You should know right up front: Pleasant Dreams features creepy dreamlike artwork, so if you’re easily spooked, you should just avoid this altogether. But if you like the idea of a card game about trying not to wake up screaming, then read on.
At a glance: Pleasant Dreams is a card game for 1 or 2 players, ages 13 and up, and plays in under 10 minutes. It’s currently raising funds on Kickstarter, with a $15 pledge level to get a copy of the game. For parents, the limiting factor isn’t the complexity of the game, but the creepiness factor of the artwork. If you’ve got kids who don’t mind horror then they could probably play it, but I’m sure my own kids would have trouble sleeping.
The game consists of 25 Tarot-sized cards, with an additional 4 cards with the rules printed on them, and two glass beads for tracking “wakefulness.” Here’s the breakdown of the cards:
- 2 Wakefulness cards
- 2 Barrier cards
- 2 Premonition cards
- 9 Bear cards
- 6 Small Scare cards
- 4 Big Scare cards
The Kickstarter page hints at stretch goals as well, so it is possible there will be additional cards later. The artwork on the cards by Wayne Dorrington is a skillful blend of sweet and scary. It has the feel of vintage illustrations of toys at first glance, but with details that make you shudder upon closer inspection.
The tarot-size cards are nice for the game because they’re large and show off the artwork, but they also contribute to the eerie, ominous feeling of the game: as you flip cards, you’re finding out your fate.
How to Play
The full rules are available here as a PDF.
The goal of the game is to survive the night (the whole deck) without waking up in terror. If either player reaches “5” on their Wakefulness card, then that player loses the game.
Each player starts with Wakefulness, The Premonition, and The Barrier. The rest of the cards are shuffled into a deck. You start with a glass marker on “1” on the Wakefulness track. The Premonition card can be used once during the game to peek at the top three cards in the deck, and The Barrier can be used to prevent the effects of one card with either the “check” or “equal” icons.
The cards in the deck are double-sided. Those with an “equal” icon are the same on the front and the back. The Bear cards, which have a “flip” icon, have “Time for Bed” on one side, with three possibilities on the back. And the backs of the Bear cards have “check” icons on the back.
On your turn, you pick a number between one and five, indicating how many dream fragments you want to experience. You draw that many cards and place them next to the deck, and then experience them in reverse order (the last one drawn is the first one you experience). Some cards, marked with “-1,” decrease your wakefulness; others increase your wakefulness by one or two steps. If at any point your wakefulness reaches 5, then you wake up in terror and lose.
After you’ve encountered a Bear card with the “flip” icon, you have a choice: you may either discard it with the rest of the cards you’ve encountered (without looking at the back), or you may flip it over and return it to the deck. Flipping it over reduces your wakefulness by an additional point. Both players get to see which Bear is on the back, and then you get to secretly choose a location in the deck to place the flipped card (without looking at any of the other cards).
Cards with “equal” signs or “check” signs (the backs of the “flip” cards) are discarded after encountering them.
To win, you have to complete your turn, still be asleep, and have no cards left in the deck. So it’s possible for both players to lose because they both wake up before the deck runs out.
Solo play is similar to the two-player game, except that when you choose to flip a card, the flipped card must be placed roughly in the center of the deck each time.
The gameplay of Pleasant Dreams isn’t too difficult, and probably kids much younger than 13 would be able to figure it out. However, if you’re a parent then you’d know whether your kids can handle creepy pictures like a mobile made with an eyeball, a dead rat, and a headless teddy bear. While there’s nothing explicitly scary while you play the game, everything sort of makes you shudder when you see it. (And if you don’t think a Jack in the Box is scary, then maybe you should go watch the winner of Studio 360’s Scary Short Film Fest…)
I tried playing Pleasant Dreams both solo and two-player, and it’s good for a quick game either way. The two-player version is fun because if you choose to flip a Bear card, both of you get to see if it’s good or bad, and then you can try to place it somewhere that will help you or harm the other player. In that case, it’s a matter of predicting how many cards your opponent might flip on their next turn. It turns out I’m really bad at this: when I got a good card, I placed it four cards in, thinking that the other player would only draw three—and they drew four. Then I got a bad card and placed it just below the top card … and the opponent only drew one, leaving that bad bear right on top for me.
The game reminds me only very slightly of Onirim, another small card game about escaping nightmares, although that one is quite a bit more involved and the art is more cheerful. But the overall sense of being lost in a dream world is still there in both games.
It’s not a game I’d play with my kids, and at 5-10 minutes per game it’s not going to be the event focus of a game night, but I think it’s a fun one to keep around for a quick filler game between things, or if you just want to give yourself some chills while you’re sitting out a game. I’m not generally a fan of horror myself, but I can see the appeal.
Pleasant Dreams probably won’t give most adults actual nightmares, but if you want to tempt fate, give it a shot. For more information and to back the game, visit the Kickstarter page.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a demo prototype for review purposes.