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Dream Crush revives the dating board game with modern complications

A colorful take on a genre with a troubled history

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Key art for the cover of Dream Crush, a new dating game from Mondo Games, shows a 1980s inspired image of a woman wearing sunglasses. Image: We Buy Your Kids/Mondo Games
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Some of board gaming’s smallest genres are also some of its most interesting, and that’s certainly true of dating games. The genre goes all the way back to the 1960s, with the classic — and wildly problematic — Mystery Date. But Mondo Games (Unmatched) has launched a colorful new contender. It’s called Dream Crush, and it’s one of the most intriguing games to come out this year.

The driving mechanic in Dream Crush is a light narrative storytelling engine. Players secretly choose one of three nonplayer characters (NPCs) to be their crush each round, and then they draw a card. On that card is a complication. Perhaps the NPCs invite you to be on their bar trivia team, or maybe you need to co-sign a lease with them. Next come the secrets — tiny tidbits about each crush that you learn over time. Secrets are divided into multiple categories: Accolades, Aspirations, Interests, Quirks, and Deal Breakers.

By the end of five rounds, Dream Crush has generated a fun little backstory for each of the three NPCs, and about the journey everyone at the table has been on. The game is highly social. Table talk is encouraged as everyone takes time to defend the crushes in play. The kicker, however, is that players score points by predicting which of the NPCs the other players at the table will choose in each round.

The components of Dream Crush laid out on the table. The background is magenta with purple stripes. Image: Mondo Games

In the end, it’s less about dunking on the NPCs and more about getting to know the people that you choose to play with. That takes it light years ahead of Hasbro’s recent reboot of the Mystery Date franchise, the woefully mean-spirited Mystery Date Catfished — which launched alongside other self-described “parody” games like Monopoly Socialism: Winning Is for Capitalists.

But what puts Dream Crush over the top, in my opinion, is its fat stack of 96 Crush cards. They include images of beautiful, diverse, modern people from all walks of life. Photographed by Carli Davidson (who’s responsible for the adorable Shake pet-photo books), they are lovingly captured and an absolute delight to shuffle and share.

Also, in a nod to the ongoing pandemic, Dream Crush includes guidance for playing remotely using a videoconferencing app like Zoom.

Dream Crush is playable for two to six players and takes roughly 30 minutes to enjoy. If you’re interested, Mondo is running a fun launch event that it’s dubbed the Dream Crush Super Secret Slumber Party. The virtual event kicks off at 8 p.m. CT on March 4.

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