Creating Atmosphere in a Horror Boardgame

Fourtato Games
5 min readSep 17, 2019


Horror movies and thrillers can elicit strong emotional responses from their eerie atmosphere. I personally love that eerie mysterious tone and the tension that looms over me as I watch horror movies. Though I am not a movie director, I understand that the lighting, audio queues, and the music, all contribute to providing the atmosphere. That is the magic of cinema. But what about for a board game?

I reached out to Joshua Bryan, designer for the survival horror game, Crimson Woods, to learn more about how to create the horror atmosphere for a board game. Joshua was kind enough to share his design ideas and decisions on making an eerie and thrilling game! Let’s learn about the magic of board games!


Welcome to Camp Crimson Woods! Where you will get plenty of cardio running for your life! Crimson Woods is a 2 to 6 co-operative survival horror game where you are trying to find an escape route out of camp before you fall victim to the killer or are lost in the woods forever!

You and your fellow camp counselors will be searching the campgrounds for resources to escape and ultimately survive. The campsite is made up of a 36-tile modular board that will allow the killer to stalk you and inevitably pop up on your tile and attack you!

You don’t have to be the first to escape, just ESCAPE and you WIN!

In Crimson Woods you will be exploring the campgrounds (36 tiles, arranged in a 6 by 6 grid). There will be 32 Discovery Tokens hidden around the camp. Three of which will be the keys for the boat, for the car, and for the Watchtower. Along with the keys you will have to scavenge resource cards for batteries and gas. The whole time trying to avoid the Killer who randomly appears on tiles that make up the camp site (board). You will also find resources that can be used to defend yourself against the Killer. Make alliances or try to escape alone, it is your choice, choose wisely.

Challenges When Creating a Horror Game

I am no stranger to horror, when I was younger, I ran a horror website where I would review movies. Later I started working in quite a few different horror attractions across Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and North Carolina. There weren’t many challenges that really present themselves except how to get make the tension of being hunted down real. This creates uncertainty for the players and a sense of unknowing when playing the game. I believe I succeed in that by having quite a few different ways the Killer can pop up and attack you. Just like a horror movie you never know when he will attack next.

The only other challenge was trying to create a battle system that felt as if the Killer was a bit overpowering like in the movies but still able to be defeated. I wanted to create a sense of fear when encountering the killer due to the difficulty in defeating them. I also wanted to make sure the that Killer is not someone players would want to mess with. In Crimson Woods the Killer rolls three six-sided dice and they are added together. The Counselors then roll two six-sided dice and are able to play cards that boost their dice roll.

Creating Atmosphere in a Horror Game

In order to create a good horror game, you need to be able to capture the atmosphere and ambience that you see in the movies. To be able to do so, I implemented a memory mechanic to the game. The board is made up of 36 tiles. The four in the center are the starting four tiles that represent the center of camp and have light posts around the bunks, mess hall, and main office. The other 32 tiles are faced down and will only be flipped once you land on it (as if your eyes have adjusted to where you now are). Once you leave those tiles they will once again flip face down and you have to hope you committed to memory what was there, so you can return if you must. This mechanic makes players feel like they are in the dark and have difficulty navigating through the camp.

Another way I created the eerie atmosphere of a horror movie was by how the game controls the Killer. In the resource deck there are cards that once drawn will make you encounter the Killer automatically. There are other also 32 discovery tokens randomly placed around the 32 tiles that make up the camp. In those 32, there are three of which are keys for the escape tiles. The rest are made up of first aid, draw a card, and stalker tokens. Once you have discovered three stalker tokens the Killer automatically attacks you. This is made to represent as if you had made too much noise and now the Killer has found you!

The last way and my personal favourite way to create an eerie atmosphere was by using the coordinate mechanic I created to control the Killer. At the beginning of every turn you roll two dice that will create coordinates that will determine where on the map the Killer will appear. He could be on an individual tile that is randomly numbered already or if those dice don’t match a face up tile he will be hiding in the woods on the face down tile.

With these three specific mechanics, I believe I have created a game that will feel just like you are in a campy horror film!

Artwork & Illustrations

The atmosphere would not be complete without the art. So, in choosing an artist for this game, I had to make sure I could find someone that had the dark feel I wanted but could create something beautiful. I found the perfect artist when I stumbled on James Hayball.

Stay updated with Crimson Woods

Crimson Woods coming soon to KickStarter early 2020. Follow their social media to stay updated!



Instagram: @redclovergames

Twitter: @redclovergames1

Article published on



Fourtato Games

Tiny crew of board game designers! Four potatoes trying to make their ideas come to life!