A game that’s a little more recent than some of the others I’ve reviewed in this blog, but that still qualifies as a classic board game, is Nightmare: The VHS Game. This game struck a real chord when an unknown Australian company called “A Couple of Cowboys” released it in 1991, and the franchise is still going strong today with multiple sequels. It was released as “Atmosfear” in some markets to avoid confusion with a similarly named game called “Knightmare” (shades of the Sierra Online/Milton Bradley HeroQuest / Hero Quest dispute!), but most North Americans know it as “Nightmare.”
This is a horror-themed game, and a Halloween favorite. The Gatekeeper, a pallid looking character, challenges the players to survive his game. Each player takes the persona of one of his Harbinger thralls: Baron Samedi (zombie), Anne de Chantraine (witch), Helin (poltergeist), Gevaudan (werewolf), Khufu (mummy), and Baroness Elizabeth Bathory (vampire), and wander the game board in a search for six missing keys that will help them escape the Gatekeeper’s clutches.
Prior to starting the game, players have to write down their greatest fear on the back of one of the reusable Nightmare cards, and on a little slip of paper which is put into the well of fears. (Usually when I receive one of these games to sell there are common fears listed, like spiders or heights, but every so often some goofball writes something like, “Lucy’s stinky feet” as their greatest fear. You’d be surprised how often similar phrases pop up. But I digress…). Once a player has all their keys, they make their way to the center of the game board and draw from the Well. If they draw the paper with their own fear written on it, they have conquered their greatest fear, defeated the Gatekeeper, and won the game.
The VHS tape keeps a running count of the time remaining in the contest, and the Gatekeeper shows up from time to time to both taunt and further challenge the players. It’s played up, of course, as benefits a tribute to the “B” horror movie genre that this game truly is. The actor, Wenanty Nosul, knows his job and does it well, providing just the right amount of creepy overacting to make his appearances on the screen memorable.
There have been several sequels to Nightmare: The VHS Game. We’ve been treated to Nightmare II (starring Baron Samedi), Nightmare III (starring Anne de Chantraine), Nightmare IV (starring Elizabeth Bathory), Atmosfear: The Harbingers, Atmosfear: The Soul Rangers, and Atmosfear: The Gatekeeper, just to name a few. Each one follows a similar game structure (although Atmosfear: The Soul Rangers features new characters, as The Gatekeeper has been imprisoned by a bizarre skeleton dentist named Dr. Mastiff, and all the Harbingers banished from his realm. No really, I’m not making this up!).
Nightmare: The VHS Game is suggested for ages 12 and up. Although the box states that anywhere from 2 to 6 players can play the game, to make it a memorable gaming experience, at least four players should be sitting at the gaming table. It’s a perfect game to pull out of the gaming closet for a Halloween party – just don’t write anything about stinky feet as your entry into the Well of Fears!