13 Spooky Board Games for Halloween
Halloween. The time of year when the barriers thin between this world and the next, when all manner of creatures walk the streets in broad daylight and haunt your doorways into the night. A time when we don costumes, watch scary movies and play spooky board games.
Yes, play spooky board games. There are a number of modern board games that evoke the same excitement of a scary movie while allowing you and your crew to direct the actions of the characters. If you’ve ever shouted at the TV when a character in a movie runs upstairs like an idiot instead of out the door to escape, then you’re on the right page. In the board games I’m about to describe, you play the characters trying to survive an onslaught of zombies, solve a Lovecraftian mystery in time to save the world, or explore the haunted house on the hill. You decide whether to run upstairs and hide – or run out the door…
I’m going group these best-of-the-best spooky board games by the theme: zombies, Cthulhu Mythos and ghosts. And because Halloween is for kids, too, I’ll even include two spooky board games you can definitely play with kids. The others, well, you’ll have to use your own judgement in terms of content and subject matter.
Zombies, Old Ones and Ghosts, Oh My! Let’s look at some spooky board games for Halloween.
According to Wikipedia, “a zombie is a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse. The term comes from Haitian folklore, where a zombie is a dead body reanimated through various methods, most commonly magic. Modern depictions of the reanimation of the dead do not necessarily involve magic but often invoke science fictional methods such as carriers, radiation, mental diseases, pathogens, scientific accidents, etc.”
In literature, zombies have a complex heritage, with antecedents ranging from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. The currently popular flesh-eating version of the zombie was inspired by George A. Romero’s film Night of the Living Dead, which was in turn partly inspired by Matheson’s I Am Legend book. The “zombie apocalypse” concept, in which the civilized world is brought low by a global zombie infestation has become a staple of comics, books, television, movies, Halloween and board games. Here come the zombies!
Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game
With characters and scenarios straight out of a B-horror-movie, Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game lets you experience the action yourself. In this semi-cooperative board game, you can play a Hero: the high school sweetheart, football hero, farmer’s daughter, town sheriff, hospital nurse, man of the cloth, or stranger in town. Or you can play the Zombie Master, the person responsible for bringing mayhem to this sleepy town in the first place. I did a full write-up of this fun and immersive game that you can read right here.
Last Night on Earth is my favorite zombie-themed game. It supports two to six players ages 12 and up. Playtime is an hour to an hour and a half. The included CD soundtrack helps set the mood for an exciting adventure of survival, straight out of a horror movie.
There’s another zombie-themed game that deserves mention while we’re on the topic of the walking dead: Dead of Winter.
Dead of Winter
The story-based game of survival, Dead of Winter, sets 2 to 5 players in the midst of a small, weakened colony of survivors in a world where most of humanity is dead or zombies.
During a harsh winter in this apocalyptic world, you and your fellow survivors are dealing with your own psychological issues and imperatives. Each of you has his or her own personal secret objective that may not jive with the needs and goals of the community. Still, you must find a way to work with the others. Together you’ll fight off outside threats, resolve crises, find food and supplies, hopefully keep the colony’s morale up, and achieve one common goal (victory condition).
Games of Dead of Winter can end with all players winning, some winning and some losing, or all players losing. 2 to 5, ages 13 and up, can play this epic struggle for power and survival in 1 to 2 hours.
Dead of Winter: The Long Night
The sequel, Dead of Winter: The Long Night, is both an expansion for Dead of Winter and its own stand-alone game. The Long Night introduces a new location where horrible experiments spill out into the town unless players contain them. It also adds bandits, their hideout, colony improvements, a graveyard, an all new cast of survivors, plus new zombies, items, main objectives, secret objectives and more. Dead of Winter: The Long Night can likewise be played by 2 to 5 players in 1 to 2 hours.
In early 1921, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, better known as H.P. Lovecraft, penned “The Nameless City,” the first of many stories that fit into his Cthulhu Mythos. The term “Cthulhu Mythos” was coined by August Derleth, Lovecraft’s publisher and the founder of Arkham House publishing. Cthulhu Mythos encompasses those “stories that share a commonality in fictional locations and Lovecraft’s invented pantheon of god-like beings known as The Great Old Ones.” [Wikipedia] It’s also a very popular board game theme, particularly suited for Halloween.
Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition
A plethora of board games have been published utilizing the Cthulhu Mythos. My favorite is Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition. This app-driven, fully-cooperative board game is chock-full of theme: creepy monsters, mysterious occurrences, and cultists bent on opening a mystic portal to allow The Great Old Ones entrance to our world. One look at these horrific god-like beings is enough to drive you insane.
To save the world, however, you and your fellow Investigators must endure and solve the mystery. You’ll explore strange places and encounter ghastly monsters in this immersive Lovecraftian game.
