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Tabletop Game / Atmosfear

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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 de Chantraine (a witch), Baron Samedi (a zombie), Countess Elizabeth Bathory (a vampire), Gevaudan (a werewolf), Hellin (a ghost- specifically, a poltergeist) 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 Báthory. 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 Rangers, 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 Ranger, 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.
    • Atmosfear: The Third Dimension was an interactive tie-in PC game that replicated the experience of the board game for one player, and utilized multimedia, variable difficulty levels and voice work from the Gatekeeper to give players a similar challenge.
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    • 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).

The Spoony Experiment reviewed several games in the series, the original Nightmare and the "expansions" to Nightmare, along with Atmosfear: The Harbingers. It's also been played on Board James. The AFK show on LoadingReadyRun Streams has also played the series extensively, covering the original quartet of VHS games, Harbingers, and multiple attempts at the DVD edition of Atmosfear, most of which were aborted due to technical issues.

Tropes found in the Atmosfear series:

  • Affably Evil: The hosts (some of which have had a Historical Villain Upgrade) start out being generally civil to the player, especially with Baron Samedi dancing and urging you to get the party started. As the games go on, however, they drop the pretenses and try to make the game as miserable as possible for everyone.
  • 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.
  • A Winner Is You: This among other VHS board games had no good ending due to the lack of interactivity on said format. If you won before the time limit runs out, you simply stop the tape.
  • 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 Evil Friendly 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. He also blatantly cheats in favor of whoever is playing his piece.
  • 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 three as "Toad", "Wart" and "Rat", and Elizabeth identifies one as "Scab".
  • Call-Back: In the original Nightmare, the Gatekeeper started off normal but had glowing green eyes by the end. In The Harbingers he starts off with glowing green eyes.
  • 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.
  • Catchphrase: Each of the hosts in the original series have one that they order the players to say every time they appear:
    • The Gatekeeper's "ANSWER ME! / Yes, my Gatekeeper!"
    • Baron Samedi's "Thrill me! / Yo, Baron, I can dig it!"
    • Anne de Chantraine's "Confess! / Mea culpa, Anne..."
    • Elizabeth Bathory's "Indulge me...! / Forever, my lady!"
      • Furthermore, each host has a signature way of stopping the action to issue a command; the Gatekeeper simply yells "STOP!!", the Baron uses "Yo! Whose go?", Anne uses "Silence!" and Elizbeth uses "Suffer!"
  • Character Tics: Anne de 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 Báthory 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.
  • Cursed Item: The black key in the DVD game. A player must have every color key on hand except this one to start heading for the Well of Fears, and it can be "stolen" by other players or handed off by landing on them.
  • Dark Fantasy
  • Dimension Lord: The Gatekeeper, who rules over "The Other Side".
  • Dramatic Thunder: Every single time the Gatekeeper wants to get your attention. Some other hosts have different sound effects; for instance, Khufu the mummy has a high pitched scream and Anne de Chantraine has a whip crack. Usually ended up as a Jump Scare, which was probably the point.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • 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.
  • Evil Laughter: This is sometimes part of the Background Music in The Harbingers.
  • Expansion Pack: Both the original game and The Harbingers had additional "booster tapes" that utilized different requests/penalties delivered by The Gatekeeper/hosts. The Vampire also has an additional deck of cards for Nightmare, the Black Rose.
  • Extra Turn: Aside from the (sometimes optional) ones the host can give you, getting one for rolling doubles is a special ability of Soul Rangers Woks (Orange), Zass (Yellow), and Rott (Blue).
  • Fan Game: As opposed to the attempts at devising the unreleased expansions for Nightmare, The Harbingers has a ready-to-play example in The River Styx, which has an element of spending keys (now "coins") for certain actions.
  • For the Evulz: Most, if not all, of the hosts.
  • Gotta Catch 'Em All: Inverted with The Soul Rangers, where the object is to get rid of your keys to receive their powers and win the game, whether by leaving them on their spaces or handing them off to other players. Otherwise, have all of your color in Nightmare or one of each in Atmosfear.
  • 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.
  • Hate Sink: No matter what the other players pull on you, you'll inevitably end up hating the Gatekeeper and the other hosts even more.
  • 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.
  • Heads or Tails?: Nightmare comes with a plastic coin to flip for such events as collecting a key for drawing the right "Chance" card or taking other players' cards if in possession of certain keys.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Anne de Chantraine wasn't actually a witch in Real Life, just the first person to be burnt as one. Elizabeth Báthory was technically history's first Serial Killer.
  • 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.
    • Anne de Chantraine (the witch) can get pretty mean too...and so can the Countess Elizabeth Bathory.
  • Jive Turkey: Baron Samedi and Dr. Mastiff.
  • Jump Scare: Some of the Time cards involve a player suddenly screaming or shouting something at a specific time, they benefit if they can get this reaction from other players.
  • Kick the Dog: In-universe by the Gatekeeper (in reference to punishing the weakest player in the game) in The Harbingers booster tape:
    The Gatekeeper: Let's kick the dog while he's down...HE IS BANISHED!!! It's cruel to be kind.
  • Large Ham:
