Photoghasts Brings Ghosts to Life on Your Phone

Ghost detecting apps were seemingly a very large business at the advent of smartphones. The ability to record your own EVPs and detect ghosts around you was a novel, if wholly unrealistic way to kill some time. I remember the simplest of these apps just being a sonar-type readout that had dots (ghosts) getting ever closer to you as you trembled in fear and/or got your beer drinking app ready so you could show some ghosts how far technology has come. Those were the early days of haunted phone shenanigans, and now, T.W. Burgess and crew are bringing it full circle with Photoghasts.

You may not be familiar with Burgess. He is, in the simplest terms, an excellent horror writer. His comics -Nyctophobia, Early Haunts, Ghoster – have gathered a cavalcade of kudos and recognition. No content with purely static images or words on paper, Burgess has begun branching out in different avenues of horror media. With Photoghasts, he tries to tackle a market not fully explored or understood by horror fans: Physical games. Having already experienced the joy of video gaming – the oft-overlooked PYLONS – it seems only natural that a card game centered around being murdered by ghosts would be next on the table.

Upon receiving my deck of Photoghasts, I was first struck by the excellent art on each card. In the 30-card deck, I expected maybe 10 unique cards and then repeats. I’m happy to report that there are 30 unique ghost cards, each with accompanying art and backstory. The act of sitting down and just reading the micro horror fiction printed on each card feels just as rewarding as actually sitting down and playing a round of Photoghasts. I have played both the single player version of Photoghasts and the party version.

It is interesting how many ways there are to play Photoghasts. The main way to play is to download the Photoghasts app, gather up your friends, and get ready to get scared. In that version of the game, you’re each dealt 6 haunting cards and 3 action cards. You open the app, and one at a time, you begin using your phone camera to scan the cards. When a card is scanned, one of 3 animations can play. It is an amazing use of AR tech. When your camera is focused on the card, it comes to life. It can sit still, meaning you’re safe, but gain no points. The ghost on the card can disappear, meaning it’s been exorcised, and you get the point total printed on the card. In the final option, the card comes to vicious life, taking from you the number of points on the card and murdering you.

After you scan the card, the app calculates the gain or loss of points, and you hand your phone to the next player to try their luck with one of their ghost cards. If they don’t want to play a ghost card, they can use an action card to steal your points, double their points, or resurrect themselves after being murdered. Granted, I’m not sure if dying in the game has much of an effect beyond putting your points in the negative. When I played single player I consistently was bad at the game and ended up with my points in the negative. Even after my untimely death, I was still able to check ghost cards and play action cards.

The real place where Photoghasts shines is with a group of friends. The thrill of handing off your phone -absolutely brimming with ghostly potential- is an absolute joy. Each of the 30 ghost cards has its own animations and backstory, and a lot of the fun of Photoghasts is seeing how the card will come to life. The scoring system is simple to understand, and also tabulated by the app, so players can spend more time enjoying the horror visuals and less time keeping score. The implementation of the app was done exceedingly well, and I experienced no hangups whatsoever no matter how fast I scanned cards.

Each session goes fast, making Photoghasts ideal for a pick up and play experience. Grab your phone, scan the card, get or lose points, and pass the phone. Each round only lasts a minute, and you can drop it anytime. I honestly feel like I’m about to start carrying the deck in my pocket and challenging random people on the street to a game of Photoghasts. It’s the kind of game that doesn’t require a ton of explanation, and the rule cards are right there in the deck. From opening the deck to playing the game competently only takes about 5 minutes.

I don’t often play card games, but as we get into the Halloween season, there is just something special about Photoghasts. I can see it becoming a hit with younger players. As I’ve said before, the animations for each card are suitably creepy, bordering on unnerving. In a dark room, with a group of friends and your deck of haunted cards, you might find yourself getting scared too…