Grape Escape

Reliving the classic boardgame. . .
July 07, 2011

Reliving the classic board game. . .

Board games have always played pretty big roles in our youth. Even as a college kid, I have noticed that it is a habit that we have yet to totally abandon, seeing as how many of our peers still like to kick back with the occasional game of Scrabble, Monopoly, or the odd Settlers of Catan all-nighter.

We all had / have our favorites. I was always partial to Battleship, a game that I absolutely DOMINATED back in grade school. I got so good at that game that I did not even need to put those little pegs on the top screen, as I had pretty much memorized the game space in my head. There were others that I was pretty partial to - Othello, Rock Em Sock Em Robots, Mouse Trap. . .ostensibly, all the classics we know and love. Being a child of the 90s, however, I was also exposed to a lot of games that never really became standards the way Sorry and Risk did. In fact, I would say that the early 1990s was very much the golden age of weird board games, and when I say weird, I mean W-E-I-R-D.

We had games about child abuse (Don t Wake Daddy). We had games about sadistically killing insects (SPLAT) and other human beings (1313 Dead End Drive). For crying aloud, we even had a game where the object was to yank boogers out of a guy s nasal passages (Gooey Louie.) Indeed, it was the best of times for people into wayyy out-there board games, but even amongst the strangest of the strange, there was just ONE undisputed king of messed up, early 90s offerings.

The one, the only. . .


Granted, at first glance, Grape Escape does not seem that off-kilter. Fundamentally, it s nothing more than Mouse Trap with a Play Doh gimmick, but at the same time, it really does take on a life of its own, for reasons we will discuss in depth a little later on.

To be honest, I really did not have that much experience with the game as a kid. As a huge fan of Mouse Trap, however, the game really had a lot of appeal to me, and the commercials (which memorably featured a bunch of cartoon grapes getting shred and stomped to ribbons like a Leatherface victim) had me drooling like one of Pavlov s puppies. Although I never ended up owning (well, purchasing it for myself, anyway) the game, I did get the chance to play it a time or two, and relatively enjoyed the brief exposure I had to the game.

Not too long ago, I was rummaging around in the basement when, much to my jubilant surprise, I managed to find a fully intact version of the game, just sitting there, nestled between an old edition of Battleship and Guess Who? Of course, I was excited and then some to unearth this hidden gem (although, for the life of me, I had no earthly idea how it ended up there), and immediately took it upstairs to do a little review of its contents.

The first thing you notice about the game, I suppose, is that it's a pretty hefty package. I am really not sure just how much the thing weighs, but it is definitely heavier than any version of Battleship I have ever seen. I cannot say for certain that it s tonnage is on par with Crossfire, but it s definitely pretty close to it in terms of bulkiness. It s not going to give you a hernia, but its definitely a game that you'd have to grip with both hands if you wanted to lug it room from room.

As with most games from the timeframe, as soon as you flip the box over, you are greeted by a gaggle of multicultural children having the time of their respective lives with the board game in question. You get plenty of photos featuring the hulking, plastic factory component of the game, alongside a few pictures showcasing little Play Doh guys getting steamrolled and bifurcated by a pair of oversized scissors. In case you were wondering what the major WTF factor was for the game, it was that its selling point was that it allowed children to maim, dismember and generally dissect their little Play Doh guys like junior Jeffery Dahmers, which, needless to say, was the kind of perverse sort of thrill that you would NEVER get from your basic game of Kerplunk! or Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Parker Brothers really went above and beyond the call of duty in getting the whole fruit-based death and dismemberment shtick across to would-be players. The terms Squsih, Squash and Sqoosh are plastered ALL OVER the box, in several different permutations. As soon as you picked this game up, you knew what you were getting into, and that was some pure, unadulterated, hardcore grape stomping mayhem. . .which is something, I must say, was gloriously lacking in games like Connect Four and Boggle.