1 to 5 adventurous souls, ages 14 and up, can play Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition in two to three hours, depending on the scenario. [Read full Review]
The Cthulhu Mythos-themed dice game, Elder Sign, places 1 to 8 players in the role of paranormal Investigators struggling to prevent a Great Old One from entering our world. In this strongly thematic dice game, you’ll combat strange creatures spawning in and around the museum by rolling special dice. Your goal is to collect a number of Elder Signs to prevent the Ancient One from awakening.
It’s not an easy task. You’ll need all the spells, items and clues you can find – and a little luck. The clock is ticking and bad things almost always happen at midnight, so you must hurry. For if the beast awakes the world is almost certainly lost!
Hint: read the cards in a whisper or spooky voice for a more immersive experience. Playtime is about 90 minutes for 1 to 8 players ages 13 and up. Numerous expansions are available to enhance and extend game play.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t cover the first major hit – boardgame-wise – in the Cthulhu Mythos: Arkham Horror.
In Arkham Horror, 1 to 8 players choose from 16 Investigators and take to the streets of Arkham to prevent one of the eight Ancient Ones from breaking into our world – sound familiar? During the game, you can upgrade your character by acquiring Skills, Allies, Items, Weapons, and Spells. You’ll fight many kinds of monsters. However, your main goal is to close the portals to other dimensions that are popping up around town. If too many portals open, the Ancient One will awaken and you’ll only have one last chance to save the world by defeating it in combat. Yeah, right, like that ever happens. Better to not let it through the door to begin with.
There are many, many expansions for Arkham Horror. It is one of the longer games in the Cthulhu Mythos genre with a listed playtime of 2 to 3 hours for 1 to 8 players ages 12 and up. However, I’ve heard of games lasting up to 9 hours.
A new edition of Arkham Horror is scheduled for release later this year. With its new modular board and other changes that are expected to streamline play, games of Arkham Horror Third Edition should clock in at 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Pre-order your copy now at Here Be Books & Games to receive a free deluxe hard cover rulebook with purchase.
In Eldritch Horror, you’re not in Arkham anymore. The threat and terror has spread across the globe. You and your fellow Investigators will need 2 to 4 hours to play this monster game – pun intended – as you explore the most remote corners of the world, fight the nightmarish creatures that lurk in the shadows, and find the answers to ancient mysteries!
Eldritch Horror supports 1 to 8 players ages 14 and up. Several large and small expansions will sate your appetite for Cthulhu Mythos for the foreseeable future.
Ghosts, specters and nightmarish creatures are the stuff of modern Halloween. For some, it is the time of year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed. It is a time when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thins, when spirits and fairies can more easily come into this world and are particularly active. So here are some of the best spooky board games that feature ghostly themes.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
In Betrayal at House on the Hill, you and your friends get to explore the creepy house on the hill. There you’ll find items both interesting and mundane in the dusty and sometimes bloody rooms of the dilapidated manor. Mysterious events will occur, guaranteed to send a chill down your spine if you read the cards in a whisper. When the Haunt begins – and it will – oh, it will – one of you may turn traitor. Then it becomes a game of survival and the real fun begins! <cue eerie laugh>
No two games of Betrayal at House on the Hill are ever the same. The layout of the house unfolds as you explore it. Plus, there are numerous potential haunts.
I’ve turned traitor more than my fair share of the time. As a Zombie King I chased down all the other players and turned them into walking dead. I once shape-shifted into a long undulating snake that my companions cheerfully chopped into itty bitty bits. Another time we explored a huge underground lake in search of I forget who or what. The point is, this classic game is simply awesome. It’s one of my all-time favorites to play on Halloween.
3 to 6 players can explore Betrayal at House on the Hill together, but you probably won’t all escape together. Playtime is about an hour.
The expansion for Betrayal at House on the Hill, Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk, adds twenty new rooms to the famous house as well as a previously unexplored floor – the Roof. It also introduces new monsters, items, omens, events, and fifty brand-new Haunts providing countless hours of adventures for you and your Scooby friends.
An upgrade kit is due to be released in December.
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
If you prefer a fantasy-themed experience to a horror-themed one, check out Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate. With the same familiar game play, you’ll be exploring the iconic city’s dark alleys and deadly catacombs – of Dungeons & Dragons’ fame – in no time. Just like in the house on the hill, you’ll have to work with your fellow adventurers to survive this menacing city. Well, at least until some evil event turns one of you – or possibly more than one of you – against the others.
Did the whisperings of a deranged ghost cause your companions to turn traitor or was it that mind flayer’s psionic blast? Can you and your party survive the ensuing mayhem? Or will you succumb and split (or slaughter!) the party? Cursed armor can be a bitch.
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate also supports 3 to 6 players. Playtime is about an hour.
If you’re looking for a fully cooperative ghostly-themed game, then take a look at Ghost Stories.
The cooperative board game, Ghost Stories, pits you and your fellow Taoist monks against the incarnations of the lord of hell, Wu-Feng, and his legions of ghosts. Working as a team you must protect the village, exorcising frightful ghosts as they appear and making the best use of your special abilities and the assistance provided by the helpful villagers. It’s the only way you can accomplish your task.
