There’s still time to enter my 5 year/500 post contest! See the details here – you could win a copy of the Stonemaier Games Treasure Chest, Evolution from North Star Games, War of Indines from Level 99 Games, or Wrong Chemistry from MAGE Company. The contest ends October 18.
It’s October, which means it’s time for some Halloween content. I’m not a big fan of horror games in general, but this seems like a good time of year to start pulling them out. So, here we go.
Arkham Horror first came out in 1987, designed by Richard Launius, Charlie Krank, Sandy Petersen, and Lynn Willis. It’s the 2005 reprint by Fantasy Flight Games that is most well known, however, and the one I’ve played (Kevin Wilson worked with Launius to design that one). The game is a cooperative adventure set in the Lovecraftian universe – an Ancient One is stirring in his slumber, and portals to other dimensions keep opening up, releasing unspeakable horrors upon our world. You have to travel around, keeping these monsters at bay while trying to seal enough of the portals to keep the Ancient One away. If you fail, you get one final battle with the Ancient One (possibly Cthulhu himself) before being devoured.
When I first played Arkham Horror, I thought it was one of the most thematic games I had ever played. There’s not much going on mechanically – it’s a lot of dice rolling and card drawing – but the game itself is pretty intense and fun. It’s kind of been replaced for a lot of people by 2013’s Eldritch Horror, but I haven’t played that. It would be nice to see how they compare, but I do like Arkham.
Dead of Winter was published in 2014 by Plaid Hat Games, as designed by Jonathan Gilmour and Isaac Vega. It’s a zombie game where players are a group of survivors trying to complete a group objective while also trying to accomplish personal objectives. Each player controls several characters, and on their turn must determine how to allocate the dice they have rolled to the best effect. There are Crossroads cards drawn before each turn that could trigger during the turn, and these generally provide some choice that will benefit or harm the party. In the end, you only win if you have accomplished both your personal objective and the party objective (unless you’re the betrayer, in which case you want the party to fail after you have accomplished your personal objective).
I’m not a zombie game fan. This is about the only one I’ll play, mostly because it’s more about the characters than about the zombies. It’s a very interesting game socially because everyone has a personal objective to reach, and even if the group objective is met, you can only win if you’ve accomplished your stuff. So anyone might try to tank a mission in order to get a little more time, even if they’re not the betrayer. The Crossroads cards are also a really fun thematic element to the game. Dead of Winter is really a great zombie game.
Fearsome Floors is Friedemann Friese’s 2003 monster game that I think is among the best in his oeuvre. 2-7 players take control of 3-4 character discs, and try to move them orthogonally through a dungeon, attempting to make it to the exit alive. Each player can move a number of spaces up to the number on the disc, and the disc gets flipped after the character moves. Once all characters have flipped, you flip over a tombstone tile to see how far Furunkulus the monster moves. He always moves straight ahead unless he sees someone to his left or right, at which point he will always move towards the character that is closest. If you get caught in the first half of the game, you simply start over. But if you get caught during the second time through the tombstone tiles, your character is eaten. The first person to get all but one of their tokens safely off the board is the winner.
This game has very little luck to it – the only random element of the game is the distribution of the tombstone tiles. Other than that, it’s all strategy. The AI of the monster is very well designed and is just like a movie monster – he JUST KEEPS COMING. As you get better at the game, you figure out different ways to manipulate the monster movement to sic him on the others. It becomes quite a cutthroat game in the end, and I love it. Great Halloween game.
Ghost Stories was designed by Antoine Bauza, and published in 2008 by Repos Productions. It’s a cooperative game where players are trying to protect a village from the legions of Wu-Feng, lord of hell. Players are Taoist monks with special abilities that are moving around a nine tile village to stop the onslaught of ghosts. On your turn, you move to a location and benefit from its effects, or try to exorcise an adjacent ghost. To exorcise, you roll three dice to try to match the necessary colors on the ghost. You may be able to spend tokens in place of some colors, but if a ghost ever makes it to the end of its track, it haunts the adjacent village tile, which becomes useless. If three tiles get haunted, or all players are dead, or if the deck runs out with Wu-Feng on the board, the players lose. They only win by defeating Wu-Feng.
This game is really hard. The onslaught of ghosts is…well, no other word for it…nightmarish. Because you have to roll, you’re never sure if you can beat the ghosts. Sometimes it works out for you, and sometimes (usually) you get slaughtered. I’ve only played the app version of this game, and have only beaten it once. It’s got great evocative art by Pierô, and is a really challenging, pretty terrifying game to play.
Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deckbuilding Game takes the system introduced in Legendary: A Marvel Deckbuilding Game and applies it to a new license, the Alien movies. Designed by Ben Cichoski and Danny Mandel, this 2014 game published by Upper Deck covers the first four movies of the Alien franchise. Each scenario is matched up with a film. Each turn, a card is added to the Complex from the Hive deck. These cards are kept face down, and players must pay some attack to scan (reveal) them. If they make it to the end, they become revealed and start hurting you. So you try to catch them before that, playing cards in order to get a high enough attack value to defeat cards, and buying other cards for your deck. If your player’s health hits zero, you are eliminated, so it’s possible there will be a last man standing situation (much like the movies). If you meet the objective, you win. If everyone dies, you lose.
