In these glorious days of adulthood, I find myself wanting for things much less often than I did as a child. It’s probably because I make my own money now, and can go out and recklessly buy whatever it is I want, whenever I want. Or perhaps it’s because I have so much less free time than I did as a child, and the things I have are more than enough to fill it.
Regardless, I don’t have a real wishlist these days. Things that I desire never seem out of reach, and there aren’t really that many things that I want. But back when I was a kid? Oh, you’d better believe that I coveted every cool-looking toy that had a commercial aimed at my demographic. Don’t get me wrong, I was spoiled silly and had tons of toys and games and books etc, etc, etc. Being the materialistic monster that I am, of course I always wanted more and more and more.
Some of the things that stick out the most in my memory are less obvious than you might expect: board games. I had plenty of those, but I don’t recall too many of them being the fancy-pants kind with whirring gizmos and electronic kajiggers. I hold some of the board games that I did own in great reverence, but the dreams of what could have been will always linger. So today, we’re going to take a quick look at the ones that got away.
These are not in any particular order, mind you, and the descriptions are mostly cobbled-together half-memories from the commercials and my own imagination. That said, let’s we go, amigos!
While not necessarily the holy grail of board games, It From The Pit is probably the one I most desired that had a tiny motorized mechanism inside of it. I don’t think I even knew any other kids that had it either, because I don’t have any first-hand memories of it. If someone did own it, they probably just lied to me about it in fear of me breaking the thing. But that’s a story for another time.
It From The Pit is one of those neat, and somewhat rare, board games that comes with a horror theme. In this case, you play a band of intrepid explorers, checking out a swamp for whatever reason, and the suddenly you’re attacked by a 50-foot Creature from the Black Lagoon. Or something to that effect. How the heck should I know? I never played the thing! I don’t recall the commercial even being on very often, because I can’t remember it even the slightest bit. You would think that a commercial about a game where a massive swamp monster hand drags people to their untimely deaths would make something of an impression on me. That’s “How to Sell Junk to 9-Year-Old Ryan” 101.
I think it’s pretty easy to suss out how this one plays. There are spaces around the perimeter of the pit, which your characters move around. I don’t quite get what “collecting gold” entails, but it seems that every player has a team of pieces. Handy, because that hand literally drags them inside the game board. It would suck to have to upend the whole thing to get your piece back, and then try to remember where everyone was. I can only assume that running out of pieces means you’re out, but I have no idea what exactly activates the monster. Is it a wind-up thing? Button-activated? Powered by arcane magicks? I may never know!
The thing I really want to touch on is how much I love that board. Obviously the pit with the creature poking out of it pushes all my buttons, and if I ever owned it, it would become the permanent centrepiece at my table. But I feel like I also need to express my love for the walls around the pit. There’s something about that uneven moulding with the textured decal wrapped around it that is so nostalgic for me and I love it. I don’t know what I owned that was made the same way, but it must have been something that was simultaneously very close to my heart and utterly forgettable.
Would you forgive me if I told you that I remember very little about Shark Attack? I would really appreciate it if you did, because truth be told, as awesome as I think it is, Shark Attack holds a certain sore spot in my heart.
As a little guy, I had a close friend who owned this board game. I absolutely loved it, and played it every chance I got. I’m sure that before long, she was quite tired of playing Shark Attack. I don’t recall what happened exactly, or how, but one fateful afternoon, I somehow managed to break the game. Like, completely ruined the mechanical shark or something. My mother was not happy, I was scolded, and my allowance for God-knows-how-long afterward was automatically funnelled into replacing the game. I felt awful. I don’t think I ever touched it after that fateful day, for fear of breaking it again.
That horrible trauma aside, Shark Attack is super rad! Or at least, I figure it must be on account of how much I loved it as a little guy. As I recall, the game is played on a circular board, and your playing pieces are fish that go round and round. I don’t know if there was any end point or objective outside of being the last fish to remain uneaten. Looking at a picture of the board, yeah, I think it’s the “don’t get eaten” thing, because there’s literally nothing else to it. So maybe not exactly the deepest board game that you could find.
Obviously, the crown jewel of Shark Attack is the titular shark. He circles the playfield, munching up any unfortunate fish that don’t roll high enough numbers to stay out of his way. Much like It From the Pit‘s monster hand, I have no idea what triggers his movements, but who even cares? It’s a sweet mechanical shark! Dislodged from the board, the shark also makes a pretty sweet toy. I know for sure that I did not always play with it to regulation, and that may very well be how I managed to bust the thing. Such is the fate that befalls the stupid child.
