Atmosfear: As nostalgic and spooky as a rave in a haunted house

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.

atmos

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.

IMG_1207Bonus 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.

Why yes, yes your counters are indeed gravestones.
Why yes, yes your counters are indeed gravestones.

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.

Deepest fears.
Deepest fears.

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.’

IMG_1224Other 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 IMG_1218
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.

Is it spookier with the white balance off?
Is it spookier with the white balance off?

‘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.

Home boy goes from this...
Home boy goes from this…

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).

To this.
To this. Contact game on fleek.

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*****.

IMG_1197Atmosfear 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.

This game has HOW MANY expansions!?
This game has HOW MANY expansions!?

 

* 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.

 

Terra Mystica: Terrain Stereotypica

Brutus scale: 3/10
Pairs well with: A selection of ales representing terrain types. E.g. dark stout for Swamp, pale ale for Grasslands, red IPA for desert, etc.

Contents: Mystery, Dirt and Sulky Opponents.
Contents: Mystery, Dirt and Sulky Opponents.

Terra Mystica roughly translates to English as ‘mystical earth’. What’s so mystical about it you ask? Well, for one, the fact that the laws of geography and biology don’t exist is pretty thrilling. And by thrilling we mean no-one cares. It’s another terrain-based board game with different ecologies represented by different tile designs in the style of Small World or Kingdom Builder. Also similar to Small World is that you play as a race/civilisation. Your choices are scantily-clad female races (such as witches), brutish large men races (such as giants), and sneaky stereotyped races (like the dark and plotting alchemists). Many of the available races fall in between these categories, but one thing’s for sure: it will feel like your flippant choice of race has way too much impact on the game.

I am Man, hear me roar.
I am Man, hear me roar.
DSC_0112
I am Woman, my breasts are barely covered.

Each race will have some varying starting resources, and will have a selection of different abilities that come into play throughout the game. This makes playing through as a particular race for the first time really fucking difficult, as three hours into a game you’ll spontaneously realise you should have built something in turn one, but didn’t. There is no way to save it. You’ll just have to suck it up and keep building single houses every turn until the game ends. You are a terrible leader of your people and they know it, and they resent you for it.

‘Sire, what shall we do to make our empire grander? More trade perhaps? Build a mighty cathedral maybe?’

‘No my poor peon, we shall build a small wooden house on a single tile. Forever.’

‘But sire, all of our people have houses, surely we should build something better –‘

‘- Houses! Forever!’

DSC_0123The mechanics of the game are mainly centred on job selection. This will provide you with some sort of resource, and/or an ability that you can tailor your turn to. Each race receives a board with around 5,097 wooden pieces on it, of which you play the wrongly-shaped piece often. In reality there are about 20 pieces, but still, that’s a lot of shapes under your control. Each of these pieces represents a different type of building, or worker, each with build costs that ramp up the better the building you want to construct. Once you’ve selected a job an action phase occurs. This is where the real meaning of the game title is revealed: your race can only settle on a particular type of terrain tile. In order for your city to expand you need to terraform different terrains into your own in order to build on top them. It’s like Civilization or Tigris and Euphrates only worse and a more frustrating drain on your resources.

Imagine you are a small band of settlers looking for the ideal place to begin your great dynasty. You’ve travelled all over the land to find the most fertile, most beautiful, most defensible place. But Gary decides that actually, maybe if we settled on some scorching, inhospitable lava plains, that might be better. Gary is pretty stubborn leader so we’ve had to go along with it. Typical fucking Gary.

Who knew there were so many different types of dirt.
You could have picked any of these, Gary.

The list of things you can do in your turn isn’t particularly well-structured either – you can more or less keep doing all  of the things you want until you run out of resources (admittedly in some games this is a great thing, but you grow weary of the freedom rapidly). This makes competition with the other players minimal as no one can tactically end turns, or force extra resource spending. However one mechanic that is pretty good is ‘power’. Power is a physical resource in DSC_0116this game, which is purple and stored in some big dishes on your personal board. You can collect/receive it during turns or actions, which means that you transfer a little purple power pellet from one dish into the main dish. When you spend that power, you move the power pellet from the main dish to the beginning dish. In order to generate more power you have to move all of the purple pellets from the beginning dish to the main dish again in a little cycle. It’s a pretty neat cycle which requires forward planning, and allows unlimited but very tightly-constrained regeneration.

DSC_0126Unfortunately it’s only worth doing if you go heavily into a power farming strategy, or your race is particularly good at keeping power generated. For instance, Briony quite enjoys playing as the alchemists as their race ability, once the stronghold (a particularly important bit of wood) is built, generates a lot of power straight up. This means that you don’t have to compete for resources or jobs as you can mostly pay for everything with power, and you don’t have to keep putting a lot of effort into getting the power cycled around the dishes. She also enjoys this race as she’s spent almost every game playing as them, so she’s nailed the routine of what to do for the most effect. Then again she is the sort of person that can spend hours playing the first 100 turns of civilization over and over as one particular race to optimise strategy and timing. Bob simply cannot do this – she claims to enjoy fun.

Tasty bonus tiles.
Tasty bonus tiles.

As the game goes on your settlements begin to expand. Buildings are worth points, and once you’ve accrued enough your settlement becomes a city. This comes with a nice one-off bonus and also allows you to build a stronghold, unlocking a race ability. Along one side of the board there are a series of bonus tiles that offer a selection of lovely things e.g. extra victory points, some resources, a nice compliment about your hair. These are turned over once per round, and will state a requirement such as ‘Gain a buttload of power if you build five perfectly-domed city halls out of lava this turn’. This allows you to plan out your buildings to occur in rounds where you can get the most victory points from them. You can also imagine a giant stroking the bonus card seductively, clad in a leotard and heels for maximum gameshow effect. Whatever floats your boat.

In addition to this there is also an elemental temple track. In this there are four tracks representing each element. In order to go up in these tracks you must have a priest meeple (which can be gained by building certain buildings) or fulfill a job has that rewards you with that resource for free. Priests are sacrifically burned in the ‘totally-not a cult we promise, guys’ temple to push you up the track and also correspond to the bonus round tiles. DSC_0124For instance ‘if you are at least at level 4 in the Earth track gain a free visit from the Emperors of Xenu’*. We’re not particularly sure why this mechanic exists really. It’s adding an extra component to a game that already has a shit tonne of components, and to use would really take a lot of investment. Bob tried it once and even with a very cult-loving race it wasn’t really so much ‘viable’ as ‘fucking irritating’. We also aren’t really sure why they represent the elements… possibly because the earth is made from the basic four elements? Who knows, all we know is that that is bad science and the expansion will probably have a Helium and a Potassium track.

Once the game ends you get some final victory points that add to the ones generated throughout by your buildings or bonus’s. Points are awarded for the biggest city, how far up each track a player is, and some other excuses to have some points. It’s actually quite a nice way to end because it changes the scoring up, makes you feel good for getting more, and that you did better than you had originally thought. Overall the game has some really good mechanics – its downfall is that it has too many of them. This makes picking an effective strategy difficult and requiring a lot of experience with each race. We can’t help but feel that is doesn’t need quite that much stuff. There is a lot of it. Pieces, tiles, bonuses, tracks, races, resources, power, jobs, workers, buildings, giants in leotards – like the contents of a student’s bedroom floor (Nerds have ‘interesting’ university experiences).

Exhibit A - 'stuff'.
Exhibit A – ‘stuff’.

That being said, the two player version of the game is surprisingly good as a lot of the extra guffin is taken out. As a result of fewer players, the game progresses much faster, and you tend to get a grip on your race more quickly. Certainly playing it two player a few times would be the ideal way to understand the game, technique, and races before diving into a monster 6 person epic. Don’t be too put off from playing this game kids, there are a lot of positive reviews of itout there. We just feel like it was so close to being a truly classically epic game, but it got a bit too ahead of itself. Less is more, Terra Mystica, you don’t have to keep putting on extra frilly bits to please your target audience.

DSC_0133

 


 

*We respectfully request that the Church of Scientology, hallowed be your celebrities, please not sue us for these jokes. We haven’t got any money for you.