THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
by Scott Rogers
I have a confession to make. Until I was asked by Treat or Treat Studios if I wanted to design the Texas Chainsaw Massacre board game, I had never seen the movie in its entirety. While I love horror films, I’m a big scaredy cat. I have a vivid imagination and have been traumatized by intense horror films like The Exorcist, The Grudge and Hereditary. Thanks to YouTube, I had seen some of the more infamous clips, but I had never watched it from beginning to end. In fact, I think the closest I had come to watching the film was a 60 second animated version with bunnies.
I was always told two things about TCM: that it wasn’t as bloody as you think it would be and that the horror came more from the disturbing imagery and sound design than any “scares”. Whenever I had an opportunity to watch it on cable or at the video rental store, I would look at that iconic cover and think “I don’t need that in my head!”
After I designed ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo for Ravensburger, I was still eager to make another horror game, but I admitted to Trick or Treat Studios president Chris Zephro that I hadn’t seen the movie. Chris told me “Stop being a chicken” and watch the movie, so I did. Two things surprised me about it.
First off, I was surprised at how… grimy the movie felt. I think that it helps create the sense of unease that viewers feel when watching the film. Secondly, I didn’t expect to sympathize with Leatherface. There’s a scene after he dispatches a couple of the teenaged intruders and he freaks out, looking out the window as he wonders if there are others still about. I felt bad for this big lug who just wanted to be left alone with his family.
After watching the movie and taking extensive notes, I scoured the internet for more information about the movie. I wanted to know all it about it: from production notes on the making of the film to movie reviews (both good and bad) to why fans love the film so much. Just like with ALIEN, I wanted to capture the spirit of the movie so that fans wouldn’t be disappointed when playing the game. To me, it’s extremely important to be faithful to the source material.
Horror is hard to capture in board games because players can usually see scares coming when they handle the components and read the rules. I find it to be better to create tension and dread instead of just jump scares. If the player knows something bad is coming, it will be that much “worse” when it happens. That dread is all throughout the movie and I knew I had to capture it in the game. Hence the creation of the “hideous draw bag.”
Because the overall feeling of the movie is so grimy and nasty, I wanted to extend that to the game’s components. Trick or Treat’s artists did a great job of making the components look greasy and bloody, but I wanted to push it even further. During the game, players collect tokens from the game board and then put them into a draw bag which they draw from on their turn. They see the bad tokens go into the bag and then hope they don’t pull them out. But I wanted the experience of drawing the tokens to also be something that the players dreaded doing.
There’s a bag in the movie – the Hitchhiker’s squirrel fur bag – but I felt that was too fuzzy and cute for the mood I was creating. So instead, I suggested a bag made from stitched flesh, something that was gross to look at and even worse to put your hand into. Treat or Treat Games did a great job bringing this to life. I hope it goes down in history as the most disturbing component ever in a board game.
That’s not to say the rest of the game’s production isn’t top-notch. Painter Terry Wolfinger’s art is gorgeous. They really capture the characters from the game and its always better when a licensor allows a publisher to use the likenesses of the actors from the film. Terry also painted the game board, which is filled with little nods to the movie, including the iconic swing set in the front yard of the Slaughter House. An interesting note about the name “Slaughter” that I learned while making the game. TCM fans might say that the family’s official name is “Sawyer” but according to the licensor, they didn’t get that surname until the sequel. We decided to stick with the name used during the production of the original film.
Designing the game was a real pleasure but couldn’t have been done without the fantastic team at Treat or Treat Studios including Chris, Joe Stoken, Andy Van Zandt and Jody Henning. They were a joy to work with and I hope I get the opportunity to do so again.
One more note about the game. Don’t expect to win it, at least, maybe not the first time you play. I’m a big fan of difficult games like Dungeon Quest, Ghost Stories and Camp Grizzly, all of which inspired its gameplay in some way. If you like those games, then you’ll probably like Texas Chainsaw Massacre the game. I hope you survive the experience!