The 3 Most Ridiculous VCR Board Games
Board games had long been the domain of dining tables. But when VHS won the format wars over Betamax, game manufacturers tried to port the board game experience over to VHS tapes.
The result was a goddamn disaster.
VCR board games were regular board games that had tedious, poorly-acted, poorly-written, semi-interactive, and extraordinarily cheesy videos clumsily shoved up their ass in a misguided attempt to branch board games into other mediums without stopping to think if that was a good idea. Good luck trying to find the board and game pieces today, as there's a good chance people threw them in a fire only a few minutes after playing their first game. The accompanying videos, on the other hand, are all over YouTube, and holy shit are they incredible. Finding one of these videos is like finding a treasure chest someone thought they had filled with gold, but they were blind and stupid and didn't realize they were just shitting in a bucket and burying it.
"Arr. Sorry, me maties. I could'a sworn thar would'a been gold in this here shit bucket."
Watching the videos without the context provided by the rule book, the board, and the game pieces makes for a surreal experience that feels like I've wandered through a silly mixed media performance art installation. I've spent many, many hours of my life that I only get to live once -- twice, if I'm super lucky -- watching these stupid videos, trying to make sense of them and trying to figure out how their games could have been played. I still don't know, and I don't care.
At the peak of its popularity in the early 1990s, executives at Mattel figured they'd jump on the Wayne's World merchandising bandwagon. So they dialed up Mike Myers and Dana Carvey and told them they were holding the men's families captive, and that Mattel would release them if and only if they both agreed to act as though they were being read a board game rule book, in character as Wayne and Garth. With no rule book in front of me and without knowing what order (if any) in which the segments of the video are supposed to be viewed, I can't help but feel that Myers and Carvey -- who apparently filmed their portions separately, in different rooms, and probably at completely different times and universes -- were told to do their shtick over and over to the camera to a dead silent crew, and the video was stitched together from there. This could be because the YouTube upload might not be the original video in its entirety -- but then again, maybe it is the full video, and the game was just a shitty stupid mess.
From what I gather, trivia cards (or something like that) were the game's main mechanic. They are all true or false questions, or "way" or "no way." But the players didn't answer the questions. I could be wrong, but it seems like the players ask Wayne and Garth the questions, and then Wayne and Garth argue over who's right. There's also no way to tell which one is ultimately correct. Basically, people paid actual dollars for a tape of two SNL characters getting into minor disagreements, and then they moved game pieces accordingly, all intercut with Wayne and Garth looking like they're either listening to the questions or taking a mischievous dump.
Toward the end of the first segment, apropos of nothing that came before it, Wayne mentions he has a degree in "babeology" that he earned by looking at Julia Roberts a lot. That's the kind of thing someone with a brain injury sitting on a beach in 1985 would say. Then, even more apropos of nothing, it cuts to Garth, who says ...
... and that's the end of that part of the game. I like to imagine this was actually one word edited out of a long, pissed-off rant in which Dana Carvey called this whole production a "stupid exercise in extracting as much cash from this sketch's dead, bloated sphincter as possible." Later in the video, again apropos of nothing, Mike Myers demands to look at my ass:
Now that I know board games can molest me, my copies of Risk and Settlers of Catan are burning in a fire as a precautionary measure.
If nothing here convinced you that this was a nightmare to sit through, I give you this: you know how I told you Mike Myers and Dana Carvey were filmed separately? Well, I don't think the producers of the video were prepared for that. Anytime Wayne speaks to Garth "via satellite from their basements," Mike Myers turns to his left as if they meant to film Dana Carvey sitting next to him in the same room.
"Party on, Gar -- Oh. Garth? GARTH?! I've been Garth the whole time ..."
I guess sometime between filming Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey, someone burned the set down in an attempt to lift a curse.
Nightmare (aka Atmosfear)
Nightmare (which also goes by the name Atmosfear) might be the scariest game of any kind I've ever witnessed. Not because it creates a fantastically spooky atmosphere, or has a scary monster -- it actually has none of that at all. It's only scary because a Belarusian man with a dish towel on his head periodically screamed at me a lot.
