Tardy to the Party: Mixtape Massacre

In the ‘80s, if you wanted to throw a party that was gnarly to the max, it would have to include a minimum of three of the following: pizza, a roller rink, glow necklaces, video games, or ice cream cake. At least, it would if you were a kid at the time…

As proud member of Generation X, I grew up in the 1980s. It was a magical time full of wonderfully ridiculous cartoons with backstories that had to be explained every week during their intros (here’s a sampling of some of my favorite lesser-known ones: Dinosaucers, Silverhawks, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors). We had Popples and Watchimals and Freezy Freakies. We wore jelly shoes and donned plastic charm necklaces. And we grew up during a technology boom, so we’re in the unique position of remembering what it was like to have to drive to a library to physically look things up in books, while being comfortable using current technology since we were exposed to it slowly as we got older. I remember being the first family on my block to own a personal computer—it was an IBM PC Jr, and the only reason we had one was because my dad worked for the company. Back then, it was a big deal to have a computer in your house.

But I was already five or six when we got that computer, and the number of games available were few and far between, so parents had to find other ways to occupy their children. There was always TV (which consisted of channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13, and required you to stand in front of it and physically turn a knob in order to change the channel or adjust the volume), but studies proclaiming the dangers of allowing your child to sit mindlessly in front of one for hours convinced many parents to restrict their precious little ones’ time in front of the boob tube.

With such limited means, what did kids do for fun back then? Even then I was a voracious reader, devouring books as quickly as I could borrow them from the library. There were dance classes, gymnastic classes, swim classes, Girl Scouts, and a number of other activities I participated in. Additionally, I was lucky enough to grow up in the woods, so my friends and I spent a lot of time outdoors exploring the forest behind my house. And we played board games. Piles and piles of board games. We owned the classics like Candy Land, Monopoly, and Trouble, but we also had weird interactive ones no one else had, like Don’t Wake the Dragon. As we got older the board games became more complex, with Omega Virus and my beloved Nightmare, a horror-themed combination VHS/board game.

When we were in elementary school, my brother and I had a favorite game, one that was coveted above all others. It featured Alvin and the Chipmunks (plus the Chipettes) and was called The Chipmunks Super Pop-O-Matic 3-D Action Game (which is quite possibly the worst name of a game I’ve ever heard in my entire life. My brother was appalled when I told him I’d looked it up. “The name doesn’t even mention pirates?” he asked incredulously. “But the whole game revolves around pirates!”). We were completely obsessed with it, though I don’t remember playing it that often. For some reason it was reserved for special occasions, specifically when we had company. Not just any company, mind you, important company, like a visiting relative. I honestly can’t recall playing this with my friends. This was probably for good reason—the game inevitably ended in tears. Every. Single. Time. No other game we played elicited such anger and frustration or resulted in such violent tantrums as this one. Years later I asked my mom where it was; I was feeling nostalgic and wanted to dig it out and play it for old time’s sake. That’s when she admitted that she and my dad had thrown it away at some point because they just couldn’t deal with how we acted when we played it.

Based on my recollection, this reaction was entirely warranted. And despite the fact that I still yearn to play one more time in an attempt to recapture a moment from my childhood, I can’t blame them for banishing the source of so much poor sportsmanship and sore loser-related behavior from their usually well-behaved children.

If you’re at all interested in the game, this short video review allows you to see the board and the pieces, and explains the rules of gameplay. The guy says that he always thought the combination of the Chipmunks and pirates was odd. For my part, I’ve always thought it was perfect. Treasure chests, walking the plank, skulls, big wooden ships with sails, and the Chipmunks—what’s not to love? Besides, don’t pirates make everything better?

And that brings me to the subject at hand—after leaving board games behind for a while, my brother discovered one he thought his twisted, horror-loving sister would appreciate. He purchased it, lovingly wrapped it up, and presented it to me on Christmas. Once I removed the red, snowman-covered wrapping paper, he gave me a few seconds to scan both sides of the box, then announced that we would be playing it after dinner, much to my father’s dismay.

