It’s that time of year again, when ghosts and goblins and pumpkins and witches abound. And tabletop games, like many things, can benefit from a little extra seasonal flavor (and I don’t mean pumpkin spice). Here are five board games (and one bonus roleplaying game pick) to add a Halloween chill to your game night next week. Just remember to add your own mood lighting and creepy soundtrack.
Betrayal at House on the Hill (Avalon Hill) – Betrayal at House on the Hill is the classic board game of venturing into a mysterious, tile-generated (and not at all haunted) house, and then having no idea what’s going to happen next. The characters in Betrayal start out exploring the house together, but an inevitable plot twist will intrude, turning one of the players against the others. But you won’t know which player, or what the scenario is, until the middle of the game. When the second act of the game begins, the betrayer (known as the haunt) will be provided with one set of secret information, while the rest of the players will receive their own version. No one is going to confuse Betrayal at House on the Hill with a tightly balanced game of high strategy. But it will provide multiple plays of chaotic fun in the best spirit of the season.
Dark Gothic (Flying Frog Productions) – Dark Gothic (along with its predecessor, A Touch of Evil) is setting in a supernaturally active version of colonial New England where the small town inhabited by the characters is perpetually under threat from witches, werewolves, headless horsemen, swamp monsters, and the heavens only know what other menaces. Dark Gothic is a deck-building game where the players muster their physical, intellectual, and spiritual might to recruit allies and equipment, defeat enemies and, ultimately, defeat the Big Bad that is threatening the town … or perhaps the players will roll badly one too many times on the shadows die and the whole group will succumb to darkness (Dark Gothic can be played in semi-cooperative or fully cooperative modes). I particularly like the distinctive art for Dark Gothic, which uses phantasmagoric photo stills, giving it a distinct vibe from most other tabletop games.
Dead of Winter (Plaid Hat Games) – It’s a popular theme, but zombies are not a favorite of mine. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the post-apocalyptic survival horror of Dead of Winter. The players take on the role of the survivors of a medically-induced zombie apocalypse, struggling to find food, fuel, and other supplies while surviving the seemingly endless hordes. There’s an added twist to this cooperative game, however, because each survivor also has their own personal goal that they need to accomplish in order to win. So, even where all of the survivors want everyone to make it out alive, the interests of individual players may not be fully in sync with the optimal strategy for the group. Plus, if you want, you can include the full-on traitor into the mix of secret objectives, which amps up the tension between the players even if no one actually gets dealt that role.
Exit the Game: The Abandoned Cabin (Thames & Kosmos) – The group of friends trapped in a cabin in the woods is a long-time trope of horror movies, and The Abandoned Cabin brings that vibe to the escape room board game genre. The “Exit: the Game” line of escape room games provides a great experience at any time of year, with a variety of puzzle types, innovative use of components, and tight gameplay – there’s a reason the Exit line is so highly regarded. The Abandoned Cabin is not only thematically appropriate for a Halloween game night, it’s also considered one of the best Exit games. Just a warning – that party punch might hamper your groups ability to make it out alive (or, at least, in time).
Mansions of Madness (Second Edition) (Fantasy Flight Games) – The ultimate horror board game (at least, in the opinion of your humble game correspondent), Mansions of Madness is the second game on this list to feature a group of characters venturing into a mansion (forest, town, campus, hotel, etc.) not knowing what the next tile will be. Mansions of Madness is set in a Lovecraftian version of Prohibition-era New England, and the players take on the role of investigators into the shadowy secrets of that world – mysterious cults, sinister shadows, and chthonic entities from beyond the stars (ProTip: if one of those shows up, you’ve already lost). Unlike its first edition predecessor, Mansions of Madness (Second Edition) is fully cooperative, because an app controls the games secrets, revealing which tiles to add to the map, which monsters to summon, and where clues might be found. The app also provides thematic background sound and flavorful descriptions of the action. It is an amazing game, and I’d always recommend it to anyone interested in story-driven cooperative games – but it’s especially appropriate for Halloween.
Bonus RPG Pick – Bluebeard’s Bride (Magpie Games) – You can spin a spooky Halloween tale with almost any roleplaying game, so weekly roleplaying sessions can be scarified without changing games. But if you want a real seasonal special, check out Bluebeard’s Bride, a horror roleplaying game designed to be played as a one-shot. Each player in a game of Bluebeard’s Bride takes on the role of one aspect of the psyche of the eponymous bride, as she ventures forth on her doomed tour through her new husband’s mansion. Each room will unleash terrors to whatever extend the players are willing to tolerate, so you have to be willing to really dig into the horror, but if that’s your cup of tea this is definitely one to try out.