This is easily my favourite time of year. The sticky hot days of summer are past, but the freezing cold tundra that Winter will bring are still a few weeks away. If you live in a part of the world where leafs change colour, then right about now, you’re hitting peak beauty. But what I really love about October is Halloween. It gives you the ability to fully embrace your love of all things dark and macabre. There’s something about dressing up, acquiring candy, and surrendering to our baser fears that brings me back to my youth. It’s the perfect time to take a look at a game that taps into my childhood love of being spooked!
We’ve all seen those ghost hunter shows where various clairvoyants and ‘scientists’ make their way into a supposedly haunted building and attempt to make contact with the dead. Well, imagine it from the ghosts’ point of view. How annoying would it be to constantly be disturbed by a bunch of hunters trying to capture you on film and make a name for themselves. They’re worse than the paparazzi. In Haunt the House, you get to be one of the deceased residents of a creepy old mansion looking to scare away these unwanted visitors.
Haunt the House is one of the new titles from Kids Table Board Gaming. The company has carved out a niche in family games that can actually be enjoyed by both kids and parents alike. Last year, they ran a super successful Kickstarter campaign and I got my hands on a copy just in time for Halloween.
At the start of a game, the mansion is created by shuffling the room tiles and placing out a certain amount depending on the number of players. A deck of Ghost Hunters is created and one is placed in each room. Ghost Hunters all have a certain combination of spooky sounds or events, like door creaks, chills, or moans, that will make them run screaming from the building. Players start with a deck of Scare cards and a hand of three different Scares and they are randomly dealt a red and blue Trophy tile that will come into play during final scoring. Now let’s get those pesky Hunters out of our house!
On a turn, you will either take two actions, or yell ‘Boo!’ Available actions include drawing up to three Scare cards or playing a visible or invisible Scare to a room. When you play a Scare card face down, it’s invisible. It may be a bluff or it may bring that Hunter one step closer to losing their nerve and bolting. Playing a visible Scare card face up, must match the type of Scares that frighten that particular Hunter. Your fellow Ghosts can see what you’ve played, but visible cards allow you to tap into the special power of a room, like stealing Scare cards from other players or peeking at the invisible Scares in a room.
If you think there are enough Scares among the visible and invisible cards in a room AND the cards in your hand, you might choose to yell Boo! Yelling Boo! triggers a few steps in order. All of the invisible Scares are revealed. Any of those that don’t satisfy one of the Scare conditions of the Hunter in that room are discarded back to their owners. If any revealed Scares do frighten the Hunter (even if that particular Scare has already been satisfied) all players who contributed get a Skull token. If you’re still short of scaring off the Hunter, you may have to add cards from your hand to finish off the traumatic experience for them. If you successfully Scare a Hunter, you can collect their card and place it in front of you. All the Scares go back to the owners’ discard pile and a new room (with a new special power) and new Hunter (with different Scare requirements) are revealed.
The game end is triggered when one Ghost collects their fourth Hunter. Each player gets one more chance to yell Boo! and then points are tallied. Players get a point for each Skull token they’ve collected and each Skull symbol appearing on the Hunters they’ve collected. Each of the Hunters will also have one or two Trophy symbols on their card like Flashlights, Keys, or Lanterns. These combine with the Trophies you got at the start of the game to give you points for the sets you’ve collected. The more you have, the more Skulls each one is worth. The player who has collected the most Skulls at the end of the game is the winner…y’know, just like in life.
To introduce a little variety to the game, you can add in the Phantom cards. Phantoms usually provide some sort of special ability, such as drawing Scare cards, or not allowing other players to use visible Scare cards until your next turn. Some are just straight up worth points, and some have abilities so strong, they’ll cost you points. You earn Phantoms in a couple different ways. When participating in a Boo! with invisible cards, instead of automatically getting a Skull token, you get the choice of drawing two Phantoms and keeping one. Some Room’s special power also will earn you a Phantom for playing your Scares face up. Although they add a small level of extra complexity, I think that you will find yourself adding Phantoms to you game fairly quickly. They’re not too tough for young players to understand and they add some depth to the decision making.
Haunt the House does what all Kids Table Board Gaming titles set out to do; provide a fun play experience for everyone involved. The rules are simple, but will introduce young players to important gaming concepts like bluffing and set collection. The art by Apolline Etienne fits the spooky, whimsical mood perfectly. Crack this title out on Halloween and embrace the fun of being scary.
Now let’s look at some other fun titles for this time of year…
I’m going to be honest, I’m over Zombie movies. I love the classics and I love that they had a resurgence, but now the genre is pretty much played out. Unless Danny Boyle can give me a 28 Months Later, I’ll take my zombies in board game form. The Zombicide series puts you smack dab in the middle of a zombie film. You work cooperatively with your fellow Survivors to complete missions or even a full campaign. Half the fun in this series is finding a chainsaw or a Molotov cocktail to fend of the advancing horde. With an amazing number of awesome miniatures, the theme is very easy to get into. In recent years, CMON has introduced medieval zombies with Black Plague and Green Horde, and even Zombies in space with Invader. I’m a big Dawn of the Dead fan, so the modern series hits home for me, but you can’t go wrong with any of these titles. As a pack of zombies closes in around you, you’ll start to really feel the pressure. It will take an entire team effort to survive, no matter what timeline you experience.
I’m a fan of hidden movement games and Fury of Dracula is considered one of the best of all time. Thematically it perfectly captures the feeling of desperation as Van Helsing and his cohorts pursue the undead Count across Europe, hoping to close the net around him while avoiding his traps. Like most hidden movement games, the structure is one against many. It often works best if the most experienced player takes the role of the famous vampire to give them a fighting chance against the combined forces closing in on them. I could’ve easily mentioned Letters From Whitechapel here, which focuses on the hunt for Jack the Ripper, or even Scotland Yard, who knows what set off the manhunt for Mr. X? Tax Fraud or Murder? But going with this classic monster feels right here. Both sides of the hidden movement coin are pretty darn fun, and Fury of Dracula fits the season.
There is probably no horror writer with more games based on their works than H.P. Lovecraft. The titles inspired by the Cthulhu mythos alone could fill a library. However, Mountains of Madness goes a slightly different route than most. Players take on the role of scientists who have discovered an ancient city in the Antarctic. Traversing the harsh terrain to get to the city and eventually escape may cost them their sanity. Each new location they travel to as they climb the mountain will represent a different challenge. They have limited time to complete each one. Problem is, they are slowly going insane. Players receive madness cards which negatively affect their ability to communicate with teammates. As you rise through the forbidding slopes, the game will start to mess with you as well. It’s a bit spooky and a lot of fun. It will leave you questioning who you can trust, assuming you make it to the plane to escape.
Speaking about not trusting your teammates, paranoia games make you wonder if people are being honest with you, or secretly plotting against you. My introduction to this mechanic, like many people I’m guessing, was The Resistance. To be honest, there aren’t many iterations of the game that capture the clean rules and streamlined gameplay better. The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is definitely not a simpler game, but all of the elements it adds make sense. Based on the awesome film by John Carpenter, players are stationed at a remote outpost in (you guessed it) the Antarctic. However, not everyone is what they seem. Through several rounds of the game, players have to keep the station safe and face the alien creature that is attacking them, all the while, one or more of the players may be infected and hiding the alien creature within themselves. Everything comes down to escaping the base on a helicopter, but who gets to get on? If even one infected player is chosen, then the alien has made it off the base and will spread throughout the world. No pressure or anything. The Thing add some great elements to a well-worn mechanic and makes it worth playing again.