Halloween is my favorite holiday and so it should come as no surprise it is my favorite theme for board and card games as well. What follows are my picks for the top 10 Halloween board and card games available in the 2010 season. You won’t find these games in your local WalMart but with a little research online they should be readily available. If you’re fortunate enough to have a gaming specialty shop near you I strongly encourage a visit, many shop owners provide demonstration copies and space to try new games.
Arkham Horror published by Fantasy Flight Games is the granddaddy of Cthulhu and cooperative board games. Players work together taking the roles of 1926 era investigators, racing through the city of Arkham trying to close gates to outer worlds while mythos creatures slowly fill the streets. Visits to various city locations can provide investigators with valuable clues, powerful weapons, and sanity draining spells but are just as likely to result in assault, abduction, or worse. If the investigators are unable to seal the gates before the city is overrun with creatures, a Great Old One is awoken. Once awoken players must use the resources they have collected in one final climactic battle against the elder god to save themselves and the rest of humanity.
Arkham Horror is a big game with lots of pieces, cards, and a fair amount of complexity, however, only one player needs the know the rules well, other players can easily be taught on the fly and will still thoroughly enjoy the experience. Clocking in at 3+ hours playing time it is also a long game. The game plays best with 1 to 4 players (yes, it can be played solo), it will support more players but above 4 it tends to drag. Arkham Horror is extremely well supported by its publisher with 8 expansions and new ones coming out each year. MSRP: $59.95
Ghost Stories published by Asmodée Editions invites players to take the roles of Taoist Monks, sworn to protect an ancient Chinese village from the return of Wu-Feng, Lord of the Nine Hells. Each monk possesses unique skills and may also enlist the help of villagers while fending off wave after wave of attack from Wu-Feng’s ghostly army. Ghost Stories offers a refreshing blend of martial arts and mysticism not often seen in board games.
Ghost Stories is a very tense cooperative game for 1 to 4 players that can be completed by experienced players in about 1 hour. With miniature figures and colorful village tiles it is as beautiful to look at as it is fun to play. While the rules are simpler than Arkham Horror, beating Wu-Feng and his army requires enormous player cooperation, often planning many turns in advance. This game depth is both a blessing and a curse, players of roughly similar experience levels will have a blast working as a team to defeat the onslaught (or more likely be defeated), however, new players paired with experienced players may feel left behind. MSRP: $49.99
The expansion, Ghost Stories: White Moon deserves honorable mention. While most expansions simply add more of the same, White Moon adds a new layer of tension to Ghost Stories. Families of innocent bystanders are added to the village. Monks must now divide their time between keeping Wu-Feng’s army at bay and escorting these villagers to safety. Delivering a family to safety can earn monks powerful artifacts while failing can result in even more powerful curses. White Moon adds to the complexity of Ghost Stories and is only recommended for experienced players.
Fury of Dracula by Fantasy Flight Games is a game of deduction and chase for 2 to 5 players (best with 5) that plays in about 2 to 3 hours. One player takes the role of Dracula, moving in secret on a map of Old World Europe leaving a path of clues, traps, and vampire minions in his wake. The remaining players take the roles of vampire hunters, either Van Helsing or his companions, and pursue Dracula intent on his destruction. Like most Fantasy Flight Games, Fury of Dracula is a lavishly produced game with lots of pieces, cards, and moderately complex rules, it is also infused with an enormous amount of theme. The role of Dracula is significantly more difficult than that of the vampire hunters, when playing with players of various experience levels the strongest player should take the role of the vampire. MSRP: $59.95
A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game by Flying Frog Productions is set in the sleepy, 19thcentury New England town of Shadowbrook. Something evil has recently begun haunting the town streets at night and murders have become an almost daily occurrence. Players take the roles of visiting outsiders, drawn into an investigation of the supernatural and the secrets held by the town elders. Gather clues to deduce which elders are friend or foe, collect powerful weapons and ultimately confront the evil in its lair for a final showdown. A Touch of Evil draws its theme heavily from such legends as Sleepy Hollow.
A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game is a lighter game than Arkham Horror yet will still have plenty of depth for experienced players. At 2 hours playing time it is significantly shorter. The game supports 2 to 8 players but works best with 4. This game offers both cooperative and competitive game play modes. When playing competitively the players are in a race against one another to be the first to uncover the evil that has settled in Shadowbrook. MSRP: $49.95
Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game by Flying Frog Productions is my first choice to represent the enormous number of zombie games currently on the market. 2 to 6 players (best with 5) play either small town heroes or the zombie horde. Each hero has unique abilities drawn straight from B grade zombie movies, the zombies, they eat brains. The heroes play cooperatively, moving on a modular board of a small mid-west town, looking to find items, weapons, places to hide, and perhaps gasoline to make an escape in the abandon car (or blow something up), often however, they find more zombies. Last Night on Earth is a light fun game that plays in about 90 minutes. It is well supported by numerous expansions. MSRP: $49.95
My second choice for a zombie game is Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead by the small publisher Zombie State Games. I chose Zombie State because it offers something new in the zombie game genre. Players take the roles of world leaders, trying to contain a global outbreak of the MV1 zombie virus and end the game with the most population. Players must use military might to protect vital resources which are in turn invested into new technologies in an effort to eradicate the zombie threat. The game is competitive but requires negotiation and temporary cooperation as rival nations team together to eliminate threats on common borders (after all, zombies don’t recognize political boundaries). On the other hand, if difficult choices must be made, your people look like zombie food to me. At 3 hours playing time Zombie State is a long but straight forward and easy to teach game. Zombie State draws its global infection theme from movies such as 28 Days Later. MSRP: $59.95
Zombie Dice by Steve Jackson Games is simple, addictive, and most of all fun. Each player is a zombie looking to eat 13 brains without getting shotgunned. The game comes with 13 custom dice and a dice cup. Throw the dice, 3 at a time, hoping for brains, trying to avoid shotgun blasts. It’s a classic push-your-luck style game, roll as many times as you wish but 3 shotgun blasts and you lose your brain score for this round. This simple and inexpensive game takes minutes to teach, only 10 minutes to play, but it contains a surprising amount of strategy. The 13 dice come in 3 colors, red, yellow, and green. Red dice are the most dangerous with 3 shotgun blasts on each die, the green dice are the safest with only 1. Five brains and two shotgun blasts this round, rolling at least one red die, how lucky are you feeling? Zombie Dice won’t occupy an entire evening but it’s a great filler between longer games or other activities. MSRP: $13.13
Gloom by Atlas Games is a macabre card game for 2 to 4 players that is relatively inexpensive and accessible. Gloom is lots of fun with the right group of people, players that will appreciate the dark Addams Family style humor and Edward Gorey inspired art.
