Halloween is just two weeks away. With the added social restrictions in place there may not be as much trick-or-treating and partying happening this year. It’s all right though, because now you and maybe a couple others have the chance to get together and play an appropriately themed spooky board game this 31st of October. I’ll be straight with you, board games aren’t the best media if you are actually looking to ‘scare’ yourself. Unlike movies, video games, or books, board games don’t have the proper cadence. The action in games doesn’t occur in real time, limiting the impact of any particular event or situation.
It’s ok though. With a little effort from the host and some willing gamers, the evening can still be both thematic and memorable. I recommend finding some eerie music to put on in the background. A quick google search should uncover dozens of Youtube videos that will fit the bill. Additionally, turning out a couple of lights and setting up a few candles can go along way to add to the ambiance. I recommend trying this out the night before to make sure that there is still enough light to read any in-game text or playing surfaces. And if you really want to go the extra mile, try preparing a few halloween themed finger foods and treats.
Ok, with that out of the way; on to the games!
Horror and Sci-Fi go hand in hand. Nemesis is an incredibly tense game about astronauts stranded on a spaceship that has become overrun with an infestation of nearly indestructible alien lifeforms. Not only are you running around the ship trying to survive the aliens, but you don’t know which (if any) of your below crew are actively working against you to sabotage you odds of survival. This is by far one of the most thematic games I’ve played. The game does a fantastic job creating a story that you and your friends will be telling for weeks after. I won’t go so far as to say the game is scary, but you will be horrified when you accidentally stumble upon the alien queen with nothing more than a flashlight and flare gun.
This game does have a lengthy teach and can end rather quickly if everyone doesn’t pull their own weight. I would probably recommend playing this one a couple days before hand so everyone can get a little experience under their belt. Nothing kills a spooky atmosphere like a 45 minute rules teach and constantly flipping though the rule book every 5-10 minutes.
4. Fury of Dracula
It’s been a while since I have played this one, but I couldn’t’t leave it off the list for the sheer fact that one player is none other than Dracula himself. This is an all vs one hidden movement game. The player taking the role of Dracula will move around the map in secret siring new vampires and laying traps for the other players. Up to 4 other players assume the role of hunters, gearing up and tracking down the Prince of Darkness. The game is quite tense because at any moment a hunter may stumble upon Dracula’s location and a battle will ensue. Hopefully the hunter has gathered adequate supplies or else Dracula will more than likely make quick work of them and then escape into the night.
The game requires all 4 hunters to be used in every game, so I recommend playing with a full 5 players or with 3 so that there are equal hunter for both players. It’s also worth mentioning that the game can be quite swingy depending on how quickly or slowly the hunters can track down Dracula’s trail. The game can drag on a little and the hunters may grow discouraged as they wander aimlessly around the map. A good Dracula should have no problem ensuring everyone has a good time though.
3. Anything Werewolf
While the other three games are quite long and can be rather in-depth for newer gamers. This is one that almost anyone can enjoy. There are a number of werewolf games on the market, but I’d probably recommend One Night Werewolf. This is the classic game of Werewolf condensed down into a single night. Each player receives a role and performs some action under the cover or dark, then using fragmented information each player can/may provide players must deduce together which one of them is the werewolf. The app that comes with the game does a fantastic job narrating the entire night phase as well as adding in ambient sounds to help complete the experience.
The alternative here is regular Werewolf. While this version of the game does create a more robust story and allow for additional moments of distrust, I am not a fan of player elimination. But I know there are a good number of game groups out there that wouldn’t have an issue with this and will use it as an excuse for some much needed social interaction that is not gaming related as more and more players are removed from the game.
2. Anything Arkham related
I feel like this is pretty much a gimme. Anything based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft comes with an innate sense of dread and horror. Playing cooperatively in an effort to defeat monsters and prevent the summoning of otherworldly gods. While there are quite a few games that work here, I think the one I would most highly recommend is Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition. Players get to take the roll of investigators in some horrific, monster filled mystery. The app that helps run the game comes with the ambient sounds necessary to make the experience extra engaging. I also recommend casting or connecting the device to a TV so everyone feels more involved to prevent any distractions.
I think it is worth mentioning though that not all non-gamers will understand or feel as attached to a Lovecraft theme. I would say 80% of non gamers have never heard of Cthulhu and probably 99% of them couldn’t even spell it. You may need to take a little extra time to get everyone up to speed on the mythos theme before than can fully appreciate it and feel a little bit of terror.
This game is great for both non-gamers and gamers. I like this game as a Halloween game because it promotes social interaction and creative thinking. One player will be a ghost providing the other players, represented as psychics with clues as to the possible murders, locations, and items involved in their demise. The catch is that the ghost is not allowed to talk, but rather must communicate this information with other through the use of abstract images on deck of oversized cards. The psychics are free to help each other and even wager on each other, creating so fun back and forth between players. In the end players will need to figure out what the true set of clues was in order for everyone to be victorious.
This game, like Fury of Dracula, is a good game for a host to bring out since they have a unique role and are the only ones required to know the full rules of the game. And the fact that the game can play up to seven players is really great for a party-like setting. This is also probably the game I would feel most comfortable introducing to my non-gaming family
So there you have it, my top five games I recommend playing this Halloween. I would like to give one more bonus recommendation. While they aren’t “board games” I feel like the spooky atmosphere can easily be created thought a one-shot RPG. Dread is a fantastic Horror RPG that uses a Jenga tower as a means to resolve challenges. And when the tower collapses, well, that player dies. Another great RPG is Ten Candles. This is more a cooperative storytelling exercise that will always end in destruction and darkness but allows players to explore their characters flaws and fears as their time comes to an end.