It’s that time of year when gamers of all stripes start thinking about busting out the apple cider and big bowls of candy corn to host a Halloween gaming extravaganza. A little bored with breaking out ZOMBIES! again? Played one too many games of MUNCHKIN CTHULHU? The Games and Stuff staff is here to help, with suggestions for board games that bring a little more theme and atmosphere to the proceedings.
GEORGE: The folk of Miller’s Hollow have worked hard this autumn and the harvest moon now squats full and red above twilight corn fields. It is this very moon which calls the howls of werewolves, beckoned to feed on the villagers and their peace.
THE WEREWOLVES OF MILLER’S HOLLOW is the most successful iteration of the card game also know as “Mafia”. It is a hyper-affordable party game – it can support eight to twenty-nine players – and pulses with Halloween atmosphere and fun. The game is entirely boardless, with the participants gathered in a big, social circle in the fashion of duck-duck-goose. The game pits the majority of the players (villagers) against a specially chosen few (werewolves) in a struggle to survive. If the werewolves are wiped out, the village of Miller’s Hollow is safe for one more year. If the werewolves cull the population down to a draw (equal numbers of werewolves and villagers), the town is devoured in an orgy of carnage and blood-soaked man-beasts frenzy in triumph.
Once you and your fellow villagers and werewolves decided they’ve gotten the hang of the basic game, special characters that subtly (or radically) alter game-play can add additional spice to the mix. The hunter, the seer, the cupid, and the witch are all examples of these more eccentric villager types.
There are two versions of the game currently for sale. The very reasonably priced basic set retails for $12.99 and the deluxe version (called “The Village) includes an expansion and premium components for $29.99. Get this game for your Halloween hoedown. I promise you won’t regret it!
HEIDI: Every neighborhood has one; the old, run down house with weird occupants or no occupants at all. Children walk past on the way home from school, but are sure to stay to the far side of the street. They dare each other to peak into windows or touch the railing on the rotting front porch. How many times have these relics begged for us to sneak in and take a look around? What harm could that do, really?
BETRAYAL AT HOUSE ON THE HILL (now in its second edition) begins with simple curiosity. Each player chooses a character and the group starts to explore. The players build the house room by room, creating a new game board layout every time by placing tiles which are picked at random. Some rooms hold treasures and tools, while others bring you one step closer to the inevitable.
As with all haunted horror movies, this house has secrets and these secrets will turn one player against the others. When “The Haunt” triggers, the game changes from curious exploration and creepy adventure to one of horror and survival. Perhaps your buddy the high school jock decides he must kill you all. Maybe a ghostly bride has set her eyes on one of your number. Possibly, the house begins to inexplicitly fill with water, threatening a watery grave for everyone except the possessed player. With 50 different scenarios, you never know which direction the game will take you or who will ultimately betray the group.
This is a great game for 3-6 players, age 12 and up, with enough suspense and chills to thrill new and seasoned gamers. Give it a try this Halloween! I double dog dare you.
PAUL: It is the year of our Lord 1802. The small and secluded village of Shadowbrook has seen a string of disappearances and murders, most grimly and foul. A person foolish enough to walk the streets at night will find terror and death as his only companions. But a small group of outlanders have arrived in town, and have found the faith and courage to hunt down and face the ungodly nightmare that haunts us all. The village elders have gathered to take counsel, but there are whispers and rumours, that Shadowbrook is rotting from within, and perhaps our heroes will find naught worth saving.
A TOUCH OF EVIL is an adventure game like no other. There is much that you will find familiar here, what with players taking on the roles of unique characters, fighting beasts and collecting items, but with four different Villains (including a Spectral Horseman and The Scarecrow alongside the more traditional Werewolf and Vampire) the game is truly different every time, as the Villain chosen defines not only the final Showdown, but also the nature of the horrors that you will face from turn to turn. The Village Elders may each be a boon or a hindrance to your quest. Perhaps Lord Hanbrook, having been seduced by promises of power and riches has become a Servant to Darkness. Maybe Sophie, the Midwife has a heart that burns with a warrior’s spirit and when pressed, can become a powerful ally against the darkness. The first player to make the best use of items, Elders and Investigation Points to track down and slay the Villain wins the game.
This thing just stinks with theme. You can smell the fetid wetlands beneath the trees and the nightsoil beneath the town’s windows. Think of the movies The Brotherhood of the Wolf, or The Village. There is not a card or mechanic that is wasted in this regard… everything you do adds to the atmosphere. It even comes with a CD of original music to help set the tone. I know some gamers are put off by publisher Flying Frog Production’s use of photo-shopped images instead of artwork, and I was too at first, but trust me, within the confines of the game’s componens, it works. And once you’ve played through it a bunch of times, lo and behold you can switch over to the advanced game, wherein gameplay becomes fully cooperative, and chances are NONE of you will live to see another sunrise. There’s also two expansions available, one a HERO PACK, and the larger boxed SOMETHING WICKED, which adds four new heroes, four new villains, piles of new cards and an all new board to explore the wilderness surrounding Echo Lake.
SARAH: I’d like to say that if I had to choose a favorite Halloween game, it’d be a toss up between MANSIONS OF MADNESS and GLOOM. While both games offer the opportunity to get your spooky storytelling-mode on (with a side of despair thrown in for good measure), mechanically and mood-wise, they function so differently that it’s impossible for me to choose just one.
A gameplay hybrid of DESCENT and BETRAYAL AT HOUSE ON THE HILL, the Lovecraftian MANSIONS OF MADNESS pits well-loved Arkham investigators against a changing house full of eldritch horrors controlled by a Dungeon Master style “Keeper”. The game offers a variety of pre-made scenarios with different secrets, strategies, and endings to be discovered. With a penchant for all things Cthulhu, it’s not a surprise that at least one Arkham-flavored game would make the cut for my favorite, but while games like ELDER SIGN and ARKHAM HORROR are fun in their own right, niether provide the immersion in story quite like Mansions.
If I’m feeling a bit more on the silly side, I will break out my copy of GLOOM. It’s a fun little card game (that looks awesome, by the way) where you play Edward Gorey-esque families all marching miserably to the grave! As you play events, disastrous or delightful, on your or your opponents’ families, you’re encouraged to provide creative narration about what led to, say, the head of your household being eaten by bears, or poisoned at dinner. The player with the most forlorn family at the end of the game wins!
ED: My favorite halloween game has gotta be LAST NIGHT ON EARTH. This scenario-driven zombie board game drips with atmosphere, from its graphic design through its mechanics, all the way to the trademark soundtrack CD included with every Flying Frog game.
Roles vary according to the number of players, but both sides of the zombies vs. heroes conflict are represented in every game. Each scenario has specific goals that the heroes need to achieve (like rescuing “innocent” townsfolk from the zombie invasion) to triumph. The zombie players win if the heroes fail. LAST NIGHT ON EARTH’s replayability and game time (it only takes about an hour) push it from the realm of a good game to a great one. And at only an hour, it’s not so difficult to get your non-gamer friends on board for a session. With so many zombie themed games out there these days, LNOE is the surefire winner of the bunch. Make sure it hits your gaming table this Halloween.
–The Games and Stuff Staff wishes you and your friends and family a Happy Halloween. Try to be nice to all those trick-or-treaters dressed up like nerds this year.