Board games were really starting to get going in the 1990s. Though the true tabletop gaming renaissance wouldn’t begin for a little while longer, it was nonetheless a great decade for the hobby. From an explosion in the card game world, to board games that demanded a VHS player, there was plenty of experimentation going on. Many of the best 90s board games cemented themselves as instant classics, and those that remain available today still have many, many fans.
In the mood for some nostalgic tabletop fun? Join us on a time-travelling trip to a land of tamagotchi, giant phones, frosted tips and too much neon, as we check out the best 90s board games.
These are the best 90s board games
- Twilight Imperium
- Magic: The Gathering
Perhaps the best space board game of all time, Twilight Imperium, published by Fantasy Flight Games and created by its founder Christian T. Petersen, was originally released in 1993. One of those board games that you need to set aside an entire day to play, Twilight Imperium is a space opera that takes place on a truly galactic scale.
Comparable to complex PC turn based games, Twilight Imperium sees various alien races, including bald blue men and lions in fancy robes, scooping up planets and building up fleets. The true magic of the title, though, comes in the sheer variety on offer, as well as the interactions with other players, who you’ll need to cajole and kowtow to, securing victory through careful diplomacy.
Twilight Imperium is flavourful, pretty, sprawling, and now in its fourth edition. If you’ve got friends who aren’t scared to spend eight hours playing the same game, this is one 90s board game you really ought to try.
Going from one end of the complexity scale to the other, we have Cranium. Designed by Whit Alexander and Richard Tait in 1998, and now owned by Hasbro, Cranium is a kids board game featuring a ton of different activities, from answering trivia questions to (everyone’s favourite) sculpting shapes out of clay. It stands above most family trivia board games, both for its engaging, cartoony presentation and for the variety of its fun little challenges. We played the hell out of this in the 2000s.
… Or perhaps that should be The Settlers of Catan, since that was the name of this game until it was rebranded and the title trimmed in 2015. This resource-trading, settlement building 90s board game was designed by Klaus Teuber, a German former dental technician, in 1995, and published by Kosmos.
If you’ve made it to this website, you probably know Catan only too well. More than 25 years after its initial release, Catan is still the go-to gateway board game, which players use to get friends and family into the hobby. It’s not hard to see why – Catan is simple enough that anyone can pick it up quickly, yet strategic enough to hint at the world of boardgaming possibilities that lies in wait.
Why aren’t there more board games in which you’re constantly berated by a horrible hooded man? In 1991’s Atmosfear (or Nightmare as it was initially called in Australia) players have to race around a board, collecting six keys to succeed, within a time limit.
The gameplay is pretty simplistic, but it’s also not the star of Atmosfear’s show. That honour goes to the VHS tape that you’re supposed to run alongside this 90s board game, which features a robed figure, the Gatekeeper.
This guy is quite the character, and he guides you through Atmosfear’s spooky fun, giving gameplay-changing instructions, while cackling, addressing the players as maggots, and generally having a great time being evil. (Whether or not his performance is terrifying or hilarious probably depends on your age, but either way it’s remarkable).
The Atmosfear series has remained more or less alive and well – jumping from DVD to companion apps as technology progressed. Most recently, a 30th Anniversary edition of the game was successfully Kickstarted, and is expected to ship in December 2022.
Magic: The Gathering
Sure, board games had a good run in the 90s, but really this was the decade of the trading card game. The big three TCGs: Pokemon, Yugioh, and Magic: The Gathering, all got their start in the 1990s, and there were countless other good card games that didn’t stand the test of time.
All these TCGs are well worth trying, and we’ve guides on how to play the Pokemon TCG or the best Yugioh decks to help you along. But if we had to recommend just one (and in a best board games list, that’s probably all we can get away with) it’d have to be the old faithful MTG.