Halloween is right around the corner, and in a few days (if not already) most of the Halloween movie marathons will begin. Even TV shows have their annual specials, like The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horrors. If you’re looking to do something a little different this year, instead of gathering around to passively watch something, why not try some games? Any one of these is sure to get a group on the edge of their seats with excitement and suspense. There’s still enough time if you’re scrambling for ideas, and almost all of these games are readily available from most online retailers. In the days leading up to Halloween, I will be posting my reviews for many of these games, so keep an eye out.
#1. Betrayal at House on the Hill
Time: 1-2 hours
Betrayal at House on the Hill is every cliché, B-horror movie trope rolled into a highly thematic, simple game of exploration for up to 6 players. Each player controls an adventurer stumbling their way through a mysterious, abandoned old house. As you open new doors, you’ll uncover various artifacts, weapons, or perhaps even wandering spirits. At some point, after enough exploration and prompted by a failed dice roll, someone will be designated the “haunter,” and will now become a traitor. The game includes two scenario booklets, with 50 different haunts to contend with, and the players will look through their respective booklet (Survival’s Guide for the explorers and Traitor’s Tome for the Haunter) to the determined event, and suddenly the mood and tone of the game becomes significantly more dire.
#2. Mansions of Madness
Time: 2-3 hours
If Betrayal sparked your interest, or you’ve already played it and are looking for something a little more complex, then Mansions of Madness is the answer. Mansions takes the classic exploration formula and amplifies it with stronger mechanics, greater dread, more complex character decisions, and a much darker tone. The newest edition of the game incorporates the asynchronous gameplay mechanics of the original into an app available through iOS or Android, creating a much cleaner, more streamlined version.
#3. One Night Ultimate Werewolf
Time: 10 minutes
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a quick game of deduction. A round lasts just 10 minutes, as timed by an app, and during the course of that round, the app will announce things pertaining to certain players. Each player will have a designated role, and during what’s called the “Night” phase (the time during which the app is dictating the actions), each player has their eyes closed. When the app calls for a certain role to open their eyes, the player will do so, and perform their role as instructed. Some roles allow you to switch the roles of other players, or switch your role with someone and look at your new role. The object of the game is, after the Night phase has concluded and the 10 minute timer has begun, for each of the non-Werewolf characters to try and successfully single out who the Werewolves are based on the action they were able to take, and what they may have seen when they looked at someone’s role. The Werewolves must simply blend in and try to remain as inconspicuous as possible. It’s an excellent little guessing game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and isn’t dependent on a moderator like its older brother, Ultimate Werewolf.
Time: 45+ minutes
Mysterium takes the core concept of Clue, a game where players are trying to identify a suspect, weapon, and location, and combines it with elements of Dixit, a party game where players must use their creativity to carefully and vaguely describe colorful but abstract cards. In Mysterium, one player assumes the role of the ghost, and the rest psychic investigators who have been brought to this house to try to commune with the spirits there and learn the truth. As the ghost, it will be your job to give clues to each player (using abstract and vague cards similar to Dixit) in an effort to guide them toward their appropriate person, location, and weapon, all of which are randomly decided by the ghost player at the beginning. What makes this even more challenging is that the ghost cannot use anything else besides the cards he or she decides to give each player to communicate: that means no talking, gesturing or otherwise giving any type of audible clue. Be careful, because you only have 7 rounds to successfully find the true culprit. Mysterium is a real test of one’s ability to connect seemingly random objects together.
#5. Eldritch Horror
Time: 2-3 hours
Like Mansions of Madness, Eldritch Horror is a massive game: a globetrotting adventure to prevent the arrival of an elder god. The Cthulhu mythos is one of the most popular public IPs ever, and Eldritch Horror makes excellent use of its tone and setting. Run around finding clues, solving mysteries, fighting otherworldy beings and closing portals to their dimension to prevent the old one’s awakening. The game takes most of its mechanics from Arkham Horror, of the same general concept, but streamlines many of them and turns what would otherwise be a 4-5 hour game into a 2-3 hour one.
#6. Ghost Stories
Time: 1 hour
Ghost Stories is one of the most unflinchingly difficult board games on the market. Available for solo play or with up to three other people, you take on the role of Taoist monks defending a village from the invading undead forces of Wu-Feng, a powerful demonic entity. Every turn new ghosts will be added to the board while those currently placed will start to move toward various locations. Players must exorcise the ghosts using their unique special powers and the powers of the locations available to them if they aren’t currently overrun with ghosts. Survive long enough for Wu Feng to appear and defeat him to win the game. Ghost Stories plays much like traditional tower defense video games, with a severe escalation in difficulty.
#7. Dead of Winter
Time: 1-3 hours
Dead of Winter made a huge splash when it was released a few years ago. This cooperative zombie-survival game has players taking on the role of various everyday citizens like teachers, janitors, mall santas, lumberjacks, and many more as they try to scavenge for food, supplies, and weapons amidst the harsh winter conditions and the zombie apocalypse. What separates this from other zombie games like Last Night on Earth is that semi-cooperative element, made popular by Shadows Over Camelot and Battlestar Galactica. While most of the players will have the interest of the group as a priority, one amongst you may be a traitor, secretly trying to steal the most food for yourself or amass the most weapons to stage an uprising. What makes matters worse is that everyone gets dealt a secret objective card at the start, so even the loyal players must contend with their goals to win the game, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and unease.
And now for something unconventional: Dread isn’t like any other board game. In fact, it’s not a board game. It hews closer to pen-and-paper RPGs of the past like DND. What makes Dread so utterly unique and different from traditional RPGs, however, is its reliance on tension. That’s because Dread doesn’t use dice rolls, or stats, or leveling, or anything you might expect from games of this ilk. Dread uses a Jenga tower. As determined by the moderator, players must pull a block from the tower when performing certain actions or to defend against situations placed before them by the storyteller. Because of this, Dread makes for the perfect horror-themed DND style game available. Every pull of the block is more tense than the last, and should the tower fall, that player is at the mercy of the moderator’s judgment. The rule book, which is only a mere 160-odd pages, contains guidelines for would-be moderators to follow and even a few sample stories to try out before tasking yourself with creating a new one.