Top 10 Horror Themed Board Games
Halloween is just around the corner. With the current COVID pandemic being a significant source of concern—overshadowing the holiday festivities—for families and individuals alike, many result in isolation and remote discourse. However, for those of you with friends, roommates, or families who choose to celebrate Halloween from inside the comfort of your home with a spooky board game, I've got just the list for you!
10. One Night Ultimate Werewolf / Werewolf Legacy
Dating back to the late 1980s, Werewolf is a social deduction/party game. Over the years, it has seen many different iterations and playstyles. However, One Night Ultimate Werewolf gets rid of the "moderator" role (a non-player who is in charge of running the game and providing narrative elements), allowing everyone to participate in the game. Akin to every other social deduction game out there, the goal is for the villager players to find the werewolf players and eliminate them. The werewolf players are to create confusion, lie, and try to convince the table that "I am not a werewolf." The game's objective frivolity factor leans heavily on who you play with (this game is not well-suited for shy introverts), but can be a dump truck of fun if played with the right group.
Mysterium is an odd duck. In Mysterium, players take on the role of a clairvoyant psychic who travels to a mansion where a murder has taken place. When the psychics sleep, they are given "visions" from the spirit of the dead to help the psychic solve the murder. The objective is in the format of Clue: Find the suspect, the location, the weapon, and you win! Two things of note about Mysterium: First, each player is working on his or her case; however, the game is competitive and encourages players to help others with interpreting their visions; because every single player needs to solve the suspect, location, and weapon before the clock strikes midnight to win the game. Second, one player at the table will not play as a psychic. Instead, they operate as the ghost/spirit who is not allowed to talk throughout the game but has to bring his psychics to solve their crimes by handing them their "visions." Mysterium is quite fun and possesses unlimited ideas to "dress up" the theme by wearing costumes, playing music, using candles, the whole nine yards.
8. The Last Friday
What can I say? The Last Friday is Friday the 13th in a box. The Last Friday, all but one player takes on the camp counselors' role while the other takes on the part of a killer. The killer moves around the board in secret, trying to kill off the counselors before they can get the keys to their cabins and get inside where it's safe, well, except in front of the windows, of course. Unlike previously mentioned Mysterium, this is a semi-cooperative game. The killer is not trying to collaborate or work with anyone else, his only modus operandi: Kill. Can you and your camp counselors make it to safety? Or will your body be found dead in the nearby forest or dumped in the lake?
7. Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein
*WARNING* Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is, by and large, the most complicated and complex game on this list—followed closely by the next entry on this list, but we'll get there when we get there.
Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is a sequel to the Mary Shelly novel Frankenstein. The game's setting takes place twenty years after the events of the novel. Players take on the role of individuals who have been enlisted by a benefactor—Frankenstein's monster—to reproduce Frankenstein's methods and reanimate a female. Abomination is a rich and thematic worker-placement game with a decent amount of narrative (triggered by event cards and found at the back of the rulebook). This game is not for the faint of heart as the artwork does not shy away from depicting realistic dead bodies and body parts. Let's say there's nothing cartoon'ish about this game.
6. Dead of Winter
What's Halloween without a good old fashioned zombie movie? Dead of Winter is a semi-cooperative (or fully cooperative, depending on how you set up your game) where players take on survivors' roles, not only trying to survive a zombie apocalypse but survive a dreadful winter storm. In Dead of Winter, players need to work together to keep the colony (their home base) fed with food, warm, and, most of all….alive! There is a myriad of scenarios that come in the box, which give each game different objectives to win. I would rate Dead of Winter just below Abomination in regards to complexity.
5. Arkham Horror: The Board Game (3rd Edition)
In all honesty, I desperately wanted to list Arkham Horror: The Card Game in this slot. Unfortunately, the Living Card Game, or LCG, is a commitment. It is a narrative campaign game and is better served to be played through from start to finish—the way you would read a book from beginning to end. Sadly, finishing a campaign cannot be obtained in one evening, so….
