As hinted at by the title, the aim of Escape the Nightmare is to abscond from a dimension of hellish dreams and horrors. In order to escape you will need to collect 4 nightmares of the same type, and to get hold of these cards you merely agree to swap with another player. Of course this doesn't sound much like a nightmare. To make this game more hellish two simple rules are in effect; take the action listed on any card you are given, and you have thirty seconds to collect the set.
So let's first explain the countdown. This isn’t achieved via a sand timer or an app, instead one player has to conduct the countdown out loud. You can discuss which cards you have as much as possible, but doing so is rather difficult when someone is shouting 29, 28, 27...
Then there are the actions on the cards themselves. You could be forced to talk only in rhyme, buzz loudly at another player, not speak at all or even a physical activity. All these actions are designed to make communication more difficult, forcing you to even think carefully about how you word your discussion, or limiting what you can say or do.
Now try and imagine this in your head, 6 players around a table, one is counting down; the other 5 are trying to trade cards while singing, hugging or even repeating what everyone else is saying. In short it's complete pandemonium. It's a cacophony of shouting, singing, hugging and all with the ever present time limit forcing everyone to try and work faster.
The game has attempted to replicate the dread, confusion and frustration of an actual nightmare and it has succeeded at this very well.
It’s a quick game to play, taking around 15 minutes, and you’ll be quite thankful of that brevity as having this game last any longer would be bad for your heart.
Unfortunately this also makes the game a very hard sell. It's so unlike your typical board game, it's approaching more of a party game but doesn't have the same light-hearted fun of Spyfall or Codenames and instead is loud and stressful. One of the cards that requires hugging another player, and for some reason that put of more potential players off Escape the Nightmare than anything else in the game, such so that I've struggled to review this game in a timely fashion.
Escape the Nightmare really is like no other game I know. It attempts to replicate the stress and frustration of being trapped in a real nightmare and it succeeds at this goal. Escape the Nightmare forces you out of your comfort zone, which may make this game a hard sell for some people.
Coming out of a game is that same feeling as leaving the cinema after watching a really good horror film, you’re not sure why you put yourself through that stress but you know that you enjoyed it.
This Kickstarter preview is based on a prototype version of the game provided by the publisher; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this preview.