Atmosfear (also known as Nightmare in Australia, the game's country of origin) was a board game developed and released in 1991, and followed players as they attempted to confront their greatest fears while taking on challenging odds and a creepy host.The main objective of the game is to collect six special keys, called Keystones, in various provinces across the six sections of the game board (referred to as "The Other Side"), then return to their starting spot. Once there, the player opens up a jar in the center of the board that houses all of their fears (written on slips of paper before the game begins). If the player chooses another person's fear, they beat the game. However, there is a time limit working against the players, via a videotape (later DVD) with a countdown clock that runs while players take turns.Their progress can be alternately aided or hindered by The Gatekeeper, a hooded being who will often interrupt the game and give various conditions (which are sometimes helpful, but mostly harmful) to one or all of the players. If none of the players win the game before the time limit of the gametape elapses, The Gatekeeper wins.Several expansions and sequels were produced for the series:
Nightmare (1991): The original game, which introduced the Gatekeeper and the six Harbingers, who have authority over the various provinces in the game: Anne Chantraine (a witch), Baron Samedi (a zombie), Elizabeth Bathory (a vampire), Gevaudan (a werewolf), Hellin (a ghost) and Khufu (a mummy). The game was a smash hit, and sold more than two million units.
Nightmare II (1992): The first expansion for the original game, hosted by Baron Samedi.
Nightmare III (1993): The second expansion, hosted by Anne de Chantraine.
Nightmare IV (1994): The fourth expansion, hosted by Elizabeth Bathory. A further expansion, Nightmare V, was intended to be hosted by Khufu and released in 1995, but was cancelled due to low sales of the original game and replaced with...
The Harbingers, a reboot of the series that was released in 1995 and co-developed with Village Roadshow and J.W. Spear & Sons. The game introduced a number of new elements, including the ability for players to take on the role of the Harbingers, the introduction of "sewer" areas and the introduction of a new race, The Soul Reapers, a group of dark skeletons that live in suffering and agony. Players who didn't make it to a Harbinger character emblem in time became a Soul Reaper, and could chase the other Harbingers around the game board in pursuit of their Keystones. It subsequently became one of the best selling board games in the U.S. and United Kingdom, and spawned a tie-in game, Atmosfear: The Third Dimension.
Harbingers had two further booster tapes released (with shorter runtimes for a greater challenge), along with an addon/Spin-Off based on the Soul Rangers.
Atmosfear: The Gatekeeper (another relaunch) was released after a nine-year hiatus, but had one major difference - it was released as a DVD board game, and featured interactive elements that included players picking and choosing which of the Harbingers' dimensions they could be transported to at certain points in the game. While the game featured many of the same rules and areas as its predecessors, it had a major change in the win condition: a player could only win if they drew their own fear after collecting the six Keystones.
The Gatekeeper also received its own sequel called Khufu The Mummy, which featured a new gameboard, rule conditions and a new Harbinger (Medusa the gorgon).
All There in the Manual: The Harbingers has a 15-minute primer/introduction to the game rules for new players (and gives some brief information about the various Harbingers), which is only found at the end of the included VHS tape, forcing players to fast-forward through all the Harbinger segments to view it.
Beware the Nice Ones: Baron Samedi seems like he's the exception to all the assholes that play host to the games - sure, he makes you hit the hole, but at the beginning he seems like an Affably EvilFriendly Enemy, a real fun guy who only punishes you if you're not getting the party swinging, and a breath of fresh air compared to the Gatekeeper. Halfway through, he starts becoming more of a Jerkass, especially to Dirtbag. The last ten minutes, he's all business.
Body Horror: All of the hosts in the expansions go through painful-looking transformations as they become their final form, with Anne de Chantraine's being the most disturbing (at one point, it looks like a sharp beak has broken through her nose!).
Butt Monkey: In-universe, all of the expansion's hosts choose one player to be the butt of demeaning jokes and disadvantages, as well as give them a humiliating nickname. Baron Samedi refers to one player as "Dirtbag", Anne identifies one as "Toad" and Elizabeth identifies one as "Scab".
Camera Abuse: In the introduction to The Harbingers, a Numb Skull token slams through a pane of glass, causing it to look like the screen is broken.
Catch Phrase: Each of the hosts in the expansions have one that they order the players to say every time they appear:
Baron Samedi's "Thrill me! / Yo, Baron, I can dig it!"
Anne de Chantraine's "Mea culpa... / Confess!"
Elizabeth Bathory's "Indulge me... / Forever, my lady!"
Character Tics: Anne Chantraine has a tic (curling her lip or moving her head back rapidly) that pronounces itself more and more as the time elapses.
Chewing the Scenery: All the hosts relish in delivering their lines in the most over-the-top way possible. The actress playing Anne de Chantraine and Elizabeth Bathory merits special mention, as she goes from relatively normal to over-the-top screeching in the last ten minutes of each tape.
The Chosen One: One of the players is selected to be this at the beginning. Unfortunately it doesn't pay off as much as you'd expect, if you don't count carrying out some of The Gatekeeper's pranks from time to time.
