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The old 90s board game Hero Quest
Hero Quest is a wanted board game on Trade Me. (Image: Chris Schulz; Treatment: Archi Banal)

BusinessJuly 16, 2023

I listed this dusty old 90s board game on Trade Me. Chaos ensued

The old 90s board game Hero Quest
Hero Quest is a wanted board game on Trade Me. (Image: Chris Schulz; Treatment: Archi Banal)

Desperate offers, private DMs and a last-minute bidding war – why did so many people want this beat-up board game?

The box was ripped, worn and faded. It had been sitting in the shed for years, accumulating layers of dust and a sprinkling of mouse poo. Finding it was like that scene when the kids find the game in Jumanji – only smellier.

I was about to throw it all in the bin when the cover grabbed me. “High Adventure in a World of Magic,” boasted the tagline over a godlike figure brandishing a heavy sword. Childhood memories returned. In the early 90s, my dad set me a challenge: If I didn’t bite my fingernails for a full three months, he’d take me to Whanganui’s one and only toy store and buy me a board game. 

Not just any old board game: Hero Quest. The entry-level fantasy adventure game was a coveted item amongst my friends. I stopped biting my nails, and three months later my dad reluctantly bought me the game. It came with six dice, quest books and figurines galore: orcs, elves, wizards, dwarves, zombies and a single dragon. It was intense. I started biting my nails again immediately.

Thirty years on, my copy of Hero Quest was in pretty average condition. It had travelled with me between flats and cities, tossed around in cars and cupboards, unwanted and unloved until, for a brief period, my kids found it and really set about decimating it. Bits were missing; others were broken. The barbarian’s sword had long since vanished. 

Someone, probably my daughter, had misread the vibe and stuck cute little stickers over everything. 

A board game found in my shed.
A faded, jaded copy of the 1990s board game Hero Quest. (Photo: Chris Schulz)

I didn’t want to throw it all in the bin. Some of the pieces had been painted. The board itself was in excellent condition. The branded notepads were unused. The quest books were ready to go. Much of it would be usable if combined with another working set. Chucking it all away just seemed wrong.

“Does anyone want this for parts?” I wrote on Trade Me early one Sunday morning. I created an auction hoping someone would come and take the whole thing off my hands. I set the reserve at a paltry $10. I didn’t know what I was doing. 

It sparked an immediate furore. Within 10 minutes, the listing received dozens of views. My phone started pinging with notifications. Someone offered me $50 on the spot. Others asked for my phone number to request private viewings. The watchlist grew and grew. Bidding quickly exceeded the meagre reserve, then headed up and over the $50 my dad paid for it back in 1990. After a late flurry, bidding closed at $64.01.

I’ve sold things on Trade Me before, but nothing has ever gone off like this. I had to know: what was going on?

Figurines lined up from the board game Hero Quest.
High adventure in a world of magic: Hero Quest. (Photo: Chris Schulz)

“That’s not a surprise to me,” says James McFadgen. He mutters “uh huh” repeatedly as I relay this story to him. The owner of Auckland cafe Cakes n Ladders knows exactly why people are clamouring for my dusty old board game. “A lot of fledgling nerds had their very first taste of geekdom with this … so it’s got massive nostalgia value,” he says.

But it’s not just ancient memories of orc slaying driving up the value. Hero Quest isn’t in production any more and likely won’t be brought back. McFadgen explains that it was a collaboration between Milton Bradley and Games Workshop, and the game ceased production when that deal ended in 1997. (For those who want to know more, this 43-minute YouTube video explains Hero Quest’s own lore.)

A lockdown-inspired Hero Quest remake called “Game System” was crowdfunded and released by Hasbro in 2021 with updates and add-ons, including gender alternative versions of the game’s heroes. But even that goes for sky-high prices: one’s currently listed on Trade Me for $526.63.

The cover for the rare board game Space Crusade.
Space Crusade: another highly sought after 90s board game

Hero Quest isn’t the only ageing board game in demand. McFadgen says Space Crusade, released around the same time as Hero Quest, is another Milton Bradley game fans are eager to get their hands on. The official Battlestar Galactica board game based on the sci-fi TV series is hot property too. “I would encourage you for your own amusement to just go looking at eBay listings,” he says. He’s right: the numbers are up there.

Board games usually soar in value when game companies lose the intellectual property rights and can no longer produce the game. That’s exactly what’s happened in these cases. “You just can’t make the Battlestar Galactica game,” says McFadgen. “They can make the same exact game with the same mechanics [only] with a different theme. But everybody wants the Battlestar Galactica version.”

Numbers are soaring on Trade Me too. Lockdowns inspired a surge in demand for board games, says spokesperson Millie Silvester. Searches are up 18% since 2018, she says, and the auction site has more than 21,000 board games listed. The most searched-for are family-friendly titles like Cashflow, Catan and Monopoly.

But Silvester says the most expensive board game sold on Trade Me in the past year was a Kingdom Death Monster set in perfect condition. It sold last August for $3020. Why? “It’s valuable because it has highly detailed minis and a lot of them,” says McFadgen. This Kickstarter campaign attempting to relaunch a new version calls it “blisteringly difficult”.

This trend ties into growing demand for newly-retro items. Original iPods, Sony Cybershot cameras and Nintendo GameBoys in original condition are worth good money. “There is growing nostalgia for tech from the 90s,” says Trade Me spokesperson Audrey Malone. “Millennials are reminiscing on their youth, while Gen Z is wanting to snap up a piece of history before their time.”

Some iPods are seen as retro tech now. (Image: Tina Tiller)

A Nintendo Gamecube from 2001 sold for $1750 in December, and a 2004 iPod Classic still in its box sold for $750 in May. Malone lists an Xbox 360 console signed by Shihad and an original 1994 Daytona Arcade machine as some of the site’s most-viewed retro tech items. And don’t forget: Ageing 90s boy racer cars are worth a bomb too.

It’s enough to make you want to dive back into your shed to see what other treasures you might be able to dig out for sale. McFadgen has his own copy of Hero Quest at home, but he refuses to part with it. Like mine, it’s in terrible condition. “We didn’t just put it in a vacuum-sealed container and be like, ‘This is gonna be worth so much money one day,'” he says. “We played with it in the 90s.”

After hearing my story, though, he says he could perhaps be tempted. “Maybe one day I will.” As for my copy, I boxed it up and shipped it off to the new owner. When I asked him what he’d be doing with it, he confirmed that it would be going to a good home. “I have the game but [it] wasn’t complete … I’ve been a fan of the game since I was a kid.” Let the quest continue.

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