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Top 5 Spooky Board Games to Play on Halloween
Did it just get cold in here? Almost eerily cold…
What was that? It sounded like a shriek in the distance? It’s a little unnerving… and these spiderwebs aren’t helping either.
Well, it looks like it can only mean one thing… You’ve stumbled down a twisted path through the woods, and landed in a Halloween-themed blog post!
Okay, we’ll drop the slightly over-the-top Halloween bit now – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some great spooky board games to recommend! Suitable for all ages, board game experience and preferences, we present our top 5 board games to play on Halloween.
1. Betrayal at House on The Hill
What’s scarier than a haunted house?*
A haunted house that turns one of your friends into an evil, murdering traitor, of course.
At first glance, Betrayal at House on The Hill can look a little intimidating – there’s no built board – you make this yourself with a set of tiles, similar to Settlers of Catan. There isn’t just one rulebook, there’s three…and you can’t even read all of them when you please; two of them are labelled with big ‘Do not read’ signs! But rest assured, although thematically the game might seem daunting, the setup is actually easy to pick up.
Players all start on the same team, building their haunted house from the ground up using tiles. Different tiles can have different items, omens, or events on them. Perhaps most notable are the omens, which are warning-signs for the upcoming haunt. The more of these you see, the higher your omen-counter creeps. You continue exploring your house and reacting to the items, omens and events in each room until you are unable to avoid the haunt (this happens whenever your dice roll is lower than your omen-counter).
Once you’re in the haunt, this is where a fascinating betrayal element comes in. One of your team is now possessed by the house, and as such is now a traitor, hell-bent on enacting frightful revenge. Both sides can now open their respective rulebooks, previously off limits, and discover their goals for the remainder of the game. The catch is that the ‘betraying’ player and the rest of the group do not know each other’s goals, and are racing against each other to complete their own sets.
If you’re feeling sorry for that one, poor, possessed soul, don’t be – the house itself comes to their aid plenty, sending monsters out into combat in all sorts of creative (and sometimes humourous) forms.
We love this game because it has all the flavours you’d want from a horror game: the quintessential haunted house, movie-trope visitors (for example a priest, fortune teller…or even a jock) and creative trimmings (e.g. murderous puppets – delightful!). It also does a great job weaving these into the gameplay; the characters all have interesting backstories, becoming possessed by the house for different reasons that are detailed in the betrayer’s rulebook.
Even outside of Halloween, this is a great game. The combination of playing co-operatively and then competitively keeps the play-through interesting. And with the different combinations of room tiles leading to different houses, and so many different haunt scenarios detailed in the rulebooks, re-playability is very high. For boardgame pros and newbies alike, we feel this one will be a crowd pleaser – and perfect to break out on All Hallows’ Eve.
*Please don’t answer this responsibly; we’re using halloween horror as an escape from reality!
2. Waldschattenspiel / Shadows in the Wood
If wandering through a creepy, decrepit house isn’t your cup of tea (we get that), then Waldschattenspiel (or Shadows in the Wood in English) may be more up your alley.
This is a less frightening game, but still very atmospheric. The board set up is a nice 3D woodland, with pine trees peering out of the board wherever you choose to place them. And the thing that really adds to the atmosphere (and the gameplay itself) is the candle!
So, how does Waldschattenspiel work? There are a group of Elves hiding in the woods, and a Ruler of the Light*. The elves are are petrified of light – and by petrified, we mean they literally get frozen by it. So, each turn the ROTL looks away whilst the elf-players place their elf-tokens hidden amongst the trees, then turn off the light. The ROTL then rolls the dice, and moves their candle around the board for the same number of spaces. If their candle-light reveals a little elf from the shadows, then that elf gets frozen, and can only be freed in a later turn. The game either ends when all the elves are able to hide in the same nook of the same tree (in which case the elves have won), or the candle has frozen all of the elves (in which case… you get it).
Although this involves fire, this game can be a great hit with younger children. Provided there’s an adult playing the ROTL, pushing the candle carefully with the provided dowel, this is a brilliant family game that evokes those lovely halloween aesthetics without evoking the less lovely halloween nightmares. It’s also very simple to pick up and start playing, so there’s no barriers to entry for little ones to join in – just make sure there’s a responsible adult at the helm to control the candle!
*Okay, as far as we know, no one has called the Candle controller the ‘Ruler of the Light’, but we liked this name a little more than ‘candle controller’.
Waldshattenspiel may not give you nightmares, but Mysterium thrives on giving players odd, confounding dreams.
In Mysterium, a group of players assume the roles of psychics and one player becomes a ghost.* But don’t worry, this time you’re all on the same team…solving the ever-so-pleasant mystery of who killed the ghost, where, and how. This may sound a bit like Clue/ Cluedo, but this game is probably more similar to Dixit.