This game is brilliant. It is really intense, it is much more thematic than its superhero predecessor, and it works really well. This is coming from someone who has only seen the first two Alien movies and disliked them both – the Ridley Scott one was bloated and slow, while the James Cameron one had a bit too much cheese in it for me. This game, however, really engages me in the story much more than either film did, and for that, I give it lots of credit. The images in the game are incredibly violent, so don’t play with kids, but it’s definitely a great horror game.
Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper
Nightfall is a 2011 deckbuilding game from AEG and designer David Gregg. In the game, you are summoning creatures of the night to attack your opponent. As in most deckbuilders, you begin the game with a standard starting deck of 12 cards and will be adding cards as you go. On your turn, you’ll start by playing actions out of your hands. However, other players will then get to play actions, trying to chain them off of what you played. You’re trying to add wounds to the decks of other players because it’s the player with the least wounds that will ultimately win.
Nightfall is a very different kind of deckbuilding game. It was one of the first that was purely about attacking each other rather than just going for victory points. The chaining mechanism is pretty clever, and makes for some interesting decisions as you play. There are of course a bunch of available expansions that further ramp up the tension. Because of the dark subject matter, this is a very good Halloween game.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf was originally designed by Akihisa Okui in 2012, and was further developed by Ted Alspach and published by Bezier Games in 2014. One Night takes the Werewolf idea – a few players are werewolves and everyone else has to hunt them down before they kill everyone – and condenses it into a ten-minute experience. Each player is assigned a role, then goes to sleep. With the assistance of an app, each player will in turn get to open their eyes and take an action associated with their role. When everyone wakes up, you have a few minutes to argue about who is a werewolf, and who is innocent. Everyone then votes to kill someone. If the majority votes for a werewolf, the villagers win. If not, the werewolves win.
I have grown to hate Werewolf over the years. I hate that people get eliminated early on and can’t participate for the rest of the game. I hate that there’s a moderator. And I especially hate that you’re just taking wild stabs in the dark. This game solves two of those problems – the app takes the place of the moderator, and no one gets eliminated. You’re still taking wild stabs, but it seems that there’s a bit more logic involved. The time pressure keeps things tense, however. This game is very quick, and usually gets played several times in a row. Much better than the original.
Shadow Hunters was designed in 2005 by Yasutaka Ikeda, published in the US by Z-Man Games. It’s a social deduction game where players are secretly divided into three factions – the Hunters (who want all the Shadows dead), the Shadows (who want all the Hunters dead), and the Neutrals (who each have their own individual win condition). On your turn, you roll a d6 and a d4, adding them together and moving to that location. Based on where you are, you’ll take an action – draw a card, heal, damage, or even steal equipment. You then get a chance to attack others in your area. You are trying to figure out who is with you and who is against you, and eliminate the competition with no mercy. The winners are the ones who fulfill their win condition.
This is, by far, my favorite social deduction game. The Neutrals are really what make the game – they add that extra bit of uncertainty that makes it really fun. Having the conflict between Shadows and Hunters is interesting, but having people that are on no team but their own is just amazing. As a Halloween game, it fits since the Shadows consist of a Werewolf, a Vampire, and an Unknown (with a Wight, a Valkyrie, and an Ultra Soul in the Expansion).
Smash Up is a 2012 game designed by Paul Peterson and published by AEG. In the game, you shuffle together decks of two factions, then deal out a number of bases. On your turn, you can play a Minion and an Action. You’re trying to get Minions around a base. Once the total strength around a base reaches the specified number, whoever is most powerful gets the top reward, followed by second place and then third. A new base then comes out. The first player to 15 points wins.
The brilliance of Smash Up is in the combination of factions. Putting together Aliens with Dinosaurs will give you entirely different results than putting Aliens with Zombies or Dinosaurs with Pirates. It’s this that I think makes Smash Up the ultimate dress up game. It’s like you’re putting on a new Halloween costume every time.
Terror in Meeple City (aka Rampage) was originally published in 2013, designed by Antoine Bauza and Ludovic Maublanc. It’s a dexterity game where players are Godzilla-like monsters destroying a city held together by Meeples. On your turn, you get two actions – flick your monster to a new location; if adjacent to a building, pick it up and drop it; blow on a building to try to knock it down; or pick up a nearby car and throw it. You can eat Meeples in your area after you’ve taken your actions, and once all buildings have been knocked down, the player with the most points wins.
There’s lots of different ways to score in the game, but really, it’s just about causing lots of destruction. It’s a little bit of a pain to set up, but a lot of fun when it’s done.
So, there’s my list. What will you be playing on Halloween? Let me know, and thanks for reading!