It’s Halloween again! That time of year when we can throw sweets at little kids, look outside at half five and say, “Bloody Hell it’s dark and it’s only half five!”, and, in our case this year, gather as a family to play some appropriately themed games whilst gorging on an inappropriate amount of, as yet, un-thrown sweets.
But what exactly should be at the forefront of your gaming on Halloween night?
Well, for ourselves this year the action will all take place around the table rather than on the screen, but, in the interests of balance, the upcoming list of spooky delights and terrible treats will embrace both.
So without further ado, draw the curtains and light the candles, because here’s some games for Halloween.
Mysterium fits the Halloween bill like Freddy Krueger’s glove fits his clawing hand. What could be more in tune with an evening devoted to ghosts and monsters than a game where one player actually plays a ghost?
In Mysterium we have all the ingredients for some real spooky fun. The aforementioned ghost player has been murdered and, via visions depicted upon cards must guide the psychic mediums (played by the other players) to the culprit who ended their days. The ghost cannot speak during the game, but can communicate yes and no answers via knocks on the table. Throw in a little atmospheric background music and suitably gloomy lighting and you have the makings of a genuine Halloween gem.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies
For myself, what we have in Grabbed by the Ghoulies isn’t just a brilliantly fun, good looking, and wonderfully funny journey through a haunted house and all its colourfully spooky inhabitants, it’s also one of the most criminally undervalued games of its time.
The game is an absolute joy to play. In the shoes of our hero, Cooper, we get to journey from room to room inside a gloriously detailed old mansion in search of our kidnapped love, Amber. With a game so chock full of vampires, mummies, imps, skeletons and the dastardly Baron von Ghoul himself, it truly is a perfect slice of action for this Halloween night.
Cute, fun and doused in the spirit of the season, Costume Quest, is the Halloween game for those who are terrified of real horror titles. Me included.
The story of a group of kids trick or treating their way around a town that has been overrun by real monsters is a real pleasure to play. It’s simple, but mixes a nice brew of exploration and turn based combat (during which the kids become the real incarnation of the costumes they wear) that does a great job of holding the interest and delivering a genuine Halloween experience. Perhaps this is one for the more scared among us, but it simply oozes charm and is a game truly aimed at this spookiest time of year.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
A particular family favourite in our house is Betrayal at House on the Hill. A beautifully claustrophobic journey through a haunted house, during which the players work together to uncover its secrets…until one of the party becomes the traitor and wreaks havoc as the game transforms into a battle to the death pitted former allies against one another.
The game board is a group of tiles that are uncovered to reveal rooms as players enter, and the whole experience takes place over three floors (four if you happen to have the Widow’s Walk expansion). The playing area gradually grows as the game unfolds until towards the finale it covers a substantial portion of the table. It includes great little miniatures depicting the characters, and as with most themed board games, a little atmospheric background music works wonders. A real must-play at this time of year.
Now honestly, I hate this game. And I love it. In fact, I do love it, but, I simply don’t possess the nerve to get through it.
If there was ever a game I would pick for a genuinely scary Halloween experience, then Project Zero would be that game. It has that wonderful Japanese horror creepiness in abundance and simply never allows the player to breathe easy. I’ve never played a game that made opening a door the incredibly tense experience Project Zero does. It is littered with truly horrible ghosts and apparitions, blood chilling cries and goose bump inducing shocks. I can guarantee I won’t be playing this one any time soon, let alone on the spookiest night of the year, but it remains the scariest, eeriest game I’ve ever almost enjoyed.
Dead of Winter
Zombies! Because no list these days is complete without some mention of the undead hordes that shuffle through the post-apocalyptic landscape. And my own favourite gaming take on the genre is, Dead of Winter.
Here, players are part of a colony of survivors, they start the game with two such survivors under their control. Each character has their own little personality, their own strengths and weaknesses, and their own objectives within the overarching goal of the main game itself. What Dead of Winter does so well is allow for stories to unfold within the zombie slaying, supply foraging action that takes place each turn. It also does a brilliant job of arousing suspicions within the group via the possibility that one player is a traitor harbouring goals that will enable their own survival at the expense of the group. As a horror game it is brilliantly balanced between great tension, great reward and great challenge, and in terms of a game for the 31st of October, then it’s one of the best!
One of the most surprising moments of my Gamecube playing days was when I began my journey through, Eternal Darkness. For a console that was generally quite upbeat, colourful and utterly charming in its game output, to suddenly find myself in a sprawling nightmare of jump scares, grown up horror and a soundtrack that still haunts me to this day, was jaw dropping.
Eternal Darkness is a trip through time where the player does a little Quantum Leaping into the boots of various historic folk just as they are descending into sanity reducing darkness and terror. It’s a brilliantly realised take on the horror genre that works like a dream, or a nightmare to be more apt. The sanity element plays a huge role in the action, and as it decreases, so too does our protagonist’s take on reality, and when this happens the horror ramps up. This is another game I found hard to play alone, hard to play in the dark, and hard to play whilst looking at the screen with the volume up. But, it has stuck with me all these years later as a real outstanding addition to the horror camp, and if you can get hold of a Gamecube and Eternal Darkness tonight, then you’ll have a Halloween to remember.
I’m a big fan of games trying something different, something unique, and horror RPG, Dread, does exactly that. And, it does it in such a ridiculously cool way I just had to share it with you.
As you may or may not know, most tabletop RPG games use a lot of dice rolling to resolve situations. Fights, leaps, daring deeds, confrontation, interrogation, and everything in-between are at the mercy of the tumbling dice. But, with Dread, things are a little different. As the horror tales spun by Dread unfold, all moments that in normal circumstances would be resolved by dice, are now determined by the pull of a block, or two, from a teetering tower of Jenga.
You know Jenga, the game where players remove wooden blocks from an increasingly unsteady tower? Well, in Dread, the outcome of every action the player makes is determined in the same way. A successful pull equals a successful action, however, should the tower fall, the player meets their maker in whatever horribly imaginative way the storyteller sees fit.
I’m convinced that Dread will become my go to Halloween game over the coming years. It is so versatile, and so completely soaked in everything that makes horror games such fun that I can’t think of game that better fits the purpose of the evening. It strips back the RPG genre to its basics and then throws in a complete new way of approaching things that actually makes those genuine moments of tension and terror, that can sometimes be diluted by the roll of dice, really reverberate around the table and through the players themselves. A true Halloween treat.