Every ’90s kid™ remembers Don’t Wake Daddy, one of the hit toys of the 1992 Christmas season. It was a board game with a simple premise: The kids are trying to get to the kitchen for a late-night snack without waking up their volatile, nightcap-clad father.
Sugarcoated nostalgia for the products of the ’90s has practically become a national pastime in the decade following the Great Recession, but the passage of time has not been too kind to Daddy. In retrospect, this game is… a little uncomfortable.
Some Amazon reviewers agree: It’s probably not great to teach kids to tiptoe around the whims of a patriarch with a hair trigger. The suspense in the game derives from a mechanism where players push Daddy’s alarm clock and cross their fingers against the random chance that he’ll wake up to punish them for making noise.
What’s the punishment? It’s unclear, but it begins with Daddy ghoulishly springing up from his slumber—”as if just having awakened from a nightmare,” according to Wikipedia editors—and ends with the kids back in bed. We don’t know what happens in between, so let’s choose to assume it’s just a reasonable conversation about boundaries in Daddy’s house.
A more charitable (but still depressing) interpretation is that the kids are the antagonists, waking up their beleaguered, possibly single father, who only wants to get some sleep so he can function at the job that feeds their dog and buys them new roller skates and crap like that. In the rebellious kids-vs-adults marketing paradigm of the ’90s, is it any wonder that we loved roleplaying at breaking the rules? Some of us didn’t deserve our patient and loving parents, and we should call them more often.
But those are just the stories the game tells when it works. When it doesn’t work, Daddy is caught in a haunted, broken bed that will never let him go back to sleep. There are “technical problems with Daddy”—which sounds like something straight out of horror fiction or a David Fincher film. Some reviewers reported Daddy wouldn’t wake up at all, forcing poor kiddos to confront their own mortality. Is there anything scarier than a dead parent?
This game is very upsetting.
To its credit, though, reviews are mostly positive. One fan praised “the educational aspects of the game”—not the education about death and authority and other facets of human misery, the education about numbers.
“Kids are challenged to match colors as well as complex designs. Then counting comes into it when pushing daddy’s alarm.”
Well, when you put it that way, it’s probably fine.
Here we present, for your Father’s Day enjoyment, the best-worst online reviews of Don’t Wake Daddy.
Technical Problems with Daddy
“This game was really fun for the kids for the five minutes it lasted. Technical problems with Daddy and the latch that holds him down…very frustrating for my 3 year old who really wanted to play more than twice…I might return it but I certainly will pick something else…disappointed, thumbs down!”
My daughter was TERRIFIED
“I thought this was the cutest game when my 6 year old son suggested we get it for my 3 year old daughter. The concept is really cute and it’s easy to play. The problem we ran into was totally unexpected. My daughter was TERRIFIED of the game! She was so excited to play until the first time the dad popped out of bed. She got scared and started crying and didn’t want to play anymore. We put it away for about 6 months thinking maybe she was still too young. When we pulled it out again, she wanted to play but she wouldn’t let anyone push the button on Dad’s bed until she was watching from out of the room. We ended up giving the game away. This is a really cute game as long as your child isn’t easily startled.”
The “fun” in “dysfunctional parenting”
“A terrific game that teaches kids to walk on eggshells around their father and his rage. From the same people who put the ‘fun’ in “dysfunctional parenting” with games like: Stay Away From Mommy When She’s Sobbing, Tell Grandpa Everything He Wants to Hear, and Eat Your Feelings Away.”
I wish we’d gotten her Perfection instead
“I hate this game. Okay, I know it’s made for little kids, but this game is dull beyond dull,. The “daddy” is very cheaply made. Ours quickly became hair-trigger sensitive, and now always pops up after only 1 or 2 pushes on the button. Since ‘daddy’ get’s awoken on almost every single turn, and since every time he wakes, the player who’s turn it is has to go back to start, you can imagine how long this game can take to finish! My daughter asked for this game for Christmas, but every time she asks to play, I wish this particular gift had fallen off of Santa’s sled. I wish we’d gotten her Perfection instead.”
“Wake up, Daddy. I’m hungry, Daddy”
“If it works and you have the right attitude, this can be a fun game for young kids. I love to pretend that I’m a kid and I WANT to wake Daddy up so he’ll feed me. (‘Wake up, Daddy. I’m hungry, Daddy,’ I say, as I push the button.) The kids laugh like crazy when I do this.”
The game board was for Candyland
“we received the package in good time, but did not check the contents. The game was described as collectible excellent condition but the cards were destroyed and the game board was for ‘candyland’!”
No reason to continue to torture yourself
“My girls started to play Catan and Carcassonne when they were 5 and 7, and did quite well at it. Snakes and ladders and games like don’t wake daddy really have a small window: 3-5 years. No reason to continue to torture yourself after your kids hit 5!”