Unable to speak, the ghost must communicate to players through ‘dreams’, sent in the form of abstract card pictures. From these, players must try and decipher who they believe are the suspects, locations, and weapons that were involved in the ghost’s murder. Players can then choose if they agree with each others’ psychic beliefs, and then find out if they were right or wrong in their choices. The more deductions players get right, the quicker they climb the rungs of the game, until they have collected their own set of locations, suspects, and weapons. The quicker you do this the better, as this makes the second part of the game easier.
In the second part of the game, each of the players’ sets of suspects/weapons/locations are presented, but only one of them is correct. To narrow it down to the one correct set, the ghost will select 3 cards from their hand that they think best represent each aspect, shuffle them, and place them face down for the psychics. Depending how quickly each player ascended the rungs, they will get to see different amounts of the cards – and have to make their decisions on which is the correct set based on whatever information they have. If the majority of players end up choosing the correct set, then the whole group wins.
The intense atmosphere that can build up in the this game – as the clocks ticks by, as the ghost ominously reveals if you were right or wrong – is part of what makes it so great. Playing as the ghost doesn’t make you feel singled out. In fact, with the power of which cards to play in your hands, it can be even more fun watching your psychic friends carefully puzzle out (or spectacularly fail) at deciphering your clues. And with the different ways these beautiful cards can be interpreted, the game is always open to be played more.
Like the other two games above, this is relatively easy for people new to boardgames to pick up, and compulsively replayable. Combined with the ghostly atmosphere, what more could you want from a Halloween game?
*Are you noticing a theme with our halloween picks? Because we are…
4. Eldritch Horror
For a longer burning and potentially more despair-inducing game, look no further than the Lovecraftian cooperative game Eldritch Horror. In Eldritch Horror, an all-powerful ancient one is looming, waiting to destroy the world. In the meantime, they’re opening portals across the continents with all sorts of horrific monsters coming through and wreaking havoc – but you and your fellow investigators can handle it, right…right?
This is not the easiest game to pick up – but is more streamlined than Arkham Horror, if you’ve ever played that (both by the same company, Fantasy Flight). To gloss over the minutiae of the game, a group of 2-8 players work as investigators, each with their own stats and unique action abilities, working to prevent the Ancient One from awakening (which happens if you reach the end of your aptly named ‘Doom Counter’). To do this, players must solve three ‘mysteries’ related to their chosen Ancient One, which they do – or attempt to do, anyway – throughout the rounds of the game. Each round is split into three phases: an action phase, where you can prepare by various means for the next phase, the encounter phase, where investigators must go through different kinds of ‘encounters’ of their choice to perhaps research a clue, defeat a monster, or do something else, and the mythos phase – where new random encounters, potential Doom accelerators and more await.
As you may have gathered from this overview, this game very quickly descends into detail. But once you get into, play can get deliciously tense – discussing with the rest of your team what to do as you watch the Doom counter slowly climb is pressuring, but in the best way possible. And we have to give it some points for its nod to Lovecraft – if you’ve got to pick a monster to stare at in bewilderment on Halloween, it can’t get more powerful than Cthulhu.
*Albeit a rather more human character-focused, gun-slinging heroes approach to Lovecraft…
5. Room 25
Do you like cooperative games? Maybe not; perhaps you’re sick of all of this forced loyalty, and would rather play a competitive game?
Or maybe you’re not quite sure…playing cooperatively is fun, but…maybe if there was just a smidge of treachery in there too? With Room 25, all of these options are possible.
The premise of Room 25 is that a group of you are trapped in a dangerous labyrinth (not unlike the movie Cube), and your only way out is to brave it through room after room until you find the titular Room 25 – the one room that will allow you to escape. To find this room, you must work from the middle of the board (where you start) out, exploring each of these unknown rooms until you are able to find room 25, assemble your group there, and move it out of the labyrinth before ten rounds is up. By playing the game in two phases – a programming phase, followed by an action phase each round – you can peek around, move into new rooms, and shift rooms. With the exception of the control room you start off in, other rooms will shift throughout the game, meaning you are always kept on your toes.
This sounds fun enough, but it’s the different combinations in which you can play this game that we like. If you want to play as a wholesome cooperative team, you can simply…well, play cooperatively. But if you like a little more competitive edge, this is where things can get more interesting. In this case half of you would be playing as captives, trying to escape – and the other half will be a team of guards, trying to prevent you from leaving. Or, perhaps our favourite mode of them all, is the sneaky-not-so-cooperative mode aptly named ‘suspicion mode’. In this case people are dealt out loyalty tokens at the beginning of the game that secretly tell people if they are guards or captives – but the catch is that there are more tokens to be picked up than players, so the actual number of guards lurking in the group can’t be deduced. So, for its flexibility (and potential to keep everyone on their toes), we round off our list with Room 25.
This sums up our list of Halloween board game picks – if you want to keep up with more board game recommendations, Beasts of Balance news, and exclusive offers, make sure to sign up for our mailing list below.