Monday, July 6, 2009
In the 80s and 90s, a funny thing happened. While classic boardgames and their reformulations still reigned supreme, things got a little experimental down at the ol' toy production offices. It seemed as if any and every idea that anyone had ever conceived in a bout of confusion or insanity could be swiftly and cleanly (sort of) translated into a game soon available for purchase at your local toy store.
Some of these ideas were more innovative than others, implementing newfound technologies and novelties into a board game concept. Others erred slightly on this side of lazy. Either way, children consumed them with relatively equal enthusiasm and zeal. Put it in a commercial during Saturday morning cartoons or a block of solid Nickelodeon programming and it's nearly inevitable that kids will go begging for it.
Here are just a few of the crazy ideas that inexplicably came to fruition from the late 80s to early 90s. Don't say I didn't warn you--some of these commercial jingles can lodge themselves pretty firmly in your brains.
Not to be confused by its 1968 ice-breaking board game predecessor Don't Break the Ice, Thin Ice used indefinitely cheaper materials. For one, instead of solid, sturdy ice blocks, we were dealing with a flimsy piece of Kleenex. That's right, every box of Thin Ice came complete with a little pocket pack of facial tissues.
The game set-up involved two stacked rings, one a water-filled marble chamber and the other the home of the tightly-stretched tissue. Using comically oversized tweezers (designed to look like Eskimos, if that makes any sense to you), the players would take turns taking a water soaked marble from the lower chamber and gently placing the dripping sphere onto the tissue layer. The player for whom the tissue breaks is the loser, meaning winning really only takes place by default. It was sort of like Jenga, only completely different and involving a soggy Kleenex cleanup component.
The commercial jingle was pretty baffling as it featured an incompatible surf-themed tune. There was no attempt to connect or cover for the disparity between the jingle and the premise of the game. We were left to ponder it along with our parents, who wondered why they could have saved their fifteen bucks and simply given us their old marbles and a pack of soggy tissues.
You can't rag on these games for lack of creativity. Lack of common sense and grounding in reality, perhaps, but creativity and innovation was certainly present. Monster Mash was actually a fairly clever game, complete with a newfangled "monster maker" apparatus. Simply depress the button on the top of the monster maker, and the eye, mouth, and body images would shuffle quickly, producing numerous varieties of cuddly purple monster.
Each of these monster formulations had an image on a corresponding playing card, laid out on the floor in front of the players. Each player had a hand shaped suction cup-tipped "thwacker" (yep, a thwacker) with which to slap (well, thwack) cards. In each turn, a player would press the button on the monster maker and it would jumble the images to produce a novel monster. The first player to secure the appropriately matching monster card with their thwacker wins the round. The player with the most cards at the end of the game wins! Crazy, no?
I was able to finagle the original 1987 ad but as usual with these late-80s games, the quality is admittedly poor. Very poor. You can definitely gather the overall memory-jogging idea of it, though:
Mm, nothing like terrifying children with crazy-eyed, enormously toothed killing machines. Actually, the automated shark was pretty slow-moving, but the suspense was definitely there. Back that baby up with some of that Jaws theme music and prepare to see some serious shark-induced tears.
The game was fairly simple. At the outset, each player selected an adorable little fishy that more likely than not would end up as cruelly chomped shark grub by the end of the gameplay. The game included dice with colored dots on each face representing a colored fish. When your color came up, you were allowed to move your fish a measly one spot out of the reach of the hungry, laboriously circling shark. The last fish left uneaten wins. I'm going to go out on a limb here and venture that this game ended in tears for many of its youngest players.
The commercial features a predictably annoying jingle with prime cheesy 90s lyrics:
Introduced in 1987, Pizza Party was a new spin on the classic Memory game. The concept seemed to rest on two simple but undeniable truths about children: they have an undying love for both delicious pizza and goofy anthropomorphic characters. Slap a face on that mushroom, a sly grin for your pepperoni, and kids will eat it up. Hopefully not literally as the pieces were made of cardboard, but I'm not going to say I haven't seen it tried.
The object of the game was to be the first player to successfully fill your entire slice with a single topping by selecting by memory from upside-down toppings in the center of the gameplay. Ah, to teach children the joy of monotony and...what's the opposite of diversity? University? That doesn't seem right. I may have to get back to you on that one.
In the above picture, the full pizza is assembled in all of its delicious board game glory. I personally always thought the pepperoni and the mushroom sort of had something going on, what, with all those flirtatious sidelong glances. Regardless of inter-topping romances, the game was probably best remembered for having an incredibly irritating, repetitive jingle. Though YouTube and its retrocentric users have failed to provide me with any high quality footage, someone did helpfully upload the video taped off of their TV. Please excuse the quality. Of the picture, that is, that jingle comes through loud and clear and is certainly inexcusable.
You have to love the tagline: "The squish 'em, squash 'em, squoosh 'em game!" Perhaps somehow vaguely linked to the wine-making experience, Grape Escape features pliable clay grapes attempting to make it through the game without meeting certain grape fate at any number of grape torture stations. The game came complete with different colors of clay to denote different players and adorable chubby grape molds with which to form your game piece. If your grape was smushed, you had to form a new grape and start from the beginning.
The object and premise of the game are pretty shaky, but it wisely banks on the notion that children garner pleasure from destruction and mayhem. It probably didn't do a whole lot for conscience-building, but then again they were only play-doh grapes. A little overzealous masochism never hurt anyone. Right?
The over-the-top reactions of the children of the commercial are truly priceless:
The game is also admittedly; similar in concept and materials to its fellow 90s morbid clay-squashing game, Splat!:
So there you have it. While the late 80s and early 90s board game producers were not necessarily churning out the most educational and thought-provoking of board games, they certainly demonstrated that they had a knack for understanding children. Mayhem, destruction, being eaten, slapping things, eating oily foods...they had our number all right. Perhaps it's not the most flattering reflection of our generation, but we certainly had a good time.