The most appropriate game for Halloween might very well be Candyland: it has candy and the thought of playing it strikes terror in the hearts of most gamers. But don’t worry—I’m not that evil. Here are 13 (and 1 bonus) games with monsters and ghosts and other generally creepy themes. Not all of them are scary, but they’re all good fits for a Halloween-themed game night.
The Saturday after Halloween (November 2) also happens to be the date that Extra Life is running their 25-hour gaming marathon to raise money for children’s hospitals, in case you needed another excuse to gather up all the leftover Halloween candy and play games all day.
Here’s how it works: You register at the Extra Life site, and ask your friends to sponsor you with a monthly pledge or a one-time gift. Then, on November 2nd (or some other date of your choosing), you play games—tabletop games, videogames, your choice. You pick a hospital in the Children’s Miracle Network, and all of the donations you raise go to support that hospital. You don’t have to game for 24 (or 25) hours in a row, but if you decide to go for it you’ll be in good company.
Now, on to the games! If you hit up your local game store or order online now, you could still have time to get them for Halloween.
Some might argue that zombies have jumped the shark, but they’re still my top B-movie monster. (Well, maybe after giant man-eating rabbits.) And what better way to experience that B-movie magic than by playing Last Night on Earth? Iconic characters, zombie-flick tropes, and soundtrack CDs that help set the mood make this a perfect way to kick off the night. Sure, it’s kind of campy, but it’s still one of my favorites. If you’re more of an alien invasion sort of gamer, try Invasion From Outer Space instead, and listen to some Orson Welles while you play.
Here’s a game that understands that maybe the biggest challenge during a zombie apocalypse is, in fact, the other survivors. City of Horror is less about fighting off zombies and more about the political maneuvering and backstabbing when you have to decide who to throw out the door to keep the zombies at bay until the helicopter arrives. Make and break alliances (and promises), and be sure to stock up on vaccines, because the helicopter won’t take you if you haven’t had your shots.
I admit, Shadowrift isn’t your typical horror themed game (though there are zombies if you fight the Necromancers). But if you want a game that’ll put some fear in you, it’s perfect. It’s a cooperative deck-buildling game where the monsters sweep through town—and most likely kill you. Players work together to build walls around the town or seal off the Shadowrifts so monsters can’t get through, but in the meantime don’t forget to fight off the ones that are attacking townsfolk.
Ghost Stories, designed by Antoine Bauza, has been around for several years, but I’d heard it was one of the most challenging cooperative games ever. I haven’t played enough yet to know for sure, but in our first game we got a score of -34. Yep, we didn’t even hit zero. You are a team of Taoist monks working together to protect a town from becoming haunted by Wu-Feng and his ghostly minions. There are some truly spooky ghosts pictured, and you’ll cringe every time the hooded haunting figurines creep toward the town.
Dread is a horror-based storytelling/roleplaying game, but instead of rolling dice, you pull blocks out of a Jenga tower when you have to pass a test. You can decide not to make the attempt, in which case your character fails (and suffers the consequences), but if you knock the tower over, it’s game over for you! Free Quickstart Rules and samples are available from The Impossible Dream.
Okay, I’ll admit that Nightfall never really grabbed me—maybe the werewolves vs. vampires theme was just a little too sparkly for me—but I know a lot of people who love the fast-paced chain mechanic. Nightfall is a deck-building game, but there’s also card drafting and a couple of cards that only you can add to your deck. Send your minions after the other players, and whoever comes out of the battle with the least wounds is the winner. Several expansions are available to add to your mix of cards.
Jack the Ripper is on the loose, and it’s up to Scotland Yard to track him down. One player plays Jack, secretly moving throughout the city from the scene of the murder to his hideout; the other players are detectives, looking for clues to Jack’s whereabouts. Letters From Whitechapel is one of the most nerve-wracking games I’ve played, whether I’m in pursuit or being pursued. The game was out of print but Fantasy Flight has picked up the license and it’s finally available again.
8. Elder Sign
Elder Sign is a cooperative press-your-luck dice game set in the Lovecraft mythos. You’ll investigate clues, learn spells, and find powerful relics in the hopes of sealing the Ancient Ones before they awake. Or, like Wil Wheaton on TableTop, you might just roll horribly and the rest of your team will have to bail you out. It has the theme and feel of Arkham Horror (another Halloween-appropriate classic) but plays in a fraction of the time, plus you get to roll piles of dice.
9. Ghost Blitz
Okay, despite the ghosts, this one’s not really scary—unless you’re afraid of losing to your kids. Actually, I take that back: some of my gamer friends are terrified of it. Ghost Blitz is a game of quick visual perception—grab the right item first, and you win the card. Kind of like Set or Spot It, but challenging in a different way. It’s finally available in an English version, and if that’s not enough you can get the sequel (in German, at least).
Werewolf is a classic party game for people who like to lie. Everyone is assigned a secret role (werewolf or villager), and you try to eliminate the other team. It can be really intense, and there’s a whole lot of deception and deduction going on. (Downside: player elimination,) There are a bunch of versions available, but the truth is you don’t even need to buy one to play. Just a deck of cards and the rules is enough. Max Temkin (of Cards Against Humanity fame) notably Kickstarted his own version earlier this year—you can’t buy a copy yet, but you can get the PDF for free and print it out yourself.
Another one for the kids: Vampires of the Night not only can be played in the dark (because the pieces glow) but it’ll teach your kids a valuable lesson about the evils of vampire hunters who prey on those poor innocent vampire children. Knobelzobel (the hunter) has spread garlic all over the vampire castle, and you have to clear it away without knocking it down onto the sleeping children below. Push the guardian vampire around with a magnetic wand to dispose of the garlic safely! Silly, but fun for the kids.
12. Cthulhu Gloom
Gloom is a game about dying miserably: you want your family to suffer as much as possible before their (preferably horrible) deaths. It’s perfect for fans of gallows humor, and the Cthulhu Gloom version is certainly the most appropriate for Halloween. The game is best with people who like telling stories—each card played is supposed to be a continuation of the story that has happened thus far. Transparent cards let you stack up effects on various family members. In Gloom, killing somebody with kindness just might be the worst best thing that could happen to them.
If you like haunted houses, you should check out this classic: Betrayal at House on the Hill. You build out the house with room tiles as you explore—you may come across useful items, but you’ll also have creepy encounters and ominous omens. At some point during the game, the Haunt occurs—and one of you turns on the others. The game uses a randomizer mechanic to decide the scenario, and then the mood of the game shifts to a battle against the traitor. You can watch Wil Wheaton and friends play it on the latest episodes of TableTop (Part 1 and Part 2).
Bonus: Dead Panic
From the makers of the popular Castle Panic comes this cabin-in-the-woods zombie fest, Dead Panic. This time, it’s not about protecting the walls—it’s about staying alive. The zombies move in, break walls, and chase you around. Find the survivors, assemble the radio to call for help, and make it to the van alive … or turn into a zombie and go after your former friends. After all, if you can’t win, you might as well have fun losing. Unfortunately, Dead Panic got delayed so the only people who will have it by this Halloween are the pre-orders. The rest of you will have to wait until around the end of November. But zombies are a perfect Thanksgiving monster, too—have you seen how everyone acts after stuffing themselves with turkey?
Have a happy Halloween!