Nightmare Forest: Dead Run, by Dave Killingsworth of SolarFlare Games, is a game in which players are campers racing to escape a forest that has suddenly become overrun by undead animals hungry for their brains. Fight crazy zombie animals, cut through the underbrush, sabotage your former friends, gather weapons, and when all else fails…rely on the luck of the dice! Only one, or none, will survive in this mad cap scramble to be the first out of the Nightmare Forest…will it be you?
Note* The version that I played and that is reviewed here was a late stage prototype and as such it was not judged on the artwork, components, or graphic presentation as all of these are subject to change.
The players are racing to be the first to make it from the campground (starting area) out of the forest (past level four). The first to do so is the winner. It is also possible that no one will make it out of the forest alive, and in this case there is no winner.
The play area is set up with one column of forest cards per player. Each column has two rows of level one cards, level two cards, level three cards, and one row of level four cards. These cards are placed face down and represent the path that each player is on during the game. While there are different types of cards amongst these, they are primarily made up of undead animals that players must defeat to advance toward the exit of the forest. As the players progress from level to level the zombies increase in difficulty to defeat with the final row being the most challenging by far!
In addition to encountering zombies, players will also likely acquire gear during their journey to the exit of the forest. The items tend to be fairly standard zombie fighting paraphilia (Shotguns, chain saws, machetes, etc…), with a few nice comedic exceptions, like the hot dog skewer! As a life-long camper, this one in particular, warms my heart! Players may either make use of this gear to hasten their escape or throw it at players ahead of them in order to delay those who are further along.
The primary mechanics are dice pool management and press your luck. How a player chooses to allocate their dice each turn will increase or decrease their odds of success for whatever actions they choose to undertake. How thin a player chooses to spread himself across various options is a large part of the press your luck element.
The first player to defeat their level 4 zombie escapes to the road and wins the game. All other players are left to be transformed into another mindless flesh-eating undead monster.
Nightmare Forest: Dead Run is a relatively light, highly accessible game that is valuable as a filler or fun for families, particularly those introducing kids to the horror genre. It is in the role where the game works best and is highly successful. Although it is far lighter than most games I would play now days, I would have absolutely loved this game as a kid. Playing with my parents on a camping trip, would have been a blast with just the right amount of creepiness thrown in to add to the fun. My wife, also really enjoyed playing it and although she is a seasoned gamer, this could bode well for those who are always seeking to convert their significant other to our hobby. If they already have a toe in the geeky world of horror or a dark sense of humor Nightmare Forest could be just the gateway they have been looking for.
Given the game’s nature, dice and random set up of fixed paths, there is certainly a great deal chance involved in the outcome. However, a player does have a number of options at their disposal to try to mitigate chance’s role. Under normal circumstances, I am strongly opposed to a large luck factor in a game, but I find press your luck mechanics to be a slightly different animal. They are in effect gambling, and like in most gambling games one can simply make the best decision based on the odds, game state, the facts at hand, and hope for the best. If it does not work out, the game is short enough that it will not ruin one’s evening.
Another plus, is the dark sense of humor that pervades every part of Nightmare Forrest. All of the cards contain flavor text that ranges from the macabre to the downright hilarious. The numerous puns and pop language references really add to the mood of the game and keep everyone laughing as the merciless horde of zombie animals closes in.
Nightmare Forest: Dead Run provides a darkly humorous gaming experience for those new to the hobby or those looking for an easy going game to throw some dice and share a laugh. If you are a hardcore gamer, who abhors chance and views hardnosed competition as the primary purpose of games, this one is probably not for you. However, if you prefer games that are lighthearted escapes to be shared with friends and family, then you will likely enjoy Nightmare Forest: Dead Run very much!