So when I talk about Nightmare, I'm really talking about Wenanty Nosul, the actor who played The Gatekeeper, the person who gives the players direction and adds twists and turns to the game. All of these VCR games had a person like that. Wenanty Nosul's performance as The Gatekeeper is truly special, in the way that videos of spectacular, visually enthralling car crashes that you know a bunch of people died in are special.
You can watch the whole video on YouTube in seven 10-minute chunks. There's at least one moment of interesting acting choices in each of them, wherein Wenanty Nosul seemed to identify what the proper way to approach the performance should be, then beat that approach with a rod and ran the other way, covered in the blood of the proper approach.
Sometimes, he's terrible because of his accent. Like how he says the words "number" and "color" as if the words taste bad ...
Other times, the poor wittle Gatekeeper just woke up from a nappy-nap, and he's got some screaming to do:
As for the game itself, I'm pretty sure the creators of Nightmare told Wenanty Nosul to talk, and whatever he said was turned into a board game. There's a segment where The Gatekeeper gives out an instruction so convoluted and arbitrary it had to have come from someone in the midst of a titanic struggle to pull an idea out of their ass. He asks the current player for their middle name and tells them to roll a die. He then firmly reminds the player there are 26 letters in the alphabet. He tells the player to suppose that each number on the die represents one of the first six letters (1 = A, 2 = B, etc.). If the letter they roll is in their middle name, the player has to sit out 3 turns. In life, when you hear a rule like that, it's time to leave wherever you are, because that kind of thinking leads to the creation of roving gangs of post-apocalyptic cannibal societies, and 95 percent of you is about to be dinner, while five percent is about to be a sex toy.
The game had quite a few sequels, and all their respective VHS tapes are on YouTube, ready to be watched if you're bored and your concept of entertainment is despicable. Though there is one part of the later VHS tapes you should watch. At the end of Atmosfear IV: Elizabeth Bathory. Vampire, there's a small treat for players -- a music video.
It's like if the '90s had been tarred and rolled in the post-Halloween sale bin at Walmart.
Party Mania is the easiest to understand of all these tapes I've come across on YouTube. You're a girl who wants to go to a big party, but you've got to complete all of your chores first. In your way is an army of idiot neighbors, idiot family members, and idiot friends, all hellbent on inadvertently stopping that from happening by giving you more chores. Of all the videos, it's the most entertaining to watch, mostly because it feels like a modern parody of early 1990s sitcom life -- the life only the fake white people on TV had from about 1989 through 1995. It so oozes that T.G.I.F. aesthetic and lingo that it probably felt like it was trying too hard back then, but now it seems to perfectly encapsulate the silly cartoon we eventually boil any given decade down to.
All of these board game VHS tapes had long stretches where the players were only shown a clock that kept track of how long the game would last, and also gave players a chance to actually play the game. In Atmosfear, it was a black screen accompanied by some spooky music. In Party Mania, it looks like Barbie's stereo and it plays songs that weren't good enough to make the final cut of the Weekend at Bernie's soundtrack. That's to say, it sounds like every listen-while-you-work radio station from the '80s, '90s, and today.
Long before Bella was torn between a dead kid and a Native American dog, the main character of Party Mania was torn between bootleg Ralph Macchio and what appears to be Cody from Step By Step, but after he replaced Van Damme in the Kickboxer movies.
There's no game mechanic for fending off the onslaught of the date rape twins.
Apparently they're twins, but that's probably only because they were purchased from the orphanage on the same day. Anyway, both want you to go to the party, because they both want to plow you. But once you make it to the party at the end of the game, there's no resolution to the love triangle story. You show up and they're like "hey" and the game ends. Twat teases. These two guys each called you multiple times asking if you were going, then each showed up to your house to make extra sure you weren't full of shit when you said you were going, and then you go, and right when they ask if you'd like to dance, you get cockblocked by Kaylee from Firefly and they forget you exist.
But, you know what? That's okay. Because in the end, you get your true reward: when the party begins and everyone is dancing except for you, you get to watch a socially disastrous weirdo kid in a black flannel shirt dance like he's trying to blend in with the other hu-mons as he relays research data back to his home planet.