Greetings, my fellow ghoulish gamers! It’s that magical time of year once again; when the days grow short, the shadows grow long, and all things frightening come crawling out from the corners and cracks of our world. And best of all, the games of our nightmares come out to be played!
Rob: Dude. Laying it on a little thick, aren’t we?
Andrew: You’re a little thi-
Jess: YAY HALLOWEEN! Spooky movies and monsters and candy and games and dressing up without having to go to a convention or be questioned by the authorities! I love this time of year! … what were you guys talking about?
Andrew: … I know.
Ahem. As I was saying. Here at Gameosity, we love the frightening time of year when we get to indulge in all the creepy movies we like and all the candy that we can eat because we’re (allegedly) grownups and no one can stop us! And in order to get everyone into the mood, we’ve chosen a selection of terrifying games, both in tone and difficulty, which we think are the perfect accompaniment to any Halloween game night!
So come check them out… IF YOU DARE.
(No but seriously, please do dare. They’re great games and I promise the cat isn’t in every shot.)
Horror-themed games are, for the most part, really, really excellent. From co-operative games where the terror is spread around for everyone to experience, to competitive games about feeding your friends to the zombie horde, well-themed horror games can provide a truly engaging experience. Sure there are plenty that fail to deliver on their potential, but we think the following examples are excellent options for when your gamer group decides it wants a little taste of terror.
But enough talk. On to the games!
(1-4 players, Co-op)
From out of the darkness an army of monsters arises, all hell-bent on overrunning a small village and bringing about the resurrection of the dreaded Wu-Feng, Lord of Nightmares. Only four Taoist priests and a handful of villagers stand between our world and eternal darkness.
Ghost Stories, from Asmodee, is sort of an odd riff on tower defense, with the players defending the village from wave after wave of beautifully drawn, hideously strange ghosts. These ghosts come in 2 basic flavors – tormentors and haunters – all of which must be exorcised before the incarnation of Wu-Feng arrives. That incarnation is itself incredibly powerful and must be defeated in order to win. Combat is dice-driven, and the colored exorcism dice of Ghost Stories rank up there among the most sadistic dice in all of board gaming – they love to leave you 1 symbol short of victory.
Rob: These days it seems like people are more scared of mutants, aliens, zombies, and murderous robots, but ghosts (especially mythological spirits originating from China and Japan) can be just as terrifying. The combination of familiar human forms, ever-so-slightly twisted beyond anything even remotely natural, create all sorts of unforgettable imagery that I’d quite honestly prefer to forget. And in Ghost Stories, they’re completely overrunning your town. *shudder*
Jess: Ghost Stories is the kind of game that kicks your face in, but you love it anyways. I always start the game thinking “Ok, this isn’t so bad. There’s only a few ghosts. We can handle this.” Within a few minutes I end up thinking “Oh god not another haunter. I’m out of tokens, my board is full, is that a ghost that locks dice?! No, no no… Why did we build this town so close to Wu Feng’s grave? Who thought that was a good idea?!?”
Andrew: We’ve got one of the expansions you know, but we’re too scared to play it – we know it’ll just kick our butts that much harder.
With many, many paths to a loss and only a slim margin of victory, Ghost Stories is guaranteed to leave you and your friends cringing each and every time a ghost is drawn and slapping the table as those awful dice leave you at the mercy of the monsters. It’s a genuinely great time!
However, Rob does bring up an excellent point. Aliens are pretty terrifying, when handled correctly. And there is perhaps no finer example of a crossover between sci-fi and horror than the Alien films, which have recently manifested in a tense, incredibly atmospheric deck building game in the form of…
An Alien Deck Building Game
(1-5 players, Co-op)
Published by Upper Deck Entertainment, the Alien Deck Building Game is an intensely themed game, built upon the events of the titular movies. You and your crew will try to survive the xenomorph infestation as you desperately attempt to accomplish your scenario goals. An ingenious playmat layout will give you the distinct feeling of being hunted and stalked, as every card flip brings new dangers and it each decision becomes more desperate than the last.
Andrew: I didn’t think I was going to love this game as much as I do, but the theming really sucked me in and some of the mechanics are just so damn clever I can’t resist. I mean, just the way they simulate aliens moving through the complex face down, so we never really know what we’re fighting, is so intense!
