Halloween is my favourite time of year. The air is a little cooler, the leaves are changing colours, and I can openly embrace my love of all things macabre. Now, I’m a pretty big horror book and movie fan, but it doesn’t stop there. Horror has infiltrated all sorts of popular culture from comics, to podcasts, to video and board games. I’m not a huge video game player, but I love to pull out a good scary board game. Here is a list of some of my favourites to get you in the mood for Halloween.
Zombicide: Black Plague
Evil necromancers are raising the dead from their graves to wreck havoc on medieval villages. A determined group of survivors must band together to if they hope to live through the night. The infected beasts will stop at nothing to kill off our heroes, so it’s a good thing there are a ton of different weapons and spells for them to find and arm themselves with. As you’ve come to expect from CMON games, Black Plague features a slew of incredible miniatures. The Survivors are all pretty cool, including a Dwarf, a Wizard, and a Nun ready to take on these undead monsters, but the real star of the show are the monsters themselves. There are countless zombies that will spawn again and again, surrounding your group and closing in on you step by step. Expansions include a zombie Minotaur, a zombie Troll, and an entire village surrounded by zombie wolves. To complete the missions you’ll have to work together and not be afraid to hack, hew, and burn your way through packs of zombies that will haunt your dreams.
The Bloody Inn
From battling monsters to becoming one yourself. In The Bloody Inn players open their own motel for weary travels on the roads in rural France. Your plans are evil as you’ll kill off your guests to steal the money they have in their pockets and then bury their bodies on the motel grounds. An unburied corpse will cause problems if the authorities arrive, so you’ll have to pay off the local gravedigger to avoid detection. The Bloody Inn features a super tight economy of actions, so you’ll have to be an efficient killer. At the end of the game the winner will be the person who has successfully pried the most cash from the cold grip of their victims.
Everyone knows that on Halloween the barrier between the spirit world and ours is at its thinest. In Mysterium, one player is the ghost of a servant killed years ago in a mansion house. The murder happened so long ago that the facts of the night are a bit foggy. The rest of the team plays the worlds best psychics and mediums, come to the mansion on Halloween night to contact the spirits of the dead and once and for all solve the murder. Communicating only through visions (cards with Dixit-like images) the ghost will indicate a combination of person, object, and location involved in the crime for each player. One of those combinations is the actual facts of the crime. If the mediums can solve it before midnight, the spirit will be freed, otherwise they will walk the halls for another year. Mysterium was originally published in Polish, but the demand so such a quirky and weird cooperative inspired Asmodee to publish a North American version. This game is fun as the ghost trying to direct the mediums with visions in the form of Dixit-like cards or the psychics trying to interpret them. It can be challenging, but oh so satisfying when you solve the crime.
T.I.M.E. Stories (The Asylum)
If you’re looking for something creepy to do on Halloween with three of your friends and you haven’t yet tried the time traveling masterpiece, T.I.M.E. Stories, then oh doctor you’re in for a treat! I highly recommend the adventure, Asylum, for a first play. Turn down the lights, put on some atmospheric music and prepare to travel back to France in 1921. The adventure takes place in a mental institution and you and your fellow time agents will be projected into the shells of people who were alive there at that time…patients of the asylum, with all their…ahem, quirks. You have a limited amount of time to solve the mystery that is plaguing the hospital and threatens to cause a temporal rift. It plays out like a cooperative choose-your-own-adventure. Suffice to say, this adventure gets pretty dark and pretty creepy. The Marcy Case is the second adventure released in the T.I.M.E. Stories universe. It deals with a plague sweeping across the countryside and may also be a good fit for a Halloween adventure.
Nightmare: The Board Game
In one of the more notable early marriages between technology and board games, Nightmare required players to start a VHS tape and follow along with the instructions of the Gatekeeper to win the game. This guy starts off as a bit of a jerk and just gets worse as time goes on. You had 60 minutes to race around the board collecting keys and then return to the centre of the board, otherwise the Gatekeeper would win the game. I remember playing this one a bunch at grade eight parties and the intense soundtrack and creepy host made for a pretty scary affair. It was followed up by a number of different sequels with new hosts rotting away throughout the course of the video in front of our eyes. There was Baron Samedi or Elizabeth Bathory, but for me you can’t beat the original Gatekeeper, ‘Yes my Gatekeeper!’ . You can usually find copies of Nightmare at thrift stores or garage sales…the trickier feat is finding a working VCR. When all else fails, Youtube has you covered.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
The scare factor in this game isn’t too bad, but you usually do find yourself trying to solve a murder of one sort or another. Maybe it was a crime of passion or possibly a murder for profit. Throughout the course of the investigation you’ll probably come face to face with a murderer, who will lie through their teeth to you. A keen intuition and your ability to detect a motive will come in handy if you want to be able to help the world’s greatest detective (no, not Columbo) solve the crime. The base game comes with ten different cases for you to work on. Plenty to keep aspiring minds busy for hours and hours. SHCD is the type of game you can walk away from for several hours, even days and return to when you have the time to dive back in. One thing is guaranteed, while you may take a break, you won’t stop thinking about the case. It’ll eat away at you, running over the details again and again. Eventually, when you feel like you have a satisfactory idea of what actually went down, you can face the question at the end of the case and answer them to the best of your ability. You’ll be evaluated in comparison to Holmes himself.
For a game that came out in 1949, this sure has a dark theme. Party guests are all suspects after their host, Mr. Boddy turns up dead. By today’s standards the roll and move aspect feels quite dated, but the deductive reasoning mechanic in CLUE is still very sound. Imagine walking through a mansion, questioning other players about their whereabouts and what weapon they might have used to commit murder. I mean, this is work much better suited for a team of criminal investigators, but it makes for a fun, morbid, family game.