EEK! Non Horror Games That Can Really Scare the Hell Out of You
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Awhile ago, over at F:AT, Michael Barnes wrote a wonderful article about horror games in which he observed that he's never actually felt scared while playing one. I had never really thought about that before. I've played fantasy games where I felt I was on an epic quest, and I've played Sci-Fi games were I could almost feel the blaster bolts whizzing by my head. But fear in a horror game? Well, I have admired the creepy art in such games, and there has been tension in some dice rolls, but, I had to admit, I've never felt scared. Of course horror games, you might reasonably point out, are played with friends in well lit rooms. How can you possibly expect to experience fear? Yet I have felt actual fear during role playing games under the same room conditions when the GM gets the atmosphere just right. So I began to think about games that really did scare me, and was surprised to find that I could not only think of several such games, but that many of them were made for children.

Humans have many fears, with fear of death being the Big Kahuna. Most of us aren’t interested in playing Russian Roulette, however, so horror games usually shoot for fear of having your character die. But so what? This basically translates into fear of having your plans ruined, and, in a broader sense, this feeling is true of any game. But there are many other pressure points of human fear that can be manipulated by a clever designer. Some (perhaps many) of these fears are even unintentionally generated.

This list explores non horror games that really scare people. Feel free to add your own phobia.
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1. Board Game: Pop-Up Pirate! [Average Rating:4.69 Overall Rank:15535]
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This is the thing that first popped into my mind (no pun intended) when thinking of scary games. I have actually written a tongue-in-cheek review for it here at BGG. Although I panned the game, I did point out that it had scary fun...

"It [the fun] derives from the building tension or suspense as players insert their swords, like watching a character in a horror film open a spooky door (will the bogeyman jump out and get you?)."

