Horror-themed board games: The worst and the best (pt 2) By Sarah Rigg & Jeff Kaatz

If you’re a fan of horror and of tabletop games, many game options combine both. In this article, you’ll get a “his and hers” perspective on eight horror-themed games.

Part one of these excellent game reviews by Sarah Rigg and Jeff Kaatz can be found here!

 

  1. Munchkin Cthulhu

Number of players: 3-6

Typical game length: 60-90 minutes

Age group: 10+

Type of game: Monster-fighting card game

Replay value: Moderate

Similar to Fluxx, if you like other versions of Munchkin, you will probably appreciate Munchkin Cthulhu. In this game, you “kick down the door” to encounter monsters, objects that will help you in your quest, curses that make you lose your stuff, and fabulous treasures. All Munchkin versions are full of groaner puns, and this horror-themed one is no exception. One warning: Some of our friends call the game “Munchkin: The Friendship Destroyer” because the mechanics tend to encourage two or more players to gang up on whoever is in the lead.

Jeff says: Another great Steve Jackson game. The “goth” monsters in this game are the best (along with the accompanying puns).

Sarah says: Munchkin is a really fun party game, and the Lovecraft puns in here are terrible.

Final grade: B+

 

gloom-closeup

Photo by Jeff Kaatz

  1. Gloom

Number of players: 2-4 (with a 5-player variation)

Typical game length: 45-60 minutes

Age group: 12+

Type of game: Story-telling card game

Replay value: Low to moderate

Gloom is one of the most unique card games we’ve run across for several reasons, including its design – it has transparent plastic cards. In this game, you choose a family to play, and your goal is to make your family members depressed and then kill them off, while making your opponent’s family as happy as possible. You do this through layering transparent modifier cards over the characters and killing them off with “untimely demise” cards. Game play ends when one player kills off all family members, and negative gloom points are totaled up. The game is the most fun when players embrace the story-telling aspect. For instance, Elias E. Gorr, the itinerant gravedigger, might gain self-esteem points by becoming Popular in Parliament, but then lose self-esteem after being Crippled by Creditors. Finally he dies an untimely death when he is Torn Limb from Limb.

Jeff says: Gloom is a hoot, and fairly unique. It gets a solid A for theme, but we’ve found that the replay value is a little on the low side. It would get repetitive if you played it too many times in a row.

Sarah says: I love the story-telling aspect of this, and while it’s fun with two people, it was more fun with four. I agree with Jeff about the replay value, but expansion packs might make it more interesting.

Final grade: B+

 

 

  1. Ghost Stories

Number of players: 1-4

Typical game length: 60-90 minutes

Age group: 12+

Type of game: Modular board game with dice, cooperative

Replay value: Very high

In this game, you play a Taoists trying to defend the village from hungry ghosts. You travel to different tiles to ask for help from the villagers or fight the monsters that come out every turn. Your goal is to hold them at bay until the incarnation of Weng Fu appears and defeat him before the monster deck runs out. We love cooperative play games, so this is high on our list. The art is excellent, and the mechanics fit the theme. The main reason this isn’t number one on our list is that it’s extremely hard. Sarah jokes that it’s the game you play when you need your ego taken down a notch. Without modifying it to make it easier, we win less than one in 10 games, though we tend to think it’s easier to win with 3 or 4 players than with 2.

Jeff says: Even though this game can be frustrating, I enjoy playing it over and over because the game mechanics are so varied, combining some of the best aspects of other cooperative games I’ve played. I don’t feel guilty stacking the monster deck a little because it is so difficult to win.

Sarah says: The art on this one is great, and the replay value is VERY high. There are suggestions in the instructions for making it harder but that seems insane to us. It also has some suggestions for making it easier when you’re first learning the game, so you don’t get frustrated by losing so often. I highly recommend this game, but only if you won’t get mad if you lose it more often than you win it. I also think that playing with all four characters would make this game slightly easier to win.

Final grade: A-

 

Photo by Jeff Kaatz

Photo by Jeff Kaatz

  1. Elder Sign

Number of players: 1-8

Typical game length: 60-90 minutes

Age group: 12+

Type of game: Cooperative character-based board game, with dice

Replay value: Moderate to high

In this game, you are an investigator trying to solve death traps in a museum before the big, bad Lovecraft monster wakes up. You choose a character with variable skills, and varying levels of sanity and stamina. You encounter “rooms” and try to solve them, gaining elder signs and avoiding doom tokens. In each room, you roll unique dice with icons such as scrolls, skulls, and squid-type monsters. If the monster, chosen at random each game, wakes up, even worse things happen. Each monster brings some kind of extra challenge to the game as well, so no two games are the same.

Jeff says: This game gets the highest score out of the 8 for the mechanics fitting the theme. It has a strong horror feel to it, and the artwork is horrific. If you get bored with it, the expansion “Unseen Forces” adds a whole new layer of complexity. This is also the best solitaire game I’ve ever played – how many games are fun for both one and eight players?

Sarah says: I’ve heard criticisms of this game that it’s a weaker version of Arkham Horror and that the dice-rolling mechanic doesn’t fit the theme. I haven’t played Arkham, but some friends tell me they prefer Elder Sign because it has the flavor of Arkham but only takes an hour to play, instead of a whole afternoon. I don’t agree with the criticism of the dice mechanic, either. The element of chance represented by the dice is thematically appropriate. You also learn firsthand that many people don’t have a good, intuitive grasp of probability from the way they play this game.

Final grade: A.

 

In addition to the games we’ve just reviewed, we can recommend the following games that also feature horror elements, though not as strongly as the eight we’ve just reviewed.

-Pandemic: In this cooperative board game, you become a researcher or an operations expert and help your team defeat four epidemic diseases before they destroy the world.

-Castle Panic: Fight off goblins, trolls and giant boulders while protecting your castle walls and towers in this cooperative fantasy board game. The Wizard’s Tower expansion is also fun.

-Illumnati. In this highly competitive card game, you represent a huge secret society that controls smaller groups, trying to reach individual goals and take over the world. Jeff warns that this is another game that has been known to end friendships.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this review, and if there’s a strong request for a follow up, we’re happy to play-test and review more horror themed games in the future. Feel free to send us your suggestions.

 

Bio:  Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan who loves cooperative tabletop games. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com. Jeff Kaatz is still a newbie writer but a gamer of several decades

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