My first reaction to hearing about Horrified, the new Ravensburger/Universal Studios game designed by the enigmatic collective Prospero Hall, was, and I quote:
Like, who needs another Pandemic-Lite? Isn’t that what Forbidden Island is for? So we’re supposed to “protect the village” from a combination of old-timey monster-villains now?
Then some of my friends came back from GenCon raving about it.
Yeah, but I know how hyped people get at conventions. They get all crazy about a game ‘cuz it’s 2 am and they’re having goofy fun. It’s a Moment. I get it. But Moments pass, and in the cold light of day the game just doesn’t stand up: it’s got no legs. Amirite, Flowerfall? Know what I mean, Founders of Gloomhaven?
So I pre-ordered it, and waited…and waited…and then the local Indigo got copies and I got tired of waiting so I bought an actual copy to take home. (The pre-order will probably become a prize for this year’s Generic Holiday Contest in December…assuming it comes in by then of course.)
And that is when I discovered my friends were right and I was so, so wrong. Again. As usual. I should really learn not to rush to judgment so quickly.
Why was I wrong? Why is Horrified a really good game and worth checking out? Because of how its theme and graphic design make the most of its basic mechanics. And because of how it solves the problems that most other traditional-monster-based games have: predictable storyline and limited replayability.
There are thirty games that namecheck Dracula in the BGG database. Twenty-two non-expansion games about The Mummy. Thirteen about Frankenstein’s Monster. Lots of Werewolf games but only about a dozen about The Werewolf. And only one each about the Invisible Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Of course I haven’t played them all but I hazard a guess that in each game one player plays the Monster and the others the Monster Hunters, and in most of them the Monster wins by killing all the Hunters (and/or townspeople) before the Hunters destroy It–and there’s usually only one way to destroy it.
What Horrified does is force the players to face multiple Monster threats at the same time, and presents unique ways to dispose of each monster. For Dracula, you smash all the coffins and then beat him in a Boss Fight. For the Mummy, you slide the scarab pieces of its tomb around until you break the curse. For Frankenstein’s Monster (and his Bride), you must teach them what it means to be human by discarding certain items while in their spaces. Meanwhile, each Monster has their own unique moves and attacks which make your lives difficult and terror-ful. Accumulate too much terror or run out of time and you lose.
These theme-packed frills make a huge difference in immersion–but even more effective at doing so is the graphic design, which unfortunately is uncredited. Obviously, being able to use the likenesses of the “actual” Monsters from the classic movies is a plus. Added to this though is a bold primary-coloured palette with dramatic shadowing which perfectly encapsulates the campy, noir-ish flavour.
Finally, the rules are unusually flaw- and confusion-free, showing that time and trouble were taken to tie up all loose ends and make sure everything was clear.
Horrified is not a perfect game, neither is it the best introductory co-op game out there because of its open information which leaves it vulnerable to the Pandemic Effect. (This is why I still think Codenames: Duet or Hanabi are the best co-op games to introduce friends to the genre.) But it is a perfect game for your Halloween party with a much lower barrier to entry than, say, Betrayal at the House on the Hill (which is an excellent game mind you, with the right group). So whether you go snap it up at Indigo like I did or patiently wait for your preorder, know that Horrified is worth the effort. So put on Hilarious House of Frightenstein in the background, pledge allegiance to the three-toed sloth, and get busy hunting Monsters, keeds!
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