As you can clearly see here, the instructions for the game are positively enormous. At first glance, I thought the directions were the blueprints for conquering Poland, but I guess that would not entail a warning about small parts posing a choking hazard. . .

If you are going to score yourself a copy of the game off Ebay, I strongly advise you to stock up on the rubber bands. Literally EVERY component of this game involves the use of elastic office supplies, so playing the game may require a precursory trip to Staples beforehand. And in case you were wondering, the directions are printed in both French and Spanish, too, so if you and your buds Pierre and Miguel want to team up for assembly purposes, Parker Brothers isn t making it too difficult for you.

The game comes with four complimentary cans of Grape Goop (because Play Doh was not interested in a joint venture, I suppose). All of the colors are hues traditionally associated with grapes, so Parker Brothers gets bonus points from me for keeping it at least a little realistic here.

Unfortunately, a good fifteen plus years of exposure to open air has all but eroded whatever Goop was originally in these containers. As a precautionary measure, you may want to stop by the 99 cent store and pick up a couple of boxes of Play Doh before starting a game. . .unless, of course, you have intentions of playing it with modeling clay dust.

Here, we have the mold you will be using to make your little grape game pieces. It s really nothing too advanced - basically, if you have played one early 90s board game that makes use of Play Doh-molded figures, you have already seen something comparable to this before.

And this is our game board. It's a little bit larger than most game boards from the timeframe - I would say it is about one foot long, all the way around. Or for those of you on the metric system, uh. . .yeah, it s one foot long, all the way around.

It is a pretty detailed little board, I must say. It sort of reminds me of a pinball map, with all of the little details scattered all over the place. Apparently, the game takes place in what appears to be a winery. . .but since this is a game marketed towards children, it looks like it is a winery that specializes in producing nothing but grape jelly.

And here is a look at the game board from a different perspective. Particularly, the perspective of the board if you just so happened to be a Saint Bernard, I suppose.

In case you were wondering how Grape Escape is played, it follows a pretty basic set of rules. You have a lone dice that each player takes turns throwing. The dice is speckled with numbers which denote the number of spaces you are allowed to travel, as well as symbols that tell you when it is time to turn the crank of doom. The crank of doom to what, you may be asking? Well, to this. . .

Just looking at this thing makes me hear Slayer in the background. Despite being pastel colored, the plastic obstacle course for this game is positively massive, and to be honest, a little intimidating for a kids plaything. Feasibly, you could have released this same set as a board game with a Spanish Inquisition theme, and I highly doubt that you would have to change the general schematics of the set up all that much.

Here is an overhead shot of the entire contraption. To give you an idea of how big the thing really is, I had to stand on top of my swivel chair to zoom my camera far out enough to get the entire thing in a the viewing frame. As you can see, the game board contains four primary death traps, ranging from a steamroller with biceps like Hulk Hogan to a pair of hot pink shears that can cut your game piece up like Dewey Cox s brother in Walk Hard. So yeah, this game was basically SAW a good ten years before the first SAW movie even came out.

And here is another shot of the contraption, displaying its size in correlation to the rest of the game board.

And here is one more, taken from a more distant perspective. Although the contraption appears to be about the same height as an oil rig, I assure you, it s still less than about a foot tall from the peak of the boot to the base of the board. And yes, you are not alone in wanting to take a Godzilla action figure and turning the prop into a kaiju movie set. . .or at least, I hope I am not the only person that gets that immediate sensation.

Long story short, EVERYBODY wanted to own this game, but nobody really had intentions of actually playing it. Really, the whole reason any kid wanted to own the game in the first place was to get the opportunity to make Play Doh people and THEN put them in gruesome death traps, and to this day, such a morbid hook remains incredibly luring. So, how about we break out the Play Doh, make us a couple of grape people, and get medieval (quite literally) up in this junk?

