It’s time to roll the dice and trade your way to victory as we check out the best 90s board games!
The 90s was a time of huge change for the board game industry.
European style games broke through into the mainstream, finally allowing the world to see the possibilities beyond Monopoly, roll-and-move mechanics and the simplistic, mostly luck-based style of most other games that filled store shelves back then.
These Euro-style games favoured strategy, co-operation, collaboration and game design that gave players meaningful choices, rather than being at solely at the whim of Lady Luck.
Internationally, games are much more ‘Eurogame’ in flavour now than ever – and tabletop gaming is flourishing as a result, as games have become more interesting, accessible and satisfying to play.
Many of the very best games to have emerged in the 90s were in the Eurogame style, though that isn’t always the case (and if you want to go even further back, check out our list of the best retro board games!).
Which are the best though?
Let’s find out, as we check out the best 90s board games!
Table of Contents
Games Workshop may be most known for their Warhammer fantasy miniatures game – and its grimdark sci-fi counterpart, Warhammer 40,000 – but of the numerous other games they’ve produced over the last several decades, Blood Bowl has been quietly cementing itself as a cult favourite too.
First launched in 1986, Blood Bowl is a game that takes the basics of American Football and applies a thick layer of fantasy and violence to the formula.
The first edition used cardboard players and a glossy paper pitch, but the second added a polystyrene board and plastic miniatures (all with identical poses).
The 1994 third edition of Blood Bowl is where the game hit the sweet spot in terms of its rules, gameplay and the components.
Included were full Orc and Human teams, each with different poses for each type of team member.
The game also played out more like a sport with a set time – as the game was played in halves, with a set number of turns in each half.
Also, the most touchdowns at the end of the game determined the winner, rather than the first to three touchdowns.
Blood Bowl is now on its fifth edition and is still going strong today; it’s this Third Edition that most definitely set the scene for the game to continue to flourish – and that’s why we’ve included it on the best 90s board games list!
Racing – and Formula One – is a very popular theme when it comes to board games. The speed, competition and clear objective mean that it’s an obvious and accessible subject for players of almost any experience level.
PitchCar does things unlike any other racing game – and even unlike many tabletop games too!
That’s because PitchCar sees players flicking their cars around tracks that can be built in just about any configuration they choose.
The heavy, wooden track pieces are beautifully made, with plastic barriers that slot neatly into the sides and stop the disc shaped ‘cars’ from flying off the sides (though there’ll be plenty of that happening as over eager players misjudge their flicks anyway!).
It’s a game that can be taught within seconds. Players simply take turns flicking their cars around the track until a set number of laps have been completed, with cars that fall – or get knocked – off the track being replaced at the point they started from.
It’s incredibly tactile and can be the best kind of chaotic fun.
The only downside is that the full size game, when using all the track pieces, needs some serious space, including full access around a table to ensure that players can flick their cars from any point around the track.
PitchCar Junior is a smaller scale version that helps with that, but there’s nothing quite like a full game of PitchCar with six players taking part!
More Games Workshop goodness – and another game, like Blood Bowl before it, that takes the fantasy wargaming milieu of Warhammer into a completely different genre of game.
In the case of Blood Bowl, it’s a fantasy twist on American Football – but with Warhammer Quest, it’s a dungeon crawling adventure that takes the basic framework of Advanced HeroQuest and improves upon it, adding numerous features and (of course) the Warhammer branding itself.
In the 90s, co-operative games were thin on the ground, but Warhammer Quest was a rare title that pitted players against the game itself.
There was a longer form narrative adventure included alongside the 30 co-operative adventures – so there was the possibility to add a Game Master, who would try to kill the players, too!
Another thing that Warhammer Quest has in common is that it’s still in print today, albeit in an updated form.
Numerous versions and expansions take the place of the huge amount of content that came in the original 90s edition of the game, which remains a seminal dungeon crawling experience to this day!
Bean farming doesn’t sound like the most engrossing subject matter for a tabletop game, but Bohnanza – a portmanteau word combining the German word for bean (bohn) and bonanza – manages to make it hugely entertaining.
This absolutely timeless card game sees players looking to collect and trade different types of beans in order to harvest them for money.
Each type of bean is worth a different amount and some sets of beans can be worth a phenomenal amount of coins.
The twist? Your hand cannot be rearranged; the order in which you’re dealt your cards is the order they must stay in – so to get the sets together, you’ll almost always need to make clever trades with other players.
It’s a ridiculously simple and clever twist on classic set collection card games that, despite now being a quarter of a century old, is just as much fun now as it was when it was released.
Since 1997, Bohnanza has received an incredible number of editions and expansions, many of which added really interesting mechanics to the gameplay: buildings in High Bohn or even battling to conquer territories in Bohnaparte, for example.
However, nothing can beat the simplicity and fast paced nature of the basic Bohnanza, which is a perennially popular, still-in-demand game to this day!
As party games go, Apples to Apples is still one of the best – though it has been usurped somewhat by a more controversial pretender!
In Apples to Apples, players have a hand of ‘thing’ (Red Apple) cards – objects, concepts or even famous people and personalities – and take turns to be the Judge.
The Judge reads out a word from a Green Apple card which features a description – funny, sad, outrageous or irritating, for example – and each player secretly lays down their Red Apple card which they believe most closely matches the description before a judge picks a winner.
Before the decision is made, players get to argue the case either for their card, or whatever card or cards they decide is also the best; this discussion forms the heart of the game and is often the source of plenty of laughter and silliness, which is what makes Apples to Apples such a genuinely brilliant experience.
