Wanna Play a Game? - Your Halloween Board Gaming Guide
The season of spooks, scares, and sweets is upon us and Halloween means different things to different people. Maybe you’re a parent of some adorable kids, which means it’s all about getting their costumes together and preparing for trick or treating. Perhaps you’re a horror fan, which means Haunted House visits or going all out scaring those poor aforementioned trick or treaters. Or you’re that person who just loves dressing up and taking it to the next level, putting your friends to shame with your amazing costuming skills. Everyone is different when it comes to what Halloween means to them. But one of my favorite things to do after you’ve turned your porch light off, drawn the curtains, and grabbed the remaining Reese’s out of the candy jar is to sit down for some Halloween board game fun. And you’ll need to know the right game for all of those different people in your life.
For the Family: Ghost Fightin Treasure Hunters (2013)
This entry level family gateway co-op game is terrific for all skill levels and a great way to introduce your kids to the fabulous world of board gaming. Yes, it has roll and move, but that’s a nice familiarity for kids when they sit down for a game. Ghost Fightin Treasure Hunters plays like a mashup of Pandemic and the GameCube classic Luigi's Mansion, and it is tough! You and your friends must wander through your spooky surrounding, searching for numbered gems, and remove them from the haunted mansion, all while dealing with the cascading problems of more and more adorable ghost meeples joining the party and threatening to overrun rooms. The upcoming Creepy Cellar Expansion will add some much needed variety and replayability to a fun and straight forward family co-op game.
For the Masochist: Ghost Stories (2008)
So you like pain, do you? Well step into this small village and embody one of 4 Taoist Monks as they attempt to fend off the many incarnations of the lord of Hell - Wu Feng - and his onslaught of ghost minions as they suffocate and overwhelm you. The hype is real on this one - it will abuse you. It overruns you quickly, and it punishes you for taking risks that you know you shouldn’t have taken. Yes it’s a dice chucker, but this game is all about dice and luck mitigation. Wu Feng will throw everything at you via the special abilities of the ghosts, and you’ll want to gamble and think you can roll that perfect roll - and you’ll fail, miserably. Many times cooperative games bog down and take a few hours to complete, but not Ghost Stories. You’ll take only about 45 minutes if you’re successful and banish Wu-Feng back to hell—or more likely about 15 when you inevitably get buried under the weight of his evil.
For the Non-Gamer Friend: Mansions of Madness: Second Edition (2016)
If you’ve got friends over on Halloween and want to play a board game with them and show them just how far removed we are from their preconceived notions of Monopoly, break out Mansions of Madness. Known mostly for it’s seamless integration between table and technology, Mansions uses an app to generate rooms, control monsters, hold inventory, and reveal decisions via clickable points on the map. The app also provides creepy ambient music, slide puzzles, and a number of scenario options that range in difficulty and time commitment, and often have multiple end game paths you can resolve through your decisions and performance in the game. The scenarios do go a bit long, and the randomness is on the heavy end, but it accomplishes what it sets out to be—a thematic, spooky escape into another world via a marriage of cardboard and technology.
For the Harry Potter Friend: Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle (2016)
Okay so it’s not really a Halloween theme, and it’s not really all that scary - but everyone has that “Harry Potter Friend” - you know the one. Obsessed with all things Gryffindor, can rattle off trivia like it’s their job, and has a lightning bolt tattoo above their right eye. Hogwarts Battle is a great way to introduce your friends, Potter fanatics or not, to the deck-building genre. It ramps up slowly throughout the 7 book campaign, introducing more allies, items, and villains from the wizarding world. And then it gets very hard in the back end of the campaign, mainly due to the way the villains stack and their powers play off of each other. Hogwarts Battle is dripping with theme, with 100s of references from the books and movies, and art assets pulled straight off of the silver screen. If you want even more Hogwarts Battle, the Monster Box of Monsters expansion adds a new playable character, and more 4 more books full of locations and villains to battle through.
For the Competitor: Broom Service (2015)
Sure, all of these co-op games are great, but what about when you want to stick it to your friends, ruin their turns, and reign supreme as the best witch on Halloween? Enter Broom Service: a game that looks light and fluffy on the outside, but is actually a rather mean and punishing game of cardplay, bluffing, reading your opponents, and jockeying for position. Each of you plays the role of a rival witch, looking to brew the best potions and deliver them to castles around the magical realm. Through simultaneous action selection, you’ll choose a hand of 4 cards, with each card being available for a stronger but riskier action, or a safer but less rewarding action. Turn order, board positioning, and reading your opponents are the keys to riding off on your broomstick as the victor in this 2015 Kennerspiel des Jahres Winner.
For the Loudmouth Friend: Mysterium (2015)
Have that friend over that’s all hopped up on Sourpatch Kids and Snickers and just want him to shut up? Make him be the ghost in Mysterium. Shhh. The kids have gone to sleep, the lights are turned down low, and SOMEBODY HAS BEEN MURDERED?! In Mysterium one of you takes the role of a ghost, trying to clue in your gaming partners on what led you to meet this terrible fate. The ghost will give clues only in the form of abstract cards, hoping to lead each sleuth towards the Who, Where, and What that led to their untimely demise. The game really isn’t that quiet - other than the ghost player, who is only permitted to communicate via a series of knocks on the table - as players will laugh, scoff, and turn their nose up as these horrible abstract clues come pouring in. “Oh you gave me this pink amorphous blob and I was supposed to realize that looked like cotton candy and therefore must relate back to the baker? Yeeeeeah.” But it's actually a lot of maddening and silly fun, culminating in a bonus round of sorts where each player gets one final guess to point the finger at the correct set of murderer, location, and murder weapon.
For the Adventurer: Eldritch Horror (2013)
Yes, there are a million Cthulhu Mythos games out there (and even one already on this list) and at its heart, Eldritch Horror is an co-op Ameritrash fingers-crossed dice chucker...but wow is it fun! I’ve never played a board game that tells a story and has an arc quite like it does. You each take on the role of an investigator, starting out with virtually nothing, and marauding across a world map researching mysteries, fighting other-wordly monsters, and closing gates to the other side. And all while trying not to die! You’ll outfit yourself with weapons, tomes, spells, and artifacts that give you a focus and beef you up into the skeleton slaying farmhand you always wanted to be, while dealing with conditions that impair you along the way - disease, amnesia, a broken leg, or even a dark pact with the netherworld. Just when you think you’ve got things under control, more gates will spawn, more monsters will spill out of them, and your sanity dwindles away, the despair really settling in on the board state. The game is beautifully designed and terrifically balanced, with the final turn often being the difference between success or awakening The Ancient One and seeing him devour the entire world.
Hopefully this Halloween you’ll find time to sit around the table with friends, and get in one of these or many other terrific games. I’d love to hear from you on some of your favorite spooky, scary, or thematic games to play around the Halloween season. Sound off on our Board Game Geek guild or check out Cardboard Reality on Patreon to join us on our Slack channel for more great board game discussions.