    • 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.
  • Loads and Loads of Rules:
    • As pointed out in the Spoony One's review, starting from Nightmare II, more and more sets of cards started to be introduced that broke the game flow. Chief among them was Nightmare III's "spell cards" - there were several named spells, but they wouldn't work unless you had a specific pair of cards from the deck and someone read the activation phrase off a specific time card, which was virtually impossible to do in the course of an hour-long game. Likewise, cards that expressly gave one player permission to ask another for a specific spell card wouldn't work because the one being asked wouldn't voluntarily give an advantage to someone else.
    Spoony: So assuming you get the two exact spell cards you need out of this entire deck (sprays all the spell cards into the air), which you won't, and someone else gets the time card with the activation phrase you need to play the spell, which they won't, and the time card hasn't already expired, which, trust me, it has, yeah, then you can play your spell.
    • Nightmare IV introduced a new rulebook and game mechanics involving vampires, with Elizabeth Báthory notably telling players to turn to specific pages of their rulebooks and read it all the way through while in the middle of a game (and at one point, the screen froze for several moments so the players could read through a list of commands). The player who was "bitten" had to start drawing from an entirely separate card pool, and they could be killed off permanently if another player found a card that countered or destroyed them. Likewise, there was an infamous twist where Bathory would permanently banish a player from the game midway through the tape. This 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.
  • Meet the New Boss: Dr. Mastiff in The Soul Rangers. He's not The Gatekeeper, but he's not exactly nice.
  • 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.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Mastiff.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Elizabeth Bathory (for a few minutes, anyway). She licks her fingers, makes suggestive comments about the players and generally acts seductive. The problem starts when she begins turning into a monster, and still tries to act seductive.
  • Mummy: Khufu.
  • Nice Hat: Baron Samedi's tophat, which is used as his character piece starting in The Harbingers.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Dr Mastiff is a Dentist, Radio Host, Soul Ranger.
  • Nintendo Hard:
    • 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 and play spoiler.
    • 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 de Chantraine starts out as a foxy lady, but becomes the stereotypical "ugly green-skinned wart-covered witch" by the end of the game. Finally, Elizabeth Bathory starts out as a normal (if slightly spooky)-looking woman, but morphs into an outright Eldritch Abomination (a bat-human hybrid) by the end. Averted in The Harbingers and its add-ons, where the Gatekeeper keeps the same appearance throughout.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Frédérique Fouché (who played Anne de Chantraine and Elizabeth Bathory, and was a fluent French speaker) had a bad habit of doing this during Nightmare III and IV. While it's suitable for Anne (given her French surname), Fouché's performance as Bathory has her lapsing back into mispronounciations of words like "biting" ("bitting") and garbled dialogue due to her heavy accent. This isn't a problem in the French versions of the game, where she speaks in her natural language through both tapes.
    • Happens in pretty much all versions of the game hosted by one of the Harbingers; since their initial voices become replaced by deep growling as they advance towards their final forms, making them difficult to understand and causing their initial accents to slip.
  • Please Keep Your Hat On: Baron Samedi flashes the exposed brains beneath his during his game.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Each host's final form has their natural eyes being replaced by bulbous, red ones, at which point the camera often goes into a close-up so the players will be disturbed.
  • Retool: The Harbingers, which brought back the original Gatekeeper, changed the gameboard and introduced several new concepts like The Soul Rangers.
  • Sadistic Choice:
    • 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.
    • You'd better thank him for giving you a choice, no matter how much you don't want to, or he'll make you miss a turn for being rude!
  • Sanity Slippage: The most egregious example would be the Gatekeeper himself in The Harbingers...he's gone from perpetually-angry to Laughing Mad...and he seems to throw the players more bones early on in the latter game as a result.
  • Sequel Hook: The end of the first three Nightmare expansions include a special video for the next game in the series, revealing the final form of the host.
  • The Tape Is A Cheating Bastard: The Baron Samedi expansion blatantly cheats in the favor of whoever is using that piece.
  • 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 a set time limitnote  to obtain all six Keystones, return to their starting point (or get to the center in the DVD game) 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...
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: IV had one player get turned into a vampire and forced to "bite" players it could find (with an entire set of gamecards associated with it), and another being permanently banished from the game.
  • VHS Game: The video acts as a clock while players compete with the board game. At certain times, the host (or guests) would announce changes to the rules to keep the players on their toes. The host wins the game if time runs out without a winner.
  • 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.
  • Villainous Harlequin: The concept of Hellin, who is briefly seen in the videotape for The Harbingers.
  • Wicked Witch: Anne de Chantraine.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: This was the reason for the name change to Atmosfear in Europe.
  • You Look Familiar:
    • Wenanty Nosul plays both the Gatekeeper (in the original and The Harbingers) and Baron Samedi.
    • Frédérique Fouché plays Anne de Chantraine and Elizabeth Bathory.


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