The Green Apple card is given to the person whose thing card was chosen; collect enough Green Apple cards to win.
If you’ve played Cards Against Humanity, then the concept of Apples to Apples will definitely be familiar – they’re incredibly similar games.
However, where Cards Against Humanity’s appeal is the controversial and deliberately provocative cards that may well cause as much offence as laughs at the game table, Apples to Apples is much more family friendly.
In our opinion, the punching-down humour of Cards Against Humanity can sometimes work against it; Apples to Apples doesn’t have the same problem, yet in a like-minded group it can still devolve into bad taste jokes and toilet humour – it’s just that it doesn’t have to!
Reiner Knizia is one of the most prolific and well respected board game designers in history; another benefit of the explosion in popularity of Eurogames is that it brought the names of people who designed board games to the fore.
Dr. Knizia’s name is attached to countless superb board games – as you’ll note when you progress further through the list of the best 90s board games!
Lost Cities is a two player card game in which players are explorers, setting out on – and investing in – expeditions with the aim of making the most profit.
Players must play a card – either to the appropriate colour expedition or to the relevant colour’s discard pile. Cards have numerical values (from 2-10) and must be played in ascending order (though they don’t have to be consecutive – for example, a 5 can be placed on a 3 without a 4 present).
There’s also handshake cards, which have no numerical value – but must be placed before any numbered cards. These represent investments and will double the value of an expedition.
They then draw a card – either from the face down deck or the top of an expedition’s discard pile.
Once the final card is taken from the deck, the expeditions are scored.
The big twist is that once an expedition is started, it costs the player 20 points. So you need to score at least 20 points in each expedition to make back those lost points.
It’s a classic Knizia design: incredibly simple, easy to learn but full of difficult choices and interesting interaction with your opponent.
Still in print today, Lost Cities is a phenomenal game that’s well worth checking out – and easily earns its spot on the best 90s board games list!
Another game from the brilliant Reiner Knizia, Colossal Arena is a game in which players are spectators at a gladiatorial arena, watching giant beasts battling it out to the death!
Each round, players can play cards to influence which creature will die and which ones will survive – but they’re also betting throughout on which creature will be the last beast standing at the end of the game.
Their bets will sometimes allow players to utilise a creature’s special ability too, adding a further wrinkle to the already interesting gameplay.
Again, it’s a simple game with lots of agonising choices to be made; the theme feels less abstract and pasted on than many Knizia designs too.
Though currently out of print, it’s not too expensive to get hold of Colossal Arena – and it’s well worth tracking down a copy in order to gamble your fantasy money on deadly fighting monsters!
Another Reiner Knizia game?
Yes – that’s right, it’s our third game by the prolific Dr Knizia in a row, sitting proudly in the top half of the best 90s board games list.
It seemed that Dr Knizia could do no wrong in the 90s, pumping out classic after classic, year after year (and he’s still going, even now!).
Through the Desert is a brilliant game in which players compete to score the most points by placing caravan routes through – yes, you guessed it – the desert.
True to form for a Knizia game, there are lots of paths to victory, plenty of options and an appealing simplicity to the game’s design.
Oh, and there’s pastel-coloured, plastic camels to represent the caravans belonging to each players tribe too.
It’s a wonderful, multi-award winning game that’s currently out of print – and unfortunately, demand for it seems to be pretty high, as the asking price is much more than its original retail cost at the moment.
However, despite the high cost of entry if you haven’t already got yourself a copy of Through the Desert, it’s unquestionably one of the best 90s board games!
This is getting silly now – here’s yet another Reiner Knizia designed game for our number two spot!
What a choice though: Tigris and Euphrates is widely regarded as Knizia’s masterpiece; though a little more complex than many of his other games, it’s still a relatively straightforward and streamlined game compared to titles such as Warhammer Quest or Blood Bowl, just as a few examples.
In Tigris and Euphrates, players build ancient civilisations through placing tiles – with four categories in which they can score.
Farming, trading, religion and government are the categories which players collect points in, but in a typically Knizia twist, the only score counted is the one in each player’s weakest category!
This means that players are forced to balance all of their categories as much as possible so as not to let any fall too far behind.
It’s an incredibly compelling design, not to mention a very addictive and involving game overall.
For gamers looking for the very best of 90s board games, there’s only one other title we’d consider – but which is it? Let’s find out!
These days it’s just known as Catan, but after being published in its native Germany as Die Siedler von Catan, Klaus Teuber’s hugely influential game made it to English and American stores as The Settlers of Catan.
In The Settlers of Catan, players place settlements and roads beside numbered territories; on each turn, they roll the dice and if the number of a territory comes up, each player settled next to that number gains the resource it produces: namely wool, wood, brick, ore or wheat.
Victory points are gained by building new settlements, turning settlements into cities (which produce double the number of resources when rolled) or even for having the longest road, amongst other ways to score.
Sounds simple, right? It certainly is, but the real meat of the game isn’t on the table at all; it’s in the interaction between players. You’ll need to sharpen your negotiating skills in The Settlers of Catan, as you’ll rarely have all of the resources you’ll need to progress and build your way to victory.
In The Settlers of Catan, players can gain resources any time their number is rolled – so everyone feels invested, even when it’s not their turn. Adding to this, trading happens on nearly every turn too, so everyone feels like a part of the game at all times, not just sitting there waiting to roll the dice.
The Settlers of Catan caused a seismic shift in the board games industry and almost for that reason alone, it’s hard not to justify its place at the very top of the best 90s board games list!
Want more board games? Why not check out our best Star Wars board games of all time list!
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Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.