Dramatic Thunder: Every single time the Gatekeeper wants to get your attention. Other hosts have different sound effects; for instance, Khufu the mummy has a high pitched scream. Usually ended up as a Jump Scare, which was probably the point.
The original game's clock counted upwards instead of down to zero like in future installments.
The original Gatekeeper was just a man in a hood who became slightly more demonic near the end of the game. The expansions went much further with the concept and had the various hosts/Harbingers turn into a One-Winged Angel as time wore on.
Griefer: The Soul Rangers (given to any player who can't reach a Harbinger totem in the first ten minutes), whose primary goal is to chase the other Harbingers around the board and steal Keystones from them.
Hair-Trigger Temper: The Gatekeeper yells at you as soon as he suspects you're not doing his every word as they leave his mouth, punishes you for not calling him by his whole name in time, seethes with hatred at the player who rolled lowest in his games, and blows up when you win. One can only wonder what sorts of terrible things he could do if he was actually able to see the actions of the players.
Hoist by His Own Petard: The Gatekeeper is banished by Dr. Mastiff (offscreen) in the interim between The Harbingers and The Soul Rangers.
Incoming Ha- "STOP!" *Thunderclap* "I am.....the GATEKEEPER!"
Jerkass: The Gatekeeper, definitely. His cutting remarks and jibes can seriously wound a person's self-esteem. Other then that, he's still pretty dickish throughout the game, taunting and trolling the players.
All of the hosts, really, but the Gatekeeper in the original (and The Harbingers) has to be the largest.
In one of the Harbingers booster tapes, the Gatekeeper forces everyone to recite the phrase "I am a soul-sucking maggot" twice, then laughs maniacally at them.
Late-Arrival Spoiler: The expansions for the original game spoil the final form of each host on the boxart. Likewise, the end of each of the first three expansions spoils the final form of the next host, making it less of a surprise for people who are playing the games in order.
Nightmare IV introduced a new rulebook and game mechanics involving vampires, which may have contributed to declining sales and the decision to retool the series.
The Harbingers, to the point of the developers fearing they made the game too complicated (leading to a segment demonstrating the rules being included in the VHS tape). Between the various abilities associated with each Harbinger, the Soul Ranger/sewer mechanics, the Time/Fate cards and the Gatekeeper's twists, most players have to speed through their turns in order to have a hope of winning within the alloted timeframe.
Luck-Based Mission: Arguably the entire game, as Spoony pointed out. If no one is in a position to win by the end of the game, then the Gatekeeper (or whoever is hosting) will start randomly giving all of the keys to whichever player can roll the highest number.
Mood Whiplash: The ending of Nightmare IV segues from the fully-transformed Elizabeth telling viewers she hopes they wake up with her staring them in the face... to a Totally Radical music video where Baron Samedi and skeleton dancers are gyrating wildly.
Nice Hat: Baron Samedi's tophat, which is used as his character piece in The Harbingers.
The "Staring Contest" in the original game. It lasts for two minutes, which will probably result in all but the most adept starers losing a key.
In Nightmare IV, one of the twists was that Elizabeth could remove a player from the game permanently, in addition to transforming players into a vampire that is forced to stalk the other players.
The booster tapes for The Harbingers are only 45 minutes instead of the standard hour, and have an additional limitation in the form of fewer Keystones per province if more players are present.
No Fourth Wall: The Gatekeeper and the various hosts actively engage in commands, singalongs and even short discussions with the player throughout the series.
One-Winged Angel: Each of the hosts in the expansions adopts a gradually more horrific form as the game goes on. The Gatekeeper in the original looks pretty much the same at the start and end of the game, the only difference being more sinister lighting, a few subtle makeup effects and contact lenses that make his eyes big and red. Baron Samedi in the second expansion already looks pretty gruesome when the game starts, but becomes more and more demonic as the game progresses. Anne Chantraine starts out as a foxy lady, but becomes the stereotypical "ugly witch" by the end of the game. Finally, Elizabeth Bathory starts out as a normal looking woman, but morphs into an outright Eldritch Abomination by the end.
Retool: The Harbingers, which brought back the original Gatekeeper, changed the gameboard and introduced several new concepts like The Soul Rangers.
Early on in The Harbingers, The Gatekeeper gives the players the choice to either take free turns, or screw over the other players. Later on, most of his choices are more designed to screw over whoever's turn it is.
The Tape Knew You Would Say That: The videotapes/DVD's rely on The Gatekeeper or other host more or less predicting exactly how the players will react and in what timeframe, via specific commands ("Hands up!", pausing for a player to identify themselves, etc).
Timed Mission: Players have one hour (or 45 minutes in the booster tapes for The Harbingers) to obtain all six Keystones, return to their starting point and draw a fear. If none of the players can complete this task within the time limit, the Gatekeeper automatically wins the game.
Title Drop: The first Atmosfear game was originally called "Nightmare", a word The Gatekeeper often mentioned during the course of the game. Of course, given the Writing Around Trademarks mentioned below, it does kind of lose its edge...
Villain Song: "Thrill Me" for Baron Samedi, which is heard over the closing credits of Nightmare II and in full at the end of Nightmare IV.