The witching hour nearly being upon us, Chris from unboxed the board game blog and my goodself decided to settle around the campfire and pick some suitably horrific games you should play this Halloween. That’s horrific in scary as well.. Not shite.
Horror in board games is a tricky proposition, how to capture that feeling of unease or a brown trouser inducing jump scare that the movies and video games do so well. And in truth, it’s beyond the realms of cardboard to pull this trick off, so both of our lists contain titles that while they may not leave you a shaken mess, thematically are perfect for your Halloween nights gaming. So let’s take a peek in the crypt shall we kiddies.
Halloween, it’s a tricky time, the nights are closing in, Storm Brian is bringing with it the cold winds and the driving rain and going outside feels like more of a chore than it should. Well then, it’s time to treat yourself with a board game or three and I’ve got some excellent suggestions.
The seance is a time honoured tradition at halloween, a group of friends gather to conjure up the spirits of the dead and quiz them. Well in Mysterium each player takes on the role of a medium, hoping to receive dreamlike visions from a ghost in order to solve a murder.
Before you let the theme frighten you away there’s no satanic rituals or ouija boards in sight here. One player takens on the role of the ghost and controls the game, handing out vision cards to give the players clues to their grisly demise. The players must each guess, in turn, a person, place and object used to commit the crime, before narrowing it down to a single set of options in the final round.
The game features gorgeous artwork and is very visually driven. Playing the ghost player can be tricky for new players, it can be frustrating as you may end up hamstrung for visions or you may give good clues which the players simply don’t see.
All that said it’s a fast, fun game that is perfect, light hearted fun for halloween.
Elder Sign is set in the HP Lovecraft universe of Arkham. The players take on the roles of investigators in the old Arkham Museum, seeking out the ancient Elder Signs to close the portal and seal away an ancient evil. Although all the components and artwork in Elder Sign are evocative of the theme the game itself is abstract enough that if you don’t like the Cthulhu-esque themeing you can ignore it.
Designed by a powerhouse duo of Kevin Wilson and Richard Launius, Elder Sign is Yahtzee on steroids. Player powers, extra dice and eight different old ones to fight make this simple game of dice matching a fun and engaging experience that’s different every time.
The base game itself feels rather easy after a few plays which can be great for groups that just want to have fun, it delivers that in spades, but if you want to turn up the challenge then you could look at getting Unseen Forces. Not only does this small expansion add to the replayability with more characters, old ones, adventures and items but it also adds to the difficulty too. However if you’re really looking to challenge yourself then it’s the story expansions for you.
Gates of Arkham, Omens of Ice and Omens of the Deep, take your adventures to wildly different arenas for a challenging and thematic adventure. In Gates you patrol the streets of Arkham, trying to win favour with secret societies while you close the gates to alternate dimensions. While in Omens of Ice you must collect provisions at the base camp before heading out into a snowstorm in search of Ithaqua the abominable snowman. Finally Omens of the Deep has you searching the seas for Cthulhu himself, with nothing but your wits, a rusty old ship and an ancient amulet.
Elder Sign is a simple game but it has tons of replayability and works with many different groups, definitely one worth checking out this Halloween.
Dead of Winter
The Walking Dead is back on our TV’s with a vengeance and there can be no denying that the post-apocalyptic zombie survival show was the influence behind the Dead of Winter.
Dead of Winter takes the tried and true zombie theme but it refocuses the camera, much like in the Walking Dead, the game is more about the living and their own interactions than it is about the zombies. The Dead are an inconvenience, a b-story to the hero’s own aims and objectives.
Dead of Winter achieves this in two ways, the Traitor mechanic and the Crossroads cards. Every game in Dead of Winter it is possible that one player is the traitor, he is out for himself and doesn’t care if the colony survives. However, unlike other traitor games, it is possible that there is no traitor (and the game can actually be played fully co-op too if traitors aren’t your thing). This uncertainty in the game drives the story as players turn on each other and possibly even banish each other from the colony.
The Crossroads cards are the other way the game adds story. At the start of each player’s turn the player to their left draws a Crossroads card and waits to see if the player meets the conditions on the card. This could be something simple like as taking a certain action, such as moving to a location or building a barricade or it could be tied to the characters they are playing.
