13 Dead End Drive: The Classic Family Board Game Returns
When I took down several plastic containers full of old board games from my parents’ attic, it was a pretty spectacular trip down memory lane. But I’d be lying if I said it was hard to pick the one game I was most excited about rediscovering from my youth. 13 Dead End Drive stood out among my childhood games like a beacon - beckoning me back to the good old days. And I can’t believe it’s back on store shelves for another generation to discover.
13 Dead End Drive was first published in 1993 by Milton Bradley. And 25 years later it has been gloriously resurrected from the grave by Winning Moves Games. Winning Moves specializes in distributing classic titles, and I think this is by far their best decision yet. 13 Dead End Drive deserves all of the attention it gets.
As the story goes, Aunt Agatha has passed away without any surviving relatives. And now her fortune is up for grabs. 12 friends and employees (including her cat!) gather in her mansion for the reading of her will. But it says that only one will inherit her wealth.
She has left her estate to the one person (or cat) whose portrait is shown hanging on the wall. I suppose the details of her will were too vague and a bit problematic, because apparently everyone decides that all they have to do is make sure their picture is hanging on that wall, at any cost.
Basically all 12 characters go crazy and turn Aunt Agatha’s mansion into a huge battle royale full of traps and treachery. If you can escape the mansion and end the game while your picture is on the wall, you win. If the detective makes it to the front door the game ends as well. But another way to win is if your character is the last character left alive. Yikes!
It turns out Aunt Agatha’s mansion was not exactly child-proofed. Things are falling all over the place. There are falling chandeliers, falling statues, and, of course, falling library ladders. And that’s not all, it’s also quite easy to tumble down the stairs, and even to fall into the fireplace. There are booby traps all over the place in this game, and that’s truly what makes it so memorable and so much fun. There can only be one!
Ever since reading the Home Alone picture book by Kim Smith and Quirk Books, our son has been obsessed with booby traps. There was a stage in his life when he would want to set traps in the house every night - ensnaring family members in blankets or baskets tied to strings. So, basically, I knew immediately that he would fall in love with this incredible, interactive game of booby traps. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this gem from my childhood would spark his imagination - and I was right!
What’s interesting is that every player has more than one character card. Typically you’re going to actually be 3 or 4 different characters when you play, but the beauty is that it’s all secret. Nobody knows who you are, AND you’re allowed to move any of the 12 characters that you want on your turn. That leads to a lot of very interesting strategy - including plenty of bluffing and pressing your luck.
What you’re trying to do is get one of your characters outside while your picture is hanging on the wall. Simultaneously you can also try to move other people’s characters onto traps and spring them - assuming you have the right trap card you in your hand. Of course this is the highlight of the game, because it’s your chance to do your very best Mr. Bill impression: “Don’t mind me, I’m just going to climb up to the top of this ladder and look for a book… oh noooooooo!”.
It’s a very simple game to play actually. I think the recommended age is 8+ solely because of the theme - since the characters are dying one by one like it’s an Agatha Christie mystery novel. Our son is now 6 and the rules give him absolutely no trouble. Of course, whether or not the violent theme is good for your kids is something you’ll have to weigh on a case by case basis. But honestly at this point we typically just say things like “hit by a trap” or “knocked out” and it’s a complete non-issue. It’s all very lighthearted.
Compared to some board games, 13 Dead End Drive requires a little more setup time to get the mansion put together. Last time we put it together we actually left it out for several weeks, because it seemed like a waste of time if we were going to play again the next day.
To be honest, that might be more of an indictment on my laziness than it is on how hard it is to put the game together, but I thought it was a funny story. It’s certainly no Mouse Trap though. It’s actually very simple, and the instructions are very clear. And you can actually leave quite a bit of it attached together when you place it back in the box.
Once it’s all set up our kids could play with it for hours without actually playing the game. It turns out a trap-filled mansion makes for a pretty great backdrop for imaginative play. Who knew? You can grab some other toys you have lying around the house and let them take their own tour of Aunt Agatha’s dangerous abode.
The theme of 13 Dead End Drive reminds me a lot of one of my favorite books - And Then There Were None. I’ve always been a fan of spooky things, and themes like the one in this game have always spoken to me and captured my imagination. That’s why I was so excited when I rediscovered it at my parent’s house, and that’s why I was excited to share it with my son for the first time. And now I’m even more ecstatic that Winning Moves Games has actually put it back onto store shelves for even more families to discover.
Did you ever play 13 Dead End Drive in the 90s? Have you shared it with your kids yet? What do they think? Tell us in the comments!
If you like the sound of 13 Dead End Drive, I really think you’ll enjoy the following article:
Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger