Rachel and Jared Van Bussel
This game is another in the long line of AtmosFear games, all involving interaction with a character on the screen. Previous installments were VHS but since 2004 they've put out 2 DVD versions. They are simple games, not involving much strategy and so random that whether you win or lose is nearly irrelevant. And yet I have such fond memories of playing Nightmare (the first of the series) that I picked it up from Toys R Us a few months ago. Mind you, I watched it for over a year and continued waiting long after a price drop before I finally purchased it.
Like many of the previous installments, it stars The Gatekeeper, in my opinion, by far the best host of the series. However the actor that plays The Gatekeeper is new. While he maintains a somewhat creepy and overpowering presence throughout the game and adds to the mood, comparing him to previous versions, I think the former actor, Wenanty Nosul, did a slightly better job. As much as the game tries to create a dark mood throughout, unless you are with a group of people willing to get involved in the game, it can fall a little flat. When the host calls to you, you must cry out "Yes, my gatekeeper!" or suffer the consequences he, or his Chosen One, demands.
Simple, everyone writes down their greatest fear and puts it in the Well of Fears in the center of the board. Each player picks a character, any of the six Harbingers - from Gevaudan the Werewolf to Hellin the Poltergeist, and many others. You select the characters on the DVD during the setup so that The Gatekeeper may directly call on specific characters. There are also keys and decks of cards that are placed in their respective locations on the board.
In it's most base form, you are rolling the dice - one or two at your option - and moving around the board trying to collect a key of each color before moving to the center. You can either move clockwise in the outer ring or try a shortcut through the middle, moving any direction you like on the inner ring.
The game is complicated by the Gatekeeper who dictates 49 minutes before the game ends and he wins, and randomly shows up on the screen, immediately stopping play and ending the current player's turn at that instant - even if you were in the middle of moving your character - asking you to do various inane tasks and otherwise delaying you. If you reach the center and have a key of each colour on your next turn the Chosen One will randomly select a fear from the Well of Fears and read it aloud. If it is yours you quickly push the MENU/Title button to claim your victory before the time runs out.
One of the neat advances in this game over the VHS is the Gatekeeper no longer follows a set script, the scene that occurs at any given time is selected randomly by the DVD player. However, as the game progresses the background changes as the end draws ever closer. Neat to give that mounting tension and still allow for a random script, it does add to the replayability, though I miss the Gatekeeper's monstrous transformation in the VHS Nightmare. The downside is you can get awkward pauses in sound and video as the DVD player is trying to decide the next scene. Ignore them and keep playing, your time is short! And this fact is ever in your mind as the clock is always present on the screen and counting down.
Combine that with Fate cards which may shift the game by redistributing keys, moving characters and otherwise. Then there are the Time cards which require you to do certain things at a prespecified time. You can also duel with other characters, the victor gaining the other's key. To make things a little more hopeless there is a black key which prevents you from winning while it is in your possession, and the Black Holes to either stumble into or be banished to by The Gatekeeper (or his loyal Chosen One).
Oh, and one other nice touch. The Gatekeeper will promote a Chosen One early in the game to be his enforcer of the rules in the game. If another player fails to respond appropriately, or does not stop when The Gatekeeper appears, the Chosen One is free to enact a punishment of his choosing. Again this works better the more involved the players get. As well the Chosen One acts as judge for any disputes in the game. This is important as there is a limited time, and you cannot stop or pause the game.
Coloured plastic and a brightly coloured board. Nothing beautiful to look at (actually more of a garish neon) but visible even in low-light conditions. The cards are standard plastic coated cards. The DVD comes in a cardboard jacket.
Nice theme, interesting mechanic playing against the DVD, very simple to learn and play even for younger children.
However the game is so simple that it is more of a holiday (drinking?) game, limiting it's enjoyment and replayability. The Gatekeeper and ambiance of sounds and backgrounds may frighten small children, though it is not gory, violent or particularly gruesome. It also really requires people who are willing to make fools of themselves to get into the game, as well as people who are not going to be to upset about perhaps being trapped in the Black Hole for half the game due to random chance.
If you're in the mood for mindless fun and you are willing to embrace your zany side for 49 minutes or less, this is a good choice.
If you expect some depth and strategy I'd recommend you pass.
With those limitations, I sadly rate it 6.3/10.
However, I keep it in my collection because there are times when it is so perfectly matched with the mood of the group that no other game could fit the bill. Those nights that I want to play it, I enjoy it fully.
- Last edited Fri Dec 1, 2006 2:44 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Thu Nov 30, 2006 11:49 pm
This is such a fun little game, which is all about the atmosphere than it is about who wins or loses (as you said), and I am glad that someone (other than me) sees this. Thanks for putting this out there, and hopefully I will be able to have my game group just have some fun next Halloween and let me whip this one out!
Excellent review. Now I can hardly wait to give this game a try.
A simple variation is: every time you're banished to a black hole, you have to take a shot. That ensures a memorable evening.