Rob: Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game absolutely oozes theme (despite the unfortunately awkward title), and when that theme involves one of the creepiest sci-fi horror movies of all time. It creates something that’s pretty special. Never mind the fact that there are four sets of decks to use (each patterned after the four films) or that there are several different classes to play as, and the customizable scenarios are nice but unnecessary. The reason Legendary Encounters belongs on this list is because it feels unequivocally like Alien, Aliens, etc. Right down to the bitter hopelessness.
Diana: I don’t just find this game to be scary at all. There are tense moments, sure, but only in the sense that you’re hoping for a good card draw. I’ve seen the original movie but I hate the whole hopeless “end of the world” genre, so I don’t focus on that as I’m playing.
Andrew: Fair enough. I wish they had come up with a shorter, tighter name for it, too. Still, an absolutely excellent, heavily thematic co-op horror game. Jess, your thoughts?
Jess: I only played it the one time and we died very quickly.
But maybe you’re not the kind of group who wants to work together. Maybe there are some factions among you? Maybe you like a bit of friendly contention? Then maybe you’d like to see how well your buddies can do against a rising horde of unstoppable undead in…
Last Night On Earth
(2-6 players, Competitive Co-op)
“Would you relax Sally? I heard that that there’s an abandoned cabin right this way. Besides, it’s probably nothing, ok Sally? Sally? Sal? Where did you…”
Last Night On Earth, from Flying Frog Productions, is a delightfully campy romp through a zombie apocalypse. Players are split into teams as four would-be survivors try to overcome the horde of infinitely respawing zombies that are also controlled by players. The goal of every game is based on the scenario drawn during setup, and there is a surprising amount of variety given the overall theme of ‘They’re coming to eat us!’ – though the zombie team almost always simply has to ‘Eat Them!’
Jess: This is another game where you get overwhelmed quite quickly. I find that whatever we need to find to win the game will inevitably be on the other side of a giant zombie horde and I often end up with no weapons, little health, and a growing concern that we might not make it out alive.
Rob: But it’s also about as campy as a campy zombie movie can be, which makes it pretty much the perfect board game to accompany an appropriately-themed movie marathon. And Jess is right – much like a campy zombie movie, you probably shouldn’t get too attached to your characters.
Andrew: I don’t know, I always care a great deal about my characters. Alive or dead doesn’t matter to me. Don’t be so shallow!
Jess: You’re always the zombies!
Andrew: I’m sorry, I don’t see your point.
With several different scenarios, variable challenges, modular map tiles, and about a million expansions available, this is a game with lots of longevity. Campy in all the best ways, we recommend Last Night On Earth for a group who loves some conflict while still managing to work together in teams.
But what about something for that group with one special member. That guy or gal who has a talent for storytelling, and who loves to guide the rest along on their journey through the horror? Or maybe you’ve got a rotating crew of would-be evil overlords, each eager to be the one to take down the rest in a nightmarish cataclysm with the fate of the very world held in the balance! Well, we’ve got something for that, too…
Mansions of Madness
(2-5 players, 1-vs-many)
A member of Fantasy Flight Games’ oft-visited Arkham Horror universe, Mansions of Madness is a sadistic, wicked little game of exploration, investigation, and exsanguination. All players, save one, will take on the roles of investigators who have come to the titular mansion to undertake some scenario-driven action.
However, before long these intrepid individuals will find themselves faced with an onslaught of foes, both mundane and otherworldly, each of whom is hell-bent on ensuring that no one leaves the mansion alive. And it is in these madmen and monsters where that final player will come in, organizing the forces of darkness against his or her fellow man…
In Mansions, one player will take on the role of the Keeper: a dark force working against the party. She will spawn monsters, activate traps, and throw all manner of otherworldly foe in the path of the players, trying to keep them from achieving their goal and surviving. The game also includes several ‘puzzle boards’ – modular tile-laying logic puzzles that are used as clever representations of locks and magic traps.
Jess: True, Mansions is an investment. You can pour hours into setting up and trying to find out what the win conditions even are, only to be eaten by a Shoggoth in the pantry. The winning aspect for this game is the theme. It is a great representation of all those spooky Lovecraft stories. While I don’t play this game a lot, when I do, it is a good time.
