Review: Clarissa Explains It All Game
Publisher: Cardinal Industries
Year: 1994
Tagline: (none)

Clarissa is on the cover looking cute

how we met

I first learned that a game based on the early-90’s Nickelodeon show Clarissa Explains It All existed when it was covered on the podcast Flip the Table. I am not sure I ever went so far as to add it to my wishlist, but I have kept my eyes open for it ever since. And like always, one day I found Clarissa Explains It All Game sitting on a shelf in a thrift shop, just waiting for me. I paid my $1.99 and went home with a smile on my face.

how it plays

The object of Clarissa Explains It All Game is to be the first player to the Deals on Wheels Car Dealership with both a Driver’s License and the right color of key. Then you win a (pretend) car and the game!

During each turn one player acts as the “reader” and reads a CLARISSA EXPLAINS CARD out loud to their fellow players, but do not look at the back of the card! Each player, including the reader, then writes down the answer that they think is best and that Clarissa’s friends would have chosen, and they also write down their own answer to the question. The reader then turns the card over and reads out the outcomes. Each given answer will allow the player to move forward however many spaces and do what that space indicates.

A Clarissa Explains card about chores
A front and back example of a CLARISSA EXPLAINS CARD

Then players take turns reading their made-up answers to the question. If anyone matches, they each get to choose a key!!! You can choose from available keys or steal from another player.

Plastic keys in different colors
Some of the keys. As you can see, some are Made In China and some are China Made In

Some spaces on the board let you get a Driver’s License. Other spaces allow you to draw a RESCUE CARD, which you save until you get a corresponding CRISIS CARD to get out of trouble. For example if you get a RESCUE CARD about Ferguson then it will only help you against a CRISIS CARD about Ferguson. The other CRISIS CARDS are gonna get ya! Other spaces let you roll the die to see if you can get a Driver’s License. Or just chill. Or get snacks. All are self-explanatory.

Example Crisis and Rescue cards
A couple of the CRISIS and RESCUE CARDS, including a Clarissa RESCUE CARD that can be used on any CRISIS CARD!

When players get all the way around the board to the Start space (you do not have to land by exact count, just stop there), also known as Deals on Wheels Car Dealership, then they can turn one of the CAR CARDS right side up. If that player has a key matching the revealed car color then they win! If not then reshuffle the CAR CARDS and head around the board again. Because you got a car for the wrong color key, ya dummy!

The CAR CARDS face down and face up
This is what the CAR CARDS look like, face down and face up. Your goal is to flip one up and have a matching color key on hand Varoom!

how it went

You may be wondering if my desire to own this game comes from fond memories of the television show, and it does. I watched Clarissa Explains It All whenever I could in the early 90s. The last time I watched it was not even super long ago, on an airplane. They had one single episode, and I ate it up.

Clarissa Explains It All was ahead of its time really. You are essentially watching Clarissa vlog. She was quirky, likable and dressed super cute. She would be very successful on YouTube. I really liked Clarissa. She was confident, imperfect and even went so far as to make me want to accessorize. I probably have her to thank for every headband I ever owned. Even now I have a closet of hats I don’t wear. I think admiring Clarissa made pre-/young-teen me more comfortable being myself, even amplified.

Drivers License cards of Clarissa
Clarissa Darling <3 stop making me want bangs

The game is definitely trying to capture the essence of the show, and I think it does an okay job. Not great, but not bad, and not judged by me in its own time which is worth mentioning.

Pawns are stock paper standees with shoes, skateboard, bicycle, scooter
The pawns scream 90s to me, but they don’t scream Clarissa Explains It All to me

The rules are too cutesy for my taste – but I think they pull off what they are probably intending which is that you read them in your head in Clarissa’s voice, so there is occasional digression. But I am older now, and I got no time for that!

Clarissa Explains It All Game is unique in that you are moving around the board and following whatever the spaces say, but the meat of the gameplay is very similar to a party game. Players are answering odd questions and trying to match each other.

The CLARISSA EXPLAINS CARDS do not seem to have any consistency with which responses give you the best progress vs the least. This gives players the impression that the five choices they have are completely random. And that’s kind of dull, even for a gambler like me.

A shot of the shoe pawn on the board
Our play

It is really important that games don’t require landing by exact count, so yay for Clarissa Explains It All Game on that count. Exact count is one of the most painful experiences that can happen in vintage gameplay. But to force another trip round the board is its own kind of acute pain. You invest nearly an hour into gameplay (at least we did, maybe we were slow) and have to start from the very beginning again. You keep your keys and Driver’s License, but everything else is a blank fucking slate.

A sketch of someone's hand that they turned into a turkey
Proof I found in our answer sheets that someone was bored…

I think a decent house rule would be to not reshuffle the CAR CARDS. That would not only shorten gameplay but also introduce a stronger Take That approach as you head around the board again.

In the end Bill was able to match a CAR CARD to a Car Key and won Clarissa Explains It All Game!

However, this match didn’t happen until Keri flipped all the CAR CARDS over at once after Bill’s initial mismatch. That might not mean much to you, but Keri is my lover-of-games, my Can’t-Stopper, my ever-enthusiastic gamer. Her flipping those cards told me more about how terrible this game was than my own boredom ever could. Also it turned out we were missing a few of the keys. Oops.

play or pass

Pass. The me from Junior High wants to point out that if the show even approached this level of tedium, this board game would not exist. I was a fan of the show in the early 90’s. I was a fan of the show when I watched it on an airplane a couple years ago. I was not a fan of this game.