Who Doesn’t Love a Scary Movie? (Mar 20, 2019)
I am a horror movie freak and a game designer, so a couple of years ago I had a thought: Can a board game be scary? Specifically, can a tabletop game have the same nightmare dread and panic of the best horror movies? I’ve played many horror-based tabletop games over the years. Some were amazing--I’m looking at you Betrayal at House on the Hill—but none really captured that particular emotional state*. Was that even possible? The impossibe never scares me, so I jumped in.
The first step: zombies, of course. I saw Romero’s Dawn of the Dead when it was released in 1978 and it literally changed my life. So even if the undead cannibals’ mass appeal crests, they always have their claws in me.
Next I created a test for every other design element of the game, from the actual physical activity of each game mechanic to the design of the game of pieces. Simply put, is it fun and does it contribute to the overall mood of the game? This may sound obvious, but so many games start and stop at the theme or a particular mechanic at the expense of everything else.
Finally, I decided to keep the literal story open ended. I'd tested several broad outlines of specific stories and characters early in the process. Ironically, those details seemed to dull the intensity of the game play. Ultimately, I left it up to the players to decide who they are, and why and where they are trapped. Still, I wanted keep the emotional flow of an actual story--you know, alternating, everchanging waves of panic, calm, determination, risk, and reward. Anything that would disrupt that “story” would be--and was--discarded.
That was the beginning. A handful of ideas about mood and feelings. Which seemed like the perfect place to start. What followed was everything else...