I've actually gritted my teeth into a grimace while s l o w l y sticking that sword in. Just an unlucky soldier sent to diffuse a bomb in the middle of a minefield.
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2. Board Game: Lightning Reaction [Average Rating:5.45 Overall Rank:13367]
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Our fear of pain is perhaps second only to our fear of death. Why else would grown men turn into sobbing children at the site of a needle in the doctor's office? This game, along with Shocking Roulette, punishes losers with actual physical pain. Knowing this, my palms usually begin to sweat when I sit down to play (which certainly helps the current to flow). The green light turns on, the music begins to play, and the fear kicks in. It's the fear a gunfighter must have felt before a fast draw. The shock delivered is surprisingly strong. In fact, my hand still tingles an hour after losing. So nowadays, when people show an interest in playing, I'll set it up for them and explain the rules while standing safely on the sidelines (and quietly clicking the voltage up to maximum, heh heh). I confess: I'm too scared to ever grab hold of that handle again.
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3. Board Game: Don't Wake Daddy [Average Rating:4.43 Overall Rank:15556]
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This game falls into the Pop-Up Pirate! category. Daddy lies in bed as still as a corpse. A player that lands on a "noise" must push the button on the alarm clock a certain number of times. One wrong push and daddy leaps up like a vampire from a coffin. I play this game a lot with my kids and it has reached the point where they get so scared they can no longer push THE BUTTON. They have me do it for them while they cover their eyes and peek between their fingers, or simply submerge their heads beneath a couch cushion. Perhaps the sudden spring action combined with a child's natural fear of angering daddy makes this game truly terrifying to children.
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4. Board Game: KaBoom! [Average Rating:5.83 Unranked]
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Here's a game that scared me as a kid. Many people are terrified of loud noises. (I once met a grown woman who was frightened to tears by thunder.) It's bad enough when the sound is unexpected, like the sudden HONK! of a car horn, but it's somehow truly terrifying when you know the loud noise is coming but don't know when. I used to play this game with my hands firmly clamped over my ears. In fact, I learned to pump up the balloon with my left hand covering my left ear, and my head tilted over so that my right ear was covered by my shoulder.
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5. Board Game: Jenga [Average Rating:5.56 Overall Rank:11326]
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This game is odd in that children seem to love it - you build up the tower, it collapses, you laugh and start building it again - yet many adults, parents in particular, are scared to death of it. I suppose there are many fears here working on parental pressure points: the fear of falling objects, the fear of things breaking, the fear of the BIG mess. If the tower gets tall enough, some people might even have mild vertigo kick in. The next time you're playing Jenga, take a look at the faces of the people around the table. I'm always reminded of that guy at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark watching Indy try to replace the golden idol with a bag of sand. His face simultaneously shows him praying that things will go well, but utterly terrified that they wont.
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6. Board Game: Outside the Scope of BGG [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:2603]
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Here's one you'd probably never think of, but when I was a pre-teen, this game scared the hell out of me. You see Foosball is a game that is "hip" to be good at. Even non-geeks love to play and I, unfortunately, sucked at it. But the guys that always seemed to be hanging around the table were experts. So here we confront the fear of looking foolish. Make no mistake, this is terrifying stuff. To make matters worse, the good players could hit the ball at seemingly half the speed of light - quicker than the eye could see - until it smacked the back of my goal with a loud WHAP! that made me jump out of my sneakers while the onlookers snickered. (Well, at least I didn't pee my pants.) This story does has a happy ending though. I now have my own Foosball table in the garage and could probably take to school all but the most fanatical of players.
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7. Board Game: Twister [Average Rating:4.56 Overall Rank:15652]
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Twister. Many people live in fear of the game of Twister. Why? Because you have to take your shoes off to play, and some people have foot odor so bad they could knock a buzzard off a shit wagon (as George Carlin would say). So Twister is like Foosball, but instead of the fear of looking foolish, we confront the fear of embarrassment, and, if anything, it's the worse of the two evils. For older people the game can be particularly terrifying. All those body contortions might cause you to audibly fart (quite loudly) in front of complete strangers while assuming an embarrassing position. Oh dear! And what about pain? Your mind might tell you that you're still 16, but when your right foot gets on blue and your left hand lands on red your body might tell you something else entirely. It might speak of torn ligaments, discuss slipped disks, or perhaps the onset of arthritis might become the subject du jour. Yep, kids love the game, but for many grownups, Twister is a chamber of horrors in a box.
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8. Board Game: Flip Strip Poker [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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And while we're on the subject of embarrassment, how many of you have played Strip Poker? I doubt anyone would want to play with me anymore, but even when I was young I was too scared to play this game. What fear could be greater than teen angst over what your own body looks like? I was certainly not repulsive to look at, but no girl was going to confuse me with a Greek god: muscular with a nice tan. I can't speak for the ladies, but I think I can speak for many guys when I say that sitting at a table, wearing only one sock and your skivvies while a couple comely lasses sit across from you whispering into each other's ear and giggling, is a vision closely akin to the classic nightmare of speaking in public only to realize you forgot to put on your pants that day.
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9. Board Game: Perfection [Average Rating:4.28 Overall Rank:15641]
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Perfection is another game that falls into the Pop-Up Pirate! category. My children are truly frightened by it. The mere thought of the board exploding and launching all those pieces into their faces (My eyes! My eyes!) is beyond their endurance. I've written about how they play this game before, but allow a proud gaming father to tell a cute story twice. What they do is insert all the puzzle pieces, carefully lock down the board, and set the timer. Then they race around the corner and cover their ears. They then ask me if it has exploded yet. After I shout loud enough for them to hear that yes, the board has indeed exploded, they race back to the game and examine the shrapnel spread like CSI cops at a crime scene. Then they start inserting the puzzle pieces again and never mind all that rules lawyer crap.
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10. Board Game: Slap Jack [Average Rating:3.25 Overall Rank:15602]
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Another game that exploits the fear of pain is Slap Jack. For many people it's one of the first card games that they ever learn, and it's not one that they're ever likely to forget. My Grandmother was "kind" enough to teach the game to my brother and me when we were kids. I swear, I can still feel that pain clear across the decades. So I took my cue from her. When I play with my own kids I enjoy the frightful and intense look on their faces as they watch the cards flop. I smile when the jack drops and they cover the stack with their hands. Then I let them have it, WHAP!!, with a slap so stinging that it would do a Catholic Nun with a ruler proud. Heh, heh. Gotta pass on those family memories.
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11. Board Game: Ouija Oracle Card Game [Average Rating:4.62 Unranked]
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Many people are scared of fortune telling games and devices. These fears usually stem from a traumatic childhood event, often involving a cruel older sibling who manipulates the situation to give the younger brother or sister the absolute worst fortune possible. Fortune telling plays on our fears of the unknown and our fears of bad news, and sometimes the news can be very bad indeed.

This stupid thing is just going to tell me that I'm going on a long sea voyage, says the rational voice in your head as the Tarot cards are shuffled. But what if it tells me that I'm going to die tomorrow, says a darker voice from deep within. This second voice doesn't sound as rational as the first voice ... but it knows things. It has power. It's the voice that speaks when you look in the mirror, pondering what that splotch on your skin is. It speculates wildly when you gaze at the clock and wonder where the kids are. It murmurs in your ear when you lie awake in the dead of night and hear a strange noise outside the window. It whispers through the trees while you stand beside the grave of a friend who died at an age younger than you are. The dark voice knows things.

Then the cards flip over ... and sure enough, you're told that you're going on a long sea voyage.
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12. Board Game: Operation [Average Rating:4.07 Overall Rank:15665]
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Operation, like Kaboom!, plays on our fear of loud noises. What separates this game from the pack is its role playing potential. Most of us will never perform actual surgery so tweezing our way into Cavity Sam and wiping the sweat off our brows is the closest we'll ever get. Imaginations can run wild.

Damn it Jim! Will you and Spock keep the ship steady? If I don't remove this man's charlie horse immediately he'll die! Do you understand? He'll die Jim! Nurse Chapel, hand me the electro-tweezers...........

BUUUUZZZZZZ!!!!

