It’s that time of year, when ghosts and goblins are lurking in the shadows. To help put you in the mood, we’ve conjured a list of 13 our our favorite games with a theme that’s just right for Halloween. There are some old standards and some new favorites — all of which are perfect for your Halloween party.
On the evening of Samhain, the boundaries between this world and the next waver, making it the best time to communicate with those on the other side. You and your fellow psychics have gathered to investigate an old mystery—a death that was ruled an accident but may have been something more sinister. In the cooperative game Mysterium, one player acts as the ghost, giving clues to the psychics in the form of cards with mysterious images on them; the psychics must use their intuition to piece together the suspects, locations, and potential murder weapons, and find the real culprit before the veil closes once again. The Hidden Signs expansion released this year adds even more cards to expand the possibilities. (JL)
Mysterium: 2 to 7 players, ages 10 and up, about 42 minutes to play.
New Mansions of Madness
I was not a big fan of the original Mansions of Madness. An overlong setup, glitchy scenarios, and a dependence upon one player to serve as a Keeper meant that the game was relegated to our shelf of shame. The second edition of Mansions of Madness fixes so many of these issues that’s it’s essentially a different–and much better–game. Now the Keeper player is replaced by a free app, available on iOS, Android, and Steam, and the immersion of exploring a spooky haunted mansion filled with Lovecraftian horrors is even more palpable with a narrator and creepy soundtrack accompanying it. The miniatures are just as awesome, and if you still own the first edition, you can use that game’s components with the new version. (MH)
Mansions of Madness: 1 to 5 players, age 14 and up, about 2-3 hours to play.
You play as witches who have come across the medieval village of Wickersby, a town with a blacksmith, a farmer, and a miller, but without a Crone. You will have to compete with your fellow players to harvest ingredients that will enable you to cast spells to summon villagers to locations, make them fall in (and out of) love, turn them into frogs, and more. The player who accomplishes the most challenging spell combinations and scores the most points will win the title of The Village Crone! (DB)
Village Crone: 1 to 6 players, age 13 and up, about 90 mins to play.
There are hordes and hordes of zombie-based board games on game store shelves; what makes Dead of Winter so great, you might ask yourself, before pointing out that it doesn’t even have plastic minis! Dead of Winter is billed as a “meta-cooperative psychological survival game” which means all players are working toward a common goal, but individual players also have secret objectives. In order to win, both goals must be achieved for each player. But beware! Among the players, there may also be a betrayer, working to thwart your plans by driving down morale. The result is lots of tension, suspicion, and second-guessing each other’s motives. (JL)
Dead of Winter: 2 to 5 players, age 14 and up, about 60-120 mins to play.
Hit Z Road
Hit Z Road is a road trip through hell. More accurately, it’s a trip on Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles, during the zombie apocalypse. The game is made from found things, the product of a boy who survived the trip already (or so the story goes). You and your fellow survivors gather resources along the way and these resources allow you to overcome obstacles and fight zombies on your journey. Each player bids to choose among the available routes, but you have to sacrifice your resources to get the better choices. The further west you go, the tougher it gets, but it’s loads of fun and, in an age where zombie games fill our shelves, Hit Z Road stands out for its unique gameplay and outstanding art. (DB)
Hit Z Road: 1 to 4 players, age 10 and up, about 60 minutes to play.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf (Or Vampire or Alien)
Few party games at our table get the comment “Come on, let’s play one more time” as often as One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Most people are familiar with werewolf and mafia type games, where players assume roles with special abilities and then try to root out the werewolf (or mafioso) in their midsts. There are plenty of variations, but One Night Ultimate Werewolf is special for a few reasons: First, it looks great; it has wonderful art. Second, you can play this particular game with as few as three players. Third, you don’t need a moderator. Just download the iOS/Android app and start having fun. Fourth, there is just a single round, play is fast. For us, One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a game worth playing a lot more than just a single night. (JL)
One Night Ultimate Werewolf: 3 to 10 players, 8 and up, 10 minutes.
King of Tokyo/New York
What’s better than a movie with giant monsters like King Kong and Godzilla? How about living that movie through a game. In King of Tokyo and its sequel, King of New York, players take on the role of a kaiju, a giant monster, and wreak havoc on a couple of the Earth’s biggest cities. In Tokyo, you only try to attack other monsters. But in New York, you’re also trying to destroy buildings and wreak havoc, while earning fame points from the people of Gotham. (Alright Mr. Honda, I’m ready for my closeup.) It’s family friendly fun and King of Tokyo has just received a makeover to match the art in King of New York. (DB)
Last Night on Earth
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. (JL)
Last Night on Earth: 2 to 6 players, age 12 and up, about 90 mins to play.
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. (JL)
Cthulhu Gloom: 2 to 5 players, age 13 and up, about 60 mins to play.
Letters From Whitechapel
Hidden movement games lend themselves well to Halloween with something sinister on the prowl, just out of sight. There are a couple that we like — Fury of Dracula and the upcoming The Last Friday. Both are fun games, but the one we love is Letters from Whitechapel. Maybe it’s the streamlined rules or the idea of chasing a real killer through the streets and alleys of Victorian London (or the fact that it’s available), but the gorgeous art and great gameplay mean that Letters from Whitechapel is one sure to get your pulse racing as you nip at the heels of Jack the Ripper. (DB)
Letters from Whitechapel: 2 to 6 players, age 13 and up, about 120 mins to play.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
Betrayal at House on the Hill from Avalon Hill (now part of Wizards of the Coast) recreates for players the great haunted house horror movie tropes. In each playthrough of the game, players explore from room to room collecting items and omens in preparation for the coming chaos. At some point, a player will trigger one of 50 “haunts,” spooky scenarios that pit players against each other for survival. The new expansion, Widow’s Walk, adds 20 new rooms and numerous items and omens, not to mention 50 new haunts written by the likes of Rob Daviau, Pendleton Ward, and Mike Selinker. (GT)
Betrayal at House on the Hill: 3 to 6 players, age 12 and up, about 60 mins to play.
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. (JL)
Dead Panic: 2 to 6 players, age 13 and up, about 90 mins to play.
Word games are enough to drive some people to madness, but Unspeakable Words turns that into a game mechanic. Players try to form words from cards in their hands, all illustrated with Cthulu-themed art by John Kovalic, but unlike most word games, there’s a penalty for big words. Each time you play, you have to make a sanity check by rolling a 20-sided die, and if the roll is less than the value of your word, you lose one of your Cthulu pawns. Lose all of your pawns and you’re out, but when you get down to one, you’re considered unhinged and can form words that are complete gibberish. The latest edition has finally arrived in the hands of backers after a two year post-Kickstarter delay, but it was worth the wait. (RH)
Unspeakable Words: 2 to 8 players, age 10 and up, about 30 mins to play.