Mixtape Massacre is a Kickstarter-funded board game that was released in 2015 (making me tardy to this party). Paying homage to popular slasher films of the ‘70s and ‘80s, the game revolves around familiar archetypes (the characters resemble specific killers, though the details surrounding their personalities and crimes have been changed just enough in order to prevent lawsuits) visiting different locations on the hunt for victims. For example, the appropriately named Nightmare is Freddy Kruger-esque, Buddy stands in for killer doll Chuckie, a Gremlin-like creature called Hatchling likes to create havoc, and Doctor Ravenous is clearly inspired by Doctor Hannibal Lecter. Each has his or her own backstory along with some kind of special ability (like coming back to life or doing more damage to another player during a fight). With ten to choose from, everyone should be able to find one they have an affinity for.

(Only eight are featured in the image below; they were the members of the original lineup. Buddy and Doctor Ravenous were added later, when the creators of the game ended up surpassing their monetary goal.)

The object of the game is simple: the first person to accumulate a specific number of souvenirs wins. (The recommended number of souvenirs varies depending on how many people are playing, though you could decide on any number you want.) And how does one obtain said souvenirs, you might ask? By killing victims, of course!

Gameplay is pretty standard—a single die is thrown to determine the number of spaces you move during a turn. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to enter nearby locations (like Tall Oaks High School, Roundhouse Bar, and Diamond Lake) in search of victims. Once inside, you’ll grab a “Killer Scenes, Dude” card off the top of the pile in order to determine what kind of adversary you’ll be facing—is your victim open to attack, or is he/she going to fight back? Either way you’ll have to throw the three action dice to determine whether you successfully make the kill and collect a souvenir (during an attack) or manage to protect yourself from harm (from a victim that’s trying to get away). There’s also the dreaded “Survivor” card, which can result in everyone losing health pegs/souvenirs if you’re unable to defend yourself via the action dice.

Besides the regular spaces, the board includes a few “special” spaces. There are Sewer spaces, which allow you to hop across the board to another sewer space of the same color, and a single Reanimation Station space that will give you one health peg back if you land on it. There’s several “Bonus Tracks” spaces as well. If you land on one of these, you get to take a “Bonus Tracks” card and follow the directions on it. Maybe it’ll award you another souvenir or two; maybe it’ll allow you to come back from the dead… Or maybe it’ll cost you a few health pegs and send you back to a start point.

And so, the players travel from location to location, attacking victims and collecting souvenirs. Once all of the locations are empty, they’re restocked with one souvenir each and players continue on their murderous rampages until someone has accumulated the agreed upon number. There’s more to the game than just scurrying around the board in a mad dash to obtain souvenirs, however, you can fight each other too. Brawls between players are quick and brutal; they can be initiated by landing on the same space as another player, a space directly adjacent to another player, or by players occupying the same location at the same time. The winner is determined by a roll of the action dice—whoever rolls the most knives wins! The loser slinks away wounded (losing one health peg) back to the nearest start point while the winner basks in the glow of victory.

Now, let’s say that you own the game and play it often, so often that you’re yearning for something different. You’re in luck, my friend, because the instructions include three alternate game playing scenarios. In the first scenario, you assign point values to the souvenirs, which have images of different body parts on one side (hearts, fingers, ears, teeth—you get the gist). Place the souvenirs in the different locations with the side featuring the body part face down; the first player to earn 60 points wins. The second scenario is a battle royale where you forget about the souvenirs altogether and focus on brawling with other players. Last man standing wins. The third scenario requires that you place the souvenirs so you can’t see the images of the body parts, just the like first one does. This time around players have to collect one of each; whomever is able to do so first, wins.

My family and I played using the original rules, though my brother has expressed interest in using one of the alternate versions in the future. During our first game I died almost immediately thanks to a combination of drawing a “Bonus Tracks” card that cost me two health pegs, losing a fight against a victim (which cost me an additional two health pegs), and my father engaging me in a brawl that I lost when he miraculously threw triples on the action dice, a special case that results in the other player losing two health pegs. Thus, I found myself dead. And admittedly pissed off. I’d like to think that at this age I’m beyond the temper tantrums and sore-loser sulking of my childhood, but I have to confess that I brooded for the rest of the game. It wasn’t because I lost—it was because I wanted to be able to enjoy my own gift; instead I was forced to watch the rest of my family partake in the fun from the sidelines, looking up rules, as necessary.

