Review: Nightmarium

By Matt Skidmore 02 Aug 2018 1

Review: Nightmarium

Released 12 Oct 2017

Developer: TableTopia, Inc.
Genre: Boardgame
Available from:
App Store
Google Play
Reviewed on: iPad Pro

Before we delve into the Nightmarium, I should make it clear that this is a game that uses the Tabletopia game system. This means that all you are getting is a digital rendition of the game’s components, leaving the players themselves to interpret and enforce the rules. Furthermore, do not expect any AI opponents or online matches, as the only option is to play face to face with a player count of two to four.

Nightmarium is a small, easy to learn card game that only had a limited print run. Consequently, this digital version will be the only chance that many of us will have to play the game. The background story concerns the masters of the Order of Dreamers who have been studying the landscape of dreams for centuries. Even after all this time, one small, dark corner of the dream world subconscious remains off-limits. That place, as you may have guessed, is the Nightmarium, home to night terrors, bogeymen and monsters under the bed. Finally, the researchers have mastered the art of subduing these terrors and moulding them into creatures. The problem is that these creatures are hostile and volatile, often, fighting among themselves, simply disintegrating or escaping to run amok. Yet, despite their nature, these unstable creations do have a use since they offer the only means of reaching the Crystal of Panic.

Early game

An example of what the game looks like in the early stages.

As a player, you will take on the role of a dream researcher and compete against your opponents to be the first one to assemble five creatures.  The night terrors are made up of 108 individual cards, which are split into legs, torsos and heads. You can work on creating your five creatures simultaneously, but each has to be assembled in a strict order beginning with legs. Most cards can only be used for one body part, but some special cards can be used for two, or even three parts. Each night terror is loyal with one of four colour-coded legions of Horror - Necronauts, Insektoids, Homunculi, or Chimeridae. A creature can be made up from any mix of Night Terrors, but creating creatures from cards of the same legion will give you a distinct advantage.

At the start of the game each player is dealt a hand of five Night Terror cards and on a turn, they get to perform two actions. The most basic action is to draw a card.  A variation of this is to discard as many cards as you like and draw half that number back. There is also the option to play a card from your hand to start or continue constructing a creature. Creatures have to be built from the bottom up; starting with legs, followed by the torso and finishing with the head. As soon as a creature is complete any special abilities that are marked on the individual body parts will activate. These are applied in strict order, starting with the head and working downwards. If a special ability cannot be performed, then it and any other outstanding abilities are cancelled. If you have ensured that the creature is made from terrors of the same legion, then every opponent must discard one card of that legion from their hand. If they have no such card, then they face the larger penalty of having to discard two cards.

Late Game

Your late-game board may end up looking like this.

Special abilities are worth investigating a little closer as they form the core of the game and ensure that there is more to Nightmarium than a simple primary school matching game. The Weeper ability lets you draw two new cards, whilst the Mocker lets you play an extra card from your hand. The Herald skill is one of the strongest: it offers a combination of the previous two skills, allowing you to draw two cards and immediately use them to construct your creatures. The other skills are more interactive - the Executioner allows you to remove the head from an opponent’s creature and add it to your hand, the Scavenger ability lets you remove an opponent’s incomplete creature. Finally, the Devourer ability lets you discard the top card of any of your own creatures. Identifying how these skills complement each other is at the heart of the game. For instance, a completed creature with both Executioner and Scavenger abilities could first claim the head from an opponent’s creature, thus making it incomplete. Then the Scavenger skill can be used to send the unfortunate soul back to the discard pile.

Nightmarium is a straightforward game that can be learnt in five minutes and only takes about twenty minutes to play. The theme is refreshingly original, with the lovely creature illustrations adding to the game’s overall charm. However, there are frustratingly high levels of luck involved, which makes for a game best suited for families rather than seasoned gamers. In terms of actual gameplay, there is nothing here that hasn’t been seen many times before. However, Nightmarium’s rather ruthless player interaction and neat card combo opportunities make for a decent if unspectacular game.

What a mess

The horror! Not the monsters - just LOOK at the state of that board...

The simple rules and few moving parts mean that Nightmarium is a good choice for conversion to the Tabletopia system. Although, having to keep your cards hidden from the other players does mean that turns need to be taken in secret, so only one person can view the screen at any one time. Whenever I play I cannot help but feel that the game would be infinitely more enjoyable to play in its physical format; snatching an actual physical card from a rival is so much more satisfying. Tabletopia is an innovative way of playing tabletop games, but the fiddly interface, no-frills presentation and, most tellingly, lack of rules implementation means that it will only ever appeal to a limited market. The rest of us will happily stick with physical copies or enjoy the impressive range of fully featured board game apps that have added advantages like AI opponents and competitive online matches.

The lack of many of the features that we have become accustomed to makes for a disappointing and frustrating experience.

Review: Nightmarium

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