The Director at BEV Central may not have known that Five Nights At Freddy’s is a successful indie video game franchise, but when the board game came in for review I had heard of it through my son's Game Theory Podcast obsession. FNAF, as it’s called - yes, good dad joke fodder there - is a survival horror game with dwindling resources, set in a pizza parlour. The objective is to see out the attacks of possessed animatronics for... well, five nights, I presume. Despite its PEGI 13 rating and the fact that my 11 year old son has never actually played it (and is incredibly squeamish) he went gaga over the box when I brought it home.
Five Nights at Freddy's: Survive 'Til 6AM Game, to give it its full title, has solid heritage; though there is no credit to Prospero Hall on or in the box, the design team from Funko has a good track record with many well-received games that bridge the mass market and hobby game worlds. What is quickly apparent about most of their games is that they are IP based. So, with a good design team and a successful IP, let's see what hides in the dark confines of the FNAFST6AM box (yeah, there's a snappy initialism for you).
Not much, physically at least. For 100-ish cards, two dice, two dials, a rulesheet and a board, the box is oversized; I understand the length by breadth dimensions are designed to increase shelf appeal but the depth is notably excessive, with a brutalist insert to boot. The former are what they are to accommodate the board but, unfortunately, it is mostly redundant and what function it does have is compromised, which I’ll get to later. The game is for 1 or 2 players, though as multiplayer solitaire it can accommodate more with additional copies (it's cheap) and takes around 10 minutes per player.
To set up, dials are set to 100 energy, 44 Camera Monitor cards are shuffled for each player and then dealt into four decks of 12/11/11/10, to which are added 0/1/1/2 animatronics and shuffled. The cards will slowly move toward a player's ‘office’ (discard pile) and, should an animatronic ever be placed there, it’s game over for that pizza security guard. If playing with two and both survive, player with the most energy wins.
Each round, a time card is flipped; starting at midnight and progressing in half hour chunks: so 12 turns. The top card of each deck is revealed for each player and they must decide how many they will react to, from 0 to 2. The four possible reveals are: Empty Rooms - no reaction needed; Power Depletion - again, no reaction necessary, but if the player does react that round it costs extra energy; the animatronics themselves - which advance if left undefended; and What Was That? cards. The WWT? cards come in two types; either moving the next card in its deck closer to the office one or two spaces, face down, or revealing the next card and immediately activating it with no recourse. If a player chooses to react to 1 or 2 cards, they roll that many custom six-sided dice: faces are 0/5/5/5/10/10, so potentially a loss of 0 to 20 energy in a round. Add a Power Depletion card and a quarter of your energy is gone in one round when you’re trying to survive for 12!
Reacting is the only decision point in FNAFST6AM and it results in a random amount of energy loss. Yes, I’m sure Funko Games have done their math and an average of 6 loss per die will put the game on a knife-edge but there isn’t much tension there, and tension is normally a strong element in survival video games. Both my son and I felt we were more at the mercy of the dice than the animatronics; there is no mitigation, you just make a judgement call on the threat shown each round and hope for the best.
Which was, to be honest, a disappointment for the lad. Being the son of a board gamer, he’s used to more depth than this and the theme was not strong enough to itself mitigate the mass market feel of the components and mechanics. None of the animatronics had character; no special powers to engage you or make you go, 'Oh no! It’s Freddie Fazbear, not now!' The luck of the dice is matched by the luck of the draw, as the order the cards come out can really save you energy as much as rolling well; but there is no agency given to the players to show any skill here either. Crucially, there is neither tension nor dread, tho' the latter is admittedly hard to evoke in a board game.
Price point has been a consideration for many when it comes to Funko games. The card quality in FNAFST6AM is acceptable and they slide nicely after a few shuffles (and there is a lot of shuffling - not a skill most kids have) and the dice are clear. The board is poor though, with little to no art: it serves only to position the decks of Camera Monitor cards, tho' I found them sited too close together which meant every deck interaction knocked a neighbouring pile. This was a small but needless irritation when there was so much more space on the board that could have been better utilised.
So, for me, this is my first ‘swing and a miss’ from Funko Games and, though I’m not the target audience, my son pretty much is and he had to vent about the lack of thematic mechanisms in the game; a 13 year old at a local game group was similarly unsmitten. I know kids younger than PEGI ratings will play games, but you’d have to be quite young to find this a replayably engaging game, at which age; being attacked by possessed teddies is probably not the theme for you. Between us, we died twice, survived twice and called it once, though the wins were squeaky and losses clear cut, it seems some experience did help. Or was it just better dice rolling? Hard to tell in the dark.
(Review by David Fox)