October is one of my favourite months of the year. The build up to all those festivals that bring a little light and warmth to the coldest and darkest part of the year begins in earnest. As the clocks go back, the days shrink shorter, the trees rust into orange and reds. It’s time to dust off the scary movie DVDs and hide from the ghoulies under the duvet with a tub of Haribo on the sofa. And game night need not be immune from such spooky shenanigans either. So, if you’re looking for something to add a bit of fright to your game night, our bloggers are on hand to offer 5 spine-chilling Halloween board games that are sure to give your game night a treat. No tricks, we promise!
1. Horrified - Gavin Hudson
Halloween has its rituals for me. Rituals going back as far staying up late and watching old school video nasties like waxwork, dolls and puppet master with my sister as a child. Each Halloween these days I watch my favourite film, The Omen, along with some other classics. Often these classics go as far back as the original black and white Universal horror movies of the 30s and 40s, which is why I’m super glad that I can now add Horrified to my Halloween celebrations!
Horrified is a solo/cooperative pick-up-and-deliver game with oodles of camp, spine-chilling theme slathered all over it. Players take on the role of heroes, each with a special ability, who must dash around the board collecting items, rescuing villagers and defeating one of 6 monsters included in the game These monsters are the big six from the Universal vault: Dracula, Frankenstein and his Bride, Wolf man, Invisible man, The Mummy, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon.
What sets Horrified apart from other pick-up-and-deliver games is the mini-games you have to complete to defeat each monster. They are all different and take varying amounts of effort and skill. You must humanise Frankenstein and his Bride to stop their killing spree and solve the pharaoh's slide puzzle to seal The Mummy away forever.
These different monsters and their individual minigames can be chopped and changed and you can play with one, two, three, four, five or all six at once. This gives the game variability and differing difficulty levels that makes for great replayability.
The best thing about Horrified though is how it captures the tone and references of its theme perfectly. From the characters you play and the action cards to the gorgeously sculpted monsters themselves. That’s why part of my Halloween board games night this year will be to dim the lights, light some candles and go hunting some horrifying demons from the silver screen.
Witches, vampires, and bedsheets-with-eyeholes-cut-in-them of this world are quintessential Hallowe’en protagonists. Zombies, in comparison, are a newer kid on the block. Mary Shelley hinted at it in Frankenstein, but George A. Romero brought them to Hollywood in the late 1960s. More recently, the TV adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead proved the genre’s popularity.
Dead of Winter is a semi-cooperative title by Plaid Hat Games. In it, 2-5 players are survivors during a zombie apocalypse. The ‘semi’ part of it comes with each player having a private goal, their own win condition. You could be a hoarder or a straight-up traitor, looking to bring down the colony from within!
During the game though, you need to work together as allies to overcome varying crises. Find enough food! Get more fuel! But does that help your own agenda? Should you keep some secret medicine back for yourself? Careful though, because group failure leads to a drop in morale, and then everyone loses! (Unless that was your ambition all along, you sneaky weasel.)
You can search locations – at the risk of getting bitten en-route – for resource cards. After getting items, you could play a card face-down and say: “Don’t worry: I’m contributing fuel towards the crisis!” (But in reality, you’ve played something irrelevant!) It’s all about bluffing, and in turn, deduction. The Crossroad narrative cards themselves provide plot twists and turns along the way.
Much like The Walking Dead, you soon realise that the creeping horror doesn’t emanate from the zombies. It comes from your fellow survivors. Sure, the zombies are a physical threat to breaking into the compound. But not knowing who to trust around the table? The slyness, the paranoia, the conniving backstab that could drop at any moment? And drop from the one player you thought was on your side? That’s the real terror that comes with playing Dead of Winter…
If you are looking for a game that is rich in story, dripping in theme and full of surprises, I can honestly think of nothing better than Arkham Horror: The Card Game. There is a reason this game ranks number one on the BGG listings for customizable games, 8th for thematic games and 19th overall. Arkham Horror: The Card Game is brilliant, a must-have in any collection. There is nothing that comes close when it comes to story, and if you are looking for a game that will wrap you up in its tentacles and absorb you in a mystery of suspense, horror and darkness, then look no further.
