Games. I think it’s safe to say they’re something we all play in some shape or form. Be it video games, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, pen and pad RPG’s or board games – we tend to seek out our favorites. Fellow members of the Clubhouse, allow me to take you through share with you my favorite from the board game category. Allow me to introduce you to: AtmosFear.
Technically a remake of an older game from Australia called Nightmare, which I also owned (thanks for always spoiling me Ma’), AtmosFear was one of those interactive VHS games shoveled out in the ancient 1990’s. You would place the tape in your VCR and a creepy Crypt Keeper-style guy would appear on the screen and bark commands as you and the other participants made your way to the center of the board. It was rather successful too, selling over 2 million copies in its first two years. What was most interesting about this is that they developed expansions, with new tapes and set ups for the players to interact with. This was a great feature since you were otherwise bound to always play the same game with your interaction being on VHS, rather innovative for its time.
The game, much like anything VHS, eventually disappeared… that is, until 2004 when the creators gave Nightmare a facelift and brought it into the new era of “digital video.” The DVD gave the game a new setup by having multiple tracks that are selected at random to always provide a different play-through experience. Also, since it was DVD, they were able to incorporate little mini games that would pop up on screen as a timer would tick down on the screen. Nothing fancy, mainly just a game of chance by selecting a door or headstone that would take you to a random track – either rewarding the player or dooming them. There was even an expansion planed for the new release based off one of the characters, Khufu the Mummy, that eventually became an all-new game called The Harbingers.
Here is some footage from the AtmosFear disc. It contains clips from both the English and French version of the game buuuuuut, it was the best I could find:
Now that we have a little history out of the way, let’s get down to the basic mechanics of AtmosFear itself. Much like the title implies, fear plays a roll in this game. Before the game starts everyone is required to write a fear down on a small piece of paper that is dropped into the “Well of Fears.” The Well of Fears is located dead center of the board and it is a race to get there. The only way to win is to have chance and luck on your side, because on arrival at the well you also have to be able to randomly pull your own fear from the well. If you fail, you have to start your race back to it.
AtmosFear requires at least three people to play with a maximum number of six. Each player picks from a list of persona’s to play as: Baron Samedi, the Zombie who’s depicted by a green top hat; Gevauden, the Werewolf (a blue wolf’s head); Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the Vampire (a red bat); Anne de Chantraine, the Witch (orange Jack o Lantern); Helin, the Poltergeist, played with a tower of purple building blocks; and Khufu the Mummy (a skeletal pharaoh’s head). Each character also comes with a card that bares a picture on the front and a quick description on the back.
After character is chosen the players randomly select a numbered rack for holding keys they will collect throughout the process of the game. There is a colored key representing each characters realm on the board, just like the colors of the character playing pieces. In order to win the game you must collect at least one key from each realm. These keys allow you to unlock the previously mentioned Well of Fears.
There is only one black key on the entire board, and with good reason – this key is the one you want to avoid. It is referred to as the “cursed key” and as long as it is in your possession you are unable to win the game. A little bit of strategy and deception comes into play at this part. You can duel other players, lose, and hopefully pass it off when they select a key from your rack. Keys won in duels are picked randomly. You hide the side showing the colors from everyone for this reason. If you’re in the business of really making friends angry, you can simply hand it to them and declare that they are now cursed and they HAVE to take it if you both happen to obtain the same movement square.
The board layout is pretty basic, but nice on the eyes. Each player starts out on there own headstone and as long as you are on the outer circle you may only move clockwise. The inner circle allows you to move freely, but if you are in it when the Gatekeeper appears on screen without all six keys that creepy dude is going to punish you.
The board is also marked in certain areas including a space for your headstone. If another player lands on your headstone and you roll the number of their key rack you get to take a key from them. The “Black Hole” space has to be hands down the most annoying space on the board. It’s simply no fun at all. It isn’t so bad if you happen to have a key of your characters color, your next turn you can bounce out like you’re fresh out of jail and go on about your game (same thing if you have a Fate or Time card – I’m getting to those, I promise). However, the only other ways out of the Black Hole is to roll your own number, the one that is on your key rack. You can use one or two dice to do this but it’s a shot in the dark. If you’re not in possession of a key, or the proper cards it can be a long wait sometimes between rolling and or waiting on the Gatekeeper to free you.
We’ve already covered what the black key is and it normally enters into play by someone landing on its marker (you must take it if you do). There are also markers for dueling other players, to try and obtain keys you don’t have and there are even markers called Flight Stones. If you land on one you can move to any other Flight Stone on the board. That leaves us with the Fate and Time stones, each of which represents a different stack of cards. These cards can either help you or ruin you, much like everything else in this game. They can also make for a good laugh in the game. For instance, some of the Time cards want you to scream real loud out to try and scare some of the other players and if they wince or shudder you get to take keys from them!
So that’s the basics of how to play. Sadly, it’s out of print these days and the only way to get it and the expansion is to hunt it down on eBay and Amazon. It doesn’t run super high (currently), I think you can get the DVD version right now for about 30 bones give or take a few. I would also like to encourage those with a collector bug in them to hunt down all the VHS installments as well. I found them a little more eerie and more on the scary side as opposed to its DVD counterpart.
If you’re looking for a fun and unique game to play with your friends that’s got elements of strategy, the chance to screw over your best buds and requires a bunch of dumb luck – all in a horror themed setting – seek this one out. If not, I’m seriously trying to figure out why you have read this far and am contemplating sending you to the Black Hole.