Pairs well with: It doesn’t matter, just make sure there’s lots of it.
Brutus rating: 2/10 daggers in the back. Very little of what you do matters to anyone else.
Here at the Misery Farm we review all kinds of games, classified as ‘board games’ in name only. Card games, coaster games, games where you roll a handful of sushi and ring a little bell. Most of these games are, however, alike in that they are good or at least appreciable (Terra Mystica being the exception because otherwise-intelligent people seem to like it). Atmosfear (aka Nightmare) is not a good game. It is a silly, cheesy, mindless game which you should play as soon as possible if you can get hold of it.
Bonus points if you can find the original, released in 1991 with a VHS tape. This game is almost as old as we are and comes rammed with nearly as much 90s nostalgia. Remember all those crap ‘family board games’ you played as a kid? Monopoly, Cluedo, Trivial Pursuit, Candyland, Snakes and Ladders? Games which involved zero strategy or forward-planning, only a reliance on the kindness of the dice-gods and the ability to react to prescribed actions written on cards. The kind that evoke rainy afternoons on a caravan holiday or evenings at your grannies’ house, not the cool one who basically force-fed you boiled sweets but the one whose TV only had two terrestrial channels so you had to find ‘something quiet’ to do while she knitted and listened to Gardeners’ Question Time. This is definitely one of those games. But spoooooooky.*
You can tell it’s spooky because you play in a dark room** as various undead characters (mummy, skeleton, witch, etc. They’ve really pushed the boat out in terms of originality) running around a graveyard (or is it hell? Spooky, ancient parchment-looking rules unclear). Really guys, you have no idea how hard they’ve tried to make this game creepy in an adorably-crap 90s way. Like, have any of our readers been to Boomtown music festival? Everyone there is chewing their tiny faces off and dancing to psy-trance and reggae, it’s great. Anyway they have this mini-stage called the Rave Yard where they play 90s dance hits and it’s decorated with cardboard cut-outs of grave stones and fake cobwebs and shit. Playing this game is like that, but not self-aware.
The aim of the game is to collect your 6 character-specific keys and then get to the middle of the board, where everybody has written their deepest fears on face-down cards (or scraps of paper). As long as you don’t draw your own deepest fear then you go through the gate (to where?) and win.
Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that someone has written an essay instead of a deepest fear. This would be Bob’s friendly robot boyfriend, who is scared of ‘swimming in the sea and then suddenly, like, there’s a whale a couple of feet from me and I can just see its huge eye. Nothing should be that big, man, like I’d just immediately die. Fuck. That.’
Other complicating factors are Fate cards and Chance cards, which seem to be more or less the same thing. Most of these are straightforward crap-game fare (roll the dice***, react to an outcome which may be favourable or unfavourable; hoard this very scenario-specific card until a specific scenario arises, at which point forget that you have this card; roll a 6 or miss a turn, etc), while others are frankly weird. Bob got royally stitched by a card which asked that a player choose another player and, whenever that player made a decision, rub their hands together while looking all sly and questioning their decisions. When they inevitably ask ‘why are you acting like a villain from Scooby-Doo?’ you can steal all their hoarded Fate and Chance cards.
There is also an enormous stack of Time cards, which require players to perform actions at
certain points in the game. For example, Bob received on which required that exactly 50 minutes and 45 seconds into the game, she scream ‘STOP’ as loudly as possible. For every person she frightened she gained a turn and they missed a turn. The scariness of the suddenly-screaming gamer is somewhat lessened by the fact that other players had had the exact same card earlier in the game, so the audience had become somewhat desensitised. Bob managed to make at least two people flinch by working the scream into a long-term dramatic turn as someone with an intense tummy-ache brought on by too much gin. The copious amounts of pre-game gin consumed by the gaming party made this bit of play-acting quite convincing, though it’s possible (read: extremely likely) that folks were flinching more from a fear of sudden gin-spew than actual terror. Either way, result.
‘But how are you supposed to know exactly how far into this cobwebby nonsense you are!?’ we hear you cry. Well gentle readers, that’s where the VHS DVD video files downloaded off the Interwebs come into play. The game lasts exactly one hour, and the video shows a timer. But that’s not all. Oh no, there is a super-spooky, super-macabre game-master! He demands that you respond to him with ‘Yes my gatekeeper!’ or ‘No, my gatekeeper!’ (answer without the proper formalities and *gasp* miss a turn) and he wants to punish yoooooou! Honestly, it’s just better to take a gulp of whatever tethers you to this mortal plane and pretend for your sanity’s sake he’s not talking to you, and you keep going regardless of his poorly fashioned, overly gothic, and over-acted lines.
Basically it’s a dude in a hood who looks progressively more haggard and demonic**** as the game goes on. According to Briony this happens to most pub locals in her home town over the course of the evening, and so the horror is generally lost in the West Country. He makes all kinds of demands ranging, once again, from the predictable (youngest player roll your age or miss a turn!) to the downright weird (player whose turn it is next, crawl closer to the screen…. Obey me!), and calls the players maggots a lot. He has the power to send you to what is effectively the jail in Monopoly, but in this is called the Black Hole (or ‘Blag-hole’ according to the Gatekeeper, whose enunciation is rather poor).
As the game progresses stuff happens faster and faster to cover up the fact that the arbitrary snakes-and-ladders progression and punishment cycle actually gets pretty boring. The gatekeeper interrupts more often, releasing players from the ‘blag hole’ and handing out precious keys willy-nilly. At the start of the game these are rare and offer some specific bonuses, but by the end of the game are won and lost in seconds, removing any strategic elements this game had any hope of maintaining and causing chaos as players try to remember what they can and can’t do, as well as the few ways they might be able to screw other players over*****.
Atmosfear is ridiculous and mechanically atrocious, but it is great fun. Who could fail to enjoy a game where a creepy hooded dude yells at you to a soundtrack of whistling wind and cracking thunder? It’s like being trapped in a Goosebumps novel for an hour. Play it drunk with friends who are at least old enough to remember the 90s, though aren’t necessarily board game aficionados. Then never play it again. Alternatively, play it with Briony’s dad so she doesn’t have to, man is she sick of trying to play that game between eating too many mince pies and drinking too much wine.
The winner of tonight’s board game was the spooky witch. The real loser was board games, and the self-respect of any board gamer who genuinely wants to play that game.
* Briony’s dad is actually a big fan of playing it as a family bonding experience at Christmas, which explains a lot.
**Seriously you have no idea how many times this game emphasizes that it should be played in a super-scary slightly darkened room. Yes, this does make it difficult to see what the fuck you’re doing.
***Frustratingly, there are in fact two dice provided with this game but you only seem to roll one at a time? But the game constantly refers to the singular die with the technically-correct-but-unclear ‘dice’, so you’re never quite sure how many you’re supposed to be rolling.
****His skin gets greener and his eyes get redder.
*****Much like Monopoly, there is only really one way; if they land on your property grave.
Bob took the photos on her mobile in a darkened room (as per instructions) so they are terrible. We apologise.