.........Oh well, I'm a doctor not an electrician.
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13. Board Game: Creepy Crawlers [Average Rating:1.00 Unranked]
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Much fear is derived from the gross out. This plays on our aversion to the disgusting event or situation: the chest bursting scene from Alien, for example. In my house, I'm the guy who's expected to kill all the bugs. And while I'll do it without complaint, this doesn't mean I'm not grossed out by creepy crawlies. I also love Halloween, but I get nervous entering a Halloween store. Not because I'm scared, but because I find the smell of the rubber masks to be truly nauseating. How people can wear one of those disgusting things for an entire night is beyond me. I also hate the children's toy known as Slime. It smells terrible, it feels gross, and the mess left behind is sickening. This game, and specifically the oven toy that goes with it, plays to all my gross out fears. It has bugs. (Yuck!) It has a burnt rubber/plastic smell. (Gag!) It's slimy and sticky. (Retch!) And after the kids play it, the mess left behind is my ultimate nightmare!

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKKK!!!

I'm outta here!!
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14. Board Game: Mouse Trap [Average Rating:4.09 Overall Rank:15664]
Nikola Pinjuh
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What about that game... You get the wrong number and than the feeling when they give you that darn ball... All eyes staring at you as you place it on the slide... BAM! You're trapped! I hated that feeling. And my mother was scared to death with all that mice infestation in the house
 
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15. Board Game: Shocking Roulette [Average Rating:5.15 Overall Rank:14627]
Albert Hernandez
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I haven't actually played this but I think sticking my finger into that thing would scare the heck out of me.. especially if I got shocked.
 
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16. Board Game: Russian Roulette [Average Rating:2.15 Unranked]
Nikola Pinjuh
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Zagreb
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This game is pretty intimidating, especcially if you play it with real guns zombie
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17. Board Game: Spider Attack [Average Rating:3.00 Unranked]
Jerry McVicker
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Morgantown
West Virginia
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This damn thing just hangs above the playing field then makes a horrible screeching sound when it descends upon your hand while playing. It makes me jump every time.
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18. Thing: N/A
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Polarity can scare the hell out of you when all the pices start flipping around and shooting up to your hand. It scares the living crap out of a co-worker of mine whenever I bring it in to work to play. VERY funny watching him try to make leaners.
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19. Board Game: Alien Autopsy [Average Rating:4.28 Overall Rank:14654]
Mitch T
United States
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I'm breaking the rules a tiny bit by listing a game that can be considered a horror game. But this truly scared the hell out of me. It is pretty much a more complex version of Operation but I played this before playing Operation (I have some wierd relatives in my family) and I'll have to say that Operation is a spider on the wall compared to this terror. It plays like a game of monopoly and operation together and you actually have to land on certain parts of the board to be able to extract an organ. Of course, the fact that we were playing this game with very little light on a dark, cloudy evening didn't help. The alien in the middle of the board was dimly lit. It's eyes were a very dark blue. (a colorblind person would think it was black) If you touched the sides, the alien would tell you. But instead of its nose lighting up and hearing a little buzz, it let out a blood curtling screech and it's eyes lit an evil blue green hue as they penetrated your very soul with their evil gaze. (they really looked evil. I'm not just making my story more interesting) It was truly a game of bravery to try and go on.



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20. Board Game: Really Wild Bug Eating Party [Average Rating:3.50 Unranked]
Brad Fuller
United States
Virginia Beach
Virginia
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No amount of alcohol could make me play this game. Anyone who has watched Fear Factor knows how scary this can be. Eating something not normally eaten is scary for almost anyone.
 
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21. Board Game: Captain Bones Gold [Average Rating:4.90 Overall Rank:14516]
Ian Harris
United Kingdom
Chester-le-Street
County Durham
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Not especially scary when you've played it a few times, but for the first timer, seeing the remains of captain bones suddenly leap from his box can cause an extreme reaction; one family member fell backwards from his chair yelling "what the .......!" while under - fives and grannies chortled hysterically. arrrh
 
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22. Board Game: What's in Ned's Head? [Average Rating:5.21 Overall Rank:13559]
Dwsparks
United States
Huntsville
Alabama
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When the bullet hits the bone!
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In this game you reach inside Ned's head to find an icky object. It creeps out adults, but kids seem to love it.
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23. Board Game: Crocodile Dentist [Average Rating:4.85 Overall Rank:15418]
Devon Mallory
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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Like so many of the child-targeted games on this list, Crocodile dentist is about tension. Playing this with my under-ten cousins I must admit I felt irrational, but real, fear. It doesn't hurt when the mouth closes on your finger, but my brain told me every time "this time it will."
I should mention that a later version, or at least the one my cousins had, had you press the tooth in with your finger rather than extract it with the forceps...
 
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24. Board Game: Tyrannosaurus Rocks [Average Rating:4.67 Unranked]
Steve R Bullock
United States
Palm Coast
Florida
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This game NEVER fails to make me jump like a little school kid every time it starts to shake rattle and roll. It really gets wild- throwing its bones all over the table!
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25. Board Game: Buckaroo! [Average Rating:4.56 Overall Rank:15587]
Preston Fuller
United States
Ashland
New Hampshire
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One wrong move and you have a kicking mule and pots and pans flying through the air. Throw a $10 bill on the table (loser pays) and it gets real scary.
 
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