The spookiest time of the year is almost upon us. So, like me, you’re probably wondering what games you should be playing to celebrate this hallowed night. My top 10 (in no particular order) contains something for everyone, from fast fun party games to deadly battles for survival.
If you like the sound of murderous families, masses of zombies, demons from other dimensions, and accusing your friends of being werewolves, then ignore your obvious need for therapy and look no further than the list below.
(3-10 players / 10 mins)
Not only does this fit the spooky theme perfectly, but it’s also the most played game in my collection.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf and its expansions are social deduction games where the villager team tries to lynch the monsters and the monsters try to survive undetected. In each game, the players are dealt out characters in secret. Play revolves around one night and the morning after. During the night everyone closes their eyes, opening them when instructed to carry out their characters actions in secret. This might be swapping players roles, looking for other players with the same role as them (i.e a fellow werewolf) or much, much more.
After the night there are a few minutes of discussion where everyone tries to figure out what is going on and accuse someone of being a werewolf or other kind of monster. This game is all about what you know, or how much you can fool others into believing your version of the truth. The real fun lies in the questioning, arguing and wild accusations at the end. Even better is that this all takes place in about 10 minutes, meaning win or lose you’ll be ready to jump straight back in for another game.
(3-6 players / 60 mins)
If you enjoy trashy horror stories, Betrayal at House on the Hill has a suitably daft premise. You’re a weird collection of characters, from children to adults, who find themselves in the entrance of a haunted house full of horrors. Each character has their own stats and there are items to be found, good or bad, in a simple RPG system. The early game has you exploring the house, uncovering its secrets and building its layout with game tiles. About halfway through everything flips on its head. It is revealed that one of you is, in fact, 100% certified evil.
Who that betrayer is, is decided by the game. So there is no way to predict it. This could mean facing down a possessed adult or perhaps a satanic eight-year-old girl. There are 50 different haunts to play and, although the rules and balancing aren’t always perfect, when this game works it’s an unforgettable experience of spooky delights.
The new and improved Betrayal at House on the Hill 3rd Edition is a must-have in your collection. Maybe your original one is getting a bit dusty?
(3-7 players / 42 mins)
What says Halloween more than communication with the undead? Mysterium casts one player as a ghost and the rest as paranormal investigators in a spooky haunted house. Unlike other games on this list, the spirit here is friendly. You’ll be working together in the hopes of solving a murder so they can be laid to rest. Much like Cluedo, this will require figuring out the location, weapon, and suspect for the crime. But the comparisons stop there. The ghost will be communicating via mysterious visions delivered every round, and these cards are full of wonderful - but highly interpretive - art.
The investigators will have to work together to figure out what these cards actually mean and everyone needs to solve their part of the puzzle to make it to the end. Deciphering the ghost's communications might not always be clear, but finding the message hidden within the art is always a wonderfully engaging experience. If you want a game that relies on imagination and interpretation that gets you all talking, then this could be the game for you.
The two expansions that were released are super spooky add-ons, especially if you wanted to get playing this Halloween season. There is the Hidden Signs expansion as well as the Secrets & Lies expansion. Spooky, right?
(2-5 players / 45-210 mins)
Some people claim they’d survive a zombie outbreak, but I’m pretty sure I’d be dead within a day. If Dead of Winter has taught me one thing it’s how brutal that world would be. You’re cast as a group of survivors, looking to make it through winter together and with limited resources to do so. Each player is given a secret objective, things they need to achieve to win, but one of these could make you a betrayer looking to destroy the team from within. Your secrets will keep you all guessing who can really be trusted. If you relax, you may end up with a knife in the back. This game also features one of the harshest dice ever created and you’ll be calculating the risks of your actions every round.
You’ll need to move in order to find resources, and you’ll also need to fight zombies to stop them from overwhelming you. But doing so can leave your party vulnerable, with characters becoming injured - or worse. As a final icing on this post-apocalyptic cake, we have the crossroads cards. Little fragments of narrative that drip theme and are one of my favourite game mechanics ever made. If all this talk of bleakness has put you off, rest assured this game has given me some of my best gaming memories. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(1-2 players / 60-120 mins)
The world of Lovecraft and board games go hand-in-hand, and this is one of my favourite pairings so far. This is a deck-building game, offering solo or co-operative play (three or four players requiring additional copies), which sees you step into the twisted world of HP Lovecraft. You’ll uncover mysteries, kill the monsters lurking within, and try and do it all without losing your mind. Each character gets their own special deck of cards and, if you play the campaign mode, will get to upgrade your abilities as you progress. Characters also have their own psychological weaknesses which can creep up on you at any time, your sanity temporarily shattered by memories or fears.