Of course, Wu-Feng’s army of ghosts have their own special abilities and will do their spirited best to thwart your mission so Wu-Feng can return to life and haunt the village ’til eternity.
The beautiful artwork and awesome bits really make this game a treasure for 1 to 4 players ages 12 and up. Playtime is about an hour. Two expansions are available to enhance the fun.
All of the games I’ve mentioned so far are great for teenagers and adults. But Halloween is for kids, too. So, let’s talk about some games geared towards the younger set. At the top of the list is a game dealing with the age-old problem of monsters under the bed.
In Stuffed Fables, a cooperative adventure game, you and your fellow players take on the roles of brave stuffed animals, “Stuffies”, sworn to protect the little girl that loves you from a scheming, evil mastermind: The Lord of Nightmares.
Playing in a large storybook that serves as your game board, rules reference and story guide, you’ll experience an ongoing set of adventures when you and your stuffed companions are sucked into the Fall. The Fall is the dark and creepy world of nightmares from whence the monsters under the bed come; it is ruled by The Lord of Nightmares himself.
Players take turns rolling and assigning color-coded dice to perform a variety of actions, including daring melee attacks, desperate leaps across chasms, and searches of areas they encounter. All of the action takes place in the aforementioned storybook. How you interact with the characters you meet, determines your fate just as much as your actions do. It’s sort of like a multi-player choose-your-own-adventure book wrapped in a board game.
Supporting 2 to 4 players, ages 7 and up, Stuffed Fables is ideal for families, as well as adults. Each session plays in 60 to 90 minutes. One of the great things about the game, is that you can bookmark your place and continue your adventure later.
Speaking of stories, what famous series captured the attention of kids and adults alike and became a phenomena the world over? If you said, “Harry Potter,” then you know where I’m going: to Hogwarts!
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
Set in the wizarding world of the famous Harry Potter series of books, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a cooperative deck-building game. Taking on the roles of Harry, Hermione, Ron and Neville, you and your chums must consolidate your defenses and work together to defeat the villains harassing your school.
Harry Potter: Hogwart’s Battle is a campaign-style game featuring seven boxes that you’ll open as you play through the storyline featured in the books and movies. This allows young and/or newbie gamers to grow into the game as you reenact the seven-book story.
While the player characters don’t start with any special powers per se, each one has his or her own unique starting deck. As you progress through the seven games, your characters will gain knowledge and skills, just like the young wizards in the books.
Fans of the books and movies will recognize all of the key players, magical items, and spells featured on the cards in the game. By gaining Influence, you can add these cards to your deck, becoming more powerful and skillful as the game progresses. You’ll also want to acquire cards that allow you and/or your fellow players to heal and, of course, to fight and defeat the evil villains as well as thwart their agenda to take over locations in the wizarding world.
Each of the seven numbered games can be played multiple times. This isn’t a Legacy game. You can pick up the story anywhere you want, and play with different people each time. For a true Harry Potter campaign experience, however, I recommend you play through the games, in order, with the same crew.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a perfect gateway into the world of deck-building games. It’s a must-have for Harry Potter fans. While it starts out pretty easy, making it likely you’ll win the first few games as you get comfortable with the game flow, it becomes progressively harder. The components and artwork are top-notch, making the game highly thematic despite being essentially a card game. Love it!
Two to four players ages 11 through adult can play a session of Harry Potter: Hogwart’s Battle in 30 to 60 minutes.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – Monster Box of Monsters
When you’ve played through all seven games of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, what’s next? Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – Monster Box of Monsters is the perfect followup. Monster Box of Monsters umps the ante by adding Creatures to the Villain deck. Plus it adds Encounters the players must face along the way to make the game still more challenging.
In order to win, you must not only defeat all of the Villains, but also the new Creatures, and deal with all the Encounters as well. Perhaps that’s why the rulebook recommends that “This game will play best if you combine it with all the Hogwarts Battle game content after you complete Game 7.”
In addition to Creatures and Encounters, the Monster Book of Monsters expansion adds Luna Lovegood as a player character. It also introduces two new mechanics: Detention and Banishing.
Detention comes in the form of 20 bad cards that you Heroes may acquire – often through Dark Arts events. These cards gum up your deck and do nothing useful, but can be quite harmful. If you discard a Detention card in response to a Dark Arts event or Villain/Creature ability, you lose 2 hearts. Ow!
Thankfully, The Monster Book of Monsters also provides Banishing: a way for players to get useless or harmful cards out of their deck permanently. The Banishing ability is provided on some of the expansion’s new Hogwarts cards. Being able to remove cards from your deck is a common element of deckbuilding games and a welcome addition to this one.
Zombies, Old Ones and Ghosts, Oh My! I’ve covered them all. So all you need do is pick up a few at your friendly local game store. Then pour yourself a glass or mug of your favorite autumn beverage, grab a plate of pumpkin cookies and set off on an adventure via these spooky board games.Copyright © 2018 by Tina G. McDuffie. All rights reserved.
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