Halloween is a time of ghastly ghouls, creepy creatures, and scary….things. One perfect way to celebrate the most frightful of holidays is with some thematic board games. Here are some of my favorite spooky games to play at Halloween, or any time where you feel like being extra spooky.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
No Halloween list would be complete without this “grand-daddy of gruesome” game from Avalon Hill. In Betrayal, your group explores a haunted house, encountering all sorts of spooky and scary phenomena. You may step into a room and see a gnarled hand grabbing at you from an unassuming wall, or encounter some seemingly innocent but equally creepy toy dolls.
Betrayal is a scenario-based game, but the trick is that you don’t find out what scenario you’re playing until “the haunt.” The haunt happens about midway through the game, and usually turns one of your party members into a traitor. The different possible scenarios include everything you might expect from a B-movie horror film, like ghosts, werewolves, portals to the underworld, etc. While some of the scenarios can be a little wonky at times and there is a lot of inherent randomness, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a Halloween staple that’s perfect for pulling out once or twice a year.
As a bonus, there’s a newly released expansion for Betrayal called Widow’s Walk. For players who’ve played this one a lot, the addition of 20 new rooms (including the roof), new monsters, items, omens, events, and 50 brand-new haunts should revive their interest.
Fury of Dracula, 3rd Edition
First off, let me start with the caveat that this game is currently out of print and may be hard to find. However, if you’re able to track down a copy of this game, you won’t be disappointed. Fury of Dracula is a one-versus-all hidden movement game where one player plays Dracula and up to four other players take the role of famed vampire hunters like Van Helsing and Lord Godalming.
Throughout the game, Dracula is moving around the board in secret, while the others try to find his trail and track him down. The hunters not only have to locate Dracula, they have to slay him, using items and skills obtained throughout their journey. The simultaneous card-reveal combat resolution is always exciting, as you’re trying to outguess your opponent and land the fatal blow. The 3rd edition is the best version of this game because it streamlines combat and cleans up some of the gameplay. If you’re a fan of hidden movement, or the Dracula universe in general, Fury of Dracula, 3rd edition is the gold standard of vampire games.
Update: According to this recent press release by WizKids, they will be working with original license holder Games Workshop to reprint this game.
If you’re looking for a spooky game that can handle large numbers, Ultimate Werewolf is a great pick. This hidden identity social-deduction game has been around in different forms for quite some time, but for my money Ultimate Werewolf from Bezier Games does it best.
In the basic game of Werewolf, players are secretly given roles that determine their goal for the game. Werewolves aim to kill off villagers, while the villagers attempt to suss out who among them is secretly a werewolf and kill them before they wreak any more havoc on their peaceful town. Ultimate Werewolf adds more roles to make the game a little more interesting. If you’re looking for a shorter experience that you can play multiple times, consider playing One Night Ultimate Werewolf instead.
Mansions of Madness, 2nd Edition
There are loads of great games out there set in the HP Lovecraft universe: Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, Elder Sign, and Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu just to name a few. My personal favorite, and the one that I consider the spookiest, is Mansions of Madness, 2nd Edition. In Mansions of Madness, your group of investigators are exploring a location, trying to solve mysteries and accomplish goals while struggling to maintain sanity. The 2nd edition takes what was previously a one vs many game and turns it into a full co-op experience through the use of an app.
The Mansions of Madness app integration is the best that I have seen in board gaming. It takes care of all of the laborious bookkeeping such as damage counters, random encounters, and mythos effects. Additionally, it lets players feel a true sense of exploring the unknown, as players will start on a single location tile then place more location tiles on the board when directed to do so by the app. Plus, the app offers some excellent eerie music and sound effects that further set the mood and add to the immersive experience.
Mysterium is a cooperative game where one player plays the ghost of a murder victim and the others play paranormal investigators who are trying to figure out who killed them and how. However, the ghost cannot speak to the investigators directly and can only communicate through the dream world.
Each round, the ghost has a hand of dream cards and distributes them to the investigators. These cards are beautifully illustrated with all sorts of strange, dream-like artwork. Though the cards have an impressive look, they don’t necessarily provide any concrete details. Players must interpret the cards given to them to somehow guess the right answers. The subjective way that different people interpret these cards inevitably leads to hilarious misunderstandings that become stories you talk about after the game ends.
“How could you get that one wrong? The suspect card was blue and I gave you a blue card!”
“I picked the lady with the sewing needles because the card you gave me had a ball of yarn on it!”
Mysterium is a great game for parties because it can handle seven players, and with the right group, you’re sure to have a blast.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Ghost Blitz. While technically a children’s game, it works well with kids of ALL ages. Ghost Blitz is a speed-based pattern recognition game where you’re racing to grab one of five objects on the table, all unique in both shape and color. Each round, someone flips over the top card of the deck to reveal a picture. Players must quickly determine which of the five items (gray mouse, red chair, blue book, white ghost, or green bottle) is present on the card and grab it before the others do.
However, sometimes the card doesn’t show the items correctly. For example, a card may display a grey ghost with a green book on it’s head. In this case, you must figure out which item and color is not represented. In the below example, you would grab the red chair, since the card neither contains the chair or the color red.
While this game is only technically a spooky one because it involves a ghost, it still deserves a spot on your Halloween rotation because it supports eight players, and is loads of fun. The mad dash to both recognize, then grab the right object is exhilarating, and always leads to loads of laughter when someone grabs the wrong thing, or in an effort to be the first one to grab an item knocks it off the table altogether. With the right crowd, this one is a laugh riot that’ll have you in stitches.
There are plenty of other great spooky games out there that you can play on Halloween, or any other time you want to delve into the dark side. Some honorable mentions include: Zombicide, Last Friday, Letters from Whitechapel, Ghost Stories, Gloom, and Last Night on Earth. However you slice it, if you’re looking for something spooky to play with friends, there’s probably a game out there for you.
What about you? What are some of your favorite spooky games? Let us know in the comments below.