With a novel system using a chaos bag of tokens rather than dice, Arkham Horror allows you to adjust the difficulty easily. Especially good for deck-building newcomers, or those who want to ramp up the challenge. In terms of content, this will keep you busy for months to come. There are already several additional campaigns to purchase and stand-alone packs too. This game is a bit of a financial investment, but one that pays back - and then some.
There are so many new Investigator and Campaign packs that you can get your hands on for an even better Arkham Horror playing experience! Who will you pick next?
(1-6 players / 60-120 minutes)
The Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series are cooperative choose your own adventure games. This means no dice rolling, no player board, and no miniatures. This is immersive storytelling and you’ll be reading an engaging narrative book full of clues, suspects and crime scenes in order to crack the case. The casebook is central to this and contains all the relevant story passages. To know which ones to read you’ll be using things like a local directory, newspaper, and map of the area.
The beauty of these games is getting caught up in the detail. Listen to what the story tells you and figure out what that means. Take notes, come up with theories and follow your gut. This version features four cases based around the Jack the Ripper murders, and you’ll need to complete all of them if you are hoping to catch the infamous villain. If you’ve ever read a book and wished you could solve the mysteries yourself, then this is the game for you.
(1-4 players / 30-60 mins)
Some families are very competitive, and a little competition never did anyone any harm. This family is probably just a tad too competitive though. You’re all running an inn together, trying to become the wealthiest of the lot. But greed has got the better of you and you are no longer content to just take the rent from your guests. I mean, why just take rent when you can make so much more money by murdering and robbing them?
It isn’t so simple though, and you’ll need to dispose of the body if you want to make a profit and avoid law enforcement. This will involve bribing guests such as Abbotts, builders, peasants or policemen, and getting them to house your corpses in one deadly mix of murder and corruption. At its heart, it’s a relatively simple economic card game, but one with wonderfully macabre art and a delightfully vicious theme.
(1-5 players / 120-180 mins)
Much like the previously mentioned Arkham Horror, this is a cooperative horror game based on the work of HP Lovecraft. Unlike the deck building of the former though, this experience is built around a tiled board, miniatures, dice, and an innovative app. You’ll be uncovering the game map as you explore, finding clues, gaining tools, and solving puzzles. All whilst trying to combat the horrors that come your way.
As you explore you will take damage, some that affects you there and then, others that can plague you for the rest of the game. If you end up completely losing your mind you could even go insane and become a traitor to the group. Mansions of Madness has wonderfully streamlined rules, so despite its apparent complexities is surprisingly quick to learn. The app in this updated version carries the weight of managing all those spooky goings-on, leaving you to enjoy the game and its surprises.
(2-4 players / 60 mins)
The world of Gloom is a sad, sorry place. You’ll be playing different families, eccentric and doomed, with dark clouds following them around at every turn. In most games, your aim is to take care of your characters. But in this one, you’ll actually want to make them suffer. You’ll look to have your family live the worst lives, filling them to the brim with horrible tragedies until they finally, eventually, die.
You’ll also be attempting to ensure that good things happen to the other player's families. Happy occasions that make their lives better and, probably even (shock-horror), bearable. This is a take-that card game, which means you’ll be playing cards against each other throughout. The family that ends up suffering the most wins. This game is best when you sprinkle a bit of story on top of those cards, describing what befalls your characters along the way.
(1-5 players / 45 mins)
Based on the Legendary deck-building card system, this game is a cooperative experience set in the world of the four Alien movies. Playing classic characters like Ripley, Dallas, Bishop or Corporal Hicks. You’ll all start with a basic deck and will spend the game defeating Xenomorphs (aliens), upgrading your characters, and hoping not to be overrun. You’ll be improving your player deck as you play the game, buying new cards and adding them to your discard pile to be shuffled back into your hand later on.
During the rounds, new threats will appear on the map. If these threats are allowed to progress far enough they will cause you major damage. As you fight these threats, you’ll need to try and complete the objectives. Each film gives you three. Easy enough, if you didn’t have your backs to the wall fighting off aliens throughout. This game is suitably thematic and as such incredibly hard. In fact, it’s probably the toughest game on this Halloween list.... so enter only the bravest souls!!
Editors note: This blog was originally published on October 26th, 2017. Updated on October 18th, 2023 to improve the information available.