There are only two criticisms I can think of for this game. Firstly, it has a fair bit of reading in the rule book before game one. You cannot leave too long between games, otherwise you will forget what is going on, as this game is quite unique in its mechanics. Secondly, it has so many expansions, you may get into a bit of money pit with this game. However, both of those simply mean this. You will want to play regularly and keep buying more parts for it. This is because it is brilliant.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a phenomenal experience that you will not forget in a hurry. It is impossible to play this game and then not think and talk about it for the next few days. You will agonise over the choices you made, and discuss with your friends how the game made you feel. Which, for me, is key. When I play Arkham Horror: The Card Game I feel part of the narrative. I am invested. Deeply absorbed within this dark world. When I finish a game, I have to check myself before I realise where I am.
Thematic games like this are what I play games for. I have tried many but loved few. I have enjoyed a number of games in this genre. But none have come close to the engrossing world of Arkham Horror: The Card Game. It is head and shoulders ahead of its contemporaries, and there is a reason you can now buy over 50 expansions for this game. But don’t worry. The base game will be enough for a full game. In this box, there is enough to play for multiple hours, with repeat plays if you choose. This is not a play and bin experience. But don’t be surprised if, after playing the three main stories in this box for your Halloween board games night, you come back looking for more.
Below the surface, an Ancient One is rising. The Lovecraftian monster is almost ready to wake up and devour the Earth. It is up to you and your fellow investigators to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Fantasy Flight Games has produced a game that is monstrous in every sense of the word. The board is enormous, the gameplay takes 2-4 hours and monsters are constantly attacking you. Despite all this, Eldritch Horror is definitely one of my favourite games and the moment we finish playing, I am thinking about when we can go again.
The concept is simple; the strategy is not. To defeat your chosen Ancient One, you have Mysteries to complete. Your investigators move around the globe trying to close portals to other realms, collecting clues and fighting monsters. Card draws provide a terrifying narrative, explaining what you are doing in each location before rolling dice helps you pass or fail tests. The consequences can be fortuitous or fatal. It is a delicate balancing act. You can try to focus on solving the Mysteries, but monsters and disasters will keep appearing across the board. If you don’t work as a team, the world is doomed.
Everything about the game screams horror. Your characters can go mad from everything they see. The cards you draw detail horrific tales of unearthly creatures taking control. Monsters attack and some even hunt you across the board. This is not a game for the faint-hearted. You get completely immersed in the whole world and, despite the long gameplay, the evening will fly past. What better way to spend Halloween than trying to stop the world from being overrun by unspeakable nightmares? And, if you are lucky, you will save the world, but it is far more likely that you will be devoured.
Escape the Dark Sector is a must for your Halloween gaming escapades, especially if you are a fan of sci-fi horror. This choose-your-own-adventure game is very similar to its predecessor, Escape the Dark Castle, except this time you have been detained on a Space Station and have just managed to begin your escape from your cell.
You battle your way through three acts, with each act containing different situations, challenges and enemies, all making your escape attempt that little bit harder. You must work as a team, utilising your character dice as well as any items or weapons you have picked up along the way to overcome these challenges and make your way through to the final boss, who stands in between you and your ship. The enemies will have dice assigned to them and all the characters have “stats”, meaning you have to choose wisely when deciding to engage with the enemy and when to sit out and get healed by the drone! You only have a limited amount of health, so take caution when running and gunning, because if just one of your team dies, it’s “Game Over, Man!”
While this is similar in many ways to Escape the Dark Castle, the key additions to Dark Sector are the ability to “flank” the enemy and also the use of “ammo”. Weapons, when acquired, will have limited and different types of ammo, all having a different effect on the enemies. Flanking allows you to take a tactical position and, while it can be risky, it can be the difference between success and failure in a firefight. This game is intense, fast-paced and incredibly thematic and if you pair it with the awesome soundtrack which was produced for the game, you will have a fantastic playing experience which will fit perfectly into your Halloween board games night!
Editors note: This post was originally published on 26/10/2020. Updated on 19/10/2022 to improve the information available.