A Hauntingly Halloween Board Game Guide
(Editor’s Note: Any game that has a link in its title is available on our website for purchase or pre-order! Stay spooky friends. <3)
Are you looking for some spooky games for your Halloween party this year? Are you a fan of horror, slashers, or the great Cthulhu? If so, this list is for you! The following games are my personal recommendations if you want to add some fright to your board gaming this Fall.
The Arkham Universe & Cthulhu Games
Fantasy Flight Games (Asmodee) has a series of fantastic games in the Arkham/Cthulhu universe, each of which provides a different perspective to play out the stories within the setting. Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness, and the Arkham Horror Living Card Game are all set in this universe.
Luckily for the Cthulhu fans out there, the H.P. Lovecraft setting is public domain, so a whole swath of games have been published with Cthulhu themes and settings. Some others include: Tower of Madness, Lovecraft Letter, Pandemic Cthulhu, and the Call of Cthulhu RPG.
Arkham Horror is the quintessential Cthulhu board game and the precursor to all the games in the Arkham universe. It’s a cooperative game for 1-6 players (though it’s optimal at 4) and it presents quite a challenge, like most cooperative games do. In Arkham Horror, you and your friends play as a team of investigators searching for clues around the city of Arkham. You’ll face challenging trials, collect magical weapons, learn secrets you weren’t meant to know, combat monsters, and possibly go insane!
The new edition replaces the board with new puzzle-piece-like tiles that link together to form the city. The monster markers are now cards (which does give them a lot more real-estate to work with for mechanics and design). If we can expect Fantasy Flight (Asmodee) to stick to its standard game plan (and we can), Arkham Horror will be followed by a series of expansions which will change or expand the map; adding new investigators, items, and spells into the game. They will almost certainly provide new mysteries, monsters, and mythos to the game in these releases, too.
The third edition of Arkham Horror comes out in November, and you can pre-order a copy with Gameology today! As an added incentive, we have a limited quantity of the Deluxe Hardcover Rulebook that we’ll include with your pre-order, for free, while supplies last!
I consider Eldritch Horror almost like an Arkham Horror 2.5. With roughly similar gameplay and mechanics, Eldritch Horror plays out mysteries on a global scale, with investigators hopping from continent to continent to combat the otherworldly threats. Fantasy Flight (Asmodee North America) does a good job of incorporating feedback from each successive game into their new designs, so Eldritch Horror benefited from the lessons they learned in Arkham Horror 2nd Edition. I really enjoy the globe-trotting in this game and appreciated the streamlined mechanics as they compared to the 2nd edition of Arkham Horror. We’ll see how Eldritch Horror holds up to the Arkham 3.0, but I suspect it’s still going to stand out.
Mansions of Madness offers players a more in-depth perspective on investigating the horrors of the Cthulhu setting, like a board game version of a role playing game. Where previously investigators either scurried around a city or traveled around the world, players in Mansions solve a deeper case in a much smaller locale–be it a mansion, the woods, a moor, or a farmhouse. What really makes Mansions of Madness stand out is the use of miniatures for the enemies and now, in the second edition, an app which handles a lot of the gameplay minutiae for players.
If you’re looking for a role-playing experience in the Cthulhu setting, but still want a board and minis, Mansions will be for you! It’s an almost perfect blend of the board game and role playing game genres. Game will last at least an hour or two but the mysteries will keep you enthralled…so enthralled you might just succumb to the madness.
- Elder Sign – In Elder Sign, you solve mysteries like the above games but in a much faster game, with dice. Using simpler mechanics (similar to Yahtzee), this game will be easier to get to the table for groups that like a lighter experience or have less experienced players.
- Arkham Horror Living Card Game (LCG) – Also similar in theme to the above games, the Arkham Horror LCG provides players with card game mechanics to play out their investigations. LCG format games are non-collectible card games and this game stands out because you can purchase new $15 and $30 expansions when you’re ready for new content, rather than needing all the cards to build the best decks.
- Lovecraft Letter – A Cthulhu re-imagining of the hit game Love Letter, Lovecraft Letter is a simple card game that plays 3-6 players with a small deck of cards. Each round lasts roughly 5 minutes and players will seek to win multiple rounds to win the game. This version of Love Letter incorporates the most mechanical changes out of any of the various ‘skins’ that this game has seen.
