Remembering VCR games

To celebrate this long-forgotten game medium, here are ten classics from VCR game history that you may have played if you lived through the 1980s or 1990s.

Games on tape

For decades, people who wanted to play a game indoors would likely reach for a plain old board game. As technology grew, board games adopted technological tricks to stay relevant, including the incorporation of electronic and computer elements and, eventually, video.

The rise of the home VCR in the early 1980s brought about that last innovation, which resulted in dozens of board games (and eventually toys as well) that shipped with VHS tapes designed to be played at certain points in the game. Players had to follow cues in the game in order to call up the right segment to play on the videocassette—all in all, a tedious business.

Candy Land VCR Board Game (1986)

Early in the lifespan of the VCR game, traditional board game companies like Milton Bradley created entirely new video/board game hybrids based on classic brands. Such was the case with Candy Land, which was nothing like its analog namesake. In it, players watched video segments, keeping an eye out for visual clues on the screen. They would then have to quickly remove cards from the board that matched the clues. The player who captured the most sections won the game.

(Photo: Hasbro)

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future (1987)

Captain Power was conceived as a multimedia brand for children that encompassed interactive toys, comic books, and a Saturday morning TV series. Every episode of the TV series included a segment that involved interaction with specially designed Captain Power toys: When the toys were fired at the screen, they could detect special flashing patterns on the screen that enabled them to register hits and misses. The TV series itself didn't last long, but Mattel sold special VHS tapes featuring footage from the show for use with its toy line.

(Photo: mrshoebox)

Nightmare: The Video Board Game (1991)

In the 1980s, most VCR games were created especially for children and families. Nightmare deviated from that demographic by incorporating horror video segments for mature viewers (although many of the segments were still campy). The goal of the game was to collect six keys and then race to the Nightmare Square at the center of the game board. Whoever got there first won. If players didn't reach the center in 60 minutes (in other words, by the end of the tape), then the gatekeeper won instead.

(Photo: rhapsody)

Doorways to Adventure (1986)

Doorways to Adventure incorporated old film clips (mostly from unknown movies) that featured certain items that players would bid on. The person whose bid was the closest to the actual price won the item, and the player who amassed the highest total value of items by the end of the game won.

(Photo: 355fg)

Action Max (1987)

In 1987, toymaker Worlds of Wonder released a home video game console that eschewed the traditional games-as-software approach for a pseudo-interactive VCR light-gun formula. Players would insert game tapes into their VCRs to play video segments that they could shoot at with the included light gun. The console would then keep track of hits and misses—the goal being, of course, to rack up the most hits possible. And that was it. As you can imagine, it wasn't particularly popular.

(Photos: Evan Amos,

VCR 221 B Baker Street (1987)

With 221 B Baker Street, players could tag along with the legendary Sherlock Holmes and his associate, Watson, to help them solve various mysteries. By correctly answering questions posed by the tape, players could earn cards that revealed more about the mystery as the game progressed. Ultimately, whoever solved the mystery won the game.

(Photo: Antler Productions)

The VCR Basketball Game (1987)

With The VCR Basketball Game, players could assume the role of NBA team coach, calling plays that would then be queued up on video and depicted on screen by real NBA basketball game clips. Best of all, players could take free throws with the included mini hoop and foam basketball.

(Photo: Charles Becrevue)

VCR California Games (1988)

California Games originated as a popular 1987 home computer game before it made its way over to the land of VCR games. In the VCR version, players made their way along California's coast by rolling dice and advancing on a game board. At certain times, players landed on squares that prompted them to cue up a clip from the tape. The tape included video of live-action sports maneuvers that either ended well (resulting in a cash prize) or ended in disaster. The first player to earn $100 to buy a plane ticket home won the game. (But who would want to leave California?)

(Photo: Epyx)

Clue VCR Mystery Game (1985)

This is the granddaddy of all VCR games, the one that started them all. The Clue VCR Mystery Game adapted the classic Clue board game with live-action scenes played out on video. Real actors brought the game's famous characters to life, which made this game particularly popular. So popular, in fact, that it reached number 30 on Billboard's Videocassette charts in 1986 and delivered Parker Brothers its first RIAA platinum video award.

No VCR game ever matched Clue's success. After the transition to DVD in the late 1990s, the prerecorded-video-game genre shifted with it, but the growing capability of multimedia video games ensured that the VCR games would never gain mainstream appeal.

(Photos: Jorbis Pruval)

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Interactive VCR Board Game: A Klingon Challenge (1993)

By the early 1990s, it was only natural to adapt one of TV's most famous sci-fi series to a VCR board game. In "A Klingon Challenge," players navigated through the Starship Enterprise as they tried to defeat a Klingon terrorist bent on hijacking the ship to start a Klingon-Federation war. The game included 60 minutes of live-action video shot on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation and starred Robert O'Reilly, who played Klingon Chancellor Gowron on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. That fact alone should have made this a must-have for die-hard Star Trek fans, but it wasn't enough to make the game a huge success.

(Photo: Lloyd Atwater)

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