If you were a kid in the nineties you will undoubtedly remember the golden age of gimmicky board games. Mouse Trap, Atmosphere, Ker-Plunk, Buckaroo. Dream Phone was undoubtedly among them, aimed squarely at the pre-teen girls market it is nineties aesthetics and technology distilled into a day-glow package to make the day of any Tumblr Teen.
Mechanically, the game has a simple premise. You sassy youngsters are using your best detective skills work to figure out whom, from a cadre of hunky guys, the secret admirer is. Not to say your secret admirer, since all players are trying to guess the same individual, but the winner gets to hear those magic words down the dream phone. It’s a little hard to make sense of, there’s a generic, yet covert young man, broadcasting his admiration for good deductive reasoning skills and disregard for household phone bills and you’re racing to prove you can fill that niche.
A typical turn consists of picking a guy from a deck of 90s chumps, dialing the number and listening to a British robot bark “HI”, before whispering a piece of secret information to you, like, “He looks cool whatever he wears. – But he’s not wearing a Jacket.” Then you look at the board, work out who’s wearing a jacket and cross those guys off your list. It’s kind of like short-hand Cluedo. Instead of walking from room to room to gather clues you just pick up the phone. It’s civilised. It’s modern.
It’s easy to dismiss Dream Phone because it is one of the most nineties things in existence and the motivation is a perhaps a bit flimsy for more serious/insecure gamers. But the gameplay is really compelling and gets pretty tense when multiple people are on the verge of making a correct guess and winning the game. The thing I remember most about Mouse Trap and those other games is that they never worked reliably, or they relied too heavily on one small component that you could lose or break really easily. Heavy breathing was not permitted near the mouse trap board, lest the whole thing Rube Goldberg to the finish ruining an hour’s worth of set up and blowing the pay-off for everyone. Dream Phone however takes a gimmick and does some interesting things with it in a simple, fun way.
It’s probably hard to get hold of now, mine was a gift gleaned from a charity shop, but I think it really deserves a try if the opportunity emerges. The theming and dodgy computer voice alone make for a fun experience and the bar for entry is low enough that even those not interested in “proper board games” should get a kick out of it.