Ghost and Games

halloween

Halloween is soon upon us and that means the season of ghosts and ghoulies galore. And my kids complaining that their costumes either don’t fit; aren’t scary enough or are too scary.

I’ll be honest – I’ve never been one for Halloween. As a child, I didn’t particularly enjoy dressing up and I never went trick or treating. It always felt a bit forced. But before you start worrying unnecessarily about my deprived childhood, in recent years my feelings towards this season have mellowed somewhat and I have even hosted my own party (believe me – it was a big step). And in honour of my Halloween themed decorations, food and playlist (of course Thriller was on it), I also had been thinking about great games suited to this season. Try these at your peril …

Betrayal At House On The Hill

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You’ve probably read my previous blog post, you always knew this was going to be on there. I shall not go over old ground, but this is basically a haunted house exploration where one of the players will turn on the others at a critical time.

Why is it so good at this time of year? Not because it is scary, but because it fits in with the fun around Halloween. It’s random nature and unbalanced scenarios means that you are less focused on winning, but on having a good time as you poke about the spooky mansion.

There has also been an expansion set recently released for the game, Widow’s Walk, giving you even more options for the “scares” you can inflict upon your fellow players.

Once you can get your guests over the intimidating looking box and its contents, people will soon get into the spirit of things. I’ve had plenty of casual players jump into this and have a really good time. Not one of the kids – but no one I have introduced this to has ever walked away unhappy with it.

World Of Darkness

vampire

The first of two roleplaying games on the list and I have particularly fond memories of this one. I was first introduced to White Wolf Publishing’s roleplaying game system in my early teenage years and it was very distinct from the fantasy games I was playing at the time. The first book I owned, Vampire: The Masquerade, was set in a slightly twisted “gothic-punk” modern world, where vampires were the secret rulers, but were forced to keep their identity concealed from the wider public. Gradually we say more and more supernatural creatures revealed to us – werewolves, magi, wraiths and more inhabited the world, where the pervading sense of corruption and decay were repeated themes. However, the Kindred of the first book were always my personal favourite.

Describing itself as a game of personal horror it encouraged players to explore very adult themes. It did not shy away from controversy and one very memorable release was related to the effects of the Holocaust on the wraiths (which from my own opinion was handled in a very sensitive and mature fashion, without exploiting or sensationalising this horrendous evil).

White Wolf eventually brought the original World of Darkness to its end (no – Games Workshop were not the first to blow up their intellectual property) and released the new Chronicles of Darkness in 2004. And whilst the background changed, the fundamental questions of humanity and the monsters relation to it (both internally and the wider community) remain.

This is a slow burner of the game and not one to be rushed into. You cannot produce this on the evening and suggest a game. But if you have been building a campaign in time for this event, is it not the perfect time?

Dread

dread

A roleplaying game I have only played once and witnessed being played twice. But on each occasion it has given me a very strong impression. It designed to be played in a single setting and is a collaborative story telling experience, where the players are characters within a horror setting and their goals are basically to survive – much harder than it seem.

Each player creates their characters after being given a questionnaire by the games master. They are encouraged to think about the answers and their responses are designed to shape how they would react to certain stimuli. Then they are place into a scenario of the games master’s choosing and the game begins.

There are no dice or cards in this game – it is done solely with a Jenga tower. Yes – that wooden block that infuriates you at family gatherings. Every time you have to do something that your character is not skilled at or is under pressure, you have to pull one or more blocks from the tower. If the tower falls, your character is going to die.

Dread has tension galore; especially when that tower is teetering and you know that one wrong move and you are done for. I have seen people change their minds about actions make silly decisions just to avoid making that pull. If anything represents the blind stupid panic of the horror movie participant, this game may be it.

Dracula’s Feast

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This card game is currently on Kickstarter, but thanks to the joys of print and play, I have been able to give it a whirl recently. It is a social deduction game set at Dracula’s castle during a masked ball. Each player is a random monster seeking to uncover the identities of other players so you can be last monster standing. They do this by asking questions of the other guests, asking them to dance and attempting to publicly unmask the other participants.

Each monster has their own unique powers though, which makes the game more complicated. Some characters are allowed to lie about their identity (unless stated otherwise, you must always tell the truth). Others have alternative ways to win in addition to the usual way of working out who each other player is.

The theme a very light hearted monster setting and the art is reflects this nicely. Each game only takes about 10 minutes and can work as a nice little ice breaker before an evening of longer play. The best thing for me about this game is that unlike my previous suggestions, my children can play it. Indeed, my first play testing was done with 3 7-9 year olds and they all got up to speed very quickly.

Dead Panic

dead-panic

Something you don’t want to do anything too deep on Halloween. Sometimes you just want to play zombie whack-a –mole. And on such occasions you should never, ever play Zombies!!! Instead you should play this.

Dead Panic is a tower defence game where waves of the undead will assail the players and the players have to beat them back. At the centre of the board is a cabin and zombies will approach from all sides. There are a number of zones in which the zombies will cross to reach your shelter and you need to have the right cards in hand to attack each of those zones. The key to victory is making sure the zombies don’t reach the centre and start ripping your shelter asunder.

The best thing about Dead Panic is that it is fairly accessible and a good way to get younger players involved in the Halloween board game fun. The game last about an hour and is good knockabout fun without some of the darker elements of the other games I have suggested.

I know I have barely scratched the surface of the horror/Halloween game collection, but hopefully this will give you all a starting point. My own criteria were to ensure I could cover as many different types of players as possible and keep both ardent tabletoppers and non-gamers as involved as possible.

May you have a very Happy Halloween.

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