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Exclusive Interview: Get Your Hands Bloody with Jeff Ignatowski’s Killer Card Games

Sunday, November 19, 2023 | Exclusives, Games, Interviews


Despite the obvious threads that seemingly stitch together our leisurely pursuits, horror and true crime aficionados are not always cut from same the cloth. You, dear RUE MORGUE reader, who finds comfort in the fictitious fears splayed across every inch of dark entertainment, stand at a razor-thin bisection of the grotesque. Across that blood-stained highway dwells the armchair Sherlock – the connoisseur of IRL horror, who engages in water cooler discussions punctuated with “why?” and “how?” They’re the curious sort who eagerly lap up countless accounts of the boy-next-door gone horribly wrong but have no desire to venture down to Texas for a cinematic chainsaw massacre anytime soon. Serving as a mediator between the two is Ohio native JEFF IGNATOWSKI, whose SCORPION LAIR GAMES illustrates that if you’ve got an interest in the underbelly of society (real or not), he has a card game for you.

For nearly two years, Ignatowski has spent countless weekends setting up shop at horror, true crime and gaming conventions across the country. This year alone, he’s guested at over three dozen, presenting his case that there’s something for everyone in his brand in a grassroots campaign targeting gorehounds and gumshoes alike. And it’s working, facilitated by an entrepreneurial spirit ingrained from an early age.

“My dad owned a corner store, so I’ve been around business my whole life,” says Ignatowski. “I learned a lot from him. He ended up working at a nightclub where he was the bathroom attendant. This is in the ’90s and early 2000s, and he’s pulling 40k a year out of the bathroom, selling products – cigarettes, cologne, cigars, potato chips. He’s finding all these ways to have a captive audience. My dad would sell everything, and so I watched him do that and understood that I really liked business. I’ve owned a couple of different businesses, none of which up to this point have been successful or profitable. Now, I’m in a position where I can put together all my passions.”

Game creator Jeff Ignatowski

That passion began with a love for tabletop and card games like Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering long before tactility became novel.

“When I was a kid, I would create card games. I still have the first one that I ever made when I was 8 years old. It was a boxing game, and we took these cards and set them up against each other and then would roll dice. It would give you the result of the fight. We’d go through that until we decided to stop playing, and we’d see who had more wins than losses. We’d play that day after day on my grandfather’s steps.”

The first game may have only found favor with the neighborhood kids, but those imaginary boxing rounds were the breeding ground for ideas fostered over the ensuing decades. In discovering what elements of games he preferred the most, a full-on world-building experience was imperative to his overall enjoyment, a quality he leaned on when creating his projects.

“When I started playing Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, I got a sense of what’s imaginative about gaming and how to create things that are engaging,” Ignatowski explains. “The other big interest that I’ve always had is true crime. I grew up right outside of Philly, so there was a lot of influence from the Mafia and stuff like that. It was kind of a natural fit for me to be interested in those things. Then, I thought, ‘Why not bring those together?’”

Ignatowski’s creations were launched under his Scorpion Lair Games mark. Its catalog is dynamic, producing a menagerie of titles, including You Can’t Catch Me: Cryptid Edition and Screamville Cursed Acres, a haunted house sim produced in collaboration with the Knoxville, Tennessee, haunt of the same name. But it’s his Killers: The Card Game and subsequent expansions that entice the morbidly curious to his booth and website week after week. A boisterous barker, his voracity and excitement when discussing his brand while flanked by tables of t-shirts, candles and other typical artisanal convention wares is infectious and commanding. So much so that at many events, he’s no mere vendor. He’s also a presenter, often packing rooms with psychological discussions about the human mind and the terrible consequences of its decay. Part of those sessions draw parallels between very explicit instances of when horror tropes began life because of heinous real-world incidents. Gein begets Leatherface, 101.

