Games can be another way to create a sense of unease and action. Specifically I’m going to focus on board games that have a premise and/or gameplay that pairs well with Halloween.
Hidden Identity Games
• Stay Away
• 2 Rooms and a Boom
• Murder [Print & Play])
Stay Away is perhaps the most fitting, as it’s a combination of HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and Jon Carpenter’s The Thing. One member of the group is “The Thing”, and is slowly trying to convert everyone else to their side. Only The Thing can convert, but once converted, other players will help them to win. Players swap cards, investigate each other, and try to determine who The Thing is so that they can eliminate it.
Plays 4-12 players, 30-120 minutes.
2 Rooms and a Boom is not terribly “scary”, but it is a great social deduction game with a ticking clock. Players separate into 2 groups, in two rooms, and try to figure out who is who. At set times the leader for each room sends a set number of players into the other room. After the requisite number of rounds, everyone reveals and learns which team achieved their objective. Plays 10-30 people, 15-30 minutes.
Resistance pits two groups against each other, with one group trying to complete missions, while a minority of spies try to stop them. The game itself is fairly simple, but the suspicion and table talk can make it a very advanced game of logic, inference, and social deduction. Plays 5-10 (recommend 7 or more), and can be played in 30-120 minutes.
Murder is a “make at home” game I came across years ago. It can play any number, but typically plays with 1 murderer for every 5-10 citizens. Citizens receive a card with two hands shaking, while a murderer receives a card with a knife on it. Everyone also receives approximately 3 “investigation” tokens. Whenever two people approach each other, they shake hands. If a murderer wishes to “kill”, they gently bend 1 finger so that their fingernail grazes inside of the wrist/palm. Approximately 1 minute after this happens, the victim reveals themselves as dead. If an investigator suspects someone, they keep an investigation token in their palm. If the accusation is correct, the murderer lets the citizen keep their token, and 1 minute later the murderer is dead, though they can keep killing in the interim. If the accusation is false, the accused takes the token (but cannot use it). If a citizen runs out of tokens, they have 1 minute to live. Citizens may not share the results of their accusations with others.
Cooperative/Small Group Games
• Escape: Curse of the Temple
• Elder Sign
• Betrayal at the House on the Hill
Escape: Curse of the Temple is great for creating an actual feeling of tension. It is a 10 minute timed cooperative game where players work together to explore a temple maze, complete tasks to reduce the difficulty, and eventually find the exit and perform the final task of escaping. Everyone plays simultaneously. Players roll dice, pick up and reroll dice as they are used, and reroll dice that are useless. The game comes with a 10 minute audio soundtrack, which signals specific times where players must get back to the starting room or suffer consequences. Every time I play that game I tense up, and I think that sense of dread and “time growing short” is a great element of the fear that’s often associated with Halloween.
Elder Sign is a cooperative game where each card out represents a “task”, which players try to complete by rolling dice. The game has a great Cthulhu style motif, including lots of flavor text, though the Cthulhu themes don’t quite transfer over to the gameplay mechanics.
However, if you do opt to play Elder Sign I recommend you make the following revision to the rules. Whenever a new location/task card is flipped (including during setup), roll 1 green die for each new adventure card that flips (6 during the start of the game). For each card that gets a Terror (tentacle) result, put a Doom Token on that card. If you resolve the location before midnight, put the Doom Token back in the supply. Whenever the clock strikes midnight, all Doom Tokens currently on location cards are transferred to the Great Old One. This mechanic adds some much needed urgency, and creates circumstances where players are motivated to challenge location cards that might otherwise be ignored due to difficulty.
Last is Betrayal at the House on the Hill. I will admit, this is not a personal favorite of mine to play, but I do enjoy watching others play it. The game starts out as a standard horror trope, a group of characters stumble upon a large and seemingly abandoned mansion, and proceed to investigate. As rooms flip, some have specific markings, which trigger Omens and Events (via cards). Eventually one of these will cause a full blown “Haunt”, whereby one character will become evil, gain some kind of special powers and/or minions, and begin actively trying to achieve their secret goal, while the rest of the group will either try to stop them and/or achieve their own goal. The game has a wide variety of “Haunt” scenarios, which (without citing specifics) feel like all the major horror story tropes, ranging from 1 powerful being to several weaker ones. It can be a very frustrating game, as die rolls are key, and the dice have numerous blank sides, but it often provides a very rich narrative.