Right off the bat, I can tell you that the little grape figures you make out of Play-Doh are absurdly creepy looking. You may not think mid 90s plastic molds would be capable of producing nightmare fodder, but the playing pieces you create with this game are pretty freaky looking for a child s play toy. The attention to detail is what really amps up the heebie-jeebies factor - not only do these things have meticulously pointed noses, each figure has this absolutely HORRIFYING look of unadulterated terror on their faces that makes them look more like wartime refugees than playtime creations.

If you did not jump just a little at that, your body, it is already dead.

At this juncture, I think it is time to just give all of you what you came here for: enough idle chatter about the board game and 90s nostalgia, LET'S SEE SOME HARDCORE FRUIT BASED CARNAGE. Well, ask, and ye shall receive, but I warn you: what follows next is essentially the Play-Doh equivalent of a snuff movie.

I suppose the little steamroller with the Macho Man Randy Savage arms is the best place to begin. If you have ever seen the second Indiana Jones movie, you know what happens when a poor soul gets sucked underneath one of these things, so how grisly can such a sight be when it involves an anthropomorphic fruit made out of Play-Doh?

. . .well, as it turns out, yeah, pretty gosh-darn grisly. The steamroller just did not smoosh him (so much for accurate product descriptions, huh?) as it did hideously deform him. Here I was thinking I was getting a quirky piece of retro, and instead, I am given Faces of Death quality bodily mutilation.

I will be honest with you. . . I really have no idea how the saw portion of the play set is supposed to work, so I just did what seemed to be the most logical thing and placed my little grape figure underneath the plastic blade and began a-cranking. . .

. . .OK, so the results here were not as impressive as the last outing. I guess the saw did not injure the grape fellow as much as it gave him a haircut, but in all fairness, that thing could have also lobotomized him. As far as visuals go, it may not be Hannibal Lector quality, but it still looks pretty nasty to me. Hey, you try to live your life with a gash on your head large enough to secure a Frisbee and you tell me if it s a walk in the park to recover from.

Well, looks like we have a lot of promise with this boot here, huh?

OK, OK, it isn't THAT impressive, but still. I am not sure how many times in life I will be able to turn a grape into a hunchback with stegosaurus plates, so I consider the five minutes I spent here WELL WORTH THE INVESTMENT.

And so, we come to the MONEY SHOT. Seriously, this photo here is worth 100 thumbs up alone, isn't it? It could lend itself to the cover of a Venom album, circa 1985, if you ask me - well, if the grape was a person, and instead of being neon green and pink, the torture rack was dull and grey, but you get the idea. Surely, this must result in UNPARALLELED brutality for a board game, correct?

Huh. I guess after fifteen years in the cellar, even plastic scissors begin to dull. So, the rubber bands were not powerful enough to COMPLETELY severe the little guy in half, but it gets aplomb from me. I mean, heck, compared to Trouble and Sorry!, even NOT being able to dissect a Play-Doh man with faux cutlery is a more desirable way to spend one's evening.

And, that, in a nutshell, is what you missed out on if you missed Grape Escape way back when. It s a very uncomplicated game with very little replayability, but I kind of figure Grape Escape is not the kind of thing you break out every two or three weeks to pass a rainy afternoon.

The game has been LONG out of print, and copies on Ebay will cost you way more than any sensible adult should spend on a childhood longing. It definitely does not live up to the sky high hype we all WISH to remember, but if nothing else, it is a good conversation piece, and pending you have a LOT of patience, a pretty fun game to play when you and your buds are hanging out. That, and this thing has drinking game written all over it, so if you are 21 years or older and have no plans of finishing college, you may want to put this on your wish list.

BONUS VIDEO! If you want to see Grape Escape's myriad death traps in motion, check out this clip at And hey: Be sure to tell em Retro Junk sent you!

James Swift is a freelance writer and author of two books, How I Survived Three Years at a Two-Year Community College: A Junior Memoir of Epic Proportions and Mascara Contra Mascara: A Tale of Two Masks. Follow him on Twitter at JSwiftMedia, or subscribe to his YouTube channel at
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