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The best 90s board games that defined the decade

From Catan and Twilight Imperium to Cranium and VHS hero Atmosfear, take a trip to nostalgia town with our guide to the best 90s board games.

90s board games - a playing piece on the board game atmosfear

If you’re craving nostalgic tabletop fun, 90s board games are a radical, rockin’ place to start, yo. Join us on a time-travelling trip to a land of tamagotchi, giant phones, frosted tips, and way too much neon, as we check out our absolute favorite 1990s tabletop games.

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, birthing some of the best board games and best card games of all time.

From an explosion of brand new trading card games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon cards, to trivia board games that demanded a VHS player, there was plenty of experimentation going on – and many 90s hits remain mega popular today.

The best 90s board games are:

90s board games - the box of the board game twilight imperium

Twilight Imperium

An all-night sci-fi epic wargame

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. 

90s board games - the box of the board game cranium


Best 90s party board game

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. 

90s board games - the box of the board game catan


Most influential 90s board game

The 90s gave us perhaps the most famous founding title of the new age of board games: Catan.

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 the late, great 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. 

90s board games - a playing piece on the board game atmosfear


Best VHS board game

Why aren’t there more board games in which you’re constantly berated by a horrible hooded man? In the 1991 horror board game 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.

90s board games - the scary face of 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 now retails for $96.99 (£79.99). 

90s board games - planeswalkers from mtg

Magic: The Gathering

Best 90s trading card game

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: Pokémon, Yugioh, and Magic: The Gathering – known to its friends as MTG – all got their start in the 1990s, and there were countless other good card games of the era that didn’t stand the test of time.

The very first MTG set released in 1993, and these days, 30 whole earth years later, it’s still one of the biggest tabletop games in the world. While many now play predominantly online via the digital client MTG Arena, hundreds of thousands of fans still collect the best MTG cards, build and play their favorite MTG decks, and compete in tournaments across the various MTG formats.

The other major 90s TCGs are all 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.