- Tower of Madness – In this push-your-luck dice game, you must try to learn an unknowable truth before Cthulhu is summoned and ends the world. Players will be pulling tentacles out of the tower while they try, literally, to not lose their marbles. The tentacles hold marbles belonging to each player in the clock tower, as those marbles fall players will gain benefits while they get closer to losing the game.
- Pandemic Cthulhu – A Lovecraftian twist on the classic, Pandemic, get your fix combating the minions of Cthulhu with time-honored cooperative mechanics. This game includes gorgeous investigator miniatures plus a bunch of cultists and shoggoth figures.
- Call of Cthulhu RPG (7th Edition) – For the roleplayers out there, Call of Cthulhu RPG represents a wholly different experience from your average role playing game. Typically set in the 1920’s-1940’s, this RPG emphasizes role playing, mystery solving, stealth, skills, and just about everything other than combat; if you’re fighting any of the monsters from the Cthulhu mythos, you’re probably going to die! If you’re looking for a break from your fantasy or sci-fi role playing game, feel free to pick up the newest edition of this game, it’s been one of the best selling alternative RPGs at Gameology.
This game is a favorite at my game nights! Betrayal at the House on the Hill is easy enough for me to introduce to my friends that don’t normally play board games, but fun enough for my dedicated gaming group to break out regularly. Betrayal features a group of characters exploring a haunted house, cooperatively at first (think Scooby Doo). However, as enough omens start piling up, the curse on the house will claim one of the players, starting up the second portion of the game. Once this happens, a player, chosen by the specific circumstances that caused the haunt to begin, will become the ‘traitor’. The traitor will split from the group to read his own rules on how to win, while the rest of the team will read how to stop the traitor. Examples of this are: the traitor could become a werewolf and start hunting the other players or the traitor could start destroying the house while trying to trap the rest of the team in it.
The real beauty of this game is that it starts easy and whimsical, then becomes more complicated and much exciting–but only after the players have acclimated to the basic rules of the game. There are dozens of scenarios in the base game, for a lot of replayability, and an expansion that includes more campy and geeky content once you’re ready to expand.
For real aficionados, next month Avalon Hill is releasing the follow-up to Betrayal, called Betrayal Legacy. Legacy games are board games in which you make permanent changes to the game as you play successive games. In Betrayal Legacy, players lead a cursed family through multiple generations to unravel the mystery and curse of the House on the Hill. It will play similarly to the original game, though players will presumably use stickers, track changes and wins, and even unlock new game components as they play through a series of linked games of Betrayal.
Betrayal Legacy is available for pre-order through Gameology and is slated to release in November. Ask about the available discount for prepays!
Werewolf (et Al.)
A classic social game with a ‘million’ versions, printings, and expansions, Werewolf is one of those games designed specifically for larger groups. While there are some versions of Werewolf meant for play at 2-4 players, the classic version plays best with 8+ players (I’ve seen groups as large as 40 playing, though I imagine things bog down at huge player counts like that). Werewolf is a social deduction / hidden role game in which you play as a group of townsfolk being terrorized by werewolves, who are among you. Paranoia reigns as the werewolves hunt down a member of the town each night, then the townsfolk vote to hang someone each day. The werewolves win if they’re the last ones standing, while the townsfolk want to eliminate all the werewolves so they can resume their peaceful lives. Depending on group size, certain players and werewolves will have special powers which help them suss out the identities of the ‘wolves or kill more efficiently. Information is also gleaned socially, by throwing wild accusations out, ferreting out groups of players acting suspiciously, and sometimes just dumb luck.
Some versions of Werewolf include a third vampire faction, masons who can trust each other, and artifacts that change game rules. There is a version of Werewolf that lets a smaller group have the same experience in a shorter time. There’s also a legacy version of Werewolf in which players make permanent changes to the game as they play through a series of games. Feel free to ask an employee about which version of Werewolf is good for your gaming group!