Arkham Horror: The Board Game (2nd Edition) is a seminal game within my lexicon of games; it's solely responsible for kicking my descent into board gaming madness, so of course, the game holds a special place in my heart. Similar to Mansions of Madness, Arkham Horror takes place within the H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu mythos. Players take on investigators' roles hell-bent on protecting the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, from an Elder God—a powerful creature from another dimension. In Arkham, gates from another world are spawning everywhere, and it is the player's job to protect the town by closing the gates and stopping ghastly monsters far worse than your in-laws from pouring into the streets. The third edition of the game is quite a nice improvement. It offers more "scenarios" to choose from, along with theme and narrative. Do not let me deceive you. Arkham Horror: The Board Game is brutal. However, all the more satisfying when players catch a break and manage to save the day!
4. Fury of Dracula (4th Edition)
I was hesitant to put Fury of Dracula on this list. I already had a "hidden movement" game with The Last Friday and wanted to keep each selection different in gameplay. However, after giving it some thought, I decided it makes the list because it represents the opposite thematic experience from The Last Friday. In Fury of Dracula—unlike The Last Friday—the players hunt the killer (Dracula) instead of the other way around. However, this is no cakewalk. Dracula has powers and abilities to be sneaky. Players will have to communicate, cooperate, and coordinate to find where Dracula is and kill him before too many days have passed, ending the game with a win for the Dracula player.
3. Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition)
*WARNING* This rating and review is recommended for the Second Edition of Mansions of Madness, not the first Edition. I would not waste my time with the first Edition. It is currently out of print and encompasses far too many problems with the gameplay (taking longer to set up the game than to play it). The second edition resolves these problems.
Based on the H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu mythos, Mansions of Madness is the quintessential cooperative game where players enter a creepy mansion and work together to solve an objective. Mansions of Madness requires an app to play, which is stellar and allows players to select from a myriad of "scenarios," all with their distinct thematic feel. Sometimes you're exploring a mansion, looking to destroy an object possessed with the spirit of a psychopath. Sometimes you're trapped in a hotel by the sea trying to find a way out. Fair warning—Mansions of Madness can potentially drag on into the three-hour mark in duration. While I love this game—I bought all the expansions for it—because of its gameplay duration, Mansions of Madness is better to kick off sooner than later. Trust me.
2. Betrayal at House on the Hill
Again, I struggled to justify putting two haunted house games on this list, but hear me out… Betrayal at House on the Hill is far more accessible and easier to play than Mansions of Madness. This is what most gamers would call a "gateway game." In Betrayal at House on the Hill, players take on the roles of individual characters who have wandered into a haunted house. At first, they all work together, exploring the mansion, and dealing with supernatural events. However, at some point during the game, the "haunt" occurs. This is where one player will turn on the rest of the players to solve their objective. The game comes with a book of fifty scenarios that get triggered at random so that no two haunts are the same.
While I do like this game—it's on my list for a reason—please understand that this game is reasonably straightforward; not a lot of strategy or things to do on your turn. Also, different haunts can be confusing in writing. One of the biggest complaints I have about Betrayal at House on the Hill is that when the haunt starts, players become confused with how the game changes—not all haunts are created equal.
What can I say? Horrified is, hands down, a solid game. In Horrified, players take on the roles of characters in a village overrun by monsters. Horrified is a cooperative game, so players need to work together to stop the monsters (included in the base game: Dracula, The Invisible Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, Frankenstein's monster and his bride, and the Werewolf). During set up, players pick three monsters to use in their game, which provide for a different thematic experience every time.
There are two reasons why Horrified is hands down my number one pick for your Halloween game night. First, the game is incredibly accessible. I bought my copy at Target. Second, the game is easy to learn but does not sacrifice simplicity over the theme. Also, Horrified can be quite a challenge to win, inspiring your group to play again and again.