun than your typical family movie. With the help of other popular games, Cranium is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a great game for families and people who want to play something a little lighter than Monopoly or Monopoly 2. Just be aware that if you buy an original copy, you might need to find some dough that is a little more fresh.
Space is very big. A lot of space. Any game set in space worth its salt should be big, too. Twilight Imperium is a huge sci-fi strategy game that came out in 1997 when a meteor hit the ground.
Twilight Imperium was made by Christian T. Petersen, who released it through his then-new publisher, Fantasy Flight Games – yes, that Fantasy Flight Games. It was board games’ answer to the huge universes of Star Wars and Star Trek. Twilight Imperium was a huge game of conflict, trade, and diplomacy that could last for hours at a time. It was set in an original galaxy that was home to lion people, underwater aliens, and other creatures. Each had their own strengths and weaknesses.
Every hour is worth it, though, because players interact with the huge solar system made up of hex-tile planets in many ways. Fleets of spaceships can be used in a military war, to gain control of valuable resources, or to win a political victory by making laws during a voting phase. Each faction has a different set of skills that make each game a fun place for players to interact with each other.
Twilight Imperium was one of the best board games of the 1990s. It has since had many new editions that come in big boxes, and its fourth game is one of the best recently released board games. There have also been a lot of spin-offs based on its rich history, like a remake of the sci-fi classic Dune called Rex: The Final Days of an Empire.
Before there were apps like this, there were cassettes. In the case of the Australian horror game Nightmare, which was later renamed Atmosfear in Europe, a VHS cassette tape came with the boxed board and pieces. This added a spooky atmosphere to the game.
It was The Gatekeeper, the bad game master, who helped players get through the scares. Players (or “maggots,” as the Gatekeeper called them) had to run around the board and collect six keys before going to the “Nightmare Square” in the middle of the board to win.
There was a tape that lasted 60 minutes. If the tape ran out, so did the players’ time, which caused them to lose.
If you want to see Atmosfear the way it was meant to be seen, you’ll have to find a VHS player or look for it on the internet. It’s still worth going back to for the nostalgia. The gameplay wasn’t new, but the idea of combining a video with a board game was ahead of its time. This led to DVD board games like Scene It?, as well as the modern introduction of mobile and PC apps as virtual guides for players.
Wolfgang Kramer was one of the best board game designers of the 1990s, but few people were as good as him. During the last decade, the well-known game designer had already won two of Germany’s most prestigious awards for his work on Heimlich & Co. and Auf Achse, which won the Spiel des Jahres. Kramer would win the Spiel des Jahres two more times in the 1990s, as well as win a lot of other awards for other ’90s board games that are still popular today, like the card game 6 Nimmt!
Kramer won his first Spiel des Jahres award of the 1990s for El Grande, a game he made with another German designer, Richard Ulrich, in 1996. We think it’s the best of Kramer’s ’90s board games.
In El Grande, which takes place during the Renaissance, players fight for control of Spain’s many regions and cities. Play one of 13 cards to figure out how many caballero knights you can draught into your Lord’s court. You also have to figure out how many of your knights you can draught into your Lord’s court from a central supply.
To move their caballeros around the map, players choose from a set of five different actions. They also move their king around the board so that they can move their caballeros to areas that are near each other. Each region has a different value, and scoring is done every three rounds. The game lasts nine rounds in total.
After The Settlers of Catan, El Grande was the next game to win the Spiel des Jahres. This made the ’90s a great time for board games that were more complex than other games. For Tikal, Kramer and Michael Kiesling worked together for the first time and won the Spiel des Jahres in 1999. This was Kramer’s second win. Since Kramer made some of the best board games of the ’90s like El Grande, Tikal, and 6 Nimmt!, you know you’re getting an award-winning classic.
Pizza Party (1986)
Pizza Party is a memory game with a tasty twist. Parker Brothers first released Pizza Party in the late 1980s, but the game was more popular with kids in the 1990s and was aimed at them.
It is a simple memory game that can be played by up to four people. The players flip over ingredient discs in an effort to fill up all the topping slots. Think of pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions when you think of pizza toppings. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, Pizza Party made you want to eat pizza afterward.
Ask Zandar (1992)
In the 90s, there were a lot of board games that kids didn’t understand, but they were still very interested in. This one is one of them.
Zandar is kind of like a talking Magic 8 Ball, but he doesn’t talk. Players pick a question card and try to figure out whether Zandar will say “yes” or “no.” If the fortune-seekers guessed Zandar’s prediction right, they could get a gem of their own colour if they did. The strangest thing about this game, besides the talking wizard, is the question cards that come with the game. Some of the darker questions include, “Will aliens kidnap me and make me their queen?”, “Will I invent chocolate flavored liver?” and “Do I have an evil twin?” Then there were questions like “Will I get an A+ on my next test?” and “Will I get a new pet?”
The winner of the game gets to have a special fortune read by Zandar.