Shadow Hunters is a more game-y take on the hidden role/deduction genre, offering a little more board, cards, and mechanics than Resistance, Coup, Werewolf or, Avalon. Shadow Hunters split players into two primary teams, with a third, more neutral team with slightly different objectives; the Hunters want to eliminate the Shadows and vice versa, plus the Neutrals who just want to survive the war. However, no one knows who the others are when the game starts. You can take turns fighting or utilizing locations to deduct who your enemies and teammates are. This game is wacky, brutal, and hilarity will always ensue.
Dead of Winter is a cooperative survival game in which players must keep their colony alive throughout a harsh winter, during a zombie apocalypse. While already in a challenging enough situation, players have private goals they must achieve to share in victory at the end of the game, sometimes even putting them in direct opposition to the rest of the party, as ‘traitors.’ Dead of Winter features a fair amount of storytelling and drama alongside simple mechanics. Dozens of characters, a number of scenarios, and expansion content will keep this game fresh like meat in the sub-Arctic.
Axis & Allies is a very highly regarded strategy game and this year Avalon Hill has decided to up the ante by adding zombies to the classic. Axis & Allies & Zombies streamlines the high strategy of the original game into a shorter and bloodier game with a new challenge: in this game you play through (alternate) historical events in World War II as one of the 5 superpowers of the time but now with zombies! Gameology is bringing this new game in very shortly, so make sure to reserve a copy if you’re interested.
I like to compare Mysterium to Clue meets Dixit. In this cooperative murder mystery, one player plays the spirit trying to help the other players uncover the mystery of their own death, through abstract imparted visions. The game plays in two phases: during the first, players will try to guess the specific Suspect, Location, and Weapon in the murder which they’re receiving visions for; during the second phase, players will have to determine which of their murders resulted in the spirit they’re conversing with. The spirit may not communicate directly with players, instead, they will hand out vision cards, cards with abstract nonsensical art on them, to players to guide them as to which Suspect, Location, or Weapon they are trying to guess. Mysterium plays up to 7 players, with no specific bias towards an optimum number of players.
For Some Extra Spooks, see:
- Masque of the Red Death – Curry social standing while you avoid the Red Death. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s frightful poem, Masque of the Red Death places you and up to 5 of your friends in the middle of a doomed masquerade ball. Hobnobbing with the Prince wins you the game but you must also determine where the red death will strike next to survive.
- Gloom – A macabre but funny little game with a neat mechanic, in Gloom you play as an unhappy family reminiscent of the Addams Family with the goal of dying as miserably as possible. Gloom features transparent cards that you lay on top of each other, so you try to play the saddest, most macabre, events and maladies on yourself, while trying to cheer up the other players.
- Stuffed Fables – A storytelling adventure in which you play as a stuffed animal trying to save your child, Stuffed Fables is a rich experience made of equal parts spooky and courage. This game plays through scenarios in a gorgeous adventure book, which functions as the rules and map for the game. Complete with some gorgeous figures, before its most recent reprinting, Stuffed Fables was selling for well over double its retail price, so don’t miss your opportunity to purchase it this printing!
- Munchkin: Zombies – Munchkin is a tried and true favorite at many houses but this Halloween you can spook it up with some Munchkin Zombies action. A easy and hilarious romp that makes fun of any trope it touches, Munchkin can please all ages.
- Lucidity: Six Sided Nightmares – Lucidity is a press your luck die-rolling game in which you’re trying to gather up the power to escape your twisted dreams. Players roll and manipulate their dice each turn to escape the dangers lurking in their dreams. Games last only 20-30 minutes, so Lucidity is a great filler game for your spooky board game nights!
- Last Friday – A hidden movement & deduction game, Last Friday styles itself in the ‘slasher’ genre. One player plays the killer while the other players play camp-goers and play proceeds through 4 chapters in which the roles of the characters switch back and forth. The killer hunts the players, the players hunt the killer, the killer comes back from the dead; all our favorite tropes come to life in this thrilling board game
- Detective – While not technically spooky, crime fits pretty well into the Halloween theme. Detective is a cooperative storytelling game in which you and some friends solve mysteries. Think True Crime the board game, Detective offers a rich experience and even comes with an online database to look up information on suspects and log evidence in. Bring your notebooks because you’ll need to put in some overtime to solve these cold cases.
Check out all these and more at our pre-Halloween board games night on Monday, Halloween itself, or any other night!
~ Andrew Narzynski