Published on October 21st, 2013 | by Across the Board Games Staff
Top 5 Horror Games to Play on Halloween!
Here at Across the Board Games we really like Halloween and we all wanted to write about horror games, so this time we’re doing something a bit new for us: a Top 5 article with five different authors offering up their pick for Best Horror Themed Board Game. Who picked the best horror game? You decide!
A Touch of Evil: Luke
My favorite horror game by far is A Touch of Evil. Whereas a lot of board games go for the low-hanging fruit of Lovecraft or zombie themed horror, Flying Frog mixed it up this time and made a game with a theme similar to Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. Mechanics wise it is compared to a cleaned up version of Arkham Horror, that is, a cooperative game where each person tries to help stave off the evil of the night. A Touch of Evil works best with four or five people if you’re looking to get the full experience.
The game is centered around a small, New England town at the turn of the 19th century. A Touch of Evil does a great job of evoking the mood of a story like Sleepy Hollow or the Crucible. The town elders may be helpful or they be in league with the monsters you are trying to destroy, investigating the woods or ruins is a dangerous activity and you are never quite sure what will happen next. The game also comes with a variety of scenarios, from the Headless Horseman to the Werewolf, which helps keep the game fresh. When looking for a horror themed game, definitely check out A Touch of Evil.
Elder Sign: Raj
Arkham Horror is the result of two fine games merged into one gigantic mess; when you split these up you get two fine games. Mansions of Madness takes all the story elements, Elder Sign takes all the mechanics.
Elder Sign is a dice-driven Cthulhu game where you and your friends are trying to seal off gates before a great evil creature enters the world. It is similar to Arkham Horror in that you pick a character with unique traits (go Scientist Kate!), explore locations, fight monsters, and collect items, but where it differs is how efficient it is. The pace and tension never let up, unlike Arkham where there’s so much downtime between turns you could probably play Elder Sign on the side. The Elder Sign dice are used to provide clues and help complete tasks. The dice can hurt you in some ways, particularly if you fail to complete the task on your location. The decision-making is rapid enough that turns happen before you know it. Keep in mind, it’s still a dice game with all the luck inherent in such systems, but you can re-roll as needed up to a point. Despite my general dislike for dice-based mechanics, I found Elder Sign enjoyable. It may not be as atmospheric as Arkham Horror, but Elder Sign provides all the same fun in a fraction of the time.
Space Hulk: Nick
I remember the anticipation to see Aliens back when I was a kid. I had seen Alien at way-too-young an age but it ended up being the first horror movie I could stand to watch without screaming in terror. By the time Aliens came around I was certainly a bit scared but I was also really curious. One alien was so awful. How are they going to deal with ALIENS?
Space Hulk is, in essence, Aliens: The Board Game. It’s brutal and terrifying. As the Space Marine Terminators you feel like you’re invincible entering this long-dormant space craft. Once inside though, the tension starts to build and you are quickly overwhelmed by a persistent and inhuman enemy. Space Hulk is a two player game where one player represents the Space Marines, the greatest of the human warriors. The other player represents the Genestealers, an alien monster that reproduces by implanting a genetic “seed” in a host organism.
The difficulty level is a little mis-matched; the Genestealer turns are easy and fast whereas the Space Marines have more options and trickier game play due to the action limits for your turn. That’s where the fear came from. As the Marines, if you’re too careful or procrastinate, your opponents only get stronger and you will be overwhelmed. If you’re too reckless, you can find your marines divided and helpless against the fast and cunning Genestealers. Games Workshop managed to create a really fun and well balanced board game despite their form-before-function design philosophy.
It’s easy to set up, especially for a Games Workshop game. So, you can play once on each side, to get the full game experience, in an hour or so. It’s got a good creep out factor if you’re the Marines. Your limited turns and units combined with tight resource management and an ever expanding enemy makes for a lingering sense of dread as the odds slowly pile up against you. Game over man! GAME OVER.
(Fantasy Flight has a co-operative card game based on Space Hulk called “Space Hulk: Death Angel” that is currently still available)
Betrayal at the House on the Hill: Gregg
Do you like horror movies? Personally, I’m absolutely terrified of them, but I can appreciate and enjoy the themes and tropes found in many. Invaders from space, vampires, mummies, werewolves, mad scientists… If you’ve seen the movie Cabin In the Woods, you may notice some similarities on how Betrayal at House on the Hill functions and the way that each scenario is picked might seem quite familiar.
Betrayal at House on the Hill plays up a lot of horror movie tropes. It’s usually played out cooperatively with one person trying to sabotage the rest. Once that player turns into the Traitor the killing can begin! The game has good production values, however some of the pieces don’t fit together as well as I thought they would. My friend Dave found a solution: applying a layer of masking tape to thicken up pieces that require sliders to help keep them from sliding off. Since there are about forty-plus scenarios, this game has a ton of re-playability. Usually Tom, Dave and I play this to eat up a good hour or more of time.
Mansions of Madness: Rich
In Fantasy Flight’s ode to Lovecraftian weird horror and pulp mystery Mansion’s of Madness, you and a group of other paranormal specialists and investigators are pitted against the unseen Keeper of the mansion, bent on robbing you not just of the truths your party seeks, but also of your minds. Each of the players in your party will draw on their strengths to fight their way through the mansion to uncover the real story taking place and prevent a sinister plot from reaching fruition, while the Keeper will exploit your weaknesses to stall your investigation, ebb away at your sanity, and usher a new breed of darkness into the world.
The satisfaction of playing Mansions as either the Keeper or the investigators comes from the sense of urgency and palpable tension throughout the game. As the player, its never knowing what is behind the next door or what horror could befall you and your party at any moment, weighing the pros and cons of tactical decisions in the game against the ever ticking clock. As the Keeper, it is having full scope of the game from the beginning, knowing every trap, item, and mystery to be uncovered as well as the ending to the story, and having the players slowly chip away at this perfect tapestry, growing more knowledgeable and powerful with every turn, threatening to undo your grand dark works before they are complete.
Mansions is an intense, gripping, and fun experience both for beginners into the world of cooperative horror games and an honest challenge for those who love them already. And if you’re looking for a great group game, you would be hard pressed to find better.. The more players, the greater the experience for both sides, and more minds for the ancient one to claim…