Rob: In the right hands, Mansions of Madness becomes quite the Lovecraftian adventure; full of shambling horrors and deadly rooms long before you even finish the third round.
Andrew: Yeah, it does skew a little too hard in favor of the Keeper. If that player wants to be a total jerk, he can probably crush the party with relative ease. Much more fun is playing the role of Keeper as a storyteller, keeping the tension high without unnecessarily abusing your power. The point is to have a scary good time for everyone!
Mansions of Madness does an excellent job of bringing out the sadistic storyteller in anyone who plays the Keeper, and is a good time for those who explore the mansion as well. Still, not everyone is going to respond well to the overt player-vs-player aspect of it all. What might be better is a game which not only features exploration, monsters, and an overwhelming sense of dread, but also preys on the paranoia of a group in which, unlike in Mansions, no one has any idea who among them is the traitor…
Betrayal At House on the Hill
(3-6 Players, Co-op, Hidden Traitor)
They say that the house on the hill is haunted. No one is really sure what’s up there; some say ghosts, some say zombies. Some people claim that giant man-eating plants grow up through the basement, or that a cult used it to summon their nightmare serpent-god. Nobody seems to know where the stories keep coming from, but they all end the same way… badly…
What do you say we go check it out!
Behold, a prince among horror games! Betrayal At House on the Hill, by Wizards of the Coast, is a true gem among horror games. Players begin as a group of explorers, headed into the titular house. At first there is no agenda beyond exploration; there are no combat rules or player death at all – at first. Because, as you explore, eventually your group will run afoul of the Haunt: a randomly triggered event that will dictate which of the dozens of scenarios your group is facing and what the victory conditions are – as well as who among the players is the traitor, working against the party at any cost.
Andrew: It’s brilliant – in so many games that feature a traitor or an opposing player, the identity of the traitor may not be common knowledge but at least the traitor knows who they are. But in this game, the paranoia factor is through the roof because it could be anyone – you, me, the cat, whoever, and no one knows at first! It makes for such an excellently tense experience. I can’t recommend it enough.
Rob: If horror movies have taught me one thing, it’s that you should never explore an abandoned house. And if they’ve taught me a second thing, it would be that nobody ever pays attention to the first thing. What makes Betrayal at House on the Hill so effective is that you’re really playing two games back-to-back: first you get to explore the spooky mansion, then you eventually trigger The Haunt, which can be one of dozens of different scenarios – none of them pleasant. And the best part is that nobody has any way of knowing when The Haunt will trigger or who will be affected by it. Like in the scenario with-
Jess: No! No spoilers! I love this game so much. Every time I have to roll the dice in it becomes a nail-biting experience. When will the Haunt trigger? Who will turn traitor? Its a great game to play on Halloween with a group of buddies. Just, you know, no one you’re really attached to.
Finally, we end with a pair of decidedly lighter games, still steeped in horror but more appropriate for either younger players or those looking for a quick, bite-sized horror game experience.
Ghooost! (2-6 Players) by IELLO and Zombie Kidz (2-4 Players), by Asmodee
The first, Ghooost!, is designed by the much-celebrated Richard Garfield and is a light trick-taking game where players in turns discard cards to the central pile in an effort to be the first to empty their hand. Each card is a ghost with a numerical value, and cards must be played in ascending order. However, complicating the issue are several ghosts with special powers who make this light game just complex enough to keep adults and kids alike entertained. Fun artwork and simple mechanics make it perfect for anyone.
Finally, rounding out our list of nightmarish games is the clever, portable, and entirely kid-friendly Zombie Kids. With its tiny board, great artwork, and easy-to-grasp rules, Zombie Kidz is a proper horror board game scaled down for kids (though I still love it). The kids will move around the cemetery, defeating zombies and trying to work together to lock the doors before the graveyard gets overrun. Particularly badass is the fact that the kids aren’t trying to escape at all – in fact, they are working to keep the zombies locked in! No fear whatsoever!
So there you have it! A handful of our favorite horror-themed games. We hope you have enjoyed our picks, and if you have any of your own, please let us know in the comments.
From all of us here at Gameosity, have a fantastic Halloween!