10 Board Games for the Halloween Season
Halloween is an excellent time to gather people together, enjoy a hot beverage, and find out what frightens them most. But how do you enjoy the best of the spooky season when your friends don’t enjoy horror movies or haunted houses?
We partnered with Board Game Squad, whose founder, Paul Shapiro, is someone I regularly play with, in order to bring you a list of some of our favorite Halloween games to play this season.
It may not be a considered a Halloween movie as much as any of the classic slasher films, but nonetheless, the Alien franchise is undeniably a horror staple. However, with the exception of Alien: Isolation they’ve had a horrendous time translating film’s atmosphere into a good game. But the team at Awaken Realms has cracked the code and created a masterpiece.
Awaken Realms has quickly carved out a place in the tabletop market for themselves and Nemesis is arguably one of the most thematic new games on the market. Game designer Adam Kwapinski and his team created a viciously difficult semi-cooperative game where you never know if you can trust your fellow players. At any point, another player could jettison your character out of the airlock in the name of their self-serving objective.
Nemesis absolutely nails the survival horror experience. On each turn players get a very limited number of actions to plan their course of attack which can be easily derailed by aliens and crew members lurking around the Nemesis. If you’re looking for a tense moment-to-moment experience that tests trust around the table, Nemesis is a grand way to go.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
Few things summarize the spirit of Halloween as well as cheesy B-horror movies, and Betrayal at House on the Hill is the perfect way to experience that in board game form. Like most good horror movies, it starts out innocently enough. You and a group of locals have heard the rumors of this abandoned old house and wanted to see it for yourself. Room by room, players separately explore the mansion’s winding halls and illogical construction, and it’s revealed that one among you is a traitor and you’re all in grave danger.
Betrayal at House on the Hill comes with fifty randomly generated scenarios that can be played again and again. Some of the scenarios are terribly unbalanced, placing the odds of victory in the favor of one party or another, sometimes quite heavily. But whether you’re playing the core game’s Widow’s Walk expansion, or the fantastic (and better balanced) Betrayal Legacy edition, you’re sure to enjoy uncovering the house on the hill’s secrets.
Mansions of Madness
Mansions of Madness is Betrayal at House on the Hill with predetermined stories and a splash of H.P Lovecraft’s absinthe that Fantasy Flight Games seems to enjoy so much. In each scenario, players select their 1920’s stereotype to play as, and then set out together to investigate. Players begin by choosing a storyline from the free Mansions of Madness app which will guide them through their journey, revealing new clues, story events, and an uncomfortably atmospheric soundtrack. Turn after turn, players fish about the area, looking for clues on the dark dealings of cults and test their luck against otherworldly beasts.
As a whole, Mansions of Madness is an excellent game, and is easy to teach, but it can run for a long time. If you choose to pull this game out, I recommend starting in the afternoon, because you never can quite tell how long it will run for (despite the in-app time estimate).
The core game has a decent amount of content to it already, but the expansions are where the game has really come to shine. Each expansion introduces new mechanics and two to three more new scenarios that range the whole gamut of locales. The hardest questions is where to begin. Cruise liner? Murder Dinner Party? Or maybe even Innsmouth itself?
Hellboy: The Board Game
We’ve talked at length about Hellboy: The Board Game before but frankly, it’s just too good not to be on this list. Whether you prefer to battle against Nazis, ghosts, frog monsters, or witches, Hellboy has it all.
Players work together to defeat familiar baddies from the Hellboy series like Rasputin or St. Leonard’s Serpent. The best part of the game is how distinctly different each of the playable heroes function and integrate together. It’s not a perfect game, but it perfectly captures the oddities of Mike Mignola and makes this dungeon crawler a fun and eclectic adventure.
Dead of Winter
If there is any genre that’s overstayed its welcome, it’s zombies. Thankfully, Dead of Winter is less of a game about zombies and more about survival and resource management. But don’t let that fool you, as death is just as easy to come by.
Dead of Winter is a semi-cooperative game where players find themselves trying to outlast the winter in a colony they’ve built for themselves. Each round, players will have to explore locations outside of the colony in order to find food, fuel, medicine, and weapons to survive. But each time a character leaves the colony they put themselves at risk of death from exposure to the elements or zombie attack. Worse yet, you have a sneaking suspicion that one of your fellow survivors has been storing food away for themselves. If you can convince others that you know who the traitor is, you can vote them out of the colony, but vote wrong, and you may just give the traitor the upper hand.
Dead of Winter is a great game for a night of tense play. Our one warning is that there are so many mechanics to keep track of that it may be overwhelming for players unfamiliar with board games.
Admittedly, choosing Broom Service is a bit like watching Hocus Pocus in place of a horror movie on Halloween. The game is designed by Alexander Pfister, who is known for Great Western Trail, and Andreas Pelikan, the designer of Witch’s Brew, the game from which the card-play is derived. Broom Service features more complexity than Witch’s Brew, adding a board and more mechanics into the mix (area movement as well as pick-up and deliver).
That being said, Broom Service is still very much a family-weight game and the complexity has the ability to scale based on who you are playing with. This makes it a good option for all groups who want something a little spooky this holiday season.
Ghost Stories is an immensely difficult cooperative board gaming experience from Antoine Bauza. Each player is a taoist monk who work together to fend off the various ghastly incarnations of Wu Feng and protect the village from destruction. Until the release of Spirit Island, if you had asked me what my favorite cooperative game was, it would have been Ghost Stories. I love everything about this game and even after all these years, has a place on my shelf. This Halloween season, go exorcise some ghosts in Ghost Stories!
Although 7th Continent is technically a multiplayer cooperative game, it really shines in solo play. The game is an exploration game, where players uncover bits of the game’s story as you progress through it. Players must return back to the recently discovered 7th continent as they have discovered that they have been cursed during their last expedition! It’s remove the curse or face death as others already have. I find the game to be relaxing and it will likely grace my table in the early morning hours of All Hallows’ Eve.
The Others is an underrepresented board game title from Blood Rage and Rising Sun designer, Eric M. Lange. This asymmetric, scenario based board game takes place during the apocalypse with one player taking the role of one of the seven deadly sins incarnate and everyone else playing heroes trying to thwart him. One of the most interesting aspect of the games is the ability for heroes to take on corruption which will give them benefits, but will ultimately lead them down a path of sin and cause them take wounds. As with other CMON titles, the game is drenched with grotesque miniatures, and makes both for a gory, evil Halloween gaming experience.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Arkham Horror: The Card Game, a Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games, is probably my favorite horror-themed board game currently on the market. Taking place within the HP Lovecraft universe, players make their way through an ever expanding set of maddening scenarios taking place in Arkham where evil has set foot. The system is rich and thematic. If you enjoy the Cthulhu mythos, deck building, and/or campaign games, then you need to give this one a play.
Paul Shapiro is the founder and editor of Board Game Squad, a board game news and review blog. Although he is an omni-gamer, he most prefers heavy eurogames. The more brain burning, the better! Check out some of his other game lists here.