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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.


The “Amen!” Game: 1970s Christian board game, scanned online for you to play


The “Amen! Game,” a Bible trivia version of Bingo from 1973.

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Zombicide will have you running for your life

Zombicide, or Zombicide Season 1 as it is affectionately called, is the first offering by Guillotine Games. It’s a zombie survival board game that recreates the feeling of being swarmed by dozens of zombies with tons of replay value. There are ten missions inside the game’s instruction booklet and even more offered on the official Zombicide website. Each mission rearranges the tiles in different ways to create new maps. Typically the missions – chosen to accommodate the number of players – involve surviving and making it to an exit after certain conditions are met.

Players start with one of six characters, each which has a different set of skills that can help players survive the zombie hoards. Each time a zombie is killed, or when certain mission objects are completed, characters earn experience points that open up new skills. However, character cards have different color increments on their experience chart. This makes leveling a double-edged sword. Each mission has different zombie spawning points. At the end of every round zombies will spawn at these points. One of the zombie cards is flipped up for each spawning point, and the second any player goes into warmer color increments then the instructions for that color are followed. The warmer the color, the deadlier the circumstances as tougher and more copious amounts of zombies will appear.

In addition to leveling mechanics, characters get weapons/items that help them kill zombies by doing searches of buildings, and cars if they’re on the board. Weapons have varying damage capabilities and increase the chances to hit a zombie as combat is resolved with a six-sided die; the weapon determines the lowest number a player needs to win the encounter. Typically, if a zombie ends up in the same space as a player, that person will end up injured if the undead entity is still up. Players want to take out the zombies as soon as they can because after that first hit they’re dead. This creates not only a sense of urgency to complete the mission, but to make sure any zombie threats are dealt with.

When people win Zombicide, the victory is so very sweet because it is easy to lose within six rounds with some scenarios. Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is one card. Hearing something like, “If it wasn’t for that last zombie card, we would have won,” is common for this game. That difference of one card will keep people playing over and over again, having fun while they do it but desperate to get that victory. – Kris Ganske

See more photos at Wink Fun.

Suburbia board game: a simple, subtle economic simulation

Suburbia is a technocrat’s take on urban planning. The art is streamlined to the point of austerity, there is almost no luck, and the game is unashamed to show off its mathematical guts. At heart, Suburbia is a simple, subtle economic simulation with three moving parts. Players take turns buying hexagonal tiles from an ever-changing market and placing them in their town to develop their city in ways that affect its population, income, and reputation.

The population tally (which serves as the game’s scoring mechanism) models the disadvantages of urban growth in a very clever and elegant way – every so often on the track there’s a red line, and when your population surpasses it you lose one point of income (more expensive municipal services) and one point of reputation (more density/pollution/crime/whatever). This simple mechanism creates delightfully rich feedback loops that take a number of plays to fully appreciate – grow too quickly without an economic base and your town stagnates, unable to afford the development you need to serve your population; but bring in too much business or industry and nobody will want to live there.

Buying tiles for your city isn’t just an exercise in math, though – building your city is a spatial and temporal puzzle, with a limited ability to impact the other players’ cities as well. Some of the tiles’ effects work spatially (placing residential areas next to a highway hurts your town’s reputation while placing businesses there makes them more profitable), others work based on what else is in your city (building schools helps your reputation based on how many residential areas you have), and some affect other players’ cities. Once the market is emptied out, the game ends and players score based on population, plus additional public and secret individual scoring goals that you draw at the start of each game.

This game seems to lean heavily toward being a muliplayer solitaire puzzle at first glance, but once everyone is familiar with managing the feedback loops between reputation, population, and income, and with the scoring goals that are available, denying other players what you think they need becomes pretty competitive. Another nice mechanism is that tiles from the market can be played upside down as small lakes, which provides a cash infusion but also allows you to take a tile out of the game that’s useless to you but helpful to an opponent.

Where the game can bog down a bit is in keeping track of the interdependent effects of some of the tiles, particularly the ones that affect other players’ towns, but after a few plays we got familiar enough with the tiles’ effects that it was manageable. It bears mentioning that Suburbia has one of the best app implementations (both Android and iOS) of a board game I’ve seen, with smooth design, interesting single player puzzles, and local and online multiplayer.

See more photos at Wink Fun.

Firework or Sex Toy – The Boing Boing Game


RULES OF THE GAME: Fun for the whole family, “Firework or Sex Toy” consists of shouting out EITHER a product from a major fireworks company OR a product from major sex toy company. It’s up to contestants in the room to match the product names to the correct industry.

