The silliest, stupidest, scariest, most excellent thing to come out of Australia in 1995 that isn’t Steve Irwin
Players: 3 – 6 Best with: 5 – 6
Age: 12+ GN Age: Pre-Teen
Game Type: Board Time: 60 minutes
PublisherYear: International Games – 1995
Game Play: Item Collection, Countdown, Horror
Score: out of 12
In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we’ll review a game that celebrates all the emotions of the millions of “real” relationships in the world, namely fear, anxiety, panic, and revenge. Today, we express our love of the epitome of the Horror Comedy VCR Boardgame genre: Atmosfear ‘The Harbingers’.
This is hands down one of our favorite games of all time. All four of us, two adults and two kids, put this game in our Top Ten list. This game is a riot, absolutely ridiculous and frantic. If the Grim Reaper from “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” made a board game, that game would be Atmosfear ‘The Harbingers’.
The game is simple enough. Travel around the gameboard, collecting six different keystones, while all sorts of crazy “merde” (pardon my French) happens to you. Come to think of it if you replace “gameboard” with “time”, and “keystones” with “historical figures” then you have the plot of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. Atmosphere is the Most Excellent, Bogus Boardgame from Hell.
You are a trapped soul, trying to escape wherever it is we are. The game never specifies, so feel free to imagine your own demonic plane. Is it Hell? An alternate dimension? Disneyland? The choice is yours.
The board is divided into six provinces, each ruled by one of six ‘Harbingers’ of horror. You start the game as a simple skull, a “numbskull” as the game gleefully insults us. If you are easily offended by a game that refers to you as a numbskull, please go play something else because it only gets worse from here.
Your first objective is to transform your puny skull into one of these ‘Harbingers’. Will you be the vampire, the werewolf, the witch, the poltergeist, the mummy, or the zombie? Does it matter which one? Nope. Does anyone have a special, unique power? Nope. Well, transforming sound cool, how does that work? Oh, that’s easy. Just land on their home (called a “headstone”) by exact count.
I know what you’re thinking, this doesn’t sound very complex or even interesting. What makes this game so wickedly awesome?
May I present the Gatekeeper. This little S.O.B. is the sole reason this game works. Without him, the game is a horrific version of “The Game of Life”. But with him, the game is a glorious, madcap pressure cooker of tension and anxiety.
The Gatekeeper lives in your TV, playing on the DVD or VHS tape that came with the game. This tape is continuously playing during the game acting as a countdown to your Doom! The players are frantically trying to roll dice, move their skull, trying in vain to get to any headstone, anywhere before the Gatekeeper yells “STOP!”
All the players wait with bated breath for the Gatekeeper’s decree. The Gatekeeper continues, “Whose turn is it next? Hands Up, Maggot! Not anymore. You are BANISHED! Bwah hah ha!”
That poor chump, er, player, is now banished to the nearest black hole and is stuck until released. Being banished is just one of the crazy “merde” that can happen to you. You can be trapped behind a gate, lose multiple turns, ordered to return keys to the board, compelled to “duel” another player, or forced to read a “Fate” card (which are never good).
As the game descends deeper into madness, the tension increases, panic sets in; you’re yelling for the other players to move. “Roll the dice already!” Anxiously waiting for your turn. “Where the heck is the other die?!” Desperately trying to finish your turn, “I don’t know where to go!”, before…
“STOP! Whose turn is it next? Hunh! Hands up! I need a good laugh. Take a Fate Card and read it out loud. Hee hee hee. -snort-“
If you can’t get to a ‘Harbinger’ within the first fifteen minutes, then you’re really screwed. You now become a “Soul Ranger”, a nasty skeletal demon on a Harley Davidson. You can’t collect keys on your own. You have to chase down the other players and steal one of theirs. Your game becomes less about winning and all about making the other players lose.
Each key you collect, unlocks a new power, such as the ability to duel other players for keys, or rolling two dice, or freeing yourself from black holes. As you get closer to collecting all the keys, every player becomes your mortal enemy. I sure hope the Gatekeeper doesn’t…
STOP! Whose turn is it next? Hands up! I feel generous. You could take a free turn. OR… You could point out the MAGGOT in the lead, and force it to reveal its hand for the rest of the game! Say Thank you… If you didn’t say thank you, then you are BANISHED!”
Deeper and deeper you go. The tension tightens like a rack. The ominous music builds to crescendo. The Gatekeeper is snickering in the background. Is that ticking clock getting louder?! I need a purple key. Oh no. That guy is heading for the finish. Somebody, stop him! Oh yes, It’s my turn. I need to roll a…
STOP! Whose turn is it next? Thought you could beat me, maggot? Well, forget it! You lose a turn… Whose turn is it next? You lose a turn, too! Whose turn is it next? You? You… are BANISHED!”
If you manage to collect all six keys, and get back to your base, and roll a 6, and avoid drawing your fear from the “Well of Fears”, all in less than 60 minutes, then you win the game. Otherwise, I’m afraid that all you pathetic maggots… Have… Lost. Losers.
We love this game. It is cheesy, and silly, and stressful, and stupidly fun. But is it a “good” family game? In our, apparently twisted, family the answer is “Heck yeah, maggot!”
The box says that the game is for age 12+, but both our kids have played this game since they were 7 or 8. There is no gore or mature themes. The rules are simple enough, plus somebody (usually me) is always pointing out mistakes and rule violations. The strategy is roll fast and avoid that dillweed, the Gatekeeper.
We often play this game with their grandparents, who also love this game. And, bless their hearts, they put up with a ton of abuse and yelling, because they are the slowest dice rollers ever!
This perfect game only has two flaws. It feels dated, especially with the tacky “How to play” video. It screams the 90’s. Which is also part of its charm. Plus, the tape is on VHS (is this still a thing?) and to make matters worse, we lost the tape. Fortunately, there are plenty of lunatics, I mean devoted fans, who have put all the versions of the tape onto YouTube. Yea, internet!
The second flaw is tougher to get past. The game no longer exists. Immensely rare, new-ish copies might be found on Amazon for up to $200. You might be able to find a used copy on ebay for $40-70. Hopefully, it has all the pieces. As a compromise, everyone can come over to my house and play anytime, we’re always up for a game.
But there’s good news. The two dudes who created this masterpiece, Brett Clements and Phillip Tanner, made an announcement at the 2018 San Diego Comic Con. They promised to relaunch the series sometime in 2019. And all the maggots rejoiced. I only hope that they can get Wenanty Nosul to return as the Gatekeeper. Maggots! Maggots! Maggots!
As always, whose turn is it next? and Game On, Maggots!
Be excellent to each other – Bill S. Preston, Esquire