Festive Frights: Dear, Santa, Please Bring Us Board Games For Christmas
In addition to the latest horror Blu-ray releases, there are a ton of great genre board games that would fare very nicely under the Christmas tree this year. In the last decade, we’ve seen a huge resurgence in board games, and lucky for horror fans, there is now a variety of genre titles to choose from for all of your spooky game night needs. Two of our writers, Ryan Daley and Megan Casady picked a few of their favorites and one from each of their wishlists that they think all of our readers should know about.
Last Night on Earth (Flying Frog Productions)
Every hardcore board gamer loves to test drive new games, but some nights you just need to fall back on an old standard like Ticket to Ride or Risk, something you can navigate through a thick beer haze, a game you know so well, you can play it like it was an extension of your own body. For my board gaming group, Last Night on Earth is that fall back old standard. With its vast cast of characters, excellent gameplay, and seemingly endless expansions, Last Night on Earth isn’t only the best zombie board game out there, it might very well be the best horror board game of all time.
Randomly selected panels fit together to create a grid-squared town, complete with buildings like a police station, a hospital, a diner; maybe even a cornfield thrown in from time to time. One set of players are the heroes, the other players are the zombies. Early games involve a basic mission, say, find the keys and get to the truck. As a hero, once you start your turn inside a building, you have the choice to either move, or stay in one place and ‘search’ (drawing a card in an attempt to find a weapon or the aforementioned keys). Meanwhile, the zombie players are spawning undead all over the town like horny rabbits, generally working in a zombie horde to separate and surround the hero players. When your hero player is squatting alone in the barn, zombies closing in fast, and you’re trying to decide whether to get the hell out of there or stand your ground and search, it starts to feel like you’re starring in your own personal zombie movie. Which is one of the best feelings of all.
Available at Amazon for $50, but the spectacular new 10th Anniversary Edition is $75. It’s a substantial upgrade for only $25 more. You can also show your loyalty to Flying Frog Productions by ordering directly from flyingfrog.net, but you’ll end up paying a bit more. Amazon UK has the base game for £35, but the Anniversary Edition might be either hard to come by or viciously overpriced.
Camp Grizzly (Ameritrash Games)
This board game riff on 80s summer camp slasher movies has one righteous sense of humor. It’s most certainly a horror board game, things definitely get scary, but some of the cards are simply hilarious. The players take on the role of camp counselors at Camp Grizzly. The year is 1979. All of the counselors are listening to Jody play acoustic guitar around the fire. It’s an idyllic summer night. And then Otis appears. A brutal serial killer sporting an enormous teddy bear head and an industrial-grade garden trowel, Otis proceeds to hack and slash his way across Camp Grizzly. As the counselors move from cabin-to-cabin in their attempts to avoid Otis, they pick up items, weapons, and even annoying little camper kids they’re forced to drag along (personal responsibility sucks).
I first played Camp Grizzly with a few friends in a cabin deep in the aspen woods of eastern Utah. I snagged it online before the camping trip, got myself all board-game-dork excited, and insisted on firing up my old-school Boy Scout-era propane lantern as we set up the board. The cabin totally had electricity, so yeah, everybody gave me the business for lighting the thing. But as we got deep into the game and the action got more and more intense, my buddy finally nodded at the lantern and reluctantly admitted, ‘I do love that propane hiss’.
Available at both Amazon and Ameritrashgames.com for $50 US. But be warned, the $13 shipping may legally qualify as cruel and unusual punishment.
Castle Ravenloft (Wizards of the Coast)
One of a handful of Dungeons & Dragons cooperative board games, Castle Ravenloft is the only one that is purely horror based. Referred to by hardcore Dungeon Masters as ‘D&D Lite’ (usually preceded by a snort of derision), these co-op games serve as a fantastic introduction into the D&D universe. They’re fairly easy to learn, and the board games were designed to work together, so you can swap characters, cards, villains, etc., between the series of games. If so inclined, you could even combine all the co-op games into an enormous mutant Voltron-like game, featuring a billion cards and weighing as much as a toddler. But then you’d pretty much have Arkham Horror, I guess. Buy a backpack.
In Castle Ravenloft, you and your party of monster-stomping adventurers attempt to save the sad-sack village of Bovaria from the evil vampire Count Strahd, who resides in the looming castle overlooking the fog-drenched town. What follows is a series of dungeon crawls, utilizing random dungeon tiles that fit together like puzzle pieces. As your party cruises deeper into the dungeon, you fight scary creatures, gather treasure, and moves closer and closer to defeating the Count. Yes, this is definitely a ‘lite’ version of the beloved, crazily complex role-playing game. But as you watch your friends slowly get into their characters in Castle Ravenloft, developing weird personality traits and maybe even random accents you didn’t know existed, you realize ‘lite’ isn’t always a bad thing.
Available at Amazon for around $50, and other retailers for between $50-70. Available at Amazon UK for £50.
The Board Game I Want for Christmas:
The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 (Mondo)
As a rabid fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing, I’ve been eyeballing the release of this board game like Wilford Brimley eyeballs Clark after he spends a bit too much quality time with that dog. Based on the 1982 horror classic, it’s the sort of game I just have to own. I’ve never played it, nobody I know has played it, and until recently, the price point was pretty exorbitant. Without a personal recommendation, I’ve been hesitant to unload that much bread for an untested board game. However, in the past several weeks, the confluence of two separate events may result in my own personal Christmas joy: I purchased The Thing on Blu-Ray, and the price of Infection on Outpost 31 has dropped considerably. Holding off on watching the Blu until the big day. I’m really hoping Santa comes through this year.