If they don’t meet the criteria nothing happens, if they do the card is read aloud and the players are offered a choice or embroiled in a story. The cards can be both good and bad, they can introduce new characters or add food to your stores, but they can also give you damage, bring more zombies and worse.
Dead of Winter is a complex game, although it’s play time is short enough that you could comfortably play twice in an evening. There’s a lot going on, lots of different actions to take and characters to play but most of the actions work the same way so once the game clicks you should be good to go.
You control a whole group of survivors, each with their own powers and abilities, so while death is a possibility in the game, you as a player are unlikely to be eliminated. In this way Dead of Winter provides that post-apocalyptic tension of never knowing what is around the next bend, without having players sitting out after suffering a horrible setback.
The game ships with a bunch of scenarios and there are more in the expansions, but the base game itself packs a whole boat load of replayability with dozens of playable characters and eighty crossroads cards, every game is different from the last. If you’re looking for a semi-co-op with some real meat on it’s bones this Halloween, then Dead of Winter is the game for you.
Mansions of Madness 2nd edition
What Halloween night wouldn’t be complete without Cthulhu being a nuisance and a creepy old mansion. Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition is closest on my list at successfully capturing a truly atmospheric horror board game experience and that reason is its app.
Mansions is a co-op with you and a group of fellow investigators channelling your inner Scooby gang to take on one of the scenarios included with the game.
Whether it’s the horrors of Innsmouth’s possessed fish-men or something unpleasant from the other side trying to break through to our reality in a hilltop house there’s plenty of thematically rich shenanigans to entertain here. This one has a leg up in the horror stakes as the app supplies the atmospherics via music and sound effects, ramping up the tension as your intrepid team bumble about in the dark.
Removing the complicated chore of dungeon mastering and handing it off to the app to do the hard work results in an infinitely more enjoyable game than its predecessor. And a tantalising air of mystery and tension now pervades as you explore the creepy locations never quite sure what is behind that next door.
Of course, aside from all the rules lawyering the added technology means that we get audio and visual adornments with sound effects and the constant unsettling background music and it even shoehorns in some mini-games to solve. Despite all these bells and whistles it still won’t scare the bejesus out of you, well at least until you see the price tag.
Fury of Dracula
Either this or letters from Whitechapel are a great choice I stumped for Dracula as he’s all proper hammer horror rather than real life stabby horror. Although as this one is out of print then you can indulge in some very similar fun with the aforementioned letters and saucy Jack.
One of my favourite genres of board game is hidden movement and deduction and Fury of Dracula is the granddaddy of this genre.
One player will take the role of the Count and everyone else is the fearless vampire hunters hot on his trail, hoping to track him down and stake him in his black heart.
All of Dracula’s movement is hidden controlled by cards he chooses for each of the locations on the map of Europe, but as an added advantage he can also lay traps and attempt to bushwhack the unwitting hunters.
The hunters are not powerless having various skills at their disposal and the advantage that Dracula is weak during the day. This is a real knuckle chewer as the tension levels escalate as either the hunters close in for the kill or in a delicious twist when Dracula turns the tables and an unwitting isolated hunter becomes the hunted.
Fury is a long game but with the right group is a thrilling race played out over the gothic landscape of 1890’s Europe and evokes all the classic hammer horror tropes you’d expect.
The setting for this one drew me in from the off; player’s are a group of cavers who cooperatively have to work to escape the harrowing cave network that they have become lost in.
Featuring tile laying, like a game of Carcassonne as envisaged by Wes Craven, the cave network slowly spreads across your table like a malevolent jigsaw puzzle with each player having to make the choice of rushing forward blindly, a favoured horror trope, or taking it cautiously and risk running out of time.
There are a variety of hazards in the cavern: floods, rockslides and poison gas along with numerous dead ends and other difficult to navigate terrain. But by far the worse is the sudden realisation that you aren’t alone in these tunnels something in the dark is hungry and hunting you.
If you loved the movie the Descent then this is pretty much the board game, and it’s a harmless bit of Halloween fun for those looking for something lighter to teach and play. And for an added bonus the components glow in UV light if you want to turn the lights out for that extra creep factor.