Mouse Trap (originally Mouse Trap Game) is a 3D board game for two to four players. Each player is a "mouse" that follows a set path around the perimeter of the board, advancing according to the throw of a single die. Landing on a particular space allows each player to install one particular component of a Rube Goldberg Device that will occupy most of the playfield when completed. There is no finish line or home space; the end of the path is a loop of six spaces. Once the entire device has been assembled, it becomes a matter of elimination by chance. One player's mouse must be on the Cheese space, and another player must immediately land on the Turn Crank space. The contraption is started, and usually (though not always) runs its ridiculous course until it drops a cage over the Cheese mouse, thereupon removing that mouse from play.
The game was introduced by Ideal Toy Company in 1963. Ideal was subsequently absorbed by Milton Bradley, which in turn was assimilated by Hasbro. The pieces have gone through a few name and style changes over time, but the overall contraption and gameplay remain the same.
Mouse Trap includes these tropes:
- Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: The four mouse pieces are red, yellow, green, and blue. The mice on various box art are also those colors, though unusually, the instruction manual from a mid-to-late 2010s version depicts a brown mouse and gray mouse.
- Blessed with Suck: Rolling small numbers and advancing slowly is advantageous, as it keeps that player away from the dreaded Cheese space. The players that roll big numbers and arrive at the end loop thereafter run a 1-in-6 chance of landing on the Cheese space, where they can only pray no other mouse lands on the Turn Crank space once the trap is completed.
- Buffy Speak: In the original version of the game, most of the pieces had names that described what they were, save for the "thing-a-ma-jig" above the bathtub, called the "short ramp" in newer versions.
- Cartoon Cheese: The cheese pieces are yellow triangles with Swiss cheese-style holes printed on them.
- Golden Snitch: In the end, it doesn't matter how much cheese you've collected — if you're captured, you're out, and only the last mouse standing wins. Later versions change this, making the cheese the goal in and of itself, and changing the trap to steal cheese instead of having players pay cheese to activate the trap.
- Luck-Based Mission: The outcome is always determined by die rolls. Even assembling the "trap" is determined by die rolls. Versions of the game from the 70s onward introduced cheese pieces that give the player a chance to maneuver other players' pieces, but obtaining them and moving other pieces are still determined by rolling a die. Also, there's always the chance that some piece of the trap will misfire when triggered.
- Rube Goldberg Device: Players assemble an absurd collection of parts that ultimately aim to drop a cage on a mouse. The preposterousness of this device is a huge part of the game's charm.
- Rule of Fun: No mouse would ever stand still while all the mechanisms run their course. Even if the mouse ignored all the mechanics going on, it would have enough time to eat its fill of cheese and amble back to its Mouse Hole for a nap. Also, what guy would wait patiently on that seesaw just to dive into a tub that has no water in it? Only children as players plus Toon Physics make this game plausible.
- Stock Animal Diet: Cheese for mice. Players, controlling mouse tokens, collect Cartoon Cheese wedges as part of gameplay. The space over which the cage trap is set is called the Cheese space or the Cheesy Danger Zone, meaning someone has baited a mouse trap with cheese.
- White Gloves: At least one version of the box art depicts all four bipedal cartoon mice wearing white gloves, giving them an old-timey cartoon appearance.