It's the time of year where you might ask yourself how to avoid another Halloween bash while still being social—or at least that's what I'm asking myself. My answer to the countless parties during any season has always been to host smaller and more intimate game nights. But what do you do for Halloween? If you still want a spooky vibe and a fun time with friends, board games are the answer.
But which board games? Well, we've got you covered.
Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition): From Fantasy Flight Games, this is almost more of a creepy storytelling experience than a game. Players (up to five) adopt a character and explore a Lovecraftian mystery. Since the game is app-driven, you don't have to get bogged down by too many rules or complex setup, and it maintains atmosphere with music, sound effects and story. It's the next level of gaming, and offers the best experience for players who aren't brave enough for a full-on role-playing game, but still want all the storytelling elements.
The game begins with narration offering hints about your final objective. Players take turns investigating clues and working hard to keep from going insane. This might be one of the best games of the past 10 years, and isn't just for a spooky Halloween party. Games can last up to four or five hours, though the app gives you an approximate play time per adventure, so you don't accidentally start a five-hour game when you only have two hours to play. I hope more games become app-driven, because the experience of this one is probably unlike anything you've ever played.
Letters From Whitechapel: In this game, one player dons the role of Jack the Ripper, while other participants play cops on the hunt for the killer. Jack makes his kills and moves in secret, while the police have to chase him around the board, looking for clues and hoping they can stop him before he kills again. It's a tense game that makes you feel like real lives are at stake. It's best played with five investigators and one Whitechapel murderer, but it can be played with fewer participants if the need arises. This mostly cooperative game will have everyone tensed up, wondering when the killer will strike next and hoping they'll be smart enough to catch him sooner rather than later.
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu: If you've ever played Pandemic, you know how frustrating it can be to rid the world of disease. But the game play is so improved and streamlined in this Lovecraftian re-skin that it feels like a brand-new experience. You and the other players are investigators working to eliminate Cthulhu and all of the associated cultists and monsters that have spilled out into the real world. Be warned: This game is hard, sometimes verging on impossible. But it's got so much re-playability that you won't mind the world being devoured by an Ancient One round after round, because you'll be having too much fun. With only four players, though, your party will have to be rather intimate.
Mysterium: Up to seven players can join in on this delightful party game. One player is the ghost of a murder victim hoping their killer will be brought to justice. That's why the other players have been brought to the mansion where the game play happens. The players are all mediums, and have the right sympathetic vibrations allowing the mute ghost to communicate with them. In a series of rounds, the ghost flashes visions (using gorgeous fine-art cards) to each medium in hopes that they will guess a corresponding victim, murder weapon and scene of the crime. As rounds progress, the killers and their means of murder are narrowed down until the whole group has to decide the identity of the real killer. It's a fun evening for a player in either role, and the game has a lot of re-playability.
Gloom: This storytelling game pits players against one another. Each starts with a hand full of cards representing a family of misfits. Players then tell stories using those cards to add to the misery of each of your characters while adding happiness to everyone else. The goal is to have each of their characters suffer as much tragedy as possible before meeting an untimely demise. With a talented group of players, the storytelling required to play the cards can make for a night that's much more entertaining than the mindless non-sequitur card matching of games like Cards Against Humanity. It's dark and brooding, but also fun and humorous, balancing light and dark very well.
One of these games will be right for any group of people. And once word gets around, everyone will be avoiding standard Halloween parties and looking for invites to your exclusive spooky board game get-together.