The usual joke computer game journalists make about board games is that it’s good to have a few around in case there’s a power cut and your handheld is out of battery, but other than that why bother? It’s a joke I’ve made before when the topic has come up, but the reality is that I love board games. It isn’t cool to say so, but board games are
Board games were a huge part of my childhood. I come from a family of seven and my mum worked nights, which meant we often had to be quiet during the day; of course
board games were a significant part of my childhood. My dad would even make up little alternate reality games where we’d run around in the woods, solve ancient riddles and search for ‘hidden’ things, with the final ‘treasure’ usually being a board game for us all.
I can still remember fighting my brother, who was wearing a huge papier machie helmet to make him look like a centaur, with a wooden broadsword over a ‘treasure chest’ containing The Legend of Zagor
boardgame. That particular ARG went on throughout all the summer holidays…but now I’m getting off track.
The point is: one of my favourite board games growing up was Atmosfear: The Video Board Game. It was a horror-themed game for up to six people where players had to go round a graveyard collecting keys as fast as possible. The game came with an accompanying VHS video, so you played in front of a TV which had a clock counting down on it and you’d collect Time cards that told you to do certain things at certain times. You had one hour to get six keys and escape the cemetery or the Gatekeeper would claim your soul.
The new version of Atmosfear isn't as good as the old one
The Gatekeeper was, I suppose, the main attraction of the game – basically a man who looked like Meatloaf who would appear on the video at certain points. His schtick was insulting players by calling them maggots and handing out punishments and challenges to whosever turn it was next. As the hour crept by he’d get slowly more decrepit and disgusting and the best challenge he had was inviting a player to stare at the screen without blinking until he disappeared. Often we’d take it upon ourselves to peel onions or blow into the eyes of the victim as they held their lids open. We were mischievous children.
My favourite board game experience ever involves Atmosfear. I was playing a quick two-player game with my brother when I was about sixteen and he was a year younger. The house was empty and the now-familiar game was going as planned. Though I couldn’t see it then, my brother was eyeing a Time card he had collected which said “At 30:19 look at the player opposite you and yell ‘Feel my fury!
’ and take a free go if you can make them jump.”
Sure enough, the time came around and my brother (who always had a sense for the theatrical) dived over the board and pounced on me, pinning me down. His eyes were inches from mine before I could blink and he was screaming at me “Feel my furries!
.” Obviously, I jumped – but I felt a lot better when I realised it was his dyslexia behind the outburst, not inappropriate lust. Yuck.
Dune was a tad complex, but another family favourite
Recently, with the VHS version no longer compatible with current technology (or in my possession), I’ve picked up the newer version of the game, which uses a DVD. There’s some cosmetic differences and the new Gatekeeper is less inventive and not nearly as scary, but it’s fundamentally the same game and I play it often.
In fact, for the last few months I’ve been endeavouring to put a group of friends together whenever possible for a night of boardgames and beers. I spend my weekends raiding charity shops looking for more of those old and now lost board games I used to love, like Heroes of the Maze
and Escape from Colditz
. Just a few weeks ago I found a copy of Key to the Kingdom
, though it turned out to not be as good as I remembered. I also recently picked up a copy of Zombies!!!
, which I’ve been told is the board-based equivalent of Left 4 Dead
. I'm looking forward to that.
Although I joke about it, board games aren’t just good for when there’s a power cut. They’re often a really great gaming experience – one which highlights how shallow the supposed ‘social element’ of most multiplayer games and MMOs really are. There’s a lot to be said for creating a persistent character in an online world, forming a guild and creating long-term connections, but there’s a lot more to be said for getting five or six actual long-term friends screaming at each other excitedly over a dice roll. When you get into those final minutes of Atmosfear the game can get extremely
I’m always looking for great new board games to play and the only thing I won’t touch (because it always leads to arguments) is Monopoly, so if you’ve got any suggestions for future games I can play then you can let me know in the forums – once you’ve rolled a six to continue, obviously.