The first thing new players will notice is that the cards are made from clear plastic which allows them to be stacked, changing some information on the cards below while allowing other information to show through. Each player starts the game with 5 family members. The goal is to play awful life events on your own family members (such as debt, disease, heartache) driving down their self-worth ultimately killing them off in a tragic accident. Bonus points can be scored by keeping a family member’s story arch consistent. Other players will be doing the same to their family members while trying to play positive, affirming, and unwanted life events on your family. The player with the lowest self-worth (as shown on the cards) at the end of the game wins. Three expansions are available which will allow up to 7 players, however, many people believe the game works best in its simplest form with 4 players and only the original set of cards. MSRP: $24.95
Ultimate Werewolf by Bezier Games is a commercial version of the free, classic party game of deduction, bluffing, paranoia, and mob rule; Are You a Werewolf?. Both games are designed for a large group of players, typically 8 to 30 or more, one person is required to moderate the game. Each player is given a card which secretly assigns them a role as either a villager or werewolf and describes a special ability that comes with the role. The game is played in alternating day and night turns. During the day villagers use their special abilities in an attempt to identify the werewolves in their midst, werewolf players do their best to bluff and spread suspicion onto innocent villagers. At the end of each day villagers vote to hunt and kill one player. At night the werewolf players secretly vote as a team to hunt and kill one villager. The werewolf players win as a team by reducing the village population (either by hunting them at night or by convincing the villagers to hunt innocent players during the day), the villagers win by eliminating the werewolf threat.
There are many commercial versions of the game Werewolf. Ultimate Werewolf provides an expanded list of villager roles, art for each role card, and a source book to assist moderators in hosting a werewolf party, other popular versions include The Werewolves of Miller Hollow by Asmodée Editions and Lupus in Tabula by daVinnci Games. Shadow Hunters by Z-Man Games also deserves mention. Shadow Hunters is mechanically very similar to Werewolf but is designed to be played with fewer players (4 to 8) and does not require the assistance of a moderator.
Are You a Werewolf? – MSRP: free
Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition – MSRP: $25.00
The Werewolves of Miller Hollow – MSRP: $12.99
Lupus in Tabula – MSRP: $19.90
Shadow Hunters – MSRP: $29.99
Mansions of Madness from Fantasy Flight Games will not be available until Christmas but once it’s released no Halloween list will be complete without it. Massions of Madness turns a traditional role playing game on its head and allows a game master to play competitively against the adventurers in a self contained scenario that can be completed in an evening. Like Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness is loosely based on the Call of Cthulhu role playing game. In this case the adventurers are once again 1926 investigators exploring strange happenings in a haunted house. Neither the investigators or keeper (game master) know the full details of the adventure, instead the plot develops from a series of choices made by the players and keeper from a pre-designed scenario book. When things go bump in the dark the keeper is responsible for controlling the monsters and other malicious powers while the investigators do their best to stay alive, sane, and unravel the mystery.
Mansions of Madness will support 2 to 5 players and take between 2 and 3 hours to play. The game will include 8 investigator and 24 monsters figures which will also be compatible with Arkham Horror. MSRP: $79.95
A similar game, Betrayal at House onthe Hill from Avalon Hill has just been updated and reprinted in time for Halloween. Betrayal at House onthe Hill does not require a game master although consequently it has less emphasis on plot, instead, adventurers explore a haunted house experiencing random encounters until one player is revealed to be a traitor, the game then becomes a chase between the traitor and remaining players. Betrayal at House onthe Hill focuses on classic haunted house and monster movie themes, it is not based on the Cthulhu mythos. MSRP: $50.00
This list has been offered in no particular order as the games provide very different experiences for different groups of people. I deliberately limited the number of zombie and Cthulhu games as both themes could easily be complete lists by themselves. The complexity of these games vary although they are comparable to the mass market game Risk by Hasbro. Many of these games offer expansions for added play value however all are enjoyable with just the purchase of the base game. Manufacturer’s suggested retail pricing (MSRP) is provided for comparative purposes, however, discounts of 30% to 40% are customary when purchasing online. I would like to thank the BoardGameGeek community for their assistance and recommend visiting the site for additional information on these or tens of thousands of other games.
When not playing games, Bob Gallo is a computer programmer specializing in Flash and interactive application design living in the Charlotte, NC area. Bob got his gaming start in the mid 1970s with traditional hex-and-counter war games and has played nearly all types of games including role playing games, miniatures, collectible card games, video/PC games as well as traditional board and card games.