Like every other game on this list, I never owned Mouse Trap, or at least I don’t think I did. I know for sure that I was acquainted with several kids who did, and I spent a lot of time playing it. Or, playing with it, I suppose. I can’t say for certain, but I don’t think that I or any kid that I ever knew actually played Mouse Trap as intended. It was just one of those games that was more fun to futz around with. Like Rock Jocks. Man, was Rock Jocks ever cool. I almost wish I hadn’t owned it so I could type a big, long thing here about how cool it was.
But, uh, Mouse Trap. You know this one. This is zany action, a crazy contraption, the fun is catchin’, it’s Mouse Trap! Probably more infamous than anything, Mouse Trap is known for the overly elaborate Rube Goldberg machine that dominates the centre of the board. A huge collection of plastic bits and bobs, few games are more of a pain in the butt to set up than Mouse Trap. By the time you have the thing constructed, you’ll probably be so annoyed that you won’t want to play anymore. And even if you do still want to play, that gizmo is well-known for not quite working the way it ought to or falling apart mid-sequence.
Like I said, I don’t know how Mouse Trap is actually played, but I assume your little mouse guys are supposed to get around the board and collect cheese or some fool thing. The gimmick is that sometimes you’ll land on the trap space, and then you set off the trap and your mouse is caught. I don’t know what that means. Maybe you lose some cheese, maybe you’re out of the game, maybe it operates on house rules of some sort. It could be anything at all!
Point is, I loved painstakingly constructing the trap device, even when it didn’t work. I really like building things, you know? But then sometimes it would work! And that would be cause for celebration! Or at least cause to go get your parents and show them that yeah-huh it does work. Either way, it was a lot more fun to just play with the mice and trap as a playset rather than a board game. Come up with your own little stories for the pieces, maybe throw in some other action figures. I used board games like that a lot, it seems.
If there had been an official list of board games that I wanted when I was just a little guy, Grape Escape would absolutely have been at the very top. And then to accentuate how much more I wanted it than anything else, there would have been a long, empty space between it and all of the other entries. Imagine the clichéd Santa Claus naughty or nice scroll. That long. I really wanted friggin’ Grape Escape.
You may notice there’s a bit of a theme in the previous games on this list: they’re all based around the player pieces being captured in some fashion. Whether by a complex machine or the claw of a swamp monster or the jaws of a hungry shark, but the fail state is always your piece’s loss of freedom. Grape Escape takes it one step further and truly plays into my intensely sadistic nature: in this game, you straight-up mutilate and dismember your playing pieces.
That’s right. Grape Escape‘s big thing is that your pieces are actually little grape characters moulded out of Play-Doh. Their goal is to get across the board I guess, though there are numerous tricks and traps scattered along the way. In the centre or the board lies a gigantic torture device, and hitting one of the tiles that intersects with part of the machine spells instant doom for your grape-man. Perhaps they’ll get flattened by a massive roller, maybe sliced in twain by an oversized pair of scissors, or crushed into a fine paste by a gigantic boot. It’s a young psychopath’s dream come true!
Fun fact: the commercial emphasized this point even farther by having happy, animated cartoon grapes be horribly mutilated by all the traps while a cheerful song plays in the background. In retrospect, this seems like the kind of thing that overprotective parents with nothing better to do would have made a huge fuss about. I have no idea if it did cause any controversy, and quite frankly, I have no interest in doing the research.
Obviously I never would have played Grape Escape properly. None of my friends owned it, so all I was left with were thoughts of torturing and killing little Play-Doh grape people. Dreams of sawing them in half and slowly crushing them were commonplace, but they were destined to stay as dreams forever. I suppose I did eventually realize these sadistic fantasies eventually through video games, but they lacked the tactile pleasure of taking the imaginary life of a real thing.
As an adult, I’m fully aware that I could easily pick up any of these games from eBay or whatnot, but I would rather not. They occupy a nice nostalgic place in my memory that I think I would be happier to leave as-is. Plus, I really doubt that I could have anywhere near as much fun with them now, what with being an old man who lost his imagination many years ago. I really don’t see any point in buying them just so that I can say I own them.
I could probably add a few more games to this list, but these are the ones that I have the strongest memories of. And really, if I can’t recall a game I wanted from memory alone, it’s likely that I never wanted it all that bad anyway. I also really like that there’s an unintended theme that sort of connects them all, and I would hate to throw that away just for the sake of puffing up the article a little more. That’s what the intro and conclusion paragraphs are for!
(I stole all the images from the A Board Game A Day blog. Sorry! (Not Sorry))