Available at Amazon for $60 or Amazon UK for £55.
Mysterium is a cooperative game of deduction for 2-7 players, set in the 1920s in a haunted mansion at Warwick Manor. One player assumes the role of the spirit who inhabits the mansion and throughout the game tries to lead the other players, or psychic investigators, to discover who is responsible for the spirit’s death, identify the correct murder weapon, and the location where the murder took place. Players will work together to solve this mystery before the clock runs out, but here’s the catch - the “ghost” player cannot speak and may only provide clues to the psychic investigators through visions, a set of illustrated cards whose meanings are ambiguous out of context, but must be correctly interpreted by the investigators in order to solve the case.
Mysterium is like Dix-It meets Clue with a fun cooperative twist that makes it a great party game. It’s a perfect genre gateway game for anyone wanting to add a bit of a spooky element to their game nights, but aren’t ready to fully commit to a game like Eldritch Horror. Gameplay time is usually around 30-45 minutes, depending on how much time you spend discussing possibilities with your teammates. The co-op element is part of what I love most about this game, it’s a nice change of pace from some of the competitive games out there that may have you and your friends or family pitted against each other by the end of the night. It’s fun to work together to interpret the “visions” being offered by the spirit because your teammates might have an entirely different interpretation of the cards than you do and sometimes two or three or four heads truly are better than one.
Mysterium is available at most game stores for $49.99 and is currently on Amazon for $39.99 or on Amazon UK for £34.99 - £69.49. There are currently two expansions available for Mysterium; Mysterium: Hidden Signs and Mysterium: Secrets & Lies, both available on Amazon for around $20.
Elder Sign (Fantasy Flight Games)
From the designers of Arkham Horror, Elder Sign is a Lovecraftian themed cooperative game for 1-8 players - that’s right, you can play this one by yourself! The game is set in 1926 in a museum where dark, otherworldly forces are attempting to break the barrier between our world and the world of the Ancient Ones. Whether you are playing alone or with a group of friends, your goal is to locate the eldritch symbols which will seal the portals and keep the evil Ancient Ones from bridging the gap into our world before time, your stamina, or your sanity runs out.
Another cooperative game (are you sensing a trend yet?) that is great for parties and game nights, but with the added tension that any Lovecraftian themed story brings. The sense of dread that ensues as the clock begins to run out is palpable and makes this game fun and fast-paced as you work together with your team (or by yourself) to seal the portals before time is up. Throughout the game, you may equip tools, form alliances, and gain occult knowledge in order to aid in sealing the portals and winning the game. Again, I love the cooperative nature of this game and the Lovecraftian theme is truly terrifying as you race against the clock with your teammates to win the game. It takes about an hour or two to play through, depending on how efficiently you and your team work together. Elder Sign is a great middle-ground game for players who are ready to graduate from something like Mysterium but aren’t ready to venture all the way into Arkham Horror.
Elder Sign is available directly from Fantasy Flight Games for $34.95 or on Amazon for $28.99 and on Amazon UK for £49.75. There are currently six different expansions available for Elder Sign, including a brand new one available for pre-order. All expansions are available through Fantasy Flight or Amazon for around $25.
Mansions of Madness - Second Edition (Fantasy Flight Games)
If you’ve played Elder Sign and you’re ready to up the ante a bit while remaining within the terrifying, tension filled world of Lovecraft, then Mansions of Madness is the game for you. Mansions of Madness is an app-assisted game like nothing I’ve played before. You and up to four players are again working together (I JUST REALLY LOVE CO-OP OKAY) to navigate through the dark and eerie grounds of Arkham and you never know what kind of evil you might encounter. With the help of the app and a uniquely expandable game board, each playable story is different from the characters and enemies you meet, to the actual layout of the game board itself. You may find yourself alone in the haunted halls of the mansion, or stuck outside in the eerie darkness of the courtyard.
Although this game is cooperative, one of my favorite elements of the game is the set of cards which dictate “insane conditions” when a player loses their sanity due to suffering an exceeding amount of unimaginable horrors. When a player is given an insane condition, they may not share it with the rest of the team and are completely capable of derailing the entire mission, causing everyone to lose. Obviously the goal of this and most games is to win, but when the inevitable insanity kicks in, you really don’t have any other choice than to let it consume you and hope that the other players are strong enough to complete the mission before your insanity grows to a point of no return and literally ruins everything. This interactive, immersive element makes this game so unique and so much fun, especially if you and your team are really committed to getting into character.
Mansions of Madness is available directly through Fantasy Flight Games or on Amazon for around $100 and on Amazon UK for £75.99. There are currently three expansions available, including one now available for pre-order.
The Board Game I Want for Christmas:
Mixtape Massacre (Bright Light Media)
Mixtape Massacre is a game I’ve been excited about since its initial announcement. The game was crowdfunded on Kickstarter in 2015 and after 410 backers pledged a total of $26,851, the game was brought to fruition and Mixtape Massacre was born. The website describes the game as “a tabletop board game where up to 6 players play as horror film archetypes and compete in a fictional 1986 killing spree to be remembered. With tons of references to all of your favorite 1980’s music, films, and pop-culture icons.” Just reading that description gets me so hyped for this playable love letter to the beloved slasher films of the 80s. You and your friends can choose from ten stereotypical slasher archetypes, running around the town of Tall Oaks and slashing the town’s inhabitants until your murderous heart’s content. Thanks to another successful Kickstarter campaign, there is also an expansion: The Black Masque that is currently available for preorder. Both the base game and the expansion are available for purchase and preorder at https://mixtapemassacre.com; $49.99 for Mixtape Massacre and $20.00 to preorder The Black Masque Expansion.