“A lot of my fan base is true crime fans, first and foremost. As soon as I explain it to the horror crowd … it’s interesting because sometimes they respond to it because they also like true crime. But sometimes, even though they love all the blood and guts, as soon as there’s a real name involved, they can be hesitant. It’s funny because when you look at some of their favorite characters, most of these killers that you’re watching were all based on real people.”


A card game company? In the instant gratification era, when apps and clouds have reduced attention spans to a minuscule measure? Is Scorpion Lair crazy? Maybe. But where there’s a will, there’s some pay, and the card games came strong out of the gate.

“The first year in business I sold 516 units in six countries. When we started, I thought I was going to give about three of these games to my friends, and that’s all. I was in a Facebook group that plays this stuff, and I gave a guy in the group the first-ever copy of Killers, and he loved it. Then, I released it in the group and said, ‘Hey we’re thinking about selling these. What do you guys think?’ They fucking hated it! I thought about it for about a week and thought that if this was the response, maybe I shouldn’t do it. Then, I released it in a true crime group, and I had like 400 people who were ready to buy it that day! I realized that I was just in the wrong market. That first year, selling 516 units, I thought we were doing incredible. Then, I went into year two of business, and at last check, I’ve sold over 1400 units. I’ve almost tripled my business from year one!”

Consumers speak with their wallets, and for Jeff Ignatowski’s fanbase, their words were loud and clear: His games were a hit.

True crime as entertainment has never gone out of vogue, but with the last several years seeing the release of documentaries on killers like John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer, the discussion around history’s most vile is perhaps louder now, second only to when the crimes initially occurred. Does a revisited discussion on Dahmer equal dollars? Ignatowski thinks so, even if only for the passively interested.

“We end up getting a lot of attention because of those [documentaries]. It’s a little bit different because I have a game, so even though people may love watching a show, that doesn’t always translate into sitting down and playing games. But I do still get a good spike from it. True crime and horror are both multibillion-dollar businesses. There are streaming services that bank on their true crime content to get a show started. It’s amazing how much trajectory that has had in the last five years. It’s just astounding, and it’s not going to stop.”

Card games may be Scorpion Lair’s bread and butter, but rabid consumer interest has led to an inevitable brand expansion. Nowadays, the shop is stocked with custom prints, apparel and other merch to satiate the demands of completionist collectors. And while Killers remains the top-moving item from Ignatowski’s portfolio, his efforts are always focused on developing something new that may claim that spot. Right now, that’s his forthcoming social deduction experiment, The Profiler.

“It’s a party game that you play in a decent-sized group, somewhere up to fifteen people, and you’ll be handed cards to give you a role. Then, you have 60 minutes to figure out who the killer is and what type of killer they are. If you watch any of those CSI-style shows, you may have a leg up on everybody else playing.”

It’s natural to wonder if the games will ever make the jump to digital, either as mobile apps or console games. That is not outside the realm of possibility, according to Scorpion Lair’s founder. But for the foreseeable future, true crime and horror buffs will need to phone a few friends, gather around the table and take turns rolling actual dice – just the way Jeff did with those boxing games so many decades ago.

“There is a huge market for people wanting to get back and sit down across the table and play a game with one another. I think it’s important to do that; It’s one of the reasons why I initially made sure that we came out as a physical media product. I think it’s important that if you’re going to do role-playing, you’re sitting across from another person. There’s a different dynamic when somebody traps one of your killers and they can’t get out and they’re pissed off, stomping their feet and banging their hands.”

To order any of Jeff Ignatowski’s card games, check out Scorpion Lair Games.

Kevin Hoover
Ever since watching CREEPSHOW as a child, Kevin Hoover has spent a lifetime addicted to horror (and terrified of cockroaches). He wholeheartedly believes in the concept of reanimating the dead if only we’d give it the old college try, and thinks FRIDAY THE 13th PART V is the best in the franchise. Aside from writing “Cryptid Cinema Chronicles” for Rue Morgue, he’s been a working copywriter for over a decade and you’ve probably bought something with his words on it. He also believes even the worst movie can be improved with buckets of gore.