Nightmare is an interactive video board game developed in Australia by the production company A Couple ‘A Cowboys and distributed by J. W. Spear & Sons (later taken over by Mattel in 1994). The concept of the game was to challenge people’s worst fears via instructions from a nightmarish host on your television. As you play the board game it basically becomes a race against time in which you have a 60 min window to beat the game.
Phillip Tanner and Brett Clements created this ambitious concept that introduced a whole new way of playing board games with the aid of a videotaped host and it proved to be a success as over two million units were sold worldwide. The game was a big seller in Australia, but also in parts of North America and in Europe, where the game was known as Atmosfear due to a European naming rights issue.
The game’s success led to a number of sequels, each featuring a different host so that the video experience would be unique, and a PC video game version titled Atmosfear: The Third Dimension. This success also paved the way for a number of similar games being created by other companies, such as MB Games and Hasbro. There were even interactive VHS games created for both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. However, Nightmare (and its eventual successor series The Harbingers) itself remained unique and a hot property at Christmas time throughout the 90’s.
The rise of digital media at the turn of the century gave way for the franchise to be rebooted on DVD. This brought with it better graphics and more interactive capabilities thanks to the user input selection capabilities provided by the format.
Unfortunately, 2006 saw the last release for the series, in large part due to PC and console video gaming taking over the interactive gaming market. Since then there have been further advances in interactive video and with the emergence of mobile gaming, so maybe another resurgence is possible.
Nightmare was the kind of board game that was fun for the whole family and easily playable at any time (so long as you had a TV and VCR), especially around Halloween with its festive frights of folly. Its launch was revolutionary and its influence can even be found in current generation horror video games such as Until Dawn. Board game fans still purchase Nightmare to this day and it will likely remain a classic far into the future.
Lastly, I would like to briefly mention an unrelated, but similar subject in Knightmare, an English children’s interactive game show developed by Anglia Television that ran from 1987 to 1994. Like Nightmare, it too was a race against time that featured a live interactive host and was based on concepts from Dungeons & Dragons, though far more so in this case. It was very popular during its initial run and was adapted into a number of novels, PC video games, and of course, a board game by MB Games. The show has since developed quite a cult following and repeats still air to this day on UK cable.