I’m already getting amped for Halloween. It’s hard not to be in Hong Kong, where the Ghost Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival mean that the season’s already steeped in specters and harvest imagery before October even arrives.
And once the season of the witch officially starts, I’m ready to go berserk on everything Halloween — including Halloween board games.
Board games are perfect Halloween accompaniments. They bring friends together, away from the night chill (or stifling heat, if you’re in Asia like me). A good game pairs well with popcorn, tiny candy and hot chocolate, and the role-playing elements speak to the season’s masks and costumes.
So here’s three Halloween board games to get you into the season.
Betrayal at the House on the Hill (3-6 Players, $38.60 Avalon Hill)
There is a house that sprawls in every direction. A handful of investigators enter, exploring the tumbledown rooms to find the house’s secrets. But the mansion is alive and watching, and will soon turn one of the investigators against the others.
Betrayal at the House on the Hill is a strategy board game with a brilliant gimmick—the board is never the same twice. As the players move through the house, they pull each room tile at random, building the house as they go. The solarium might be next to the crypt. A wine cellar could hide a secret entrance to a pentagram chamber. The mystic elevator can deliver you to any door in the house. The players poke through the ruins, gaining items and activating “omens” until enough cards get dealt to trigger the “Haunt”—one of fifty scenarios from an included booklet. Once the Haunt begins, a random player gets labeled the “traitor” and controls whatever nasty creatures appear, trying to fulfill some dark plan. The other players use teamwork to stop the traitor’s dark ends.
Betrayal brings B-movie horror to life. The tone is creepy without being ghoulish and the scenarios have sufficient variation to play several times in a row without getting bored. One game might have the players fleeing from a mummy while the next sees the entire house being pulled into hell piece-by-piece.
Witch Trial (3-7 Players, Free Download from Cheapass Games)
It’s an age of superstition and social tension, when accusations fly and social deviation can bring a charge a charge of witchcraft. You’re not a witch though, and neither is anyone else, really – you’re a lawyer in the middle of this madness.
This lucrative, lucrative madness. Because you don’t really care who’s guilty or innocent, just like in real life, what matters is who makes the most money.
Of course there’s a problem – witchcraft isn’t exactly illegal per se, at least not in the small-town Edwardian times depicted on the cards. So instead you’ll have to charge people with lesser crimes like golfing, swearing or tampering with the mail.
In Witch Trial, you’re a legal mercenary, defending or prosecuting suspects on a whim depending on how much they’ll pay in fees. The guiltier the client looks, the more they’re worth if you win – but the harder it is to convince a jury.
Each turn, players buy evidence cards and match charges with suspects in order to bring a case to trial, with another player opting in as defense council. Depending on the client’s guilt rating, they jury level’s set at a number between one and twelve. After players put down evidence cards to move the jury level up and down, the defense attorney rolls two dice – if it’s less than or equal to the jury score, the client gets off scot free and the defense gets the money. If not, the prosecution gets the cash. And the client… well, who really cares about that guy anyway?
Witch Trial is exactly the kind of zany fun you expect from the folks at Cheapass Games. It’s fast, fun, easy and leads to an incredible amount of deal-making and wagering. It’s also free at the Cheapass website.
Werewolf (9-17 Players, Free)
Lie. Misdirect. Maul and lynch your friends! Werewolf is the ultimate social game of deception and mob rule. A moderator deals out a single card to each player, which they keep face down. Most players are Villagers, but two are hiding something—they’re secretly Werewolves, bent on devouring the Villagers in their sleep. Each turn has a day and a night phase.
During the night phase, the players close their eyes. The Werewolves open their eyes and silently decide who they’re going to kill. After they let the moderator know, they close their eyes and a special villager, the Seer, opens her eyes. The Seer can peek at one person’s card per turn, exposing their true nature to her.
During the day phase, everyone opens their eyes, and the moderator reveals who the Werewolves killed. Then everyone—Villagers, Seer, and secret Werewolves—start arguing about who they want to lynch that day. It’s a classic exercise in social misdirection. Werewolves try and direct suspicion away from themselves. The Seer tries to influence the decision without giving herself away to the Werewolves. When the players universally decide whom to lynch, they flip that player’s card and find out whether they’ve killed a shape-shifting murderer, an innocent townsperson, or even their Seer. Alcohol and grudges building up over multiple rounds things a lot more fun.
Werewolf works best when you play with ten or more people, and tops out at about seventeen. You can play it with an ordinary deck of cards or even post-it notes with the free online rules, but there are also professional versions available. Ultimate Werewolf ($17.99) is the most expansive set, with a dozen optional character cards. The Werewolves of Millers Hollow ($10.76) has several extra characters and the most attractive card art. Are You a Werewolf? ($7.99) is a budget version with lighter card stock and a few blanks to create your own special characters.