Here is a selection to get you started:

Sold by TNT Fireworks, Florence, AL:

Girl’s Best Friend, Not for the Timid, Thrill Seeker, Meow, No Limit, Lost Control, Team 6 Arsenal, Steel Force, Delirium, Festival Balls

Sold by Good Vibrations, San Francisco, CA:

Comet II, Pop Your Top, Wonderland Mystical Mushroom, Lady Luck, Pocket Rocket, Power Dancer, Double Delight, Night Rider

BONUS ROUND: Have participants guess where the following pieces of marketing copy appear:

“A traditional favorite gone mad . . . this will leave a smile on your face.”

“You will be shaken AND stirred.”

“Watch the ground erupt slowly into a plume of pretty lemon and purple sparkles, climaxing into a louder crackling sliver and purple sparkles. WOW.”

[HINT: All are TNT.]

A gallery of impossible board games


Joe Kowalski says:

Last month I was asked to participate in an art show. I was told was that I’d be receiving some objects, and I was to craft a response to them using whatever medium I wanted. A week later, I received a package. It contained a cryptic telegram from the 1960s, a disc with an atom icon carved into it, and a metal ruler that measured days rather than distance.

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Cube Quest

Imagine Crossbows and Catapults—but with meaningful rules rather than excuses for a demolition session. Jon Seagull reviews Cube Quest.Read the rest

Apps bring new possibilities to board games

Matt M. Casey on Golem Arcana, one of the new offerings whose gameplay leaps from tabletop to tablet. Read the rest

Best ever cooperative boardgames

Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen recommend their favorite cooperative board games. Read the rest

Five Tribes -- a twist on the worker placement game

Worker displacement games will soon pack the shelves at your local tabletop game store. For that, you can thank Five Tribes’ designer Bruno Cathala. By Matt M. CaseyRead the rest

Mice and Mystics: awesome dungeoncrawler board game for all ages

Mice and Mystics is a beautifully-produced board game that creates a relatively all-ages-friendly dungeon crawl RPG experience without need for a dungeon master. "My kids went absolutely bananas over this game in a way I haven't seen before," says Jon SeagullRead the rest

The Who Framed Roger Rabbit? board game reviewed

The board game based on the phantasmic film isn't that great, writes Deanna Dahlsad, but will be a coveted rarity for fansRead the rest

Coup: a delightfully vicious little card game set in a futuristic dystopia

Coup blends the bluff and uncertainty of Hold 'Em with the aggressive calling-out of Bullshit and a touch of deeper strategy, says Jon Seagull. Read the rest

Tzolk'in: a competitive resource-gathering-and-conversion puzzle

The genius of this game's design is in the simplicity of what you are allowed to do on a turn, the intricate and divergent results those actions can achieve; and the way the physical design of the game board makes it all work automatically. Jon Seagull reviews.Read the rest

Coconuts game has no business being as much fun as it is

Coconuts is a goofy dexterity game from South Korea that has no business being as much fun as it is. Jon Seagull says its appeal is a testament to the power of great product design.Read the rest

Escape: The Curse of the Temple (game review)

Jon Seagull reviews a board game in which players must team up in a race against time to escape a cursed temple, grabbing as much treasure as they can along the way.Read the rest

Gweek podcast 142: the funniest living American

In each episode of Gweek, Dean Putney and I invite a guest to join us in a discussion about recommended media, apps, and gadgets. Our guests this week are:

Ruben Bolling, author of the weekly comic strip Tom the Dancing Bug, which premieres each week on Boing Boing, and pre-premiers for members of his Inner Hive, which you can join by going to

Nick Carr is a New York City movie location scout. On his blog, Scouting New York, Nick says he’s been pretty much everywhere, from the highest rooftops to the deepest subway tunnels, from abandoned ruins to zillion-dollar luxury penthouse apartments.

This episode is brought to you by:

NatureBox, makers of delicious, wholesome snacks delivered to your door. Go to to get 50% OFF your your first box.

iFixit, the world’s free online repair manual for everything.. Use coupon code GWEEK at checkout and get $10 off your order of $50 or more.

The Boondocks. Season 4 starts on Monday April 21 on Adult Swim.

Nick's picks:

Best Bathroom - Highly recommended app for anyone coming to NYC

K2 - Great board game from Poland I’ve been playing recently

Ruben's picks:

Paul has a Summer Job, by Michel Rabagliati

Henry Speaks for Himself, by John Liney

Dean's pick:

Love and a Sandwich -- stuffed animal monsters

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