Below is a critical review of the HVRTING Extreme Card game, and more specifically, the Faceless Venture’s collaborative experience in which the game was played. While some members of Haunting helped develop the card game, those members had no input or contribution to this review.
Five pairs of eyes shift around the room anxiously. The sounds of a casino in full swing bleed through from somewhere a floor or two above. Two black-clad enforcers circle the table methodically, keeping close watch on the nervous duct-taped participants. Tauntingly slow, the croupier flips the next card. Torture Card. This is going to hurt.
We found ourselves in this dank basement for the release of a brand-new immersive horror card game, created by HVRTING. Coined as “Fun for the whole family!” and “A first date game I’ll never forget,” the game sure gives Uno a run for its money when it comes to testing the strength of a friendship. For this festive occasion, the LA-based HVRTING teamed up with Faceless Ventures, an immersive horror company kicking up dust in the UK, to play the game at the exact same time over two continents, screams and groans being transmitted over the Atlantic via video link.
The card game itself is fairly simple, but very effective. Two to eight participants put their lives on the line, and only one will be allowed to leave. In order to achieve freedom, players attempt to collect Resource Cards, which will aid in their escape. Any player collecting all four Resources gains sweet relief from the torture – or can attempt to win a precious fifth card, allowing them to exact revenge on their fellow players. Standing in the way of leaving (at least partially) intact however – next to a number of game modifiers – are the dreaded Torture Cards. Drawing one of these cards results in punishment, either through deprivation, endurance, or sanctions distributed by the enforcers. Ranging from uncomfortable to downright painful, a Torture Card revealed on your turn is guaranteed to make your heart sink.
As an immersive experience, I think the night worked on two different levels. At face value, being tied up in a basement, being tortured, and fighting for your life obviously is a fairly terrifying predicament. Our game’s setting also made it very easy to believe we were actually taking part in an illicit game that wouldn’t end well for most involved. In addition to a stern, down-to-business croupier who actually reveled in our hardships, the two enforcers went from gently wiping the perspiration off our brows to a much, much more violent demeanor in seconds. It all made sure no one in that room doubted the severity of the situation. Just before the reveal of a new card, tense silence fell over the room without exception, and certain Torture Cards drew shocked gasps from the participants not undergoing the punishment. On top of all that, one of the enforcers occasionally went rogue, handing out punishment as he saw fit, hammering home the point that the house always wins. As the game went on, we felt the strain of the experience more and more, and the competitive element began to turn us against each other – stealing a rare Resource Card from another player felt like a masterful tactical move.
On the other hand, there is a kind of satirical humor inherent to the game. Torture methods – like gagging or waterboarding – are handed out with the banality of Monopoly’s “Go Directly to Jail” card. It’s a joke that, especially in the moment, is perhaps lost on all but the most fanatic immersive horror fans. However, these torture methods are now so common in extreme haunt experiences that treating them as run-of-the-mill game mechanisms is pretty on point. Seeing your fellow players in these predicaments creates a bizarre balance between gleeful voyeurism and pitying shock. I felt myself shifting between honest compassion and suppressing a wide grin, and I think that feeling might have been my favorite thing about this show. The fact that participants showed up in exaggerated stereotypes of Las Vegas high rollers only accentuated the implicit absurdity of how the game was played, leaving me on the verge of laughing more than a few times. There’s just something about seeing someone wearing a glitzy suit and pink feather boa being suffocated right in front of you, I guess.
My only point of critique is that I feel the game would be even better off with a larger assortment of options, as the game is really at its best when a previously undiscovered card is revealed to the room. Next to that, minimizing the chances of the same player repeatedly drawing the same Torture Card should be high on the agenda – I’m sure you can imagine the effects of encountering a series of ‘You will be pinched viciously’ cards, and if not, I’ve got (very colorful) pictures. More varied Torture Cards is an obvious solution, or the addition of blank cards, so players could let their imaginations run freely. Perhaps some kind of betting mechanic would be interesting as well; players could risk severe punishment for a higher reward. That said, it is straightforward to customize the rules and intensity of the game to your own liking. Either way, as we understand it, expansion packs are already in the works, and we can’t wait to get our hands on them – and throw our own HVRTING parties.
In conclusion, for someone who really has a hard time finding pleasure in card games, I had an amazing night. HVRTING started out with a simple idea and elevated it to a thrilling, multi-layered concept. The Faceless Ventures team took that framework and ran with it, getting the vibe just right, both through set dressing and acting chops. Importantly, they clearly understood the satire beneath the main game, allowing humour to creep into the experience, without losing any tension. A superb collaboration, and anyone who argues otherwise deserves a slap across the face.
The HVRTING card game is available for purchase now.