Walking through a toy shop with my boyfriend's sister a while ago, I spotted the Pop Up Pirate game -
Essentially, it was Buckaroo for children who liked to stab things. It was a favourite game of mine as a child, and I ran to purchase it while trying not to foam at the mouth. But then my companion pointed out that “you always stab the same hole to make the pirate jump out, you know.”
Deflated, I realised she must be right, and that the reason I'd been so amazed by it as a kid was that I'd obviously been an idiot child.
But after some painstaking research (googling), I learned that my sister-in-law had actually never learned to set the game up properly, resulting in the same outcome every time. It turns out she'd been the idiot child and not me. Thus I was vindicated.
But it got me thinking – what other pieces of cheap plastic 'family fun' had I goggled over as a child? And would they live up to my memories of them? I decided to find out, promptly going out and spending money I couldn't really afford, tracking down these lost relics of my younger years. Let me tell you – evenings at my house have been a non-stop rollercoaster of fun ever since. I'm almost certain my boyfriend doesn't miss things like sex and alcohol, and is perfectly happy to shuffle plastic discs around a piece of cardboard.
Object of the game – to move your player round a haunted cardboard castle and open the coffin on the roof, while avoiding traps, curses and falling skulls
Extremely scary as a child. Containing up to 80% peril in any given round, you played the game in constant fear of being decapitated by ghosts, or knocked down an endless staircase, again by a ghost. Or worst of all, being knocked unconscious by a flying skull, which was not a very nice thing to happen to you. Because I was such a wuss as a kid, I was convinced the game would somehow kill me in real life, and I could never really play it without having a nightlight/hot drink/exorcism afterwards. As an adult, the game failed to terrify me the way it once had – so much so that I began making up my own rules – if I can throw the plastic skull into my boyfriend's drink, I win. If I can roll the dice one more time without dying of boredom, I win. Best rule of all – since I paid for the game, I automatically win, and anyone who disagrees will be banished for all eternity to the Ghost Castle, which I now own.
Object of the game – to navigate a metal ball around a series of mazes, see-saws and balance beams before the wind-up timer runs out
Only after hours and hours of practice could you master this game, and become master of your friends by association. I was never very good at this – my clumsy, chocolate smeared hands would inexpertly fumble at the various knobs, until the little metal ball flew out and ended up somewhere in France.
I should be able to conquer this game as an adult, right? After all, it's only a kids' game. Now I'm thirty I'll kick its ass, right? Wrong, but not for the reasons you might think. Upon removing Screwball Scramble from its box, my boyfriend immediately leapt on it, shrieking as if I'd just covered my boobs in chocolate spread. And he didn't go further than two inches away from it for the next six hours. By the time I was finally allowed a go, I'd become disenchanted by seeing him swearing, shouting at the ball, threatening to kill the ball, and finally crying in a heap on the floor.
Object of the game – to trap your opponent's mouse under a mechanical mouse trap, and also to be able to assemble the bloody thing in the first place
Mousetrap was the game of my childhood – if you had Mousetrap, you could expect your social calendar to be full for at least the next two years. The reason it was so popular was because it was such a miraculous feat of engineering – something akin to being able to watch Willy Wonka's chocolate making machines in action – 30% physics, 70% magic.
My first mistake as an adult was to buy a second hand Mousetrap set – one that had obviously been chewed by babies/smashed with hammers by frustrated parents. As such, none of the bits really fit together correctly. Or maybe they never fit together properly in the first place, leading to said parents attacking it with a hammer. My second mistake was allowing my boyfriend to construct the mousetrap – as a science teacher, and also as a man, he soon reached a level of frustration never before seen by mankind. As a dutiful girlfriend, I went in search of a hammer, only to find that he'd tired of the whole thing, and now wished only to go drink beer. Even now he can't see a mouse without combusting with rage.
I guess nostalgia has a way of turning us into fools with rose tinted vision. People like to talk about the heady days when families would sit together on an evening and play a wholesome, non-threatening game. Those memories are about as real as the diet I'm currently claiming to be on. what families really used to do was sit round a table, snarling with rage and brandishing hammers and fists at a piece of cardboard.