I think it was around Christmas of 1995 I received a copy of Nightmare. You’re going to notice a theme of board games and Christmas in these posts. Anyways, this was an interesting game as it came with a VHS tape, making the game somewhat interactive.
The taped started out by explaining the rules, which weren’t that complicated. Designed for 2-6 players, the game was always better with more. At the onset, everyone wrote down their greatest fear, and put into a pile. The game was 1 hour longer, with the tape running a game clock. The purpose was for a player to collect all the keys and defeat the Gatekeeper before time ran out.
The Gatekeeper was the central character, hosting the tape. He would often interrupt the game to taunt or reward players. He would address people in the group by saying things such as “You, the old one, come forth”, meaning the oldest player in the game (usually my mom). He would make them come to the screen and stare at him unblinking until he faded out. That guy was wicked good at staring contests. Whenever the Gatekeeper spoke to you, you were to address him with “Yes my Gatekeeper.” Failure to do so would send you to the blackhole (kind of like Monopoly jail).
Again, the point of the game was to collect 6 keys, each from a different harbinger; Gevaudan the werewolf; Hellin the poltergeist; Khufu the mummy; Baron Samedi the zombie; Anne de Chantraine the witch; and Elizabeth Bathory the vampire. Other than Hellin, who was created for the games, all the characters were based on real people or myths. Gevaudan was based on a man who was hunted down for supposedly having lycanthropy, while Anne de Chantraine was the first woman burned alive for being a witch.
Once the 6 keys were collected, players needed to make their way to the center of the board. The game was the typical turn rotation dice rolling fair, so it would take some time. Once at the center, you needed to draw a fear card. If you drew yours, you were sent back to try again. Drawing someone else’s meant you won, and the game was over. All of this must be done within the hour time limit. Failure to do so and the Gatekeeper would appear, declaring himself the winner. Also, as the hour wore on, the Gatekeeper grew increasing frustrated having to leave his killer rave party to come talk to you.
The game was a neat concept, warranting several sequels. Each one had a different host: II had Baron Samedi; III was Anne de Chantraine; and IV had Elizabeth Bathory. Nightmare was was to be released in 1995, but due to declining sales, was cancelled. Instead, The Harbingers was released, which featured a different rule set and play style. This too had it’s own add-on with Soul Rangers. In 2004 The Gatekeeper was released, including a DVD instead of tape. There was a bit of random programming in it to keep the game fresh.
I’ll admit, it took a little bit of thought to take something static, like a VHS tape, and give it the appearance of being dynamic. They did a good job on this front. I only ever played the original Nightmare, and the first sequel. It was fun at the time, especially when we had a full set of players. This game was crazy popular in Australia, spawning advertising deals with Pepsi, a song and music video (I don’t think I’m brave enough to go looking for it), and sold out dance parties (whatever that means). Note: The game was called Atmosfear in Europe because of copyright issues).
I appreciate the game for what it was, fun, and a little hokey. Taking technical limitations and finding creative ways to work around those boundaries is something I’ve always found impressive.
Have you taken on the Gatekeeper? Even heard of this game before? Comment below!
Do you think the Gatekeeper DJ’d the dance parties?