While video games have become increasingly sophisticated and virtual reality is becoming actual reality, there’s still nothing like an analog board game to pass the time. While most classic games like Clue or Scrabble try to foster a competitive environment, a few wanted to rattle the nerves of players. Check out seven spooky diversions you might remember from your childhood.
1. Nightmare (1991)
Anyone who dismissed the idea of a board game being unsettling needed only to pick up a copy of Nightmare, which was also known as Atmosfear and was invented by Australians Brett Clements and Philip Tanner. The game was part of a trend in the 1980s and '90s of games that had a VHS tape incorporated into the gameplay. Participants adopt the persona of a werewolf, poltergeist, mummy, zombie, witch, or vampire. Moving around the board—which has a graveyard motif—players collect keys with the ultimate goal of unveiling a card with their worst nightmare. Throughout, a coach of sorts dubbed the Gatekeeper (actor Wenanty Nosul) barks instructions from the cassette, insulting viewers by calling them “maggot” and growing visibly older the more he’s forced to deal with players. Depending on your age and the ambient lighting in a room, Nightmare could deliver some genuine chills.
2. I Vant to Bite Your Finger (1979)
How many board games can claim to offer simulated vampire puncture wounds? This creative game from Hasbro and Ideal tasks players with rolling dice and turning back a clock located near a looming bloodsucker. Occasionally, the vampire’s cape springs open and the victim is required to place their finger in his mouth for a “bite,” which amounts to two small dots from red felt-tip markers. An earlier game from Ideal, Funny Finger, instructed players to stick their finger through a wall and allow others to guess which finger is which, thus making Ideal the unlikely home of finger-related board games.
3. The Twilight Zone Game (1964)
Finger-friendly company Ideal also issued this board game based on Rod Serling’s classic science-fiction series, which used some of the show’s trademark iconography on the box. Reportedly, Serling wasn’t informed of the game’s existence and only found out about it when he happened to sit next to an Ideal employee on a plane. Serling was apparently contemplating legal action before realizing the game was officially licensed by CBS.
4. Feeley Meeley (1967)
Anticipatory fear is the name of the game in Feeley Meeley, a Milton Bradley release that asks players to select a card with an object pictured and then stick their hand in a box to fumble for it in the dark. What made it scary? Milton Bradley encouraged players to use household objects like clothespins and other random items, creating a sense of unpredictability or the possibility of your kid brother putting a frog in the mix. The game makes a cameo appearance in the 2019 horror film Annabelle Comes Home.
5. Shrieks & Creaks (1988)
Like Nightmare, Shrieks & Creaks relies on some augmented reality to unsettle players. Since it was released in the late 1980s, that meant using an audio cassette tape. Participants move through a creepy mansion using keys to unlock rooms. Using the wrong key nets unnerving sound effects coming from a tombstone-shaped speaker and a character named Sir Simon Shriek who explains the player has been decapitated, among other indignities. (Cassette player not included.)
6. Don’t Wake Daddy (1992)
Jump scares are best described as scenes in movies where a sudden or abrupt action surprises the audience. It’s a bit of a cheap thrill, albeit an effective one. The jump scare was on full display in Don’t Wake Daddy, which requires players to sneak around the board while a spring-loaded patriarch naps in bed. If they do something that might rouse him, they need to try to disarm his alarm clock. Sometimes, Daddy bolts out of bed and sends players back to the start.
Dreading Daddy’s wrath invites many questions. Does he work a third shift that requires daytime rest? Does Daddy have problems controlling his temper? These issues coupled with Daddy’s unpredictable behavior could make for a stressful family game night.
7. Rap Rat (1992)
Another VHS game, Rap Rat by Spear’s Games has become renowned—and reviled—for its host, a cheese-hoarding rodent that chastises players looking to assemble puzzle pieces. Per the rules of the game, Rap Rat can take pieces away and instruct participants to perform humiliating tasks, like jumping up and down and shouting “cheese!” His inane activity and disturbing visage has inspired internet horror stories.