To my brother’s credit, he yelled at my dad for attacking me when I only had two health pegs left, especially since it was my game and it was the first time we were playing it. Then he insisted we play again after my dad, who didn’t want to play and had difficulty following the rules, somehow managed to win. The second time around both my mom and my brother died. While my mom’s character was unable to reanimate, my brother’s character’s special ability was coming back to life, so he was able to return to the game. Meanwhile I was much happier during this round since I was actually able to play it for a while. Naturally, my dad won again, much to all of our amusement.

The game itself is highly entertaining—its premise is clever, yet familiar. It’s relatively easy to play, yet complex enough that you won’t get bored. And it possesses a wonderful balance between horror elements and fun ‘80s pop culture references, creating a perfectly nostalgic experience (as you can see in the sampling of “Killer Scenes, Dude” cards below).

There are so many little details of the game that I appreciate, like the knife-shaped “player stations” that hold your health pegs and allow you to display your two-sided profile card; one side has your character’s name and likeness on it, while the other provides you with his/her backstory and general statistics. It’s also a nice touch that each character has his/her own special ability. As for the gameplay itself, I like that only some victims are open for attack, while others are determined to defend themselves, so you never know what you’ll be facing when you enter a location. Additionally, attacking a victim doesn’t always result in your killing them, and defending yourself from a feisty one doesn’t always result in your being able to protect yourself. And sometimes, well, sometimes you don’t even have the chance to defend yourself. Sometimes you lose health pegs automatically because that potential victim is too clever or too fast or too stealthy.

Of course, it’s pretty sweet that you can fight other players too…

Mixtape Massacre is awesome, pure and simple. I’ve only played it twice, but I can assure you I plan to remedy that as soon as possible (several of my co-workers have expressed interest in playing and I’ve already decided that my family will be subjected to it again on Easter, as well as all future holiday gatherings). One of the things that most impresses me about it is the fact that Bright Light, the creative team behind the game, seem to want to keep things fresh by slowly releasing additional material that can be used with it. So far, they’ve put out three booster packs (small, trading card-sized packages that contain a new character along with the requisite profile card and special ability token, and a few new “Killer Scenes, Dude” cards for good measure) and a Black Masque Expansion, a completely new way to play the game that includes not only a couple of new characters and additional “Killer Scenes, Dude” cards, but also provides another set of dice, death pegs, “A-Bit of an Event” cards, a special “Beast” character, and Death cards.

Furthermore, they’re currently working on the “sequel” game, Mixtape Massacre: Escape from Tall Oaks. This one is essentially the opposite of the original—here the characters are the victims/survivors who need to find/rescue other survivors, fight off attacks from lurking killers, and accomplish several tasks in order to escape from the town. It can either be played as a separate game, or it can be combined with the original to create a “Slashers vs. Survivors Party,” which sounds like it’s right up my alley. There’s a Lockdown Expansion also in production that could be used with Escape from Tall Oaks.

Are any of these games for you? If you enjoy slasher films and/or have a soft spot for the 1980s, then my answer is, “Absolutely!” But even if you don’t have a fondness for either the genre or the time period, in the end it’s just another board game. Who doesn’t like board games? Let me tell you something—my dad had no interest in playing it. His annoyance at being forced to participate was clear from the start. But once he got into it, his grumpiness melted away to reveal a budding killer, eagerly anticipating the next time he would have a chance to face off against a victim or brawl with one of his family members. And this is someone who hates slasher movies and isn’t particularly fond of the ‘80s. If he can have a good time, anyone can.

For more information about Mixtape Massacre and the Black Masque Expansion, I recommend visiting the official website. If you’d rather learn about the soon-to-be-released Escape from Tall Oaks and the Lockdown Expansion, their Kickstarter page seems to have the most detailed/recent news regarding those products. Regardless of which version you’re interested in, I guarantee that playing one of these games will be a scream…

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