Updated: Apr 19
Psycho Killer is a card game that transports 2-6 players into the thrilling universe of old-style videotape slasher horror movies... Five 'Psycho Killers' are lurking in the dark depths of the draw pile, ready to injure you with hatchets, hooks, chainsaws or any other rusty weapon that happens to be nearby at the time (ie: in your hand). Players must use their powers (cards) to survive, or even betray their friends through various predicaments, and avoid injury at all costs…
This is a solid party game lifted even higher by its strong immersive theme. Designers Michael Wilkinson and Mitch Young previously hosted Escape Rooms before having to pivot their business in response to the Covid pandemic. Both the sense of claustrophobic intensity and the creators' passion have carried well into this excellent homage to 80’s slasher movies; perfectly pitched to capture the feel of the genre.
The box itself masquerades as a VHS cassette, inviting players into a nostalgic journey, recalling the golden-age of the slasher genre. The theme carries through to the cards themselves, many of which carry cassette-player symbols indicating that you may ‘Play’ to play a card, ‘FF’ to skip a turn or even ‘Rewind’ to back up on a dangerous situation. Michael Wilkinson’s artwork is clear and evocative throughout, packed full of cultural references to famous scenes and tropes in the horror movie artform.
The gameplay itself has a simple order which will be familiar to those acquainted with crowdfunding record breaker, Exploding Kittens: each turn, players may activate any number of cards in hand before ending their turn by taking a card from the draw pile. Gameplay is elevated by several twists to the mechanics used in Exploding Kittens, which give players more agency and makes Psycho Killer a superior game.
When a Psycho Killer card is drawn, all players will gain injury points, thus no player is ‘out’ until the end of game, triggered by the reveal of the fifth Psycho Killer. Therefore players are compelled not so much to avoid the inevitable drawing of a psychotic murderer but avoid having any weapons cards in hand when that does happen. As a consequence, Psycho Killer is a corporately tense experience from beginning to end, regardless of whether it is your actual turn or not; indeed a couple of cards allow you to act out of turn, deftly echoing the unexpected twists, turns and upsets of a real slasher movie. Much like a slasher movie, there is a sense of pacing in this game – ditching all your cards too soon or too late is painful (pointswise) and the threat increases throughout until the climax of the arrival of the final Psycho Killer.
The theme obviously lends itself seasonally well to the Halloween period, with the emotional experience being heightened yet further by a dedicated Spotify playlist, accessed via QR code on the box. Psycho Killer utilises an established card mechanic and adds a strong and engaging theme. It's playable with just two but you'll enjoy it much more as a tense and enjoyable filler-length romp for 3-6 players.
(Review by Michael Harrowing)