Some board games are evergreens, playable all year round. Some games are only playable in certain conditions. Perhaps they have certain player count requirements that are hard to meet, or the style of game only works for certain gamers, or the length is either too long or too short for some people. Some games, like some of the ones I’ll be mentioning below, only come out when the mood is right. Halloween always makes me want to break out games that fit the season.
For me, a great Halloween-themed game needs to explore settings that feature terror or horror as a key element of the experience. They might involve famous monsters or haunted landscapes, but without question, they need to allow me and my friends to experience something together.
With some good music and a few willing players, you can create your own great Halloween gaming memories. Presented below are my Top 6 recommendations for creating that Halloween theme at your Halloween Game Nights (along with a few alternate choices for the more experienced gamers out there).
Top 6 Halloween Board Games
6. A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game by Flying Frog Productions
A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game is set in the early 19th century. This game definitely draws upon settings like Sleepy Hollow to create a Gothic horror vibe where witches and vampires and other horrors stalk the night. The players choose to play one of several heroes trying to work together to save the town of Shadowbrook. There is a different play mode that allows you to compete to save the town the best, but you should avoid this like the plague. This game definitely borrows mechanics from other games, some of which do those things better, but the game just has a cheesy charm (the tone of which is set with the artwork, which looks like a dinner theatre troop about to do a murder mystery show) that has yet to really be recreated in any other game. The reality is, there just aren’t any other games that explore this setting, at least that do it well, and this game rewards committing to the silliness.
5. Last Night on Earth by Flying Frog Productions
You can’t talk Halloween games without mentioning zombies. With the rise of The Walking Dead and zombies generally in pop culture, it’s been a theme that a number of game publishers have approached to cash in on. Very few of them are good, but the few that are can be really good. I chose Last Night on Earth, not because I think it’s the best zombie game, but because I think this game has the best combination of serious and silly from the “B Movie” tradition. The characters are clichés, the scenarios all feel vaguely familiar, but the whole can be richly entertaining. There are some expansions that add good stuff, but the base game contains enough to be entertaining. I also think this is one of the easiest games to jump into for new players, which is always a positive.
Honorable Mentions: Dead of Winter by Plaid Hat Games, City of Horror by Asmodee Editions, Zombicide by Guillotine Games
4. Werewolf by Andrew Plotkin (Multiple Publishers)
Werewolf is one of the pioneers of hidden role games. It feels like it’s been around a long time, even though it was created back in 1997 (and the original game it was based on, Mafia, was only developed in 1986). At its core, Werewolf, and all it’s variations, is a team game focused on two sides: villagers trying to survive, and werewolves who are slowly thinning the herd, with a moderator helping enforce the roles and drive the game. The werewolves know who the other werewolves are, but the other villagers have no idea who the werewolves among them are. The goal of the game is for the villagers to try and identify the werewolves and hang them during the day before the werewolves have eaten too many of their number during the night.
This game is a fantastic game for large parties, since it requires typically at least eight people to play. It does require a good moderator, either an experienced player or someone with a touch for the dramatic, especially as more custom roles are added to the game. Done right, Werewolf is a fantastic deduction game that is great for large settings and adds as much Halloween flavor as you bring in to it.
Honorable Mention: One Night Ultimate Werewolf by Bezier Games
3. Eldritch Horror by Fantasy Flight Games
You can’t very well talk about great Halloween themes without mentioning H.P. Lovecraft. These days, there are lots of games that feature the Cthulu mythos in some form or another, but only a few try to take the theme seriously, and even fewer of those are actually enjoyable to play. In Eldritch Horror, players are working together, racing against time to prevent the advent of one of the Ancient Ones and beat back the waves of horrors beginning to spread across the earth. The game really captures the Lovecraft theme well, and can be very challenging. To me, this game strikes the right balance between immersion and length. While the game is capable of playing up to eight players, I would personally never play it with more than four.
It’s worth giving more than a mere mention to Arkham Horror here, the grandfather of Lovecraft games. None do it bigger, and the expansions add tons of options and elements straight from Lovecraft. Its strength is also its weakness: there are so many expansions and options that no other game rivals it in depth, but that depth comes with an almost exponential increase in complexity. The game, even in it’s base form, is just so long to play that unless you are prepared to commit four to eight hours to it, not to mention the setup time, it’s just not worth the investment. Additionally, most players who have the game and the expansions are really reluctant to play without them, since it’s so hard to get to the table. I’ve never yet seen or played a game that didn’t involve the game stopping multiple times while some arcane rule or another had to be searched out of the right rules booklet. I would almost never consider playing this game with new players. Eldritch Horror gives a similar feel in a shorter playing time, still likely two to three hours, and in my mind is the superior game.
Honorable Mention: Mansions of Madness by Fantasy Flight Games
2. Fury of Dracula by Fantasy Flight Games
There is no denying the influence of vampires in our society. Bram Stoker’s version of Dracula is far and away the gold standard. This story has been told and retold so many times over the years, and there’s just something compelling about the character of Dracula that draws us back. That’s why Fury of Dracula is my pick for the game that best represents this theme. This game is set in the time frame roughly eight years following the events of Stoker’s novel and features many of the characters from that novel. One player plays Dracula, moving around Europe, trying to expand his following and create more vampires and expand his influence. The players represent those few characters actively trying to stop Dracula before he becomes too powerful. It’s a game of cat and mouse, with Dracula either trying to remain one step ahead of his pursuers or trying to lay traps for them to take them out before they can stop him. I really enjoy hidden movement games, and this is one of the gems of this genre, dripping with theme. It’s been out of print for a while, but is being reprinted next month, and is definitely worth your consideration.
Honorable Mention: Letters from Whitechapel by Fantasy Flight Games (same concept, but detectives chasing Jack the Ripper in London)
1. Betrayal at House on the Hill by Wizards of the Coast
This game feels like a movie you’ve seen a hundred times: a band of strangers wanders into a Haunted House and gets stuck. You have a varied cast of clichéd characters, such as teenage babysitter, high school jock, old priest, and creepy little girl, all coming together, though no one knows why. Rather than doing the sensible thing, the strangers begin to split up and explore the house. As they do, mysterious things being to happen, challenging players physically and mentally. Once the game progresses to a certain point, the Haunt begins, which is where this game really excels. While all the players have been working together to this point, you learn that one person in the group has lured everyone here under false pretenses, and their plot to secretly murder the rest of the group is revealed. The game then switches to become a One-v-All game until one side emerges. There are 50 different possible Haunt scenarios that come with the game, and tons more available online to mix things up if that’s not enough. Rich with theme, this game more than any other makes for a fun Halloween experience. It feels like you’re acting out a bad B-Movie the entire time, and the way the game manages to sustain the suspense of what’s really going on is fantastic. This game isn’t perfect, but it is one of a kind. Betrayal at House on the Hill creates fantastic stories, and is my clear number one choice for best Halloween themed game to play.
So, what do you think? Are there games I left off this list? Are there other games that you only feel like playing at certain times of the year? What’s on your Halloween must play list? Let me know in the comments below.