5 bizarre board games you should try playing just once

This could be you.

This could be you.

Lots of board games from the 20th century just plain suck. Monopoly and Risk are positive-feedback games where the first person to gain a slight advantage inevitably becomes the runaway winner a couple of tedious hours later. In Candy Land the winner is determined when the deck is shuffled – players make no decisions (other than the wise one of burning the game and burying the ashes in salted earth). And calling out random numbers in an attempt to score a hit in Battleship is, as Steven Johnson points out, "about as mentally challenging as playing Bingo."

The board games below all suffer from similar problems plaguing the ones above. But they also have one or more additional qualities -- an inane theme, offensiveness, bad illustrations, unintentionally funny cover lines, or an ineffable WTFness -- that make them worthy of note, or at least mockery. Let the fun begin!


1. Pie Face (1968) "click... click... click... Whoops!..." Dad and son seem inordinately determined to make a mess on mom and daughter's faces in this uncomfortable cover photo.


2. Gomer Pyle Game (1964) Transogram, makers of this execrable TV show tie-in game, should have called it quits with its most famous game, Tiddledy Winks, which at least required skill to win. According to Charlie Claywell, "the game is played by rolling the dice and each player tries to finish first so they can salute Sergeant Carter."


3. Ice Cube (1972). This sadistic game undoubtedly inspired many a young sociopath to pursue a career in the CIA or Chicago Police Department. Ice Cube uses little men made of real ice (that you freeze before playing), which players punish for no reason other than to take pleasure in their suffering. Instruments of torture include a device that dumps salt on them and another that splashes them with warm water. Players can also submerge the characters in a warm bath or sadistically place a hot metal cylinder on their head. This is the strongest evidence I've come across to support the long-held rumor that Dick Cheney moonlighted as a game designer 45 years ago. (Check out this excellent post with many photos of Ice Cube at Tracy's Toys.)


4. Blow Football (1950) Though the cover image depicts a game in the vein of an Adam Sandler movie ("unlovable loser controls the outcome of pro sports events with a small magic whistle") the truth about Blow Football is even worse. Inside the box are a couple of cardboard straws, a rubber ball, and two pieces of bent wire. You know, this sounds better than an Adam Sandler movie.



5. What Shall I Be? The Exciting Game of Career Girls (1966). Girls can grow up to be anything they want to be, as long as it's a model, actress, stewardess, ballerina, nurse, teacher, or secretary. Bonus: tokens designed to instill shame in girls, ages 6 and up.


Notable Replies

  1. I disagree about Battleship - it's actually an interesting exercise in visualizing spacial relationships for younger kids. And there are probably some variants that one could come up with to make it a little more challenging, such as a minesweeper-like interaction where instead of just saying hit or miss, one might say how close the shot was if it misses. Some folks at Board Game Geek have come up with some other, more strategic, variants that give special powers to the larger ships, for instance.

    But let's not focus only on the bad ones, but also on the forgotten good ones from that era. One of my favorites was Mastermind. The biggest problem with that game though was the inevitability of losing a critical number of pieces, which meant that if you found it in some rental cabin or beach house, it was almost always unplayable.

  2. atl says:

    "The board games below all suffer from similar problems plaguing the ones above... positive-feedback games where the first person to gain a slight advantage inevitably becomes the runaway winner a couple of tedious hours later."

    I'm trying to imagine the case where Pie Face has gone completely non-linear.

  3. There is already a phrase for when the referee does that

  4. Gem says:

    I recognise the pie-in-the-face game from this lovely video I